Today marks the 56th birthday of Nicholas Headon, known as “Topper” because of his apparent resemblance to Mickey the Monkey whose face graced the front page of the Topper comic for many years. Headon is best known as the drummer with legendary punk band The Clash and he was a pivotal part of the group’s success in the late 1970s and the early part of the following decade.
However, his addiction to heroin caused increasing tension within the band, culminating in Headon’s departure in May 1982... although the party line was that the split was due to “exhaustion”.
In 1979, The Clash released one of the finest records of the generation with their double album London Calling. There was an tremendous amount of variety amongst the nineteen tracks, but my favourites include The Card Cheat (a song which the band never played live), Strummer’s semi-autobiographical Lost in the Supermarket and the magnificent Guns of Brixton; Paul Simonon’s first recorded attempt at singing his own composition remains as dark and menacing now as it was over thirty years ago. There is also an up-tempo cover of The Rulers’ 1967 ska classic Wrong ‘Em Boyo which doesn’t quite work for me, but it is just another example of the range of influences and culture that The Clash incorporated into their work.
Any possibility of the original line-up of The Clash reforming disappeared with the untimely passing of Joe Strummer (real name John Mellor) in December 2002, but on 9th May 1985, I was privileged (and more than a little surprised) to see Strummer and Simonon performing an impromptu acoustic set in York’s King’s Square. The picture above was taken that very afternoon, but when I arrived, I was greeted by a big crowd and I Fought the Law played by three acoustic guitarists and a drummer (using a wooden bench); it was a surreal, but amazing moment.
Some may disagree, but I believe that Messrs Fox, Jennings and Ruffy of The Ruts were marginally better musicians, but as songwriters, Strummer and Jones had their combined fingers on the political pulse of a nation. They were true masters of their craft and at least I can tell my grandchildren I saw The Clash play “live”...sort of!!
All my own work... almost.