Eine kleine rock'n'roll espresso with...
So Jonny m’old mucka, where did you go to school?
What big school? Grown up school?
No little school.
My very first school was called Mrs McCathry’s in St. John’s Wood.
St. John’s Wood. Isn’t that abroad?
Yeah, they used to make us go up the stairs and bow. And at the end of the day we had to bow backwards down the stairs. The headmistress would sit at the very top of the house and that fat old bitch would beat us with some piece of wood. How times have changed.
Do you think that sort of abuse affected your grown up life?
Yeah, I didn’t grow up. But then I went to Arnold House which was alright. I did alot of sport there. I did a lot of boxing there - in fact, believe it or not I was going to become a professional boxer. Then when I was thirteen I discovered smoking, birds and masturbating so I decided boxing wasn’t such a good idea.
Can I put that in?
Yeah, why not?
What? smoking, birds and masturbation...
In that order!
When did you come to Hampstead?
I was born in Wandsworth and came to Hampstead when was six months old because I was adopted. I was born in Clapham Jewish Boys Home. It’s no longer there.
Did they accept ‘Goys’ there?
Probably, yeah. Anyway, I was very lucky cos I was adopted and came to live in Hampstead in 1957. My parents bought a house in Greenaway Gardens , one of Hampstead’s poshest streets for £8,000 which was very, very cheap even then. We were the poorest rich people in the street. So I grew up in Hampstead and went to Highgate School.
Did they beat you with a stick there as well?
No. I was lucky because the day I started there was my thirteenth birthday and they’d just abolished fagging but we still had to wear a cap and a three piece suit which was really weird. All you had to do to be a rebel at Highgate School was to wear black socks instead of grey socks. But what I used to do was turn up in a Prince of Wales chequered suit and when they went mad about it I told them my other my parents couldn’t afford to buy two suits. Of course it was lost on them how I could afford a Prince of Wales suit. But it was actually quite a cheap polyester affair that I’d saved up for and unfortunately it caught fire at some Sloanies party. Around 1970 I got into wearing two-tone suits. I used to wear a Ben Sherman shirt, a wine-red sleaveless pullover and red braces - I didn’t go for Doc Martins, that was bone-head stuff. I had a Crombie though.
A sort of Mod look?
It was called Sued-Head at the time. I had this cheap Crombie with a velvet collar and we used to wear a handkerchief in the breast pocket with three points showing and a diamond stud in it. It was all in the detail. We wore Stay-press trousers which had to be about three inches too short so you could see the white socks: my parents thought something miraculous had happened to me because I was actually wearing a suit, then they noticed the shortened trousers and white socks and they realised I looked like something out of the circus. The shoes were Salacio’s - in a sort of basket weave style with metal tips on them which was really stupid because you’d fall arse over tit all the time.
When did you get into drumming?
My brother played drums. He was in a band at school. So when my brother was out I used to sneak in and play drums when I was about thirteen. And my parents were really good because they’d let me practice at the top of the house. They never actually said as much but I think it was their way of getting back at the neighbours. I’d asked the Sgt. Major at Highgate School for drumming lessons.
Yeah, it was a public school and we had a Sgt. Major. It was only twenty five years after the second world war and it was still all quite militaristic.
I always think of 1970 as being very hippy a la Withnail & I. But of course the establishment and public schools in particular were still very stiff -bit like that fantastic Lindsay Anderson film If.
Yeah. You either had to join the army, join the airforce or do public service every Tuesday afternoon. So I went for public service.
They should do that with hoodies now, shouldn’t they!
I had to go and see this old lady at a nursing home around the corner from the school and she died, which was convenient because I just took Tuesday afternoons off to go and shag my girlfriend.
What she was still dead, lying there whilst you ere shagging your girlfriend?
No, stupid, I just didn’t tell the school that she’d died in the nursing home.
Are you sure you didn’t leave her there, rotting away in a nursing home cupboard?
No, obviously she’d pegged out, bless her. She was lovely actually. Got all her rings off her and everything - (laughs) Not really.
So that’s why your so wealthy today?
No, shut up.
So what was your first band and were you in Hampstead at the time?
I’ve always been in Hampstead - albeit at that time I was in West Hampstead: a right shit-hole in Burrard Rd. The rent was pennies: no heating, no hot water, pay the electric in a meter with 10p coins. You know the sort of place.
Yeah - you’re my landlord, remember!
So, ahem, Rigsby, you’re in West Hampstead and gigging as a drummer, right?
Ahem...Well actually I started off as a tape op[erator] at the Marquee Studios and did all sorts of other bits and bobs and ended up hanging out with all the musicians like Led Zep.
Then you played with The Clash, right?
Yeah, it was when their first single, White Riot came out and they’d just made it. At first I thought Punk was awful but one day the penny dropped and I thought this is great so all the hair came off and I got beaten up that night outside Maxwell’s. So I got this black eye and my parent’s returned from holiday to find this completely different person - it wasn’t long hair and flairs anymore and my father hit me because he said I’d turned into a Nazi.
So anyway, I go down to the Stables in Camden Town and Joe Strummer was garbling out of the side of his mouth saying things like you’re not a punk and I said, “you’re The Clash aren’t you” and he said, “how do you know?” and I said, ”it’s written on the back of your bleedin’ jacket”. And it was weird because I had to go and have my hair cut properly - or not properly - so ironically it was a bit like public school, really. There was a lot of bullying and pier pressure and they really went out of their way to make you feel like the new boy. For example, I remember Mick Jones expected me to carry his bloody guitar in for him so I left it in the street and just drove off.
I also refused to wear a swastika which a lot of Punks used to do. The Clash weren’t really like that.
But Punks weren’t Nazis, where they?
No, they were just into shocking everyone. So they wore swastikas. It was shock they were into. That’s why when I got into punk my dad thought I’d turned into a Nazi. But of course I’m not and I never wore a swastika.
So, in the end I fell out with Joe Strummer and phoned him up and said, “Sorry mate, I’m not into this”.
And he said, what do you mean? Nobody leaves The Clash,” and I said, “Well, I’ve just done it mate!” And he said “You had better put your nose to the grind-stone Mossy-boy”. He was all ‘front’, Joe. He was alright really. Anyway that was that.
So then I formed this band called London. We nearly got a song on an advert for Golden Wonder crisps. Didn’t happen in the end but I really learned my trade. We went on tour with The Adverts and The Stranglers and it was right in the middle of Punk, but that’s when all the skin-head shit happened. I got suff chucked at me at every gig. I got stabbed. But I was lucky because living in Hampstead I used to go to The Nags Head (Ed. Sadly now Knight Frank, A.k.a. Shite W*nk, the esate agent) and they were all bikers.
Yeah, the front bar of the Flask used to have a lot of bikers too. I remember Lol and his legendary crow-bar.
I didn’t used to go to the Flask. It was always the Holly Bush or The Nags Head in those days. And I went to The Black Lion in West Hampstead sometimes. Not sure why I went there: think it was because they had a Durex machine.
So luckily all these biker guys used to come along to the gigs and there always used to be an almighty fight between them and the skins.
So they were almost like your Hampstead biker minders. It’s a shame about The Nag’s Head: I can’t see the Knight Frank possé giving you much protection today.
Yeah, but it just went on and on. There’s no way I could do that today. I got ussed to it then but it was pretty nasty stuff. I’m not like that really I don’t really have it in me. I’m not a fighter.
(Puts on effeminate Michael Jackson voice) You mean, “I’m a lover not a fighter, Paul...”
Very funny. Yeah, you know what I mean. But then again it toughened you up a bit and made you aware of the reality of things...
Yeah, that whole era was about getting chased by skins. I remember getting the shit kicked out of me in Hampstead High Street outside the Bird In Hand (ED. Now Café Scrooge) when I was thirteen by six skin-heads for no reason whatsoever in broad daylight. And everyone just walked past and did nothing. They think the hoodie youth of today are a problem - their f**king panzies compared to the skins from the Winch or the Abbey Road estate in those days.
Yeah, it was a very violent time (Ed. circa. 1978-82). I remember ten years after Culture Club finished going back and doing small gigs again and thinking “oh, shit, here we go again”, but it had all changed and there wasn’t any trouble anymore - and I thought “phew, what a relief!”.
So after London, I joined The Damned. Their drummer, Rat Scabies had gone bonkers.
Not surprising with a name like Rat Scabies.
Yeah he did actually go mad for a while, so we went on tour all over the place and that’s when I met all the Hell’s Angels through my brother who was a biker and they were quite good. They were actually quite handy. I remember I went back to the club house. The thing with the Hell’s Angels, like any ‘gang’ is there’s always a bloke called Mo, Spanner and Spider. And a bloke called ‘Tiny’ who’s the biggest bloke.
Spider’s always very skinny or has a hair-lip and Spanner’s the one who see’s colours.
So the Damned sort of fell apart and then I had a car crash as I was driving down Frognal from the Admirals House end. It was New Years Eve and I was on my way to meet with The Ramones. I was going to join The Ramones and they were playing at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park. It was at that bit near the top of Frognal that has no pavement. This bloke in a pink Jaguar XJS flashed me to go on and then he accelerated.
That was nice of him.
So I went through the windscreen and ended up at the Royal Free. I was quite badly bashed up.
(Pedantic Ed. Note to drivers: according to Highway Code, the flashing of lights means simply “I am here”, not, “you go first”. It also states that the driver going up hill has right of way. So, drivers, bare that in mind or you might end up down the Royal Free).
So to recouperate I went up to this guy Lou’s in place in Norfolk. He was completely mad and dug this basement. He actually dug it himself - it sounds mad now - it was probably really dangerous. Anyway, he built this studio in it and Captain Sensible of The Damned came up and we wrote this album. We did some really good recordings. The Captain didn’t stay but we became The Edge. After that eventually went tits-up I was doing a gig for a band called Gloria Mundy at UCL in Gower Street and got beaten up by about thirty skin-heads.
There were hundreds of these really hard-core skins there and as I was packing away my drum kit this bone-head got on stage and started going ‘zieg-heil, zieg-heil’. I had this new drum kit that I’d just saved up for and had nearly finished packing it away: I’d just literally only the base drum to go and this skin-head turned round and went “fucking yid”. They new there was a jew in the band - they always used to go ‘fucking jew drummer this and that”. So I ended up being beaten up by thirty people... the only good thing about being battered by thirty skins is that when there’s that many of them they can’t all get to you properly and end up kicking the back of some blokes calves or whatever. They were all so out of it they end up beating themselves up. I just went into a small ball and rode the storm. I didn’t actually come off too badly because I was wearing leather trousers and a leather jacket. There was one bloke - I think he was gay - he was trying to help me. He had me by the hair and I ended up with a big clump of hair missing. But at least he tried to help. They were just about to throw me off this really high stage to the hundred or so skins in the audience and I thought, ‘this is it. I’m going to die’, then the police came in the nick of time. Then this policeman picks me up, put’s me in a Half-Nelson and starts banging my head up against the f**king wall.
So I got away with a couple of bruised ribs, a broken nose and a couple of black eyes. I was lucky. They were all off their faces on cheap speed and alcohol and didn’t know what they were doing.
So how did Culture Club come about?
It’s quite weird. I’d split up with this girlfriend. She was called Jane Eyre who was signed to Stiff Records and the Edge become her backing band. Then Virgin wanted to sign us but said “without the drummer!” I thought, ‘hang on a minute’ and it turned out it was because Richard Branson wanted to get into her pants, so I was given the elbow. It was about 1980 and everythings fallen apart.
I ended up working here, just next to La Gaffe - there used to be a video copying place. I had about four jobs at the same time. I’d stick all the videos in and then I had two hours; I’d take the van they’d given me and go and do some jobs for some other people; come back, take the videos out and then go and do another job with the other van. That’s what Culture Club was started on - all that money. I was on about £400 a week, which in 1980 was a lot of money.
So anyway, just prior to that I went completely bonkers: I’d come back from this little tour and everyone had gone weird. They were all going (breaks into laid back accent) “Hi Jon, so what are you doing?” It turned out everyone had gone on this Exegesis thing and it was the sort of must-do find yourself experience thing at the time.
(Ed. Apparently the goal of biblical exegesis is to find the meaning of the text which then leads to discovering its significance or relevance- What? Learn how to read? Oh dear. I’m glad I missed out on that little spiritual-fad).
I thought if I went on this course thing, I’d some how win the woman back or whatever. So, anyway, I had about £250 quid in my pocket and thought, sod it - I’ll go along. There were about a hundred and fifty people there and this bloke got me up on stage and said “So what are you here for Jon?” And I said, “I want to be a successful musician”. It suddenly occured to me why I was there - I wasn’t there for that bloody woman at all. (Ed. Halleluyah! Jonny saw the light!) Obviously the whole thing was a load of b*ll*cks - you know - but funnily enough, six months later we started Culture Club and I thought “Blimey, it worked!”.
How very splendid! So how did Culture Club come about?
Oh yeah...Adam and the Ants! I went down for an audition with Adam and the Ants and made a couple of records with them. I couldn’t stand him. We were in Wales and there were about twenty people and the table and everyone said...we have to wait for Adam. He hated smoking. (Ed. Sounds like a dinner party with the Führer!) So I put the drum tracks down and got out of there. The next thing I know they made it really big.
So you left the Clash just before they became really big; you left Adam and the Ants just before they got really big - Did you start to think you were doomed to failure?
No, because I didn’t want to be in a band where I would just be the person they would tell what to do.
You wearn’t Ringo.
No Ringo’s different. Don’t be insulting to Ringo - How dare you! (Ed. Yeah, how very dare you, you infidel heathen! Ringo rocks!)
This is all rather fascinating but how did Culture Club come about?
Oh yeah, I got acall from this guy Terry Razor who said, (Jon breaks into thick Glaswegian accent) “there’s this boke called George who’s got a band, d’ya wanna come and try out for’t?”.
So I went along and I walked in and there was George and he had Mikey at the time and some other guy - poor guy - whom I sacked the next day. As soon as I met George I knew: I just knew. He had ‘it’. There were a couple of minor hurdles not least of which were the band was called In Praise Of Lemmings. Then he wanted to call it Sex Gang Children. So I said, George, do you want to be successful? Because if you do, maybe you should change the name. But we actually sold it for a tenner to some punk band.
So then he came up with Caravan Club and then I came up with Culture Club but he wanted to call himself Papa George, which is horrible isn’t it, so I called him Boy George and took him to Belmondo Hats in Golders Green -which isn’t there anymore - and bought him a Streimal and of course he had the dread-locks which were very trendy at the time.
So this poor bloke called ‘Suede’. He was a nice bloke. I was completely rude to hime and although I’d only been in the band a day I just told him “you’ve got to go”. And then we met Roy from Essex. It was quite good because George was from South London, I was from North London, Mikey was from West London and Roy was from East London. We were all completely different - so it was a good name. We really were a Culture Club. We could have called ourself The News, couldn’t we? North, East, West, South. That’s where the word news comes from, you know that don’t you?
I think the Arkala of the 15th Hampstead cubs mentioned it once - I don’t think you’d have been quite so successful with that name, do you? That’s done it! Now there’ll be some massive band called The News and they’ll all point back to this interview and we’ll be ridiculed forever!
Yeah and we’d have to (cont on page 42)