Armagideon Time – The US Festival

Thirty years ago The Clash played their last gig with founding member Mick Jones at the ‘US Festival’ in San Bernardino, CA. It was to be the last show with the three front men together and spelled the end of a seven-year era. It was also the first moment I sensed that my own scaffold was already being erected – my own ‘Armagideon Time.’

Armagideon Time

The date: May, 28th 1983

The place: The US Festival in San Bernardino, CA.

The temperature: 115 blistering, stinking degrees, made all the worse by 150,000 wall-to-wall hippies as far as the eye could see. The intense heat added another insult to all the other injuries of that ill-fated gig the Clash should never have played. Digby Cleaver (Mick’s guitar roadie), and me had just about finished getting the backline ready, and were running through last-minute equipment checks so that the band could get this piece of shit over and done with. I thanked the heavens that that particular nightmare was about to be consigned to the record books, as I tightened wing-nuts and taped down drum-stands. All around us there was a feeling of hostility towards us. Even the stage-crew seemed to resent having to stay late. Maybe because it was the end of a long hot day for them (there were about a dozen bands playing that day), or maybe they were looking forward to seeing all their heroes on the following two days, I don’t know, but it was obvious we were just an irritating annoyance for them. “Fuck them,” I thought. This was nothing compared to what we had overcome through the last seven years of struggle.

We had become real good at these fast set-ups, after the treatment we’d received supporting ‘The Who’ for several weeks the previous year. They had treated us like SHIT and we hardly ever got anything close to a sound-check. In all our seven years, we had never treated any support band that way, and had always tried to give them time and space for a sound check. But beggars can’t be choosers I suppose. The band came out, plugged in, and after a few disparaging remarks to the audience from Joe, launched into their set with ‘London Calling.’ Giving the band the thumbs-up to acknowledge all was well and assuage any butterflies Digby and I settled into our roles. Despite all the well-documented pre-gig shenanigans, difficulties, hostility, and confusion beforehand (including a two-hour delay while Bernie called a last-second press conference), the set went off quite efficiently with no major technical hiccups, as far as I can remember. But with the audience being 25 feet away, there was no energy coming from the crowd and Joe was visibly frustrated pleading, “Give us something!”

Mick Jones and Paul Simonon on-stage while The Baker crouches ever-ready.

Mick Jones and Paul Simonon on-stage while The Baker crouches ever-ready.

But no amount of cajoling could rouse the audience out of their slumber despite the band pulling out all the stops. As the set began to wind down, so did our heightened sense of awareness, and I was able to take in more of the show. It was clearly not one of their best! Though the band tried their best the audience reaction was minimal. Even the outright hostility we had experienced opening for the Who would have been preferable. They had become a smoothly oiled machine through necessity after our ‘Who’ experience, and were taking it all in their stride. They cruised through a set of about twenty numbers. Paul did ‘Guns of Brixton’ and they even threw in a couple of the oldies like ‘Hate and War’ and ‘I’m So Bored.’ They ran over their allotted time and finished up with Clampdown. To audience applause, they finished the last encore and exited the stage while Digby and I breathed a sigh of relief that we could finally begin our post-gig routine and get the hell out of that nightmare.

All of a sudden, we noticed Kosmo Vinyl attempting to wrestle the microphone from the MC off to the side of the stage. At first, we paid no attention. Then more bodies joined the mêlée and Bernie ran out squealing, “Leave him alone, fucking leave him!” Digby sauntered over to me and asked, “What the fuck is Vinyl up to Bal?”

“I have no fucking idea…” I said, shaking my head in confusion. “No one let me in on anything.”

Quickly, the stage resembled a scene from a ‘Keystone Cops’ movie, with arms and legs flapping all over the place, in mock aggression. If Kosmo was trying to repeat the scene from the 1978 ‘Rock Against Racism’ gig in Victoria Park, where Tom Robinson’s stage crew had pulled the power, and Ray Gange had incited the crowd to demand an encore, he was sadly mistaken. Back then we had 80,000 Clash fans baying for blood; the time was right. This was 145,000 Californian hippies with a possible 5,000 true Clash fans dotted around. It wasn’t even on the cards! Digby and I looked at each other, as if to say, “This is a joke, right?” We’d had literally hundreds of stage brawls over the years and they had all meant something. This was meaningless – no one was howling for more! It was Bernie’s last-minute attempt to cause a ruckus as all other attempts at upstaging the festival had failed and he had instructed Kosmo to go start a fight. Personally, I was damned if I was going to go and join in their little ruse, not even having been forewarned.

Bewildered, we watched the scene unfold on the other side of the stage, still uncertain as to what it was about. It petered out as quickly as it erupted and everyone was ushered from the stage, as the stagehands resumed pulling our equipment apart. My sense of unease grew as the abysmal stage spectacle, and everything that had led up to it, came crashing in on me. Ever since Topper had been fired 15 months before, things had become muddled and the inner conviction of everyone involved mired in personal vendettas. For the first time in years, I got the creeping sensation that I was no longer in sync with what was going on in the Clash camp anymore. Supporting the Who had been a bitter pill for me to swallow (and certain members of the band), with accusations of ‘sellout’ all around. Now my exclusion from the mock brawl was further proof that I was no longer part of the inner circle, and I’d been demoted to the status of a paid-worker. I’d seen too many roadies, band members, and even managers come and go to mistake the signs. Maybe I should have seen it coming earlier but with sickening clarity I felt my time was finally up. It was like one of those moments you see in the movies.

    My usual post - stage right.

My usual post – stage right.

‘What do you suppose that was that all about?’ Digby asked. ‘I have no fucking idea,” I replied. ‘And you know what? I really don’t fucking care either!’ I spat out, as I turned and threw my stage gloves at my flight case in disgust. For the first time in seven years, I forgot about the backline equipment and just wandered unconcerned to the back of the stage. I lent up against a scaffolding pole and looked out at a sea of trailers and caravans behind the stage. “How could it have all gone so wrong?” I wondered aloud. At that moment I finally realized that ‘the only band that mattered,‘ had ceased to matter, and for me at least, the end had probably come. My mind arced back seven years to the summer of 1976 and everything that had transpired since then. It had all seemed so simple and straight-forward then. Now ambition and success clouded everything and what the band thought they most desired – cracking America – looked like it was going to rip them apart. Little did I know that in three short months, Mick would be fired in a sensational, irrational sacking and a week later I would turn and walk away from the only life I had known for seven years, without a word.

With a heavy heart, I returned to the task at hand and started dismantling and storing away the equipment in their flight-cases. The next day everyone flew out to their separate destinations. I flew back to New York.

The Baker.

15 thoughts on “Armagideon Time – The US Festival

  1. jennylens

    Thank you for your brave, heartfelt words. Not easy sharing, being part of the end. The mythology Joe and Mick created became the stuff fairy tales are not made of: no one lived happily (with each other) ever after. But what came before was ah-mazing. We thank you, Baker, for your part.

    Saddened the Who pulled crap like that to the Clash. Why ask them to open and then not even allow sound checks? Ah, sweet mystery of the rock n roll world. Whoa.

    (I have my own sad story re the Clash opening for the Who in LA. One of my most unsettling rock experiences. To be told another time and place. Not gonna muddle up yr blog.)

    1. thebaker77 Post author

      Thank you for the comment Jenny. It was not so much The Who’s fault as the entire rolling rock’n’roll circus that slugged it’s way across America. Their stages had to be built three days ahead of time and the immense security apparatus they employed left no chance for spontaneity. Pete Townshend went into the Clash dressing-room when possible and even kicked a ball around once. But on the whole, those of us on the crew were not even allowed to look at them.

  2. Wayne Hatchel (@WayneHatchel)

    Good one Baker. I understand it myself. When the Ely Band toured w/ the Clash twice you were a “well oiled” machine. I was lucky when I left the Ely Band in that I could see where it was headed and I didn’t want to continue on w/it. So I was able to leave it before the ragged end. I was able to start working w some of the top notch international bands at a club in Lubbock instead of moving to Austin. At times I wish I had but I might never have had the pleasure of working w/ U2, Joan Jett, Edgar Winters, Lita Ford and many others had I moved down there. I think the reason that it hit you at this time is you were always so busy busting your A that you hadn’t really seen the warning signs. They hit you square in the face that night sounds like. My epiphany came w/ the Ely Band when Jesse Taylor and I had a long talk about the moving of the band to Austin. I came to the conclusion that I just didn’t see that I wanted to risk my life by moving to the “drug capital” of TX. BTW this is the very 1st time I have ever revealed this to the general public. I had many reason for leaving the band but that was one strong one. Jesse left the band about a year later too. And really Joe Ely was the only one left from the original band. I have stayed friends w/ Joe but I don’t regret getting out when I did.

    1. thebaker77 Post author

      We all come to those moments in life Wayne….when you feel times or circumstances have changed (or you have changed). Your heart-felt reveal is most welcome and I encourage you to open the basement door and let the light flood in.

  3. Derek Goddard

    Baker The man with the Balls to stand up and tell it like it was he never spilt no beans never said boo to a goes he just tells the truth !! amazing sadly a rare quality . His writing is from the soul but even more important it’s what is known as the truth everyone has there spin on the truth I worked with Joe as a drummer three gigs at least before he asked me to work with the Clash . strangely i assumed he asked me to drum for the Clash un less i had wax in my ears but i was 22 i might have been drinking pretty heavy but that was the order of the day i was clear as to what my mission was Having finished a tour with the Raincoats and them talking about breaking up i Jumped ship rushing home from a large festival in vienna on the phone Joe said come back we want to play some good rock and roll some times Joe’s words were open to interpretation and he could be very cynical in a funny way I loved Joe but the whole band was suffering burn out honestly Joe’s comments about Mick and Paul were often bellow the belt I knew Joe for years before he asked me to work with the Clash he was an amazing bloke but he was constantly ill at eaze with himself in dealing with fame and fortune and being hero worshiped after a while it grew hard to read him he was the Boss as far as i knew but then again maybe Bernie Rhodes was that then again CBS was Joe asked me to do a film as my first task i never took it serious as I was a drummer / percussionist i didn’t know anything about acting I knew it was a silent film a long the lines of buster keaton etc the rumor was that it was going to be filmed to be shown at show’s i liked that idea multi media but after months of making the film i began to loose my direction although Joe directed the film , all i know is i was a 22 year black kid playing with seasoned men and trying to hold my own with no backing except some good advice from Richard Dudanski Get payed up front he said or you will never see a penny , say what ?? a lot of people aint gonna get no supper tonight , for sure if they don’t get payed anything . Joe payed me out of his pocket like most things his pocket was deep when he asked me to come over and see his new house off all saints rd I went over and sat with Gabby and watched tv while he gave me brandy I tried to bring up the subject of playing music and he made a joke saying music i hate music that was joe’s sense of humor but there was an impending sense of doom that came with the Joke if you knew Joe you could read between the lines I had recorded with Mick Jones a few weeks before this and Joe had told me how great it was etc about 7 tracks Mick and Joe both said they were great tracks but to this day i don’t know how or if they were used or tacked on or off. Baker told me that the blockhead bass player and keyboard had set the backing for magnificent 7 but had to resort to an our of court settlement even though i remember working with the great mickey Gallagar and Norman what Roy was always a hero of mine .He joined us with Wilko in a tribute when Joe passed away at the Tabernacle the scene of the gigs i had played with Joe on drums under various names I was always aware that these guys had made a friend of me and we enjoyed playing music together ex 101 ers Richard snake hips Dudanski Mole on bass Mickey Foote telling me he had never really been payed for producing the first Clash album he also had become a close friend of mine who i went on to work with . To be honest i loved the Clash for all there problems but i knew the second day when i bumped into Topper coming out of the Notting Hill cop shop looking more dead than alive two day after Joe had asked me to work for the group it freaked me out, as i was having a few problems re drinking and I could see me in that image in the future . even though i was 22 and fired up Joe would refer to me as youth and young yeh they were mostly 10 years ahead or something like that but groups treat drummers like engines as they are the engine of the group a good drummer can make or break a good band and the chemistry has to click on top Topper was a master but fulled by drugs and drink i understand he fueled himself like a rocket but we are human I said to Joe a group is like chemistry it works or does not DNA you cannot just replace a drummer like a machine funny enough the last track this is England they used a drum machine I tried to convince my head that i wanted to join the Clash and make a name for myself and all that bullshit . but my soul just died and i felt like a payed employer for the acme clash company . please don’t get me wrong i was young black and confused as to my identity my hero’s were steel pulse Bob marley and the wailers I always felt accepted by Joe and Mick and paul for who i was both, i had played with and got to know as friends Since talking to Baker things have made allot more sense some 30 or 28 years later, hindsight is 20/20 I will always be a clash city rocker but i will also always be a rude boy a home boy a rasta man i will be a black Irishman as i love Irish Music and the list goes on above all i will always be a human just like Joe was if you knew Joe you loved him even when he pissed you off mick was a bit of a prima donna but since them day’s its hard to find a nicer bloke Paul was while working with the Clash I felt was my closest friend next to Baker . I last did a gig out in spain with a number of clash affillates just before we went on Mick said just remember we rock !!! that after one rehearsal a spanish bass player on the verge of a breakdown after an evening off how to play Clash songs in four hours a shitty sound system but with the spirit of punk we went out and played our asses off we went down well , and the audience were amazing my final tribute to a man not a saint just a man who cared about something called humanity but got lost some were in between show business and a message now he is like Marley a prophit to many a man who flew above but never looked down on anyone The last truly Clash related gig i did was in Spain Granada for Joe and also for a poet who i never knew Garcia Lorca one of the first Killed by the Franco regime with the aid of hitler .Once a clash city rocker there is no going back only forward . Jah know and I know .Rip Joe Strummer and Sean aka the capt The Clash and the Beastie Boys and a tribe called quest .

    1. thebaker77 Post author

      Nice memories Derek. Closure is always hard especially when you’re going through tough times and life isn’t always fair. There is no good or bad – thinking makes it so.

    1. thebaker77 Post author

      The Clash were like a firework Vaughn – they could only go up; explosive and rocket-fueled! There was no coasting, no linear movement – once they reached their nadir there was only down to go or split up.

    1. thebaker77 Post author

      Not at all Randal -mine is just one person’s experience, thoughts, and feelings. As I’ve tried to say time and again, everyone (especially the audience) made each gig special and different. Now each one of those people holds a piece of it in their hearts and minds. I invite everyone to share whatever they experienced, at any gig, on these pages. As the Clash said in their final statement….”We Are The Clash!” – meaning everyone; in the audience, buying the music, spreading the message….everyone was part of The Clash. We all suffer the injustices of the world. We’re all in this together.

  4. Pingback: Clash @ US festival — Mick’s swan song was 30 years ago today | stealing all transmissions

  5. rudy lickshot

    grazie Baker –thanx–great reading from a man who lived it—–i have a question : do you was as well in Bologna / Italy -1 june 1980—the gig where Topper get lost , and Clash did the first 6 song with the support band drummer?? ciao –rudy

    1. thebaker77 Post author

      Hi Rudy, – thank you for the kind words and sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Yeah, Bologna, Italy – the night I almost had a heart-attack!

      First let me say Topper’s lateness had nothing to do with drugs (as has been suggested). The idiot who was driving him simply lost his way (years before GPS or cellphones), so we had no idea where he was or what had happened to him.

      I had soundchecked the drums so all was ready to go. We waited and waited until finally a decision had to be made. The crowd had gone beyond restless and the mood was beginning to turn ugly, not only out front, but in the dressing-room as well. Mick suddenly turned to me and said, “You’ll have to go on Barry, and do a few numbers till Topper gets here!”

      Now I’d jammed with them sometimes at soundcheck, if they turned up before Topper and needed a beat. They knew I could do a very basic ‘Jail Guitar Doors,’ and could probably keep the beat on some of the slower numbers – but live in front of thousands of fans? That was something totally different! I was not a drummer.

      My heart skipped a beat and my stomach turned to water….I felt sick and wanted to throw up! “Me?” I exclaimed, “I don’t think I can do it!”

      “Yes you can!” everyone in the dressing-room said, “You’ve done it before – it’ll be fine” I wasn’t convinced by their bravado and for the next fifteen minutes I tried to prepare myself physically and mentally. How had I not seen this coming? I cursed myself and had a quiet mental breakdown.

      Finally, just minutes before the final deadline, George Butler from Whirlwind (the support band), came into the dressing-room and offered his services. It was a choice between someone who knew the numbers in his sleep (me), but wasn’t a drummer, or a real drummer who didn’t know any of the songs. After some discussion, they decided on George – I thanked my lucky stars! He went on and kept the beat for six or eight numbers until Topper finally appeared after 30 minutes. The band kicked into gear once he was on and the crowd responded in kind.

      It was the only time anything like that happened and looking back, I realise I probably could have done it, but it was a moment I never wanted to re-live again….

      The Baker

      1. rudy lickshot

        wooooow– so you nearly played LIVE with Clash in that memorable night :):)!!!i can immagine your adrenalin & stress :)!!! thanx a LOT for a this description Baker, no matter delay reply,mate….i was asking me this question “where the hell did the drummer lost ,that night ….since 1980:):)—–very kind of you sharing experiences with we hardcore clash fans ,really appreciate & as me a LOT of people reading Clash stuff– again …GRAZIE from us all !!—-i m from Bologna, started my band after that concert , as hundreds new bands during this years, i was 16 yrs old—the concert & crowd (abt 30.000) literally exploded when Topper arrived and the Clash started again their set with White Man in Hammersmith palais , i saw them 5 times more,but this night was really like a train hitting my face:)—all songs were speeded up & the set list was impressive ,also the city major was in trouble cos Joe wanted to play with the Brigade Rosse t shirt , in Bologna , the comunist city nr 1 in italy ,where we had people killed from brigate rosse–at the end they convinced him to wear another outfit ,also Simonon spoke a few words italian , and Mick Jones nearly falled from stage screaming “down with american imperialism” at the end of *I m so bored with the USA* , i will never forget that … i was in front of the stage ,under the moniter of Simonon—————now after 33 years…the same city of Bologna will open & dedicate a big park ,called PARCO JOE STRUMMER –for me its an honour & privilige to have witnessed the Clash at their best , and for Bologna as wel—– all the best to you & all Clashical fans worldwide—-Rudy

  6. Hassan

    Nice story Rudy, “Down with American imperialism” love it, Like Joe said on the westway documentary, Everyone appreciated The Clash, around the world, except England ( fans did, not the press though) there will never be another band like them, ever. Washington Bullets, a history lesson in under 4 minutes, they never theached that shit at school. Peace & love.


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