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Nick 'Topper' Headon, former Clash drummer, with The Blockheads at The Booking Hall, Dover

By Sam Lennon

Topper Headon "got back in touch with life" after he walked away from drugs.

He also told of the heavy workload with The Clash, which he believes contributed to their break-up.

The former drummer, who lives in River, spoke at The Booking Hall in Elizabeth Street, Dover, just before going onstage with The Blockheads.

Giving enough hope. Headon proved you can walk away from drugs
Giving enough hope. Headon proved you can walk away from drugs

Both bands had been friends since they shot to fame in the late 1970s in the punk and new wave era.

Headon played conga drums when the Blockheads recently performed there.

He told Kent Online: "I just got back in touch with life when I stopped using drugs, when I conquered my addictions.

"I got in touch with people, I went back up to London. They were old friends and you always find old friends."

Headon has survived drug abuse, like Keith Richard of the Rolling Stones and Who guitarist Pete Townsend, who once listed all the musicians who hadn't, such as Jimi Hendrix.

This was the thorniest subject in the interview and Headon didn't want to discuss it.

But it is well documented that he was in the grip of heroin for several years, starting in the early 1980s.

He has previously spoken in the East Kent Mercury about this, saying it led to him becoming bankrupt and homeless.

He had said that by 2004 he had finally become clean and had been supported by a homelessness charity in London.

It made him become an ambassador for Dover-based charity Porchlight.

Reason to be cheerful. Headon in rehearsal with The Blockheads
Reason to be cheerful. Headon in rehearsal with The Blockheads

Nick Headon, a former pupil at Dover Grammar School for Boys, now looks lean and healthy and at the age of 63 can still sprint up a staircase.

Speaking about his connection with The Blockheads, who were founded by the late Ian Dury, he said: "The Blockheads and The Clash go back a long way.

"In the late 70s and early 80s we were under the same management and we got friendly.

"I used to play gigs with The Blockheads on congas.

"I remember the first gig I played I went unannounced, uninvited with a pair on bongos.

"After we finished the set Ian Dury came up to me and said: 'Listen, if you're going to come up onstage uninvited at least play congas.'"

Members of The Blockheads have played on clash albums. Bassist Norman Watt-Roy and keyboard player Mick Gallagher were on three albums, London Calling, Sandinista! and the last one, Cut the Crap.

Gallagher's sons Luke and Ben, as children, sang on a reworked version of Career Opportunities on Sandinista!

Headon says: "After The Clash split up and I had a solo album. Mickey was on there.

"We've stayed in touch over they years and we've been friends and it's nice to come and have a jam with them whenever they played locally.

"I just got back in touch with life when I stopped using drugs, when I conquered my addictions" - Topper Headon

The 1979 album London Calling was The Clash at their best but the strain of constant recording and touring took its toll.

Headon explained: "The best period of being in The Clash was the recording of London Calling. That's when we were at our peak, that's when we were loving being in a band together. We were enjoying it.

"We were best friends, loved the music and we were on our way up and we were loving it."

But he added: "We just got fed up of being with each other all the time. It's very intense being on the road.

"For five years we never stopped touring, we never had a break, we never even had Christmases off. We would do charity gigs at Christmas.

"We released five albums in five years. One was a triple, one was a double and we released something like 20 singles.

"We conquered America, we conquered Australia. By the end of five years we were absolutely burnt out and we drifted apart. We should have taken a break but we didn't."

A key triumph of his was writing the music for one of the band's biggest hits, Rock the Casbah.

The tunes were usually left to guitarists Joe Strummer and Mick Jones but this song became an American top 10 single.

Strummer died in December 2002, aged 50, from a heart attack and Headon says the group can never reform.

Two of of the Blockheads, at The Booking Hall, Dover
Two of of the Blockheads, at The Booking Hall, Dover

But him, Jones and bassist Paul Simonon, are still in contact, having in recent years put out remastered Clash material plus demos and rarities.

Headon said: "We released an anthology box set of everything we've recorded and remastered so we're still in touch all the time.

"We've got management and we're having a meeting next month in actual fact and we're still friends. We're middle aged men now. We're very proud of what we did.

"We miss Joe. obviously. There is never going to be a reformation of the band but it's nice that we're all in touch.

"We won the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, which is a a pretty prestigious thing, and we're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"And it's something we're really proud of and all of the little niggly arguments and differences that we had as young men are all gone. We're very proud of what we did, we're grateful that we know each other, that we met each other."

Headon's nickname comes from a character in a comic.

Simonon had read a copy of The Topper and commented that the drummer looked like Mickey the Monkey.

Headon had earlier bought the comic at Camden Town tube station in London in 1977 on the way to audition for The Clash.

The vendor had stubbornly refused to change a £5 note when he bought 10 cigarettes so he bought the comic to pay a little more.

Beat of a new drum. Headon plays congas for The Blockheads
Beat of a new drum. Headon plays congas for The Blockheads

He explains: "After the audition, the next day, I had to go back and chop off all my hair and have a makeover to join the band. And Paul was reading the copy of The Topper and he said: 'You look like Mickey the Monkey.'

"This was because my hair came out all blonde and short. And that's how I got the name and it's great. At the time I was mortified, I thought: 'You can't give me the same name as a monkey.'

But it's good, it's like Ringo."

By chance Headon was speaking on the 40th anniversary period of the first Clash album he played on, Give 'Em Enough Rope.

This was released on November 10, 1978.

The Clash formed in May 1976 but Headon joined 12 months later, so missed the recording sessions for the group's self-titled debut album.

Headon explained: "I played previously in a band with Mick Jones called the London SS, we hit it off straight away. I then went on a tour with an American soul band and he formed The Clash.

"We met at the Rainbow Theatre (north London) at a gig by The Kinks.

"Mick said to me 'Do you want to join my new band?'

The Clash, a London group, were a key player in the original wave of British punk rock.

Their most famous songs include White Riot, Tommy Gun, I Fought the Law and Should I Stay or Should I Go.

They put out a total five albums during their peak of 1977 to 1982 including the triple-disc Sandinista! and the double-disc London Calling, which got them their breakthrough in America.

Headon left the group in 1982, followed by Jones the next year and The Clash completely disbanded in 1986.

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