While Clash fans all over the world were enjoying the release of the superb box set, Sound System last year, the band’s first drummer, Terry Chimes, quietly published his autobiography. In The Strange Case of Dr Terry and Mr Chimes he discusses his passion for medicine and drumming in a frank and straightforward tone. He tells The Clash Blog’s special correspondent, Herpreet Kaur Grewal, the reason why he left The Clash, his days playing with the likes of Black Sabbath and Johnny Thunders, and his spiritual rebirth….
Terry Chimes sometimes gets a bad press. Ever since being billed as “Tory Crimes” on The Clash’s debut for leaving the band, there has been an unspoken encouragement to treat him as the outsider in Clash circles. In some ways, this is understandable, as he did actually leave the band and had a different attitude to the rock ‘n’ roll game than the others in the band even though he seemingly had the “credentials”, growing up in a working-class family in east London. Yet he is a part of The Clash legacy and there is not much point in denying that. He went on to become a successful chiropractor and now drums in a band called The Crunch.
When I met him, in his home in east London, he started talking about how many facets of what occurred during The Clash’s formative years, but also during his time playing with other bands, go untold and how he hoped his book goes partway in giving a fresh perspective.
TC: I’ve got lots of stories in my book, that have never been told, and I do wonder why nobody has told these stories because these things happened. Either they forgot about it or they don’t like the idea of it, I don’t know.
HKG: Do you want to share a story that you remember?
TC: When I was in Black Sabbath, we were booked to play this place in Rome at which the Pope had given some kind of presentation the night before. When we got there, to put our gear in, his was still in there! They were supposed to get it out and they didn’t. When in Rome you can’t say, ‘do you know who we are??’, when the Pope’s been there. So the Italians said: “There is another venue we can switch you to. It won’t be a problem. We can put it on the radio and we will tell everyone it’s only round the corner.” So we played some other theatre, but the problem was there were fewer seats in the other place, than the first one and so the gig was oversold. So on the night people, were turning up and saying, ‘I want to come in’ and they are saying, ‘you can’t, it is full up’. People weren’t happy and there was a riot. People smashed the whole place up – someone even got shot but they didn’t die. We had two generators and one of them got smashed up. So the organisers said to us that we could use the remaining generator for either sound or lights, but not both – and there wasn’t time to get another one. So we decided to have the sound. We had five roadies with a torch, each shining on our faces, so all you could see was our faces and we played the whole show like that. It was so bizarre because normally we had a massive light show with all these effects, but the audience loved it!
HKG: Do you have any Clash stories?
TC: There was the time, when we were on “Saturday Night Live” which was the biggest live TV show in the world – 26 million people watched it apparently. Live television is different, because whatever happens, happens, if you screw up or you do something weird, it goes out, there’s no stopping it. We had discussed earlier in the day that as there are lots of comedy sketches, that during one of these sketches, we would like to have someone walking past with a ghetto blaster playing our ‘Rock the Casbah’, which was our latest single. The producers said: “No, no, no we’ve already written the script, you can’t change it”. So Joe or Bernard came up with an idea. We planned that while we were playing ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’, we would stop in the middle and a roadie who was in the audience would throw the ghetto blaster up to Joe, who would unpause it and play, ‘Rock the Casbah’ and we would take a particular bit of that song as our cue, to come back in and finish ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’. What could go wrong? We even had a minder up in the control room, so if anyone tried to turn us off, he would stop them. …So we are playing the song with 26 million people watching and we stop. The roadie throws up the ghetto blaster, Joe looked at the audience, and pressed the pause button and nothing happened because it was one of those players where the pause button automatically turns off after a few minutes! We were all sitting there thinking ‘ah we didn’t plan for this!’ So we’ve got 26 million people watching and I’m sitting there doing nothing on the drums and only about 4-5 seconds passed but it seemed like an hour. Then fortunately, I think it was Mick that sang some line of something, probably the next bit of ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’. I went blap! on the drums and smacked back into the next verse and we carried on playing the rest of the song and about 30 seconds in, we are all thinking, ‘oh my god, we nearly screwed it there’, and then we realised what had happened and that we had got away with it, so we all started laughing at each other, because it was slightly ridiculous, you know. After, everyone kept coming up to us, asking: “Why were you laughing? What was the secret message of the ghetto blaster?”
HKG: How come you were not more actively involved in the promotion of Sound System last year? Is that something you chose?
TC: I don’t get involved with any of it [The Clash’s legacy projects], to be honest.
HKG: Why not? You are a part of some of it.
TC: Well, I think at the beginning as I had left, Joe was especially upset about that and he never ever forgave me. I have never known a man, who held a grudge for so long. Years, later, having sold millions, done loads of gigs and I suppose, looking back, it might have appeared to everyone else that it was a very selfish thing to do, walking out. But I didn’t walk out. I did loads of things before leaving. I said I wanted to leave, but that I would carry on doing the gigs. So from my point of view, I thought I was being fair. I didn’t want to ruin everything because if I had walked out it would have damaged the progress at a crucial time. When they finally found Topper – it took a while – I said ‘fine, good luck to you’. So I felt I had been reasonable, but actually when someone leaves a band, it’s like when someone leaves a relationship, it hurts people and the person leaving isn’t as hurt, but the person who is left, is. So perhaps there remained a lingering feeling of…’he’s the one that walked out’.
HKG: So why exactly did you leave?
TC: Well the story of my leaving has never been told. I only really fully realised it as I wrote the book because you have to think about things before writing them down. You look at your whole life and all the things that have happened and you understand yourself, who you are, where you are going and it all makes perfect sense. I never understood at the time, it’s quite funny because when I left, they couldn’t understand why I was leaving when they were just taking off. The attempts they made to persuade me to come back just pushed me away even more. I was the odd one out, we used to argue and it was me, on the one side and everyone else in the band, the crew, the management, on the other side, and that felt a bit weary and exhausting…. No one could understand me. My dad understood me though. When I said, ‘I’m not enjoying this’, he said ‘well stop then’. Bernard actually phoned my dad, which is hysterical to me, the idea of Bernard Rhodes phoning my dad! He said: “Your son is making a big mistake, turning his back on all this money.” My Dad came off the phone and said: “I don’t like him.”
HKG: Why were you the odd one out?
TC: Well, that’s what I didn’t realise at the time. We used to argue about politics a little bit, because I’ve always been fairly right-wing in my politics. I believe in freedom, low taxation and the free market…. We weren’t really arguing politics in the party political sense; no one really cared about that. Bernard has a style, he created a kind of hothouse, where we were all very intensely pushed together and we were kind of brain-washing each other constantly. It was very Stalinist, a very bleak, the-world-is-a-nasty-place-and-you-have-got-to-fight-for-every-single-thing-you-get, kind of vibe. I remember thinking, ‘no it isn’t, the world’s a nice place and it is fun and I love it and enjoy it. I enjoy playing music and when I become successful, I will enjoy doing that as well’. But the others were saying they couldn’t be like pop stars, and felt they had to be fighting all the time and agreed that when we got any money, they were going to give it all away. I would say: ‘Well then, how are you going to eat then?’ And it would be that kind of argument all the time and it wore me out – I felt it just wasn’t me. What I realised – and no one has ever heard this – is that I came from a very close, loving happy family and that is what I was: a happy person. The other band members came from broken or damaged homes and when you are from those kinds of homes and are told that the world is a nasty, horrible place, it’s bleak and you’ve got to fight for everything – you are more likely to say, yes and agree with that. I was completely at odds. Now all these years later, we get on fine. There is no problem, but back then, it was completely like chalk and cheese, oil and water and that is why I had to get out.
One thing Bernie said when I left was that I was a foil. He said when we argue, you always kind of put the other view forward and it gives us a chance to practice our answers before we get to the press or others who are out there. But I said, ‘its not a very fun job for me!’
Perhaps there could have been a way it could have worked. But I am quite stubborn I have to say…and so is everyone else. Everyone had strong characters. When Joe, Paul and Kosmo [Vinyl] started talking about getting rid of Mick, it didn’t make any sense to me at all. But they dug in said, ‘its ok for you, but we’ve had years and years of this issue, no good you coming along and saying everything is fine because it’s not’. You couldn’t really argue with that.
I do feel I was at the beginning and the end of The Clash although I wasn’t there for a long time. It’s kind of nice to have done it and there’s a lot of grief and hassle I missed out on! [laughs uproariously] It’s kind of neat to have done the beginning and end.
Please join me in thanking Terry and of course Herpreet for taking the time to conduct and then transcribe this excellent interview which I hope you are enjoying and that you’ll share. Please do take the time to read more about Terry’s book which is currently available in the UK and I’ll soon have copies for shipping within the US shipped from here via the blog, updates to follow.
Part two of the interview is here, my thanks for reading as always.