Released today in 1982: Know Your Rights



The 1982 disappearance of Joe Strummer on the eve of a 19-date UK tour by his band The Clash was one of the strangest episodes in British pop that spring. Various rumours circulated at time and later:

  • The Clash’s manager Bernard Rhodes was disappointed with ticket sales for the Scottish dates in the tour and had arranged Strummer’s absence as a publicity stunt, and it had gone wrong when Strummer went AWOL for real without telling anyone where he was going
  • Strummer had quit the band and was going solo
  • Strummer’s girlfriend’s mother had been arrested in Paris and he had gone to sort it out

  • At the time though the New Musical Express followed the story every week as it developed, and this is what was reported…

    ★ Friday 16 April 1982

    NME lists the dates for the tour, announcing that the title is the same as their forthcoming single, the ‘Know Your Rights’ tour. The single is a taster from the new album, the working title for which is Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg.

    ★ Wednesday 21 April 1982

    Joe Strummer is last seen at The Clash’s office in London. He completes a telephone interview with a Scottish newspaper ahead of first dates on tour which will take place in Scotland, starting with an extra date in Aberdeen not announced in the NME article.

    ★ Friday 23 April 1982

    Release of Know Your Rights single, initial copies of which include a free ‘know your rights’ sticker.

    ★ Monday 26 April 1982

    The concert in Aberdeen is cancelled due to Strummer’s absence.

    ★ Tuesday 27 April 1982

    Concert in Inverness cancelled. The NME goes to press on Tuesdays, ready for its Thursday street date. The latest news on Tuesday morning from Rhodes is that he hopes Strummer will return in time to save the first of two dates in Edinburgh. In the issue of NME that is published (week ending 1 May 1982), readers with any information about Strummer’s whereabouts are advised to contact Sheila at The Clash’s office; the telephone number is provided.

    ★ Tuesday 4 May 1982

    As the NME goes to press, Strummer is still missing. By now the first 11 dates of the tour have been moved to July, but it is still hoped that those scheduled after mid-May will continue as planned. Mid-May has been determined as the cut-off date for refunds for the postponed shows; otherwise, ticker holders may transfer their attendance to the rescheduled date at the same town. Sightings have been reported of Strummer in Paris and London over the past two weeks.

    ★ Saturday 8 May 1982

    Kosmo Vinyl from The Clash’s office announces that serious efforts to locate Strummer are being made. The w/e 15 May issue of NME reports: “Events took a dramatic turn last weekend, when the band’s spokesman Kosmo Vinyl claimed that a private detective had been working on the Strummer case, and had now located the absentee.”

    ★ Friday 14 May 1982

    Album, now with the ambiguous title of Combat Rock, is released.

    ★ Monday 17 May 1982

    Vinyl tells the NME: “I think we’ll soon be back in business. I’m just off now, hopefully to bring Joe back.” Vinyl is seen heading in the general direction of Paris.

    ★ Tuesday 18 May 1982

    Agent Ian Flukes of Wasted Talent takes the decision to re-schedule the remaining dates of the tour. He explained: “I’ve not heard from Kosmo since he left for Europe – so, in view of the time factor, I’ve had to take the initiative.”

    An hour later, Strummer is found in Paris.

    ★ Thursday 20 May 1982

    The reunited The Clash perform at the Lochem Festival in Holland. As there is scepticism about The Clash appearing, and rain is pouring down, most of the crowd leave the venue after last confirmed act of the night. “Those who stayed saw a slightly-subdued Strummer lead the band through a full Clash set,” says the NME. “Reportedly suffering from a sore throat, Joe made no on-stage reference to his recent disappearance.”

    ★ Friday 21 May 1982

    The Clash arrive back in the UK and drummer ‘Topper’ Headon quits.

    ★ Saturday 29 May 1982

    Interview with Strummer appears in this week’s NME. He is asked about his disappearance and the exit of Headon and says, “Well… it was something I wanted to prove to myself: that I was still alive. It’s very much being like a robot, being in a band … rather than go barmy and go mad, I think it’s better to do what I did even for a month…. I think I would have started drinking a lot on the tour, maybe. Started becoming petulant with the audience, which isn’t the sort of thing you should do… but it’s very different now Toper’s left. It’s back to the old trio now.”

    NEW SINGLES on sale from Apr. 23
    The CLASH Know Your Rights (CBS CBSA2309)
    Hazel O’CONNOR That’s Life (Albion ION1032)
    Mari WILSON Baby It’s True (The Compact Organization PINK3)


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