We recently reported that author Joe Swinford is to publish his very personnal account of his experiences growing up with The Clash ”ËSearching For The Young Joe Rebel’ ”â As you will be aware it now nine years this week since Joe Strummer passed away, as such we are delighted to be able to exclusively bring you a couple of chapters from the book ”â those that deal with Joe in particular
Pt 1 can be read here
‘Searching For The Young Joe Rebel’ is to be published in early 2012.
The period between 1988 and 1998 has often been described as Strummer’s ”Ëwilderness years.’ Despite any high profile releases or live appearances, Joe wasn’t inactive. He continued working on movie soundtracks, and had small roles in several low budget films. Joe also played piano on The Levellers Just The One single (one of The Levellers told me, Joe turned up to add his piano part, but was so out his head on brandy and magic mushrooms, his contribution was replaced, but was still credited on the sleeve). Joe also teamed up with Black Grape and Keith Allen on unofficial England Euro ”Ë96 anthem England’s Ire – even turning up on Top Of The Pops, for the band’s appearance, in a vintage red England ’66 shirt and miming his part, badly!
After a short period, Joe split from long-term partner Gaby Salter, and in 1995, married Lucinda Tait. Rumour has it, Joe was also dabbling with ecstasy and DJ-ing at dance festivals (Joe told me in 2000, while DJ-ing in Cornwall, the crowd disliked his selections so much, they chanted, ”ËKill the DJ!’ Check the lyrics to Techno-D-Day).
In 1998, Mojo magazine reported, Strummer was due to host a series of radio shows for BBC’s World Service Network entitled Joe Strummer’s London Calling. I tuned in, and Strummer spun a diverse selection of weird and wonderful records – including, obscure world music, coupled with cuts from, amongst others, Donovan, Dylan, Van Morrison and The Dust Junkys. An address was broadcast for listeners to send in requests for inclusion on future shows. I wrote in, listing a batch of tunes – including, Desmond Dekker’s, Israelites. Hit The Road Jack by Ray Charles, Keith Hudson’s obscure reggae cut, Nah Skin Up, and cheekily, my all-time favourite Clash number, Complete Control. I also mentioned, I worked on the Rock Against The Rich Tour, but was now promoting and DJ-ing at Exeter Cavern Club. In my letter, I asked Joe if he’d be interested in playing, a DJ set at the club. Surprisingly, a couple of weeks later, Joe replied. He said he loved my list of ”Ëhits’, and would try to include a couple on the next series of London Calling. And he would be interested in playing a DJ set at The Cavern and to keep him posted of what was happening at the club.
In the late nineties, Joe moved to the outskirts of Bridgwater in Somerset with Lucinda and stepdaughter Eliza. I’d been privy to this, as a friend, told me fellow Somerset resident, famed punk film-maker Julian Temple met up with Joe who told him he was moving to Somerset. Also, ex-Clash roadie Johnny Green published his excellent book of life on the road with The Clash around this period entitled, A Riot Of Our Own. I wrote to Johnny, congratulating him on his fine book, and he replied, confirming, Joe was moving to Bridgwater. Johnny also included in his letter a photocopy of him with The Clash, at Paul Simonon’s home in London.
Joe asked me to fax him a list of forthcoming Cavern gigs. But as the majority of stuff was dance orientated, I think Joe believed I was responsible for such nonsense! However, that bollocks had nothing to do with me! But, it was dominating events at the club, and Joe mentioned, he didn’t think a trendy club would be interested in ”Ëthe old shit’ he was into. I tried persuading him otherwise, but unbeknownst to me Joe was busy putting The Mescaleros together, so my plans on bringing Strummer down the Cavern were shelved.
In early 1999, the NME reported that Strummer and The Mescaleros were putting the finishing touches to debut album, Rock Art & The X-Ray Style. I was fortunate to receive a promo copy, and it proved to be a fine record. X-Ray Style, Yalla Yalla, Willesden To Cricklewood, and Diggin’ The New were stand out tracks. Strummer was back! Joe & The Meskies were also due to play a short June tour as warm up for the album release. One gig was pencilled in at Portsmouth Wedgwood Rooms. My friend, Dave Myers, knew an old college pal, Podsy, who lived in Portsmouth, and he kindly purchased tickets and offered us a bed for the night.
I waited ten years for Strummer to return to the live circuit, but the Portsmouth show was a bit rough around the edges. The new material was under-rehearsed, but it was great to see the great Joe Strummer back where he belonged. Sceptics argued at the time that Joe’s solo material didn’t match the quality of Clash tunes. I didn’t agree. Strummer’s new songs received at best, a lukewarm response from the press. But I loved Earthquake Weather, and later, The Mescaleros material was comparable to the greatest of Clash songs. Joe attempted to break free from the ghost of The Clash and forge ahead with new ideas, and for that he should have been applauded. Joe could easily have taken the easy option and put a version of The Clash on the punk revival circuit, but he was moving on to the next thing. Nevertheless, versions of, Junco Partner, Bankrobber, I Fought The Law, and White Man In Hammersmith Palais, received the biggest cheer in Portsmouth. Mid-set, Joe announced, “Don’t be afraid to give me some good old fashioned Portsmouth insults.”Â A young wag in the crowd shouted, “Fuck off you old cunt!”Â However, Joe took the comment in the good spirit intended.
Strummer still maintained a fervent stage persona, with legendary quiff still evident. He’d noticeably put on a few pounds, but who cares? This was Joe Strummer for fuck sake! The sweat was pouring off Joe, and it looked like he was going to keel over from exhaustion, but he rocked the house, and it felt like he’d never been away. As with the Latino’s, Strummer had again assembled a group of musicians with little or no stage presence. Instead, they played to a high standard – in place of geezers who wore cool clothes and threw the right shapes. On the whole The Mescaleros, resembled a bunch, Joe’s pal, Bez would in all probability score drugs from!
After the show, Dave and I were keen to have a chat with Joe, so we waited with other fans by the dressing room door. Dave collared Strummer’s pal, Keith Allen, and was all over him like a cheap suit! (To say he was wedged up Keith’s arse would be an understatement!). But Dave is switched on, and he didn’t act like an idiot (unlike others in the past). Eventually, we were ushered backstage and I made a beeline for Strummer and introduced myself. “I know you, Joe Swinford!”Â Joe said, flicking my old Clash On Parole badge – “And where did you get that!”Â Dave asked Joe if he’d heard the Manic Street Preachers version of Train In Vain? “No I haven’t, and don’t want to either!”Â I asked Joe if there were any plans to play Trash City (one of my favourite post-Clash songs) at any forthcoming shows. “Ah Trash City, I love that song,”Â Joe said – singing a short burst of the song accompanied by Dave and I on backing vocals and makeshift percussion (back of a chair). I suggested that maybe he should seriously consider reforming The Clash and write new material. My unwise remark didn’t go down well. “Well, we aren’t about to do that are we?”Â I asked Joe, which Clash songs he would be performing with the Mescaleros, suggesting, songs such as Clash City Rockers and Complete Control were of their time and shouldn’t be considered. “I never liked Clash City Rockers anyway.’ Joe teased us about the dance music at the Cavern. “Ah yes, you two guys single-handedly champion drum ”Ën’ bass in the South West!”Â I gave Joe a copy of a Fat Neck night flyer that we were promoting at the time, which featured a picture of Joe from The Clash’s heyday on the front. He showed it to famed Clash photographer Pennie Smith. “Hey Pennie, these guys have used one of your pictures on this flyer!”Â Fortunately, Pennie didn’t threaten us with legal action and Joe asked to keep the flyer. Dave smoked the remains of Joe’s spliff. I downed the remnants of a bottle of red wine and we said our goodbyes and left to crash out at Podsy’s.
Rock Art & The X-Ray Style was released later that year and a full tour was to follow. One gig was due at Wolverhampton Civic Hall. Dave Myers lived in the Midlands before relocating to Exeter, and still had contacts in the area, so he arranged tickets and a place for us to sleep.
It was like watching a different band in Wolverhampton than at Portsmouth. The Mescaleros really hit their stride and were as tight as a drum! More Clash crowd-pleasers, Safe European Home, Tommy Gun, Brand New Cadillac and Bankrobber, were added to the set, and all received a rapturous response. Unexpectedly, Trash City was also aired (I wonder if it had anything to do with
me mentioning the track in Portsmouth?).
Dave was told we’d have zero chance of getting backstage without a pass, as Civic security had a reputation as being tight as Rod Stewart’s wallet in accommodating backstage liggers. Anyway, we hung around and decided to take our chances. A small queue had gathered backstage, but they all had passes and were waved through. So, I hurriedly jotted down a note, and asked security to pass it on to Joe. Within minutes, we were handed two backstage passes. We were in!
Strummer’s dressing room was over-run with a lot of dodgy looking Mancs, who were taking full advantage of Joe’s rider. Strummersite webmaster Ant Davie and his kids (thanks for the endless supply of cigs), were hanging out, as was Happy Mondays legend, Bez – who was discussing the merits of obtaining speed on ”Ëscript’ with guitarist Anthony Genn. By the size of their pupils, it looked like they’d consumed half of Columbia already! Strummer was chatting to a couple of mates from Newport, so Dave and I had a word with Bez. I was tugging on a piece of chewing gum and puzzlingly Bez said, “Is that an acid tab you’ve got there mate????????”Â I gave Joe a cheap pair of wraparound shades, “I love cheap sunglasses do they suit me?”Â Joe signed my collection of Clash and Strummer CD sleeves, while Dave asked ex-footballer Stan Collymore (pre-dogging) for an autograph for his son Spike. I asked Joe if I could interview him for TDB, a West Country magazine, I contributed to at time. Without hesitation, Joe jotted down his home address and told me to get in touch after the tour.
Just before Xmas ”Ë99, I sent Joe a couple of reggae comp CDs I’d compiled, and mentioned the interview. Xmas came and went, but I heard nothing. I wrote again, but still no joy. However, one Friday evening in early 2000, my phone rang and my partner Jo, answered and whispered, “It’s Joe Strummer!”Â I expected one of my mates to be on the line winding me up. To my astonishment, it was Joe Strummer! I composed myself, and Joe mentioned he’d had problems with his mail and hadn’t received the CDs, but received my second letter. Joe thanked me for the shades I’d given him in Wolverhampton, and said we could do the interview the following week. I phoned Joe as arranged, and secured an incredibly enjoyable thirty-minute interview (“If it’s too long, it will bore people”Â). Joe also added me to the guest list for the Brixton gig the following month. Below is the interview, which appeared in the May 2000 issue of TDB magazine.
Joe Strummer’s CV reads like a veritable who’s who of popular music. Not only was Joe an integral member of arguably the finest rock ”Ën’ roll band EVER, The Clash, AND Shane MacGowan’s temporary replacement in The Pogues, Joe also collaborated with Black Grape on THE unofficial Euro ’96 tune England’s Irie and penned numerous film soundtracks for, amongst others, Alex Cox’s Sid Vicious bio-flick Sid And Nancy, and Anglo-spaghetti western Straight To Hell. Joe also flirted with acting, DJing and producing. Now, fronting The Mescaleros – Joe’s first recorded output, was last year’s, Rock Art & The X-Ray Style, album. Surprisingly, the album received glowing, reviews from the chameleon-like music hacks, but Strummer’s isn’t one of those sad bastards who let’s reviews get to him
“I think it’s best to underplay your expectations when you put out a record. I’ve found that when you think you’ve done something brilliant, everybody goes, ”ËGet away with that shit.’ So, I kind of chilled out after making the tracks. You can’t expect any more joy than that.”Â
The first single from Rock Art, was the magnificent acid punk groover Yalla Yalla. I played the track extensively at my DJ-ing stints at Exeter’s Cavern Club; elsewhere it suffered from zero airplay and promotion.
“We put out Yalla Yalla on our own label (Casbah Records) because we couldn’t get a British or European label interested. That shows the true nature of the state of play in that we couldn’t find a label to put the record out.”Â
Despite this minor setback, Strummer took the show on the road, turning in some stormers, mixing Clash faves, Safe European Home, Rudi Can’t Fail, London Calling, White Man In Hammersmith Palais and Bankrobber, alongside newer material from Rock Art. The album isn’t outselling Celine Dion just yet, but it’s building gradually.
“It’s selling slowly but surely. I don’t think the figures are that good but they are a helluva lot better than they were for Earthquake Weather. I think the numbers are more than double of that. We’ve got a steady flow going on.”Â
Strummer’s first fully-fledged solo effort following The Clash’s implosion was 1989’s, Earthquake Weather, which featured thirteen Strummer originals and a cover of classic reggae bruiser Ride Your Donkey. Poorly received by critics, and only bought by the Strummer faithful, it cruelly remained in the racks.
“A lot of people ask for tunes from Earthquake Weather, yet it hardly sold any copies. I think through insecurity I turned the vocal down in the mix. I was toying with getting Glyn Johns (Who, Clash, Small Faces producer) to remix it as a curiosity. In hindsight there are at least five bonzer tracks on there; Passport To Detroit, Sleepwalk, Jewellers & Bums, Island Hopping, and maybe Dizzy’s Goatee.”Â
As Strummer carves out a successful solo career, there are those who fondly remember him as the enigmatic front man of The Clash. At the tail end of ”Ë99 The Clash released the excellent documentary Westway to The World, which documents the rise and ultimate fall of The Clash. But it seems Strummer hasn’t seen it yet.
“I haven’t watched it yet, but I’ve seen Topper’s bit and that’s very powerful for all of us.”Â
The Clash attempted things in the late seventies / early eighties that would have the so-called hipsters of today running for the Kleenex. One such step into uncharted waters was the release of 36-track triple album Sandinista!
“I think that was worth doing. I don’t think many groups end up doing that. It happened to us by luck. We’d just finished a massive tour and were really honed-up; the band had got its chops, as they say. For some reason we ended up in New York, at the end of the tour. Paul Simonon left to do a film, All Washed Up, in Vancouver, which left me, Topper and Mick in New York. We just forced the record company to get us some studio time. They weren’t very keen on the idea; we had to kind of force it in there and we kinda continued to tour in the studio. We just started to churn out these tunes. We holed up in Electric Ladyland, and all the players we knew in New York stopped by and we got them on the track. We ran the sessions right around the clock for three weeks without ending.”Â
Despite all the effort The Clash put into Sandinista! CBS didn’t like the band’s idea of keeping the price down so it would be affordable to fans (a triple album for less than a fiver).
“We took no royalties on it. We had to forego our slice of the action in order to put the record out cheap.”Â
The Clash’s popularity gained serious momentum at this time and you could spot a Clash fan at one hundred paces (bet you couldn’t suss a Travis fan even if you had your tongue down his or her throat these days. ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz).
Even elder rock statesmen The Who were Clash fans, inviting The Clash to support on one of their many ”Ëfarewell’ tours in 1982.
“That was really traumatic for me because I remember The Who’s first record coming out. It really turned everyone on when we first heard I Can’t Explain. It was fantastic. I remember it clearly; I was about thirteen or fourteen at the time. To be touring with them many years later was traumatic in a way. It was like seeing where The Clash might end up. I could see in order to get to that position of supporting The Who and pulling in the crowds, you would have to become a travesty of yourself. It really got to me. I was thinking my whole life would be one long photo shoot and shooting some crappy video. The amount of promotion needed to drive it would destroy a person.”Â
The Clash split in 1985, and became, in effect, a shadow of their former selves. Topper was sacked, due to drug dependency, and Mick Jones was kicked out for alleged ”Ërock star behaviour.’ Strummer and Simonon limped on with three hired hands, releasing the lacklustre back to basics album, Cut The Crap. After the split, Strummer retreated from the limelight, fathered two daughters, Lola and Jazzy, wrote film soundtracks and attempted a brief foray into the acting world, appearing in Mystery Train, Straight To Hell, and a blink and you’ll miss it role in Alex Cox’s under-rated Walker.
“I don’t really like acting. I think you have to spend your life thinking about it. It’s too difficult.”Â
In the ten year gap between Earthquake Weather and Rock Art & The X-Ray Style, Strummer tried to wriggle out of his contract with Epic, which drew parallels with George Michael’s dispute with the same label. Strummer unfortunately, is not in Michael’s wage bracket, so, his only alternative was to sit tight and bore them out of contract. Despite inactivity on the recording front, Joe wasn’t idle.
“I started to learn a techniques course. When we were making Clash records, I stayed on the writing side of the control room window. After The Clash exploded I got a little four-track and began to record and learn a few techniques. It was quite difficult for me because I wasn’t a very technical person. I then bought myself an ancient Teac eight-track from a junk shop and turned that on every night and mucked around with it. It’s good now ”Ëcause I’ve got a kind of demo room in which I can write and record songs.”Â
The hand of The Clash even touched Will Smith; who sampled Rock The Casbah on his Willennium single. ”ÂWell I didn’t know anything about it until somebody phoned me up. I thought they were pulling my leg when they said, ”ËHave you heard Will Smith has done Rock The Casbah for his Willennium record?’ I thought they were winding me up until I heard it on the radio. I didn’t like it too much, but when I saw the video, I thought it was quite entertaining. The video’s the funniest bit.”Â
What does Joe listen to when he isn’t rockin’ with The Mescaleroes?
“Let’s think. I like to get into a bit of African music. I’m no expert. I like to hear some nice things being done with world music; people putting down different rhythms together.”Â
What of the new breed? Influenced by The Clash? Manic Street Preachers and The Offspring?
“Well, I don’t know. I don’t really think about stuff like that. That’s for you wise guys to figure out.”Â