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
But Joe grinned and said, “You’re right, I was wrong.”Â Dave Myers son Spike designed a hundred Mescaleros badges for Joe. But as this was unofficial merchandise, Joe tried winding Dave up – “Tell your son my lawyers will be in touch.”Â I asked Joe what his thoughts were about plans to induct The Clash into The Rock ”Ën’ Roll Hall Of Fame in 2003. “What do you think?”Â Joe said with a smile. I told him, it was a tremendous honour, as The Clash thoroughly deserved the accolade. However, Joe was non-committal when I asked him if The Clash planned to play the ceremony. Following a restless night in a grubby Newport bed and breakfast, we returned to Exeter to prepare for that evenings gig in Bridgwater.
Jo and I, and two friends, booked into a nice, but pricey bed and breakfast in Bridgwater and hit the town. Joe was renowned for going on stage early, so we arrived as the doors opened ”â but we were told Joe wasn’t due on stage until 11.30. So, I took it easy on the booze, and smoked spliff instead. The wait for Strummer dragged like hell, as the two local support acts would have been better suited playing the backroom of the local boozer as their tedious pub-rock was hardly suited to such a venue. However, Joe and The Mescaleros played the best I’d seen them to date, with Joe acting like an old style bandleader, directing operations and carrying the band along with last minute set changes and inter-song banter. However, two inebriated guys goaded Joe with anti-solo material digs prior to Bummed Out City. Joe shot ”Ëem a look, and said empathic ally, “The more you try and fuck it up, I’ll do it good.”Â No more was heard from those two for the remainder of the gig. (A couple of weeks later, I obtained a bootleg video of the gig. During the ad lib section of Get Down Moses, Joe sings the line, ”ËAnd the tall guy got a hat as a prize.’ As I am six foot five and was stood at the front sporting a huge black hat, it dawned on me, that particular lyric might have been directed at me. I listened intently to every other live version I had, and to my surprise, Joe didn’t mention it on any of them!)
As Bridgwater was a benefit show, everybody had to pay and there wasn’t any guest list as the money raised was going towards a worthwhile cause, supplying funding for the Bridgwater Engine Room arts and music scene venue. We hung around after the show, but were circled by security, attempting to clear the venue. I sent word backstage to Joe, and he appeared almost immediately. But security continued in their efforts to get us to vacate the building. Thinking on my feet I said, “I’m Joe’s keyboard roadie. Look at my hands, you can’t throw me out!”Â Joe laughed at my cheek and we were left alone. Before leaving, I wished Joe a happy Christmas. He thanked us for coming, and I said I’d see him in 2003.
On the morning of December 23rd, I was getting ready for work, when Dave Myers rang, “Are you all right…Strummer’s dead!”Â Initially, I thought this was some kind of sick joke, but it soon became clear this was no wind-up. I was numb, and shocked at this unbelievable news. As news spread, friends and acquaintances rang – and it was reassuring to know they cared. Next to anything happening to my family (my mum died while I was completing this book) or close friends, this was the worst possible news. I rang Alf. He hadn’t heard about Joe, and thought I was winding him up too. But, he realised I wasn’t joking, and cancelled his plans for the day and we arranged to meet in a pub later that morning. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach and had never felt this bad in my life. I can’t remember if I checked Teletext or the web for conformation of Joe’s death, because I was in a waking nightmare. All I knew, was after this day, nothing would ever be the same again. I was only talking to Joe a matter of weeks before, but now, unbelievably, he was DEAD! I drank a river that day, trying to numb the pain, but all it did was magnify the situation. As the day wore on, the realisation that Joe had died began to sink in and it felt like my heart had been ripped out. The Clash blasted from the pub jukebox repeatedly. But, even to a soundtrack of Joe’s greatest songs, I was inconsolable. More friends phoned, as the day blurred into an alcohol-fuelled haze. By early evening, a number of pre-Christmas revellers filled the pub – so I ordered a taxi to take me home, because I didn’t fancy mixing with people who didn’t care about Joe. I carried on drinking through the night, until psychically, I couldn’t take any more. The thought of getting through Christmas with the death of my all time hero casting a dark shadow over proceedings, made me feel like absolute shit.
I drank my way through Christmas. Even my daughter Abi sensed something was wrong and tried her best to cheer me up, bless her. But I was fucked! Jo was an immense comfort too, helping me through this awful time. I hate Christmas at the best of times, but now Joe was dead, this particular festive period was the worst ever.
Tributes poured in from, amongst others, David Bowie, Bono, Neil Tennant, Bruce Springsteen and Moby. Even well known ”ËClash hater,’ Bob Geldof was wheeled out for his opinion. Initial reports suggested Joe had died from a heart attack, but in fact, it was a very rare congenital heart disease that took him. When I learnt Joe had died at approximately 4.15 on Sunday afternoon December 22, an uncanny coincidence dawned on me. I went to work that day, taking a batch of CDs with me to help ease me through the monotony of work. Amongst my selection was two Clash CDs. I loaded the CD player at 10 O’clock that morning and pressed random. For some unknown reason, The Clash CDs didn’t play until after 4 O’clock that afternoon.
Joe’s was cremated in London on December 30th 2002. I was desperate to go and pay my respects, but I spent a small fortune in the run up to Christmas, and was flat broke. The cheapest train fare was ÃÂ£50, but I had less than that to last me a week for food. Sadly, despite trying to locate sufficient funds, I didn’t make it to the funeral. At the time Joe was cremated, I raised a glass of brandy (Joe’s favourite top shelf tipple) to the great man.
I was fortunate to meet, and see Joe play, many, many times, and for that I’m eternally grateful. The Clash, and Joe Strummer, changed my life forever, and I’ve never looked back. Joe made an enormous impression on me and leaves behind an unsurpassed legacy of excellent records and brilliant performances. Right up to Joe’s untimely death, and beyond, I have, and will support Joe Strummer with a passion. Many bands have come and gone in the wake of The Clash, but Joe has been a constant in my life since I was first blown away by The Clash back in late ”Ë77. Every band I’ve played in, Joe’s influence has been prominent in the mix. When I DJ, Joe’s music is on heavy rotation. Joe Strummer has made more of an impact on my life than any other musician you care to mention. Since The Clash split, I tried finding a band to replace them in my affections. At various times I’ve followed The Alarm, Manic Street Preachers and Blaggers ITA – Strummer’s influence runs through them all – but none come close to The Clash. They all made great records, but nothing compares to the late great Joe Strummer.
Joe wasn’t just a great songwriter and performer; he was a caring and passionate human being too. Sure, he had his faults, but the trappings of fame that the pop wannabees of today obsess with, didn’t consume Joe. He was a humble man, and he once said, when asked if he was going to play again after The Clash split, “Will anyone turn up?”Â Aside from being the coolest fucker who’s ever strapped on a Fender Telecaster, Joe continued to support the common man up until his death. Only weeks before he died, Joe played a benefit gig in Acton for the then striking fireman (Coincidently, Mick Jones joined Joe on stage in Acton, for the first time since 1983, for an encore of Clash songs). In these days of wheel ”Ëem on, wheel ”Ëem off pop stars and Britain’s Got Talent rubbish, Joe Strummer shone like a beacon amid a quagmire of shit, and he will never be forgotten. It was also rewarding to read the many tributes in the press and on the many Strummer and Clash websites. This proved beyond doubt that Joe meant a helluva lot to many, many people and his demise leaves a massive void.
Following Joe’s death, I set about organising a tribute show. I persuaded the landlord of Exeter pub, The Printers Pie, to hire me the upstairs function room free of charge. I designed a flyer, and contacted the local press and eagerly spread the word. I decided to DJ the event (I could have asked numerous bands to play, but that would have been a logistical nightmare), and the turn out was astonishing. Close on three hundred people turned up to pay their respects. Even old Clash fans I hadn’t seen in years showed up.
With Joe dying so suddenly, I decided I wouldn’t sit around and moan about the fact that I didn’t do this or I didn’t do that any more – so I formed Trash City Soundsystem, as a lasting tribute to Joe.
Basically, myself, and guest DJs spin classic punk, indie, reggae, ska, two-tone and various gems from the vaults. It goes without saying that The Clash and Strummer’s influence form the basis of Trash City – from the artwork through to the countless classic Clash and Strummer tracks I play. I managed to secure a monthly residency for Trash City at The Cavern Club in Exeter. And, as I write, every gig has been a success.
I’ve also been lucky enough to play with, ex-Special Neville Staple, The Levellers, Lars Fredriksen (Rancid), The Beat, Toots And The Maytals, Don Letts, Bad Manners, The Selecter, Mick Jones’s Carbon/Silicon, The Alarm’s Mike Peters, ex Clash DJ Scratchy Myers, and The Buzzcocks. I have also DJ-ed the successful Beautiful Days Festival, eight years in succession.
Even though I formed Trash City following Joe’s death, I like to think if I was still DJ-ing in another capacity; Joe might have shown up at a show or two if he was still alive, as he said he would after the Brixton show. I also, organised another Strummer tribute, on August 23rd 2003, raising ÃÂ£200 for the Strummerville charity.
Here’s to you Joe.
In early July 2004, news circulated that the newly formed Strummerville charity had arranged a street party in Joe’s hometown of Bridgwater on Saturday July 17th to coincide with the inclusion of Bridgwater’s entry in the South West heat of the BBC 2 TV programme Restoration.
Castle House (renamed Concrete Castle for the event) is situated just off Bridgwater High Street and it was hoped; a street party would raise the profile of the building and subsequent charity. More importantly, if successful, it would help secure in the region of one million pounds to enable renovation of the building via a phone poll on the day of the programmes screening.
If successful, Strummerville planned to turn Concrete Castle into the first base for its charity, providing benefits to individuals, groups and organisations to enable the production of music by creative people who would otherwise be prevented from doing so simply because they lack necessary funds. Their aim was to create Strummerville workplaces in key locations around the world. Concrete Castle hoped to be the first. Damien Hirst also planned to include an art installation in the building. With Joe’s name attached to the project, Concrete Castle was in with a good shout.
A few days before the event, a friend, Nigel Sandford, offered to drive Jo, Abi, and I to Bridgwater. The party was due to run from midday ”Ëtil 4pm, so, we set off from Exeter, early Saturday morning and arrived in Bridgwater, just before midday. The party was held directly adjacent to the site of the Concrete Castle, and as we walked through the town, numerous flyers advertising the event were dotted around. We turned the corner into the Concrete Castle, and were greeted by an enormous Strummerville banner that was attached to the side of the building. I felt a huge rush of emotion when I saw the banner. I spotted Keith Allen, who recognised me from past Strummer gigs, and we took our places among the fast increasing crowd. First on stage was Bez, swigging a pint. In his distinctive Northern drawl, he said to a huge roar, “Do you know there’s even a Bridgwater in Manchester.”Â Long-time Clash/Strummer DJ Barry ”ËScratchy’ Myers entertained all with a fine selection of top drawer tracks, including Strummer’s own Trash City. An array of artists was due to appear during the day – including Mick Jones, Badly Drawn Boy and Billy Bragg. Keith Allen hosted a Karaoke session between the acts, and when he came weaving through the crowd with his Karaoke book looking for likely candidates to kick off proceedings, without hesitation, I said I’d be up for doing a number. I thumbed through the pages of tunes, and noticed, London Calling was included. I told Keith I was up for having a stab, but I nipped round the pub for a livener before going anywhere near the stage! The first brave soul to get up and sing was a local girl, who performed a stirring version of Fever. Others were reluctant to step forward and sing, so Keith, gestured to me. But I wasn’t ready, so I downed another drink. One of the organisers approached me, and said I was on following a short set from local dance outfit Obedient Bone. Whaaaaaaaat!!! I was shitting myself, but as I made my way to the stage, I bumped into Joe’s widow Luce, “I hear you are getting up there?”Â I was apprehensive about performing, but Luce said, ”ËJust get do it.’ Her words of encouragement helped me enormously, but before I jumped on stage, Abi walked straight into the end of my lit cigarette. Fortunately, she only received a small burn to her shoulder and following lots of TLC from her mother (and Mick Jones) she was fine. Keith introduced me, and I sang London Calling to a rapturous reception. As I left the stage, a member of BBC’s OB team asked if I’d wanted to be included on the programme. I agreed, and signed the appropriate paper work (Nigel told me later, Mick Jones watched my performance from the wings, grinning like a Cheshire cat!).
Badly Drawn Boy played a short set, joined by Mick Jones, playing Joe’s famous Telecaster. At 4p.m. events were brought to a close with a massive Karaoke version of Rock The Casbah. Before we left for home, I approached Mick for a few words. He told me. “It takes a lot of guts to get up there and take Joe’s place and sing.”Â Phew! We had our photo taken with Mick and left. The following Saturday evening there was a short preview of the programme on BBC2. I missed it, but Jo said there was a brief clip of my stab at London Calling included. The following day, the full one-hour Restoration programme was aired; including a short piece about Castle House’s bid, plus a brief mention of the street party. Viewers were asked to submit their vote for who they thought deserved the cash. Two days later, it was revealed, Castle House just missed out, coming second to Sherbourne House. At least we gave it our best shot.
Joe Strummer RIP.