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.
Dave and I slipped away quietly to meet my wife, Jo, and we walked the short distance to the Hotel Barcelona (The Hotel Barcelona is Exeter’s newest and most expensive hotel). We ordered a round of drinks (ÃÂ£7.50 for two bottles of beer and a still orange!), and I asked a member of the hotel staff to tell Joe we had arrived. But was told he was eating and would join us later. I felt uneasy drinking in such an upmarket establishment, as I was used to slumming it in down market boozers, but Dave loved the gaff and said he’d like to live there! Dream on! You are in the wrong wage bracket mate!
Eventually, one of Joe’s crew appeared and asked us to join Joe in the hotel’s garden bar and restaurant area. We wound our way through the twisted corridors, decorated with an expensive array of ornamental displays and met Joe at his table. Joe’s entourage had now swelled to about twenty-five people. I was introduced to artist Damien Hirst (“Is this that DJ guy?”Â), and Joe got the beers in, again. I handed Joe the list of songs he’d requested, and we chatted until it was time to head off to the Phoenix.
Before leaving, I asked Joe what he thought of the new breed of punk bands, Blink 182, Rancid and Green Day etc. “I’ll tell you what; they play a lot faster than we did, good luck to ”Ëem’.”Â Joe returned to his room to get changed and a group photo was called for. We tried remaining inconspicuous, but were persuaded to pose for the photo (I often wonder when the pictures were developed, if anyone, apart from Joe, knew who the hell we were?).
We arrived at The Phoenix, and Angus, Joe and the band adjourned backstage to prepare for the gig, so Dave, Jo and I had a drink and chatted to Damien Hirst. From what I’d read and seen, I thought Damien wouldn’t be my cup of tea. But I was wrong. Damien was funny, friendly and entertaining company, and we got on famously and drank together like old friends. As the banter became rowdier, Andy Moseley appeared with his then partner Caroline. We jokingly took the piss out of Andy, and told him to get the drinks in, as journalists are known to be tight with their money. Andy was speechless as Damien and I fired good-humoured comments in his direction. Eventually Caroline pulled Andy away, and we made our way into the gig.
Angus and his band were taking ages setting up their gear, so Keith Allen leapt on stage and hurled abuse at two pissed metal kids who were giving him verbals. Fairhurst’s guitarist, accompanied by Keith on ”Ëvocals,’ filled in time with a humorous version of The Troggs Wild Thing, sung in cod Japanese! Angus’s set wasn’t my thing (Angus pulled large reams of paper from a suspended backdrop while his band played along in a monotonous fashion) but it was great watching Joe hanging in the wings bashing out the rhythm.
Keith Allen asked me to watch his back because he feared retribution from the metal-heads who’d mouthed off earlier. I accompanied Keith to the bar, and he bought me a double scotch, and fortunately, Keith’s fears were unfounded, but I wasn’t so fortunate. A small, drunken, late thirties, Timmy Mallet look-alike edged his way to the front of the stage and stood directly behind me, shouting insults at Fairhurst. “Fuck off, you’ve got no talent. Get off you’re shit!”Â He was pissing me off with his drunken rants, so I told him to shut up! He glared at me, and said, “I’ll take you outside and kick your fucking head in if you don’t shut up!”Â I gritted my teeth because I wanted to watch the show without further interruption. But he continued with his insults, so Jo told him to stop too. He turned around, took a swing at me, missed and caught Jo on the cheek. That was IT! I swung round and caught him with a left hook, full in the face. He stumbled back into the crowd and knocked Keith Allen’s partner over in the process! He was flat on his back, but tried to get up to return the favour. But security quickly appeared and restrained him. Despite his drunken protest, he was ejected from the building. Fortunately, I told the muscle I was ”Ëwith the band,’ and they left me alone to watch the show. To make matters worse, Mosley’s partner, Caroline, appeared from the shadows, shouting her mouth off about the ”Ëtreatment’ Andy had received at the hands (and mouth) of Damien Hirst and I earlier. She was drunk, so I told her it was harmless banter, but she wouldn’t listen and continued arguing the toss. I said, it was a joke and if she couldn’t see that, that was her problem. Andy eventually calmed Caroline down and led her away. Then, without warning, Alf came bounding out of the shadows and drunkenly attempted to assault Andy. Alf had been served a writ by the paper Andy worked for, after deriding them on a spoof website he’d set up, and was threatened with legal action. Alf had wrongly assumed Andy was responsible and was looking for retribution. One of Angus’s crew was filming the gig, but when he saw the fracas, he turned his camera on Alf! But this wound him up and he tried to whack the cameraman. Alf was still throwing mistimed punches when security pinned him to the ground (which is no mean feat as Alf is twenty four stone!). Alf was dragged from the venue and dumped outside. He was last seen, staggering away, red-faced, with his trilby ajar!
After the show, Dave, Jo, Fairhurst, and I, prepared to leave for the Barcelona. But the idiot I punched was lurking around outside, talking to the police and pointing in my direction. Keith Allen told me to return to the hotel and he would sort it out. Fair play. As we walked back to the hotel, I told Angus what had happened, and he said he felt somewhat responsible for events. But I told him, there’s always some prick that spoils it for everyone else. However, my main concern was Joe might think I was a mindless yob. Back at the hotel, we ordered drinks and I nervously waited for Strummer’s return. I was shitting myself, but I needn’t have worried, as Luce had already told Joe I’d whacked the bloke, and Joe was cool. I quickly told Strummer the guy had hit Jo, and he said, “Good for you. If you were a boxer we’d call you Slugger Swinford!”Â
The Hotel Barcelona has a small nightclub cum disco adjacent to the bar and Dave mentioned to Joe it used to be an eye infirmary morgue! Punters entering the club, were informed by Joe and I not to go in because it was, ”Ëdead in there!’ Ha, Ha! Joe was amused by our jovial asides, and let out a loud belly laugh.
Keith Allen resurfaced and told me he’d sorted the aggro, and ”Ëpersuaded’ the guy I’d hit not to press charges. Keith said, the guy had a small cut on his face, and his glasses were bust (I found out later, that he has a reputation for pestering people when drunk. Some weeks later, I bumped into him at my local supermarket, but, judging by his blank expression, he obviously hadn’t any recollection of events).
Joe bought another rounds of drinks. Then as last orders were called, Joe said he was going to ”Ëhit the hay.’ Before retiring to bed, Joe said, he planned to come down to Exeter again to ”Ëhang out’ with us because he’d had such a good time. It had been a great day, despite the grief.
The dust settled on The Phoenix affair, and it was announced Joe & The Mescaleros were due to undertake a short UK tour in late 2001. I rang Joe, but his step-daughter Eliza, answered the phone. “We are having dinner, who is it?”Â I told her my name and Joe immediately came to the phone and thanked me for an Elvis Presley birthday card I’d sent in August. I mentioned that I planned to travel to a few up coming shows and asked, if he could sort out a couple of guest list places. Joe agreed, and I set about arranging transport to the gigs (I don’t drive). I contacted several friends who’d expressed an interest in seeing the man in action, but the unreliable dropped out at the last minute (”ËI’ve got a cold,’ ”Ëmy wife is divorcing me!’). However, a long time friend, Gerry Philbin joined me for the Birmingham gig, and the show blew him away.
After the gig, Gerry and I made our way to the dressing room, and Joe greeted me warmly. “Joe Swinford everybody!”Â The Birmingham Post was interviewing Joe, so Strummer delegated me as unofficial barman. I located the beers, and distributed them amongst the assembled throng. Two drunken middle-aged Welsh guys hassled me for booze. But they were already ”Ëwell refreshed.’ Nonetheless, I handed them two cans of Stella, but unfortunately the beer sprayed our Welsh chums in sticky liquid. Before we left, I told Joe, we paid for our hotel accommodation with cash because we got the impression that the receptionist thought we looked a bit dodgy and we might do a runner without paying our bill. Joe smiled and said. “That’s because you do look a bit dodgy.”Â
Two days later, Jo, Alf and I caught the early evening train to Bristol, for Joe’s gig at The Colston Hall. In all the years I’ve attended gigs, this aged establishment ranks as one of the least rock ”Ën’ roll venues I’ve encountered. I saw The Clash there in the early eighties, and even then, security was heavy. But now, we had serious manners to contend with. No drinking or smoking (this was years before the smoking ban) was allowed anywhere in the auditorium. What was this, a children’s outing? Call me old-fashioned, but these restrictions are commonplace in far too many venues for my liking.
We partook of a couple beers in the bar, and took our places on the balcony, along side the other guests. I bumped into Damien Hirst (he remembered me from Exeter) on the stairs. He was sporting a very expensive fringe jacket that wouldn’t have looked out of place on The Alarm! Cruelly, I took the piss, and following a few wisecracks; Damien wisely removed the offending article of clothing.
As Joe and the boys tore into Rudi Can’t Fail, Alf became unsteady on his feet. Suddenly, he scurried down the steps clutching his stomach! Alf had begun drinking early that day, consuming sixteen pints of rough cider – which may have contributed to his irregular bowel movement! Alf returned to a nearby hotel to sleep off his stupor, but not before, he had a severe attack of the ”Ëten bob bits.’ Evidently, he hit the porcelain with only seconds to spare. Phew!
The following morning, after a cold night sleeping on a mate’s floor in Bristol, I set off to Brixton for my third Strummer gig of the week. Dave Myers was struck down with a bad case of gout so Dave Goodes came off the subs bench again and offered to drive me to London in exchange for the spare backstage pass.
Don Letts’ and Dan Donovan’s Dub Cartel set the scene with a fine set of exquisite roots and dub, and Strummer turned in another fine show. Prior to Joe’s version of Max Romeo’s reggae bruiser A Quarter Pound Of Ishen, he delivered a poignant speech about Britain’s ineffectual drug laws. “This is for all the fucking laws in the country. I knew that if we were free we wouldn’t fuck it up. Let’s be sensible about it. The government treat us like. . . .We know there’s whisky on the shelf, but we don’t go and buy it every morning for breakfast. It’s the same with marijuana or whatever. It’s a question of being mature people, either we are mature people or we’re not.”Â Well-said Joe! Roll another one.
With the sound of White Riot ringing in my ears, we made our way to the VIP bar for the after-show party. Dave caught sight of Mick Jones. “Mick, we love you man.”Â “Don’t say that you make me sound like Michael Jackson – mind you we do have the same initials.”Â I couldn’t see Joe, so Dave and I followed Mick to the VIP dressing room, but as we didn’t have the appropriate passes, security blocked our path. Before Mick disappeared into the inner sanctum, we had our photo taken; Dave stepped back out the frame. But Mick protested, and said, “Nah, get him in there.”Â We pleaded with security to let us through to Joe’s dressing room, but they wouldn’t budge. Luckily, Joe’s aide-de-camp Pockets persuaded security to allow us through.
I entered the dressing room, and Strummer shouted, “SWINFORD! Get everybody out.”Â I half-heartedly attempted to remove the assembled liggers, but to no avail. Goodes quip, “Everybody out! The drinks are on Keith (Allen),”Â seemed to do the trick, so we adjourned to the bar. Keith asked who Goodes was, and I told him, he was a ”Ëdefrocked vicar,’ but that’s another story! Most of the liggers had dispersed, so we waited at the bar to be served. Joe fumbled for cash to pay for his round, but didn’t have any money on him, so he shouted for his road manager. He wasn’t around, so, I offered to lend Joe ÃÂ£20. At first, Joe refused, but after a few minutes, he said. “You know that ÃÂ£20?”Â Before departing, Joe offered to pay back the loan, but he still couldn’t locate his elusive road manager. I told Joe to keep the cash, and said his music meant the world to me. Joe listened patiently to my waffle and said, “You’ll never pay.”Â
I didn’t see Joe play again until July 2002, at Shepherds Bush Empire in London. Remembering what Joe had said about never paying, I wrote, asking if I could possibly get on the guest-list. Luce rang me a few days later and said it wouldn’t be a problem, but not to ask for any more as they’d only been allotted twenty passes. I thought this didn’t seem many for a profile gig like ”ËThe Bush.’ Joe rang the day before the show, but I was out! Fortunately, Jo took the call, and Strummer said he was looking forward to meeting us after the show for a drink. Alf joined Jo and I on the jaunt, and on arrival at The Bush, I was handed two Access All Areas passes! Now all became clear. I was usually lucky enough to get an After Show pass, but it now seemed I’d been ”Ëpromoted’ (which explained the twenty passes Luce mentioned). I felt privileged, as a lot of people must have hassled Joe for guest list places – so to get an AAA pass was a huge honour. On the downside, there was nothing for Alf, but I remonstrated with the box office who eventually issued him a ”Ëguest of guest’ pass.
We adjourned to the upstairs bar and grabbed a table, when a familiar figure came weaving through the crowd; it was none other than the mighty sticksman himself, Topper Headon! The last I’d seen of Tops was in Clash documentary Westway To The World, and he looked gaunt and unhealthy. I called him over and despite rumours to the contrary, Topper willing chatted about The Clash, and there was little evidence of the drug problems that plagued him in the past (Believe me, I would have noticed!). Topper told us an alarming story about how he’d been attacked in a bar in his home town of Dover, and only recently been able to walk again without the aid of crutches. Apparently, Topper tried to break up a fight in the pub, but some guy turned on him, damaging the tendons in his legs! (Topper signed a flyer, Topper Headon, The Clash 2002. I don’t know if he had hopes of The Clash reforming as he was playing drums in small-time pub bands in Dover at the time. Apart from his mates, I wonder how many people realised Topper was once the drummer in the greatest rock ”Ën’ roll band of all time).
Shepherds Bush was a good gig, despite a poor sound. But, a substandard version of Willesden To Cricklewood should never have ventured past the rehearsal stage (Willesden was on my wish-list) as it was out of time and tune. After the show, Alf returned to the hotel, so Jo and I headed for Joe’s dressing room. Joe was friendly enough, but was suffering from a heavy cold and didn’t seem to want to talk to anyone except his daughters Jazzy and Lola, and Keith Allen. Sensing it was best not to hassle him, we had a brief chat and photo, and made our way down the backstage corridor. As we were leaving, I overheard two women talking – “You should have told them you are the mother of his children.”Â One was Joe’s ex-partner Gabby, and it appeared security wouldn’t allow her access to the dressing room for some mysterious reason.
As 2002 drew to a close, the dates for Joe’s Bringing It All Back Home Tour were advertised. Joe planned to play a clutch of dates at small venues around the UK, so I made arrangements to attend shows at Newport TJ’s and Bridgwater Palace Theatre. Courtesy of Luce, I secured passes for Newport. But as Bridgwater was a benefit gig, we divvied up for tickets. I travelled to Newport on Saturday November 16thH with Dave Myers and ”Ëking of the bootlegs,’ Charlie Cooke (I’d met him at an Exeter Record Fair some months previously). Charlie kindly invited me to his home to check out his mammoth Clash/Strummer bootleg collection, and it seemed he owned nearly every Clash and Strummer bootleg in existence. Considerately, he ”Ëburned’ a large number of top-drawer CDs for me, so I owed him a favour. A mate had dropped out and I had a spare pass for Newport, so Charlie was in.
TJ’s is a smallish Welsh venue with an unjustified reputation for rowdiness. I don’t know where this rep originates from, because I never witnessed anything but a good old jolly up. (While I waited for Joe to take the stage, Stik, a former member of a great little band called Rollerco, and a Newport local said. “Joe Rebel? What happened to that great band you were in?????????????).
It was great watching Strummer perform in such an intimate setting as TJs. It’s all very well watching bands perform in medium-sized and big venues, but I wanna see the whites of their eyes, maaaaaaan! Joe’s interaction with the crowd was second to none, and one guy even held up his mobile phone, into which Joe sung a couple of lines of White Man In Hammersmith Palais. Whoever was on the other end must have freaked out hearing Strummer bellowing down the blower! But hey, why weren’t they down the front experiencing the real thing? It was a stunning show, and also the first time I was privy to the stunning new tune Coma Girl. Joe and The Mescaleros were now, easily the best live act in the country by a mile. Much to the annoyance of my mate Craig from Bristol, Strummer acknowledged me from the stage with the old thumbs ups!
I bumped into Joe outside after the show and gave him a Trojan box set (“I’ve got a few of these”Â) and he led us into the after-show party. We climbed the stairs, when suddenly there was a power cut. We stood in total darkness, and for some inexplicable reason I said to Joe, “It’s like Coronation Street in here!”Â Eventually, power was restored and I mentioned to Joe, that I read an interview, in which he was quoted as saying – those who ”Ëburnt’ CDs of other people’s tunes were ”Ëkilling music.’ I jokingly told Joe, I wouldn’t send him any more compilations if he believed that was the case.
The final section to be published shortly…