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.’

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About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in the rural wilderness of Joshua Tree, California, where I am a partner in JTHomesteader.com with Stephanie Smith.

2 thoughts on “The Clash’s 1985 Busking Tour of Britain

  1. I saw them on this tour, on a late night National Express from Nottingham to Leeds- it was very exclusive- just me, them jamming at the back and the coach driver. Unfortunately I wasn’t into the Clash much then, so didn’t recognise them. I only realised a few days later when there was a report about them busking outside an Alarm Leeds Uni gig in the Uni newspaper. The Alarm came out to watch apparently.

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