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
‘Searching For The Young Joe Rebel’ is to be published in early 2012.
I planned to travel to the Brixton show with Dave Myers, but he’d pre-booked a family holiday, and was gutted he couldn’t make it. Luckily, Dave Goodes, stepped in, waving any petrol contributions in exchange for the spare guest-list place. Sorted!
We arrived at Brixton Academy, and I was praying Strummer had remembered to add my name to the guest-list. I needn’t have worried. I was handed two after-show passes and we were in. Strummer opened with London Calling, and rounded off proceedings with a room-shaking rendition of White Riot. Joe and the boys were on top form, proving, what a formidable live act they were fast becoming. This was the finest show I’d seen Strummer perform since the Clash days.
At the after-show shindig, a bloke sporting a vintage Sex Pistols t-shirt introduced himself as Alan Parker, author of several Sex Pistols books(In 2003 Alan published Clash trivia and memorabilia book, Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg). Alan was friendly, but his incessant name-dropping grated after a while. He knew Sid Vicious’ late mother had dined with Glen Matlock at his home – blah, blah, blah. When I mentioned I was an Alarm fan – guess what? Alan knew them too! Every band or artist mentioned, Alan claimed to have had dealings with them at one time or another (One amusing anecdote, about Frank Skinner quitting the booze after he pissed his then girlfriends bed seven nights in succession, had me in hysterics). I left Alan discussing Pistols trivia with Dave Goodes, and went in search of Strummer – but I couldn’t spot him.
Suddenly, Mick Jones appeared, and was quickly surrounded by fans and photographers. I asked Mick if he’d felt like jumping on stage to play with Joe, “What for that Spinal Tap moment?”Â Mick replied straight-faced. Dave tried talking to Mick’s then partner, ex-Transvision Vamp warbler, Wendy James. But everything Dave said was met with a frosty retort (I suppose fronting a band as dreadful as Transvision Vamp would make you an irritable, bad-tempered lump!). Ex-BAD member, film director, and Clash associate, Don Letts, was there too, and I said excitedly, “I fucking love you man.”Â But Don looked at me as if I’d just escaped from a mental asylum! I spotted Joe at the bar, and he greeted me loudly, “SWINFORD!!!”Â I asked Joe if he’d received another batch of CDs I’d sent him. He said he had, and particularly enjoyed Frankie Ford’s classic Sea Cruise. “The bells man, the bells,”Â Joe said, referring to the intro of said rock ”Ën’ roll gem. I bought Joe a brandy and he lent across the bar, and whispered in my ear, that he planned to come to the Cavern to check out one of my DJ sets. “I’ll sit in the corner with my roll-ups, but don’t tell anyone except your mate over there”Â (Strummer thought Alan Parker was Dave Myers!).
A young fan tried explaining to Joe the merits of Clash influenced rockers, Manic Street Preachers. The kid nervously told Joe, they often name-checked The Clash as a major influence. Strummer wasn’t impressed, “It’s about fucking time they gave us some credit.”Â The kid awkwardly pulled a Manics tape from his pocket, and handed it to Joe. Strummer reluctantly took it, but seemed unimpressed, “I’ll give anything a listen, but I’m not sure about this!”Â (Joe later stated in the NME, he thought the Manics played, ”Ëhoary old rock music.’).
I sent Joe several more bespoke CD compilations, but wasn’t in regular contact. However, Joe did write, stating he’d pulled out of a planned Ian Dury Tribute gig in London because ”Ësome idiot’ booked him, Mick and Topper on the same bill. Fearing a dodgy unplanned Clash reunion scenario, Strummer opted out.
In late 2000, Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros were announced as special guests of The Who, on their Greatest Hits Tour. Two lifelong Who fans, Nick Aplin and Mel Bond joined me on the trip. I wasn’t interested in The Who. As far as I was concerned, they should have thrown in the towel when Keith Moon died. I was there for Joe.
We arrived at the NEC at 7.30, just as Strummer’s set began. We hurried to our seats, which if they were any further back we would have been in the middle of Birmingham city centre! Dave Myers travelled up on his own steam and he joined us for the show. But as is usual with support acts – the sound was abysmal. Also, the video screens weren’t working (but miraculously were fine during The Who’s set), and all I could see from where I was sat was four ”Ëants’ on stage. Also, guitarist Anthony Genn was absent from the line-up, and a fiddle player had been added to the ranks. An ill-advised version of White Riot, slowed down and renamed Folk Riot, did little to warm me to proceedings either.
Following Strummer’s set, I was in no mood to watch the weary stadium-rock ramblings of Townsend and co, so I left Nick and Mel to wallow in the past, and headed to the bar with Dave Myers. We were in agreement SOD THE WHO! We downed a couple of liveners, and as the bar emptied, The Who’s took to the stage. We decided we’d try and penetrate the massive security cordon and grab a word with Joe. We made our way round the side of the stage, and I asked one of the security guys to pass on a message to Joe. After about twenty minutes, it was clear the message hadn’t been delivered. Dave persuaded another security guy to carry the news, and luckily, within minutes, Strummer’s manager appeared and placed a laminate round my neck and led us to Joe’s dressing room. I soon realised who the mysterious fiddle player was – none other than Tymon Dogg, Joe’s old busking pal, and guest musician on later Clash albums. I’d met Tymon at one of his solo gigs at Exeter Art’s Centre back in the early 90s. Surprisingly, he remembered my name (in 1990, an old friend of mine died, and he loved Tymon’s Lose This Skin so much, he made a C90 tape with said song, repeated over and over).
Joe’s wife Lucinda told me, The Who hadn’t allowed Joe and crew any additional passes or guest-list places and apologised for not putting us on the guest list. Joe mentioned my CD compilations were going down a storm on the tour bus and Tymon particularly enjoyed my selection of Girl From Ipenema. One of Joe’s entourage, Dermot Mitchell, kept vanishing at regular intervals only to reappear with a tray of Stella lager. It transpired he was raiding The Who dressing room while they were on stage and ”Ëliberating’ their rider as Joe’s crew were only allotted an insulting amount of beverages. Someone asked Joe who I was, and jokingly he said, “He’s The Mayor of Exeter!”Â When I asked Joe if he still supported Chelsea FC, he nearly leapt down my throat! “What d’ya mean still!”Â However, he perked up when I told him I’d planned to play Willesden To Crickelwood at my recent wedding but was unable to do so as some light-fingered numb nut nicked the CD player from the registry-office!
Joe was grooving to an old Fats Domino CD on his boom box, so Dave asked him what he thought of Fats new stuff? “We don’t want new Fats. We want old Fats!”Â Joe said loudly. We shared a couple of spliffs with Joe, and Dave went in search of a cab, as he was staying with friends in Birmingham. So, I made my way back to my seat to rejoin Mel and Nick. The Who were nearing the end of their set, and were going down a storm, but it bore the sound of barrels being scraped to me. A flabby inebriated Welshman who was sat in front of us, seemed offended by my lack of participation in the gig, and said, “Get off your fuckin’ arse and DANCE!”Â I didn’t respond, so he turned to his mate, and said, “WHAT AN ARSEHOLE!”Â To avoid a row, I vacated my seat and told Mel and Nick I’d meet them after the gig (Mel bumped into said idiot in a takeaway opposite our hotel after the show. I was glad I wasn’t there as things might have turned ugly).
Following the Who jaunt, activity on the Strummer front seemed to subside. I rang Joe several times, but he was never there. However, the June 2001 issue of Mojo magazine stated, Strummer had completed recording second Mescaleros album, Global A-Go-Go, and it was scheduled for release on July 16th. Fortunately, a journalist friend, Andy Mosely, lent me a pre-release copy and it proved to be a fine album, carrying on from where Rock Art left off, mixing a blend of styles and brim full of lyrical genius.
In early May, Exeter promoter, Dave Farrow, mentioned, Strummer was due to play with art terrorist, Angus Fairhurst, at a one-day music event he was promoting at Exeter Phoenix in June. I’d never heard of Fairhurst, but Dave Myers informed me he was the darling of the art set and the hottest thing around (He could have played midfield for Bolton Wanderers for all I knew, because I know jack shit about art!). I phoned Joe to find out more, but he was in London conducting press for the album. However, Luce said Joe was coming to Exeter with Fairhurst, but despite rumours to the contrary, it wasn’t a full Mescaleros show. I blagged a couple of passes from Farrow and I was excited Joe was due to play Exeter for the first time since the Rock Against The Rich Tour.
The Wednesday before the show, Joe phoned, and asked if we could meet up for a drink before the gig (Whatever else I’d planned was immediately shelved). Joe expressed concern the crowd might shout out for old Clash songs, which might detract from Fairhurst’s performance. I told Joe, the majority of artists on the bill were nu-metal acts, and by the time he was on stage, the metal heads would be safely tucked up in bed. The news of Strummer’s appearance was leaked to the local press, and Exeter Express & Echo ran a misinformed article, wrongly bigging-up Joe’s role in Fairhurst’s art ensemble – stating, Joe was an integral member of Fairhurt’s ”Ëband.’ Wrong! Due to inaccuracies, I was worried; every old punk would show up, expecting to party like 1977!
My stomach was churning as Dave Myers, Andy Mosely and I entered The Phoenix. I’d spoken to Joe many, many times, but I was nervous about meeting him on my home turf (I was sure my arse was going to give way with all the excitement!). However, Joe greeted me like a lifelong friend, and light-heartedly commented on my ”ËBritish suntan’ (the unusually hot UK climate had turned my face a radiant shade of lobster pink). As Joe and I cocked an ear to one of the metal bands that were sound checking, I said, “I never liked metal.”Â Joe nodded in agreement. “Me neither.”Â I gave Joe an Ace Records CD I’d bought him and he considerately purchased a round of drinks. Keith Allen was acting as Joe’s unofficial manager, and it was taking an eternity for Angus and Joe to sound check, so, Keith being Keith, told Dave Farrow, in no uncertain terms to “get his fucking act together.”Â
Joe pulled out his old cream coloured Fender Esquire guitar and tuned up. Attached to the guitar was a faded set-list from Joe’s Latino Rockabilly War days. Joe held up the guitar, and I reeled off the songs in quick succession. Spotting the chance to cop a top piece of memorabilia, I asked Joe if I could have the prized set-list. Joe pulled out a knife, cut it from his guitar and handed it to me. Nice one! I offered to stand my round, but Joe kindly bought more drinks. As we waited what seemed like an eternity for Joe to sound check, I asked what songs he planned to perform on the forthcoming tour. Joe said he hoped to play the majority of the new album, plus a selection of old Clash favourites. I enquired which Clash songs he would be performing, and Joe said, “Which songs do you think we should play?”Â I reeled off several gems (“One More Time, that’s a good one”Â). However, Joe mentioned, it was difficult to get the band to ”Ëwork up’ old songs when rehearsing a new album. I suggested other Clash classics and lost solo tunes, and Joe asked me to compile a list of songs. Joe also mentioned the recent inclusion of London Calling on the soundtrack to Brit flick Billy Elliot. “We let them use it for free, because we thought it was a small English film”Â (at the time, it was the second highest grossing British film of all-time, after The Full Monty!). Joe busied himself for sound check and jotted down my mobile number on his baccy pouch (Cutter’s Choice!). Before we headed off to the pub, I arranged to meet Joe at his hotel later that evening.
Dave Myers had drunkenly mentioned to the landlord of The Angel pub a couple of days previously that we would be bringing Strummer in for a drink. This was nonsense, as I’d never arranged anything of the sort! I ignored the speculation sweeping the pub, and scribbled down the list of songs Joe had requested. Suddenly, a drug-crazed DJ jumped on the decks, and began playing Clash tunes on repeat play and leaping around in anticipation of Joe’s arrival. I’m glad Joe didn’t show up, because it was like a circus in the pub! The landlord of The Angel mentioned to a mutual acquaintance a few weeks before that he didn’t like me because I was a mate of Alf. And as they had fallen out over an abuse of some drinks promotion, he’d wrongly made some preconceived assumptions about me, and tarred me with the same brush. But, when he thought I was bringing Joe into his pub, he behaved like we were best buddies (it’s funny how people who wouldn’t normally give you the shite off their shoe, suddenly become your best mate when the possibility of meeting a ”Ëcelebrity’ is on the cards. But, I doubt, he owns one Strummer or Clash record!). A little while later, Alf came staggering into the pub, also wrongly assuming Strummer was going to be propping up the bar. He was very drunk and in a sarcastic mood, so I didn’t tell him we were off to meet Joe, as I didn’t want to run the risk of him behaving like an idiot in Strummer’s company.