Bernard Rhodes

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Bernard Rhodes
Birth name Bernard Rhodes
Occupation(s) Record producer, designer, songwriter
Years active 1960s-present
Associated acts The Clash
Dexy's Midnight Runners
Subway Sect
The Specials

Bernard Rhodes has influenced the music scene hugely [1] . He was responsible for discovering John Lydon in the mid 1970s and guiding him into what became the Sex Pistols. He talked Joe Strummer into becoming lead singer for a group he was putting together: the Clash.

Other groups nurtured and managed by Rhodes include the Specials, Dexys Midnight Runners, Vic Godard, Subway Sect, Jo Boxers, the Lous, Black Arabs and Watts from Detroit.

Bernard Rhodes built and then operated out of his Camden studio Rehearsal Rehearsals in what is now Camden Market. The area around the studio rapidly became a well known hangout for punks and contributed to the growth of Camden as a hip area. [1]

Biography and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Rhodes was raised in Stepney, east London. He says he never knew his father and owing to his mother Millie unable to make ends meet, he was placed into care at a South London orphanage, where he remained until he was 15.[citation needed]

Rhodes's mother was a Russian-Jewish evacuee. She worked for Huntsman's in Saville Row making suits for Cary Grant and later Hawes & Curtis, where John Pearse of the sixties boutique Granny Takes a Trip, was apprenticed to her. [2]

In the early 1960s Rhodes and Pearse shared a flat at 68 Hamilton Terrace, St John's Wood. It soon became a hangout for a cool London crowd: Mick Jagger, Marc Bolan, Micky Finn, the Small Faces and Guy Stevens (who Rhodes later brought in to produce the Clash) were regular visitors. [2]

Towards the late sixties Bernard won a Design Council award for a children's educational toy he designed, utilising newly developed plastic techniques. [3]


In the early 1970s he had a pop up shop in the Antiquarius Market Chelsea, selling his hand printed silk screen designs on shirts and T-shirts, plus a selection of rare reggae records. [4]

During this time he became re-acquainted with Malcolm McLaren and his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood, who were operating out of SEX at 430 King's Road. Finding they shared a similar philosophy, Rhodes and McLaren went into business together collaborating on T-shirts which were then sold in SEX [5].

The legendary T-shirt 'You're Gonna Wake Up One Morning and Know What Side of the Bed You've Been Lying On' was created and printed by Rhodes in his own hand-writing, for the SEX boutique. Vivienne Westwood wanted to expand the sleeveless T-shirt clothing line. Bernard was an ideal colleague. He had the practical skill of printing and his 'complex, meandering discourse threw up many new ideas'. [5] Wake Up One Morning was one of those ideas. Rhodes has described it as a 'visual rap'. [5]

Rhodes has described the difference between himself and Malcolm McLaren: 'Malcolm likes to titilate but I get down to substance'. [6]


Sex Pistols[edit]

By 1975, SEX had become a hangout for a bunch of teenagers from which the Sex Pistols would emerge. Rhodes took the group under his wing while McLaren was in New York looking after the New York Dolls. [7]

John Lydon recalls wearing his 'I Hate Pink Floyd' T-shirt and being spotted by Rhodes on the King's Road; Rhodes insisted he meet McLaren, Steve Jones and Paul Cook in the local pub, The Roebuck, that evening. Afterwards, Rhodes had Lydon come back to the shop to audition. [8] Bernard was as much responsible for the Sex Pistols early guidance as McLaren. [9]

Lydon says: "He (Rhodes) was important to me in so many ways. When I first joined the Pistols, Bernie would often take me aside and tell me, 'Go with it. Honest, it will be good. You'll get there.' He would indicate to me where the problems with the Pistols would be in the future. He would sow a seed and then wait to see if I would pick up on it." [10]

Mark Helfond [11] recalls how Sex Pistols bass player Glen Matlock introduced him to Rhodes as his "friend and the manager of his group". Rhodes used to bring artwork he had designed to the college for Glen to produce screen prints. These designs ended up on T-shirts the band (Sex Pistols) eventually wore on stage and were sold in McLaren's shop. [11]

The Clash[edit]

After his offer to co-manage the Sex Pistols was rejected, Rhodes was instrumental in the Clash's formation in 1976.

Mick Jones, wearing a 'Wake Up' T-shirt, approached Rhodes after a Sex Pistols appearance, thinking Bernard was a keyboard player. They started talking about groups and the relationship was the starting point for what would eventually become the Clash. [12]

Joe Strummer credits Rhodes as the mentor of the group. He constructed the Clash and focussed them; provided the group's philosophy and infrastructure. He told them to write about social issues occurring at the time, e.g. unemployment, inner city riots. [13]

Strummer said Rhodes was the only one who understood how one should go about getting known. [13]

Paul Simonon: 'You cannot over-estimate Bernie's importance. He set up the whole punk scene basically. He saw how non-musicians like myself and John (Lydon) could contribute.' [1]

Rhodes called his friend Guy Stevens in to produce the early Polydor recordings in 1977.[14] The group later used Stevens to produce London Calling. Rhodes also sought out Lee 'Scratch' Perry to produce the single 'Complete Control'. [15]

On 25 January 1977 he signed the Clash to CBS Records headed by Maurice Oberstein who promised to allow the group to do what they wanted on record and CBS would promote it. [16]

[S]igning that contract did bother me a lot. I've been turning it over in my mind, but now I've come to terms with it. I've realised that all it boils down to is perhaps two year's security.... Before, all I could think about was my stomach.... Now I feel free to think—and free to write down what I'm thinking about.... And look—I've been fucked about for so long I'm not going to suddenly turn into Rod Stewart just because I get £25.00 a week. I'm much too far gone for that, I tell you.

—Joe Strummer, March 1977[17]

After a couple of albums, including their first which Rhodes helped produce with Mickey Foote, Rhodes felt the group were drifting away from their street ideals and they parted company in late 1978.

1979-1981 Outside the Clash[edit]

This period was very productive for Rhodes. From his Rehearsal Rehearsals studio he nurtured and managed the groups Subway Sect, The Specials, Dexys Midnight Runners, the Black Arabs and other interesting musical projects.

The intro to The Specials version of 'Gangsters' begins with the line:' Bernie Rhodes knows, don't argue' [18]

Dexys Midnight Runners single Dance Stance was released in 1979 on the Oddball Productions Label owned by Bernard Rhodes. [19] Rhodes later signed the group to EMI Records.

The first album by Subway Sect, the influential 'What's the Matter Boy' was also released on Oddball Productions in 1980.

Rhodes introduced the idea of using a Barundi drum beat to Malcolm McLaren [20] who gave it to Adam Ant. This lead to the sound of Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980) by Adam and the Ants.

Club Left[edit]

During the early 1980s Rhodes opened the infamous Club Left in Wardour Street Soho with the phrase 'Cool, Bop & Swing'.

On this, Rhodes says: "I was interested in creating a space away from the music industry. Club Left dealt with deep ideas, fun, art graphics and romance. It created an alternative to what the music industry had to offer." [21]

Club Left was presenting people such as Dig Wayne, Tom Cat, Lady Blue, Johnny Britton, Sade and Bananarama who played their first live gig there. Plus Georgie Fame and Slim Gaillard, who featured in Jack Kerouac's 1957 novel 'On the Road'. The regular house band was Vic Godard and Subway Sect.

Sean McLusky recalls that Rhodes gave him a break at Club Left in 1981, then got a deal and mainstream success for his band Jo Boxers. They had a hit on both sides of the Atlantic with their single 'Just Got Lucky'. McLusky says: 'Bernard never got the credit for things that were his. He has been the undefined force'.[21]

1981: Return to the Clash[edit]

Joe said if Bernard did not come back and manage the Clash he would quit the group. [22]

Once back, Rhodes decided to remix 'Magnificent 7'. A 12 inch single dance remix, 'Magnificent Dance', was released on 12 April 1981. Production was credited to 'Pepe Unidos', a pseudonym for Strummer, Rhodes and Simonon. The record became the 'street' soundtrack for New York that summer. 'Pepe Unidos also produced 'The Cool Out', a remix of ' The Call Up'.[23]

Bonds NYC[edit]

Mick Jones: 'Bernie came back on the scene because people thought that we'd gotten out of control and the first thing he wanted to do was book us for seven nights in New York'. [24]

The residency at Bond's Casino in NYC in the first two weeks of June 1981 were organised by Rhodes. Support acts included: the Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Funkapolitan, Texan band Joe Ely, Grandmaster Flash, Lee Perry, Treacherous Three and the Sugarhill Gang.

Rhodes notes that it was because of these Bonds shows that the public became more interested in hip-hop.'I endeavoured to get these guys on, like Grandmaster Flash; not that most of the audience liked them. But that led to a helluvalot'. [25]

The record company were not behind the triple album Sandinista, recorded in Rhode's absence [26] but Kosmo Vinyl states that with the Bond's residency, the Clash 'clawed their way back into the Premiership'. [27]

Mick Sacking[edit]

There has been much disingenuous blaming of Rhodes for this. However Paul Simonon states quite clearly that Bernard was not aware it was going to happen nor was he in favour of it once Joe and Paul decided to be rid of Jones. A fact only disclosed to Mick just after Joes's death at the Rock Hall of Fame induction. [28]

It should be understood that Rhodes did not sack other Clash members Keith Levene or Topper Headon. In fact Rhodes helped Levene towards his group PIL.

After the Mick sacking, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon held blind auditions to recruit two new guitarists. Joe states they auditioned somewhere near 350 guitarists and found Nick in the first batch, Vince (White) in the second. [29] Rhodes had no role in the choice of musicians.

Cut the Crap[edit]

According to guitarist Vince White, the working title of the Clash's last studio album, released in 1985, was Out of Control; the title was changed to Cut the Crap by Rhodes shortly before its release without consulting the band. Rhodes also produced the record under the name of Jose Unidos. He is credited, together with Joe Strummer, for co-writing all the tracks of that album.[30][31][32]

'This is England': whilst the album is often criticised, the single This is England has been widely praised. Joe Strummer has stated it was the last great Clash song. It has inspired many, including Shane Meadows whose movie and TV series have the same name. [33]

Doug Watts[edit]

1990 and Rhodes re-located from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Georgia. Doug Watts, the lead singer of a black metal band, Naked Truth, asked Bernard for help. Rhodes heavily rehearsed the band over several months and brought in a new bass player. Then independently produced their critically acclaimed album titled Green with Rage. Rhodes signed the band to Sony Records. [34]

St Martin's incident[edit]

In May 2007 Rhodes caused controversy at London's St Martins College, when he was accused of using the word "niggers" in relation to crime gangs in Peckham. In an interview published directly afterwards, Rhodes stated that calling him a racist 'is a bit like calling Margaret Thatcher a Marxist' and that the word was used in the manner of afro-American street slang.[35]

In April 2010, Bernard also caused controversy at Malcolm McLaren’s funeral service where he berated Vivienne Westwood for "being part of the Establishment", before walking onto the platform beside Malcolm’s coffin to deliver his own eulogy: "If we’re not careful we're going to turn Malcolm into John Lennon, into a saint. Malcolm was no saint."[36]

At the after funeral gathering, Vivienne and Bernard were photographed happily chatting by celebrity photographer Richard Young.

In her recent autobiography [37] Westwood responds to Rhode's intervention at the funeral of his long time friend, Malcolm McLaren, saying Bernard was quite justified in what he said; she had been talking too much about herself and her ideas.

Up To Date[edit]

Bernard Rhodes remains active on social and political issues from his website and promotes a number of causes. He was part of Entertaining the Nation: Stars of Music, Stage & Screen exhibition at the London Jewish Museum, which featured him and many of his contemporaries from the world of music.[38]

He recently designed a special biker range of T-shirts exclusively for iconic English motor cycle clothing co. Lewis Leathers.

Rhodes has also written a trilogy of books to be published and made into film




Films and documentaries
Web, journals and magazines

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]