Fire Brigades’ Union Joe Strummer tribute with Glen Matlock and a very special surprise guest
Taurus Trakker, Glen Matlock, The Bermondsey Joyriders, Spizzenergi, Louise Distras, Steve White and The Protest Family, Ray Gange
Elephant and Castle, London
December 21 2013
Clash legend Joe Strummer’s last London gig was a benefit for sriking firefighters in November 2002.
Out of the audience to join Joe’s new band The Mescaleros stepped a guitar-clutching Mick Jones – Strummer’s joint Clash frontman and songwriting partner from the glory days.
They performed the old songs together, for the first time since the band had exploded in acrimony nearly thirty years before.
It was the first and last time – six weeks later Strummer was dead.
There is a great film of the event.
There have been anniversary shows since – but this is the first time it has coincided with more strikes by firefighters, which are due to resume on Christmas Eve.
On the decks tonight is Ray Gange, who stars as a Clash roadie in the film Rude Boy and is now a DJ with a reggae heavy set.
For me the musical moment of the night is when he segues my favourite Who track “I can’t explain” into Blitzkreig Bop by The Ramones.
And he gets a spontaneous round of applause for the obscure “Dreams of Strummer” by The Lone Groover . The Groover, who is in the audience, is well-chuffed.
The first band up are Steve White and The Protest Family, an Orient supporting folk-punk four piece, who combine guitars, bass, banjo and mandolin on clever singalongs about tax dodgers, fascists, bankers, bailouts, body-image and Boris Johnson.
They incorporate workfare and zero hours contracts into a cover of Career Opportunities. Good start.
Next it’s Louise Distras a solo artist with growing fan base.. Last time I saw her she was almost too nervous to go on.
Now she’s strident, feisty, commanding the stage with a unique scream in her voice, and urging more women to learn guitar. But the songs don’t quite do it for me.
Spizzenergi front man Spizz is the only person I’ve ever seen with a tickertape neon sign rolling across their stomach. This one advertises tonight’s gig and the band’s new song “City of Eyes”.
They have a drving rhythm section that rushes us through some ok songs and into the immortal “Where’s Captain Kirk?”
The Bermondsey Joyriders are a guitar, bass, drums threesome with skinhead and glam rock influnences Like Slade but not as good. Millwall fans protecting their turf from the Orient invasion.
If they’d left out the fancy licks – of which there were many – we would have had some decent two minute punk pop songs.
Then Mick Wrack, leader of the Fire Brigades Union, tells us about seeing The Clash for free in Manchester in 1977 because the doors of the venue had been smashed in.
The FBU is organising national strikes because firefighters who signed contracts to work to 55 are now told they can’t get a pension til 60. And in London Tory cuts mean three of the fire stations that responded to last week’s Apollo theatre collapse will be closed by mid-January.
We applaud and promise to spread the word. Find out more and sign petitions here.
Next it’s Glen Matlock. When there were only four punk rockers in the UK he was one of them. But tonight the Sex Pistols’ bass player and musical director is weilding an accoustic guitar.
We get a Rich Kids track, a couple of his own songs and then he covers The Kinks, The Monkees, The Move, and the Small Faces closing his set wih three of The Protest Family on backing vocals for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.
In a sweet half hour cameo we’ve seen the range of musical interestes that both shaped the Pisols and made it inevitable that Glen would be chucked out. (He left in 1978 to be replaced by image that was Sid Vicious.)
It turns out it wasn’t the first time Glen had covered the Christmas favourite.
Last up its Taurus Trakker. Their rhythm and blues based sound is ok but the gig has been going four hours, it’s nearly Christmas and people are losing the will to stay.
Most of us who are sill here know about the very special mystery guest. And the band keep hinting to keep everyone interested.
Then at three minutes to midnight on walks MicK Jones. Scores of video phones are raised towards the stage and the sole survior of punk’s Lennon and McCartney joins the Trakkers for an impeccable version of “Should I Stay or Should I Go”‘.
By three minutes past midnight he is gone and so are we. It is now the 11th anniversary of Joe’s death.
It wasn’t a perfect night – but we got two punk warlords and some politics for a tenner. None of the hundred or so who stuck it out will complain.
Mick Jones also played on the fifth anniersary of Strummer’s last London gig. He did a song with Clash covers band Take the Fifth. I was there and wrote this report.
If you like this sort of thing may I recommend the fan-run Strummercamp, my favourite festival which is held annually just outside Manchester.