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Nicholas Bowen "Topper" Headon (born 30 May 1955, Bromleymarker, Kentmarker, England), known as 'Topper' (because of his resemblance to Mickey the Monkey from the Topper comic), is a British rock and roll drummer, best known for his membership in the punk rock band, The Clash.

Headon is commonly recognized with the best punk rock drummers of the late 1970s and early '80s; Allmusic writes, "producer Sandy Pearlman dubbed Headon 'The Human Drum Machine,' due to his impeccable timing and skills."

Early life

Born on 30 May 1955 in Bromleymarker, an urban centre in the London Borough of Bromleymarker, Greater Londonmarker, Englandmarker, Topper Headon started playing drums at an early age. He was a jazz fan, citing Billy Cobham as a strong influence. In 1973, Headon joined cult 70s progressive rock outfit Mirkwood, playing with them for a year and a half and during that time supporting major acts such as Supertramp. He later played with a group that opened for American R&B legends The Temptations, but he admits to occasionally lying to claim he actually played with the Temptations.

The Clash

Before meeting Headon, the Clash went through several drummers, including Terry Chimes, who recorded on the UK version of the band's self-titled debut. Headon—something of a 'journeyman' drummer—originally planned to have only a brief stay with the band, to establish a reputation and then move on. After a period in the Clash, however, Headon realized the full potential of the band, and abandoned his plan to leave the group. He played on the albums Give 'Em Enough Rope (1978), some tracks on The Clash (US version) (1979), London Calling (1979), Sandinista! (1980) and Combat Rock (1982), as well as several landmark singles the Clash produced during their early period. Also of note are his lead vocal on "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe" (from Sandinista!) and his work on the hit single "Rock the Casbah" (from Combat Rock), on which Headon composed most of the music and played drums, piano and bass guitar.

Clash singer/guitarist Joe Strummer said that Headon's drumming skills were a vital part of the band: Headon had strength and stamina, and could play convincingly in funk, reggae and other styles, in addition to traditional rock drumming.

Kicked out and years of addiction

Tensions rose between Headon and his fellow bandmembers due to his growing heroin addiction. Eventually it began affecting his drumming so much that the band gave him an ultimatum: kick the habit or be kicked out. Topper was unable to give up drugs and left the band on 10 May 1982, at the beginning of the Combat Rock tour. The band covered up the real reason for Headon's departure, claiming it was due to exhaustion.

After Headon's departure the Clash re-hired original drummer Terry Chimes for the tour.

After his work with the Clash, Topper was considered briefly for the drumming stool in Mick Jones' post-Clash band Big Audio Dynamite. However, this failed to work out because of Topper's continuing addiction.

Headon subsequently focused on recording a solo album Waking Up in 1986 released by Mercury Records, for which he enlisted guitarist Bobby Tench. He also released a cover version of the Gene Krupa classic "Drumming Man" as a single, backed by "DuKane Road". His own composition "Hope for Donna" was also included on the Mercury Records sampler Beat Runs Wild of the same year . After this album Headon was sent to jail on drug supplying charges.

Headon has spent time in the Addiction Treatment Program at the Priory Psychiatric Hospital in North Londonmarker to deal with his addiction; the hospital is internationally renowned.

Post-addiction work

Headon was interviewed extensively for the rockumentary Westway to the World. During the movie, he frankly apologized about his addiction and speculated that had he not been kicked out, the band might have lasted longer and might possibly still be together. Given the chance to repeat the experience, however, he states that he has no regrets and would do it all again, "because that's the kind of person he is".

Since the Clash broke up, he has rarely been heard from, though he did produce albums for New York band Bush Tetras. Headon contributed drums to Chelsea's 1989 Underwraps.

Although he has mostly moved out of the public eye, Headon continues to play gigs; it was after one of his shows at a pub that he was informed of the death of Clash frontman Joe Strummer. Obviously emotional, Headon said:

Headon also lamented the fact that the classic Clash line-up had been considering a reunion at the time of Strummer's death after the positive reunion during the Westway to the World rockumentary.

Headon was extensively interviewed for the Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten documentary film, about the late Clash frontman. He related his experiences during this period, how he became addicted to heroin and how there were problems before his dismissal. For example, Joe once slept with his girlfriend, which caused a lot of pain to Nick, and Mick Jones didn't want any bus-travelling without pot. Topper also said that seeing the video of "Rock the Casbah" with "someone else (Terry Chimes) in my place playing my song" caused him to fall in even greater depression and heavier drug addiction. It appears that his addiction was only part of the growing tension in the band that led to Mick Jones' dismissal a year later and the eventual break-up of the band in 1986.

On 11 January 2008, Carbon/Silicon, the new band of Mick Jones, Tony James, Leo Williams and Dominic Greensmith, played a show at the Carbon Casino Club, The Inn on the Green, 3-5 Thorpe Close, Portobello Green, London. Headon joined the band on stage during The Clash's "Train in Vain ". An encore followed with Headon playing drums on "Should I Stay or Should I Go". This performance marked the first time since 1982 that Headon and Jones had performed together on stage.

In a February 2008 newspaper article Headon revealed that in 2003 he started to experience serious back pain, a frequent complaint of aging rock drummers. Diagnosed with hyperkyphosis - forward curvature of the back - he underwent intense posture adjustment treatment and continues to exercise daily. He notes that, on his recent appearance with Jones, he exhibited his new upright stance.

He currently lives in the Dovermarker area of Kentmarker, in the southeast of England.

Drumming style

As a drummer, Headon often employed a distinctive style which emphasized a simple bass-snare up-down beat, accentuated with closed hi-hat flourishes. Such a method can be found in the songs "Clampdown", "Train in Vain", and "Lost in the Supermarket". His drumming on "Train in Vain" has been characterized as one of the most important and distinctive beats in rock music. Writes Scott Kenemore, "[h]s contribution to the music was tremendous, and his drumming remains an undiscovered treasure for too many."

Discography

For recordings made with the Clash, please see The Clash discography.
Topper Headon has released one studio album, one EP, and three singles as a solo artist and featured on several other artists albums.

Studio albums

Year Title

Record Label Notes
1986 Waking Up

Mercury 826 779-1 with guitarist Bobby Tench
1986 Beat Runs Wild

Mercury Mercury Records sampler. Topper Headon features on track B5. "Hope for Donna"


EPs

Year Title

Label Notes
1985 Leave It To Luck / East Versus West / Got To Get Out of This Heat S.O.S / Casablanca

Mercury with guitarist Bobby Tench


Singles

Year Title Album

Record Label Notes
1985 "Drumming Man / Hope For Donna"

Mercury 12"
1985 "Drumming Man / Ducaine Road (12" Mix)

Mercury 12"
1986 "Leave It To Luck / Casablanca" Waking Up

1986 "Leave It To Luck" Waking Up

Mercury
1986 "I'll Give You Everything / You're So Cheeky" Waking Up

Mercury 7"
1986 "I'll Give You Everything (Full version) / When You're Down

Got To Get Out of This Heat (Extd Mix)(CAN)"
Waking Up

Mercury 12"
1986 "I'll Give You Everything (7" mix) / I'll Give You Everything (Dub Ruj)

I'll Give You Everything (Douce Ruj) / You're So Cheeky"
Waking Up

Mercury 12"


Notes

References




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