MUDKISS FANZINE

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MARK HELFOND - THE SECRET CLASH INSIDER INTEROGATED BY MEL

Mark Helfond is a lovely man, very unassuming and gentle person (am I spoiling your street cred) he lived through the very early days of Punk (before 'Punk' had a name).

He was there with the bands, as his close friends, ‘The sex pistols’, ‘The Clash’etc.

Mark worked for The Clash manager ‘Bernie Rhodes’ and he even posed for the cover of a Clash single.I also read in John Robb's 'Oral guide to Punk History' that he ran The Clash fan club.

Marks story is relatively unknown to many and he keeps a low profile - this guy has some stories to tell................so why wait any longer let's get to it! 

Mel - Mark I know you were one of the very first to be part of the 'punk movement' in London in late 1975 you were part of the inner clash circle and your known as an authority on the early punk days ...tell me more ? You've also been very good friends with Glenn Matlock for decades, how did you meet? 

Photo of Glenn Matlock and Mark Helfond at St Martins 1975 

Mark - Glen Matlock and I met up at St Martins School of Art in 1974.

Yes that St Martins given a name check in Common People by Pulp. Reading between the lines of the song, there appears little difference between 1974 and the time Jarvis Cocker attended. For example, one fresh-faced student was funded by her father and returned home every weekend to the country estate. One Monday morning, she recounted the events of one debutant gala ball organised by her father. With glee she stated that once the chaperones had retired for the night, it then became one large orgy of roman proportions among members of the English upper classes. Princess Anne had been invited to this shindig and apparently was shocked if not surprised, whilst tiptoeing around various cavorting couples.

Anyway, what I mean by this story is that in general, females attended St Martins not as a calling, but were placed by their parents as a cheap finishing school. So as the males generally came from less higher social strata, we tended to bond together.

Other persons in our year were Frank Tovey (who went on to become Fad Gadget… now sadly no longer with us) and Nick Cash, a drummer who has worked with many groups since. In fact Nick’s name was his real name. His moniker was purloined a few years later by Keith Lucas (from Ian Dury’s Kilburn and the High Roads who then formed 999).

 
Mel - How did you get start to get acquainted with ‘The sex pistols’ in 1976? 

Mark - Sometimes Glen would bring some of his friends into the School canteen. Glen introduced his friends as Steve and Paul. Nearly all teenagers then had long hair and we were all no different. One day, Glen, Steve and Paul came into the canteen and they all had their locks chopped off. They stated that they had started a band that was named QT and the Sex Pistols. They asked if Nick and I would like to see their band rehearse that night at Hammersmith Studios.
 

MelWhat about the artwork during this period? 

Mark - During the coming months while at Art School, Glen introduced me to the manager of his group and his friend Bernard Rhodes. While talking to them, I became aware of many original ideas and philosophies. I read Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles in which children only steal items that are useless and watched films made by Jean Genet. Indeed the early Pistols London gigs were often accompanied by films made by Genet, Bunuel, and others. Bernard used to bring artwork he designed to College for Glen to produce screen prints. These designs ended up on the T-Shirts that the band eventually wore on stage and were sold in Malcolm McLaren's shop.

Mel - When you worked for Bernie Rhodes and the clash why were you called Mark “Frothler” Helfond. 

Mark - I found this out only over recent years. I got the nickname from Steve Jones. Apparently he believed I had a resemblance to Frankie Howard and his mannerisms. You may remember Up Pompeii, when Howard’s character Lurcio in every episode never managed to complete the prologue. This Steve called “frothering”. So there you go.

Mark on stage with 'The Clash's Joe Strummer 

Mel Give us a good on the road Clash Gig tale.......spill the beans
 

Mark - I’ll tell you about one of the best gigs I’ve seen. In 1977, the Clash did a 3 date excursion in France prior to the White Riot tour. On the way to the first date, our car got hit by a twat French farmer. The car spun in the air and we landed upside down. The car was a write-off but miraculously no-one was injured. We were on our way to Rouen... so naturally enough the mini tour was nicknamed “the road to Rouen”.  At the venue, we were faced with a crowd of hairy-arsed Frenchmen just looking for trouble. The band when confronted with this potential explosion of violence, thought “fuck ‘em, we’ll show ‘em” and proceeded to knock out a gig of pure excellence. At the end, they had turned round the audience. From anger to love in an hour. Absolutely amazing.

 

Mel - A little unknown fact for our readers you appeared on the cover of the single 'rock the cashbah' who's idea was this and how long did you have to stand on one leg lol

 
Mark - Kosmo Vinyl, the band’s publicist and grand fromage, was responsible for the set-up.  He cajoled me into dressing up as a frummer… an orthodox hasidic jew with all the trimmings… fake hair plats, the Polish business man outfit, a large hat purchased from ‘Golders Green Road’, dark shades, the whole shebang.

The photo session was arranged for Peter Ashworth’s studio in Clerkenwell. Kosmo had in tow one of his mates, again cajoled for the Arab role. Peter decided to use fast film for the session, which meant having set up the pose, the characters had to hold the pose due to the long shutter speed. From my ungainly position, you may gather that it was extremely difficult to maintain complete stillness and I fell over on my arse a few times before Peter got the pic he wanted.

Mel - You appear in 'The devil dolls rock n roll street gang video' with Ray Gange (The Rude Boy actor), to a B side track of theirs called Radio London. How did this come about?

I think you filmed in and around Camden in April 07 The weekend I came to London and met you. I bought the single as parts of the proceeds were going to ‘Strummerville’ otherwise known as The Joe Strummer Foundation for New Music. (Ray Gange was selling them at ‘Strummercamp’, he sold me a copy) and you are credited on the back.
 

Mark - About 5 years ago, Glen got invited to Cleveland, Ohio to perform an acoustic gig and participate in a question and answer session at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I decided to tag along for an extended weekend. While there I met Billy Nowhere and we kept in touch. About a year ago he contacted me. With his band, he had recorded a re-tread version of The Clash’s “I’m so bored with the USA” plus a B side Radio London. He wanted to film some stock footage of the areas that the Clash used to hang about. Unfortunately Billy wasn’t able to make it across the pond himself and asked me to ensure the right places were filmed.

Thirty years on and time marches on. There’s not many a building or places left. For example the pub the Clash used to frequent, ‘The Caernarfon Castle’ became a clothes shop by Camden Lock. Incidentally the building was destroyed in the fire around a year ago with along with ‘The Lock Tavern’…. despite the pub adorning itself with pictures of the Clash, the band never went there. It was always the dirty hippy pub… you know, patchouli oil, beads, headbands that kind of thing. Anyway, with some of Billy’s mates in tow, I showed the guys where to film. The rehearsal studio, Portobello Road and the steps from the front cover of The Clash first album.

Mel - What has changed from the 70's music scene to today's music industry? 

Mark - I recently bumped into a friend of a friend who owns one of the last independent record stores in London. He states he just can’t make ends meet. He said he could get in a coffee shop to offset some of the costs… but didn’t want to. Hey, if he wanted to open up a coffee shop he would. Like other independent record stores, he dreamt of a creating an area where like-minded people could gather. But to answer your question, there is no scene. London is a tourist attraction… people from all over the world arrives to take pictures of a music heritage long gone… like the ruins of the Coliseum in Rome or the Parthenon in Athens. Relics of a long lost civilisation.  Kids definitely want something to tap into… but it just isn’t there… I wish it was.

Mel - Do you still see any of ‘The Clash’ members around? What do you think about the music they are making now, such as Carbon/Silicone and The good the bad and the queen? What's Bernie Rhodes doing these days?

 
Mark I still see Paul, Mick and Topper very occasionally. Although as Topper lives in Dover, I bump into him infrequently. Paul spends quite a bit of time in Spain where he feels he absorbs greater inspiration for his painting. One thing Paul gets a bit narked with is the name of the group he formed with Damon Alburn. Think back to Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns… The good, the bad and the ugly stars Clint Eastwood as the man with no name… so consequently the band with no name makes an album called ‘The good, the bad and the queen’ as a homage. If they knock another CD, it may be called For a more queen more.

Bernard is working on his novels and threatens to release the first of the trilogy later this year.

Mark with Veronica Wurter, Glenn Matlock and Spizz Engergi 

Mel - What music do you listen to now - what bands do you go and see live? 

Mark - Have to say that there’s not a lot out there which tickles the fancy. But over the past year I can recommend ‘Kitty, Daisy and Lewis’.  A three piece band of teenage siblings, knocking out various interpretations of early R’n R. 

Also, try to check out ‘The Hugs’ from Portland Oregon, if they manage to come your way.

Sad to say that I’ve seen many bands over the past year, and none of them have that edge.  Hey, I would really love to see something fresh, stimulating and vital but unfortunately it’s just not there.  Maybe that’s the reason why The Police, Queen etc all can raise their heads over the parapet again. Just no decent competition.

Mel - I see you have a great interest in literature and the arts - tell us more. Who/what are your inspirations? 

Mark - I can always read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and what makes Sammy run by Budd Schulberg. I revisit those books constantly. Patricia Highsmith’s stuff is cool. Most people would’ve dipped into the Ripley series but I also recommend her short stories. I’ve always loved Allen Jones and over the past few years managed to acquire a few prints and watercolors. In fact on my visit to a private view, I got invited to dinner afterwards with the great man. Fantastic!

Mel - Did you read 'Redemption song' the biography of Joe Strummer by Chris Salewicz and if so what was your opinion?

Mark - I haven't read the book, I know he spent yonks on research and he is a real nice bloke... but a criticism I've heard is that there's not enough of Joe's dark side included. Joe made promises he knew he couldn't keep and many close people got turned over.. not Machiavellian stylee, but strung up like a kipper nether the less. Yet because of his charm and personality, few are bitter... Joe did have that aura that filled a big room. For a top read, I'd recommend Pat Gilbert's "Passion is a fashion"... very well rounded and does provide a true flavour of events and character.

Mel - Finally one last question what about the Joe Strummer movie by Julian Temple? I know you went to see this what was your impressions, did it do Joe justice?

Mark - As a kid, I remember Neapolitan Ice Cream.. I don't know if Walls still make it, but it was three different flavours and colours of ice cream in one slab. Now "The future is unwritten" is a bit like that but not so tasty. It starts off being a straight documentary and then into something else & then into some lark about campfires. I left scratching my head & wondered was it me, only to turn round and notice that everyone was bewildered as well.

Many thanks for the interview Mark  - see you in 'The Elephants Head' drinks are on me !!

 Photo of Mark and Glenn still friends after 30 plus years on holiday in L.A

 

CHECK OUT MARKS MYSPACE

http://www.myspace.com/popgoestheweaselnow