The Clash’s 1985 Busking Tour of Britain

Julian Cope directly referenced this little-remembered, hard-to-fathom episode in late Clash history, from the period after Mick Jones had disastrously been removed from the band, with his three-day “Joe Strummer Memorial Busking Tour” in October, 2008. (Check that tour’s impressive itinerary here — then search youtube to see video highlights — there are many). I’d love to know more about The Clash’s tour (are there any videos? etc). For now, though, there’s this…

From Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash by Pat Gilbert (2004), p 352-3:

In May 1985, [Clash manager] Bernie Rhodes, [manager] Kosmo [Vinyl] and Joe [Strummer] devised the Clash’s last hurrah—a busking tour of Britain. The idea was that the group would assemble at [guitarist] Vince’s flat, leave their wallets on the table and hitch to Nottingham with a few acoustic guitars. They’d then see where the wind would take them. Over the next two-and-a-half weeks, Britain’s provincial towns and cities were thus treated to the extraordinary sight of The Clash popping up under railway bridges and in subways to entertain them with Monkees, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and Cramps songs.

The group kipped on fans’ floors and in cheap B&Bs. They survived on the money thrown into their hats. It was a genuinely exiting and unpredictable experience. Joe described it as ‘the best tour we ever did.’

Paul [Simonon] agrees. ‘It was like starting out fresh again,’ he says. ‘It was great. “We’ll meet you in Glasgow in a week’s time,” and the idea was to leave everything behind other than the guitars. You couldn’t take any money with you. We survived by our wits. It was as exciting as the Anarchy tour, you never knew where you were going next. I remember we were in Leeds, it was 2 a.m., and it was outside this black club, and people were coming out and really digging us. There were two white guys and they were shocked it was us. They said, “Where you staying?” And we said, “We’re not staying anywhere,” so they invited us to stay at their mum’s. The money we made from busking meant we could go further, we didn’t have a plan of where to go next. There was no rules. You didn’t have to be on the so-and-so plane at twelve o’clock.’

Joe Strummer and Robert Fripp in conversation, 1981

Joe Strummer: wikipedia
Robert Fripp: wikipedia

Note: At the time of this conversation, Joe Strummer was 28 and Robert Fripp was 35.

RUDE BOYS: An Interview with Joe Strummer and Robert Fripp
by Vic Garbarini

Originally published in Musician Magazine, June 1981

Musician: One of the main things you two have in common is the belief that music can actually change society. How can this happen?

Strummer: Because music goes directly to the head and heart of a human being. More directly and in more dimensions than the written word. And if that can’t change anybody, then there’s not a lot else that will. Music can hit as hard as if I hit you with a baseball bat, you know? But it’s not an overnight thing; you can’t expect everything to change quickly. I figure it’s an organic process. Insidious. Look how listening to all those hippie records has affected everybody in general: everybody feels looser about things now.

Fripp: I did a radio show in New York with Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats recently, and he said he didn’t believe rock and roll could change anything. And I said to him, I disagree. So he said, well, if you build up hope in Joe Bloggs in some slum in Northern Ireland, he’s just going to wind up disappointed. And I said, look, if there’s Joe Bloggs in his appalling social conditions in Northern Ireland with no hope, and that becomes Joe Bloggs at No. 8 in his appalling social conditions but with hope, you have two entirely different situations.

S: That’s right. Good point that.

F: Then it’s possible for the geezer at No. 10 to get some hope, too. And then it spreads up the street, and you have a community. Then you have a community. Then you’re talking about something which isn’t dramatic and exciting, but which contains the possibility of real change. It’s easy to miss because it’s essentially personal, and it’s very quiet. And like Joe says, it takes time.

M: Is it the music itself that can do this, or does it merely serve as a rallying point?

F: Both, really. It serves as a rallying point, but it can work more directly too. I think sometimes at a really good gig when there’s a certain quality in the music, a kind of liberation can take place, and you don’t go home and take quite as much crap from the news as you did before, because you’ve actually tasted a different quality of experience which changes how you think about things. So to a degree you’ve been liberated.

M: How did you both wind up choosing music as your means of expression? How were you feeling about things in general, or what made you decide it had to be a band? That there was something you needed or could accomplish through rock?

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