Bernard Rhodes

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

Bernard Rhodes is a fashion designer, record producer, songwriter, manager and impressario who was implemental in the development of the punk rock scene in the United Kingdom during the middle 1970s. He is most associated with two of the UK's best known punk bands, the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Fellow designer Malcolm McLaren was working on putting together a band of his own that would later become the Sex Pistols, it was Rhodes who was responsible for introducing John Lydon to McLaren and creating the original lineup of the Sex Pistols. He also managed future Clash guitarist Mick Jones's band London SS. When London SS broke up in early 1976, Jones and Rhodes auditioned members for a new band, which would become The Clash. Rhodes was an important force behind The Clash, not only managing their business, but also handling marketing and creative direction of the band. He left the band from 1979-1981 to pursue other opportunities, but tensions in the band led to singer-guitarist Joe Strummer demanding (and getting) his return in 1981.

Other groups managed by Rhodes include The Specials, Dexys Midnight Runners, Subway Sect, Jo Boxers, The Lous, Black Arabs, Twenty Flight Rockers and Watts from Detroit.

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.

Since the break-up of The Clash, Rhodes has continued to be involved in fashion design and the music industry, as well as various political and social causes.

Biography and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Bernard Rhodes was raised in Stepney, east London. He says he never knew his father. He was then placed in an orphanage in South London where he remained until he was 15.[citation needed]

His 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 legendary 1960s boutique Granny Takes a Trip was her apprentice.[1]

In the early 1960s Rhodes and Pearse shared a flat at 68 Hamilton Terrace, St Johns Wood. It soon became a hangout for a cool London crowd. Mick Jagger, Marc Bolan, musician Mickey Finn, the Small Faces, Guy Stevens (who Rhodes later brought in to produce The Clash)[1] were regular visitors.

Towards the late 1960s Rhodes won a Design Council award for a children's educational toy he designed utilising newly developed plastic techniques.[2]

T shirts[edit]

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 vintage reggae records.[3]

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

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 handwriting for the Sex boutique. Vivienne Westwood wanted to expand the sleeveless T-shirt clothing line. Bernard Rhodes was an ideal colleague. He had the practical skill of printing and his 'complex, meandering discourse threw up many new ideas.'[4] 'Wake Up One Morning' was one of those ideas. Rhodes has referred to it as a 'visual rap'.

Rhodes has described the difference between Malcolm McLaren and himself: 'Malcolm likes to titillate but I get down to substance'[5]


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.[6]

John Lydon recalls wearing his 'I Hate Pink Floyd' T-shirt and being spotted by Rhodes on the Kings Road who insisted he meet Malcolm McLaren, Steve Jones and Paul Cook in the local Roebuck pub that evening. After this get together, Rhodes had John come back to the shop to audition for the role of singer.[7]

Lydon: He (Rhodes) was important to me in so many ways...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.[8]

Mark Helfond[9] recalls that Glen Matlock introduced him to his friend and manager of his group, Bernard Rhodes. Rhodes used to bring the artwork he designed to college for Glen to produce screen prints. These designs ended up on the T-shirts the band (Sex Pistols) eventually wore on stage and were sold in Malcolm McLaren's shop.

The Clash[edit]

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

Mick Jones was wearing one of Rhodes' Wake Up T-shirts when he approached Rhodes after a Sex Pistols gig thinking he was a keyboard player. They started talking about groups and the relationship was the starting point for what would eventually become The Clash.[10]

Joe Strummer credits Rhodes as his mentor: 'He constructed The Clash and focused our energies and we repaid him by being really good at what we did'.[11] Rhodes told them to write about social issues occurring at the time, i.e., the housing problems, lack of education, dead-end futures.[11]

Strummer said that Rhodes was the only one who understood how one should go about getting known.[11]

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.[12]

Rhodes called his friend Guy Stevens in to produce the Polydor recordings in 1977.[13] The group later used Stevens to produce London Calling. He also sought out Lee 'Scratch' Perry to produce the single 'Complete Control'.[11]

On 25 January 1977, he signed The Clash to CBS Records and Maurice Oberstein who promised to allow the group to do what they wanted on record and CBS would promote it. After a couple of albums, including their first, which Rhodes helped produce with Mickey Foote, he 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 Rehearsal studio he nurtured and managed groups Subway Sect, The Specials, Dexys Midnight Runners, The Black Arabs and other musical projects.

The intro to The Specials' version of "Gangsters" begins with the line: "Bernie Rhodes knows: don't argue!"[14]

Dexys Midnight Runners' single 'Dance Stance' was released in 1979 on the Oddball Productions label owned by Rhodes .[15] Rhodes later signed the group to EMI Records.

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

Rhodes introduced the idea of using a Burundi drum beat to Malcolm McLaren[16] who gave it to Adam Ant. This led 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.'[17]

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

Sean McLusky recalls that Rhodes gave him a break at Club Left in 1981 and then got a deal and success for his band JoBoxers, who enjoyed mainstream success 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'.[17]


Joe said if Rhodes did not come back and manage The Clash he would quit.[18]

Once back, Rhodes decided to remix 'Magnificent 7'. A 12" single dance remix, 'Magnificent Dance' was released on 12 April 1981. Production was credited to 'Pepe Unidos', a pseudonym for Strummer, Rhodes and Paul Simonon.[19] The record became the soundtrack for New York that summer. 'Pepe Unidos' also produced 'The Call Out', a re-mix of 'The Call Up'.

Bonds NYC[edit]

Mick: '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'.[20]

The residency at Bonds NYC in the first two weeks of June 1981 was organised by Rhodes on his return as manager of The Clash. Support acts included Grandmaster Flash, The Sugarhill Gang, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Texan bad boy Joe Ely, Lee Perry and Funkapolitan.

Rhodes notes that it was because of these Bonds NYC 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'.[21]

The record company were not behind the triple album Sandinista! recorded in Rhodes's absence[22] but Kosmo Vinyl states that with the Bonds NYC residency, The Clash 'clawed their way back into the Premiership'.[23]

Mick's Sacking[edit]

There has been much blaming of Rhodes for this. However, Paul Simonon states quite clearly that Rhodes was not aware it was going to happen nor in favour of Mick Jones being sacked once Joe and Paul had decided upon it - a fact only disclosed to Mick after Joe's death at the Rock Hall of Fame induction.[24]

It should be understood that Rhodes did not sack other Clash members Keith Levene or Topper Headon. Rhodes helped Keith 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 in the second.[25] Rhodes had no say in the choice of musicians.

Cut the Crap[edit]

According to guitarist Vince White, the working title of The Clash's last album, released in 1985 was 'Out of Control'. The title was changed by Rhodes shortly before its release. Rhodes also produced the album under the name of 'Jose Unidos'. He co-wrote all of the songs with Joe Strummer.

Whilst the album is often criticised, the single 'This is England' has been widely praised. Joe stated it was the last great Clash song and it has inspired many, including Shane Meadows who made a movie and TV show of the same name.[26]

Doug Watts[edit]

1990: Rhodes relocated from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Georgia. Doug Watts, the lead singer of a black metal band Naked Truth asked him for help. Rhodes brought in a new bass player and heavily rehearsed the band over several months. Rhodes independently produced their critically acclaimed album titled, 'Green with Rage'. He then signed the band to Sony Records.[27]

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' during a speech he was giving about street fashion.[28] In a published interview directly after the event, Rhodes stated that: 'calling me a racist is like calling Margaret Thatcher a Marxist'.[29]

In April 2010, Rhodes also caused controversy at his friend Malcolm McLaren's funeral[30] when he accused Vivienne Westwood of "being part of the Establishment" before going onto the platform 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."[31]

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

In her recent autobiography, Westwood comments on the funeral saying Rhodes was quite justified in what he said, she was talking too much about herself and her ideas.[32]

Present day[edit]

Rhodes remains active on social and political issues from his website.

He was part of Entertaining the Nation: Stars of Music, Stage & Screen, an exhibition at the London Jewish Museum which featured him and contemporaries from the world of music.[33]

He has recently designed a biker range of T-shirts exclusively for iconic brand Lewis Leathers.

Rhodes has written a trilogy of books to be made into film.



  1. ^ a b Gilbert 2005, p. 81.
  2. ^ Gilbert 2005, p. 82.
  3. ^ Letts 2007, p. 50.
  4. ^ Savage 1991, p. 83.
  5. ^ Savage 1991, p. 102.
  6. ^ Strongman 2008, pp. 84-85.
  7. ^ Lydon 1993, p. 75.
  8. ^ Lydon 1993, pp. 117-118.
  9. ^ Melanie Smith (23 August 2008). "People from the Scene". Mudkills Online Fanzine. 
  10. ^ Gilbert 2005, p. 60.
  11. ^ a b c d The Clash 2008, p. 88.
  12. ^ Gilbert 2005, p. 78.
  13. ^ Gilbert 2005, p. 117.
  14. ^ Adams 2009.
  15. ^ White 2005, p. 205.
  16. ^ Vermorel 1987, p. 236.
  17. ^ a b G Spot 1993, p. 39.
  18. ^ Gilbert 2005, p. 286.
  19. ^ & 1993.
  20. ^ The Clash 2008, p. 290.
  21. ^ Gruen 2001, p. 241.
  22. ^ Gruen 2001, p. 240.
  23. ^ Gruen 2001, p. 242.
  24. ^ Salewicz, pp. 373-375.
  25. ^ Len Righi (1984-04-20). "Joe Strummer tells why the Clash is carrying on". Retrieved 1984-04-20.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  26. ^ Neil Spencer & James Brown (2006-10-29). "Why the Clash are still Rock Titans". Retrieved 2006-10-29. 
  27. ^ RiffRaff March1992.
  28. ^ Sabuhi Mir. "Clash Culture-Central St. Martins". rock Retrieved 2007-05-01. 
  29. ^ Mojo 2007.
  30. ^ "Vivienne Westwood in Malcolm McLaren funeral row". Retrieved 2010-04-24. 
  31. ^ O'Hagan 2010.
  32. ^ Westwood & Kelly 2014.
  33. ^ The Jewish Museum London 2012.


Films and documentaries

Web, journals and magazines[edit]

Related articles

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]