WILD AT HEART
December 22nd was the 10th anniversary of his death so Vive Le Rock featured the man himself on the cover of our current issue (no. 10, click HERE to get your copy) maps out the musical timeline of the legendary JOE STRUMMER.
Fiery, honest, original. Three words that sum up Joe Strummer. Punk as fuck would be another three. For, while Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols captured the ire and attention of the nation thanks to shock tactics, it was the late great Joe Strummer and The Clash who pushed boundaries, shattered preconceptions, broke rules and quietly crushed the old guard of the ’60s and ’70s into dust. Born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey, on the 21st of August 1952, the legacy of Joe Strummer is one that continues to inspire to this day, from the lowliest toilet circuit band to stadium headliners. With the recent release of Julian Temple’s ‘Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten’, we thought it high time to look at Joe’s musical life.
A young Joe visits the second-ever Glastonbury Festival. Mind suitably blown, he becomes a life-long vegetarian and gets himself a criminal record for robbing a pint of milk from a South London doorstep the same year.
Bitten hard by the music bug, a young Joe tries his hand at busking on the London Underground where he starts to feel his way around the frets of a guitar. By Christmas he would find himself living in Newport of all places.
Forms his first band, playing with The Vultures while staying in Newport before moving back to London and throwing himself into the squat scene of the time.
Abiding at 101 Walterton Road, it was no great leap when it came to naming his next ban, The 101ers, who would later be seen as one of the most impacting of bands in the pub rock scene were born, with the aim of raising funds for other squatters.
Playing practically the length and breadth of London and sandwiching in as many benefit shows as they could, the 101ers start to receive glowing reviews in the press.
With momentum building on the back of debut single ‘Keys To Your Heart’, the 101ers play the Nashville Rooms in London, supported by a bunch of little-known street urchins called the Sex Pistols. It was to be another life-changing moment for Strummer. One month later and, following an offer from Bernie Rhodes, Joe had joined The Clash.
The Clash sign to CBS Records and release incendiary debut single ‘White Riot’ and album ‘The Clash’ (Strummer and drummer Topper Headon would later get nicked for spraypainting the motif on a hotel room wall). After heading out and staying out on tour since May Day, Strummer and guitarist Mick Jones decamped to Kingston, Jamaica, deeply immersing themselves in reggae.
Eighty thousand people turn out in London’s Victoria Park for Rock Against Racism and The Clash steal the show, ploughing through a set including numbers from the newly released ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’.
The Great American Assault begins, as Strummer and company hit the United States running for the ‘Pearl Harbour’ and ‘Take The Fifth’ tours before unveiling their career-defining opus and love song to the city that spawned them, ‘London Calling’.
Released in December, the triple album ‘Sandinista!’ splits Clash fans right down the middle as both an overblown exercise in grandiosity and a melting pot of dub, reggae, rock, hip hop and world music.
The Clash play an unprecedented seventeen sold-out nights at Bond’s in New York’s Times Square, while Joe takes a break from music to run and complete both the London and Paris Marathons.
Topper Headon leaves the band, replaced by Terry Chimes for the straightforward ‘Combat Rock’.
With Mick Jones having also parted ways with Joe and co., chopping out his last riffs for the band in Bristol the year before, there is however light at the end of the tunnel for Strummer and partner Gaby, when the couple’s daughter Jazzy is born.
Touring the UK, Europe and the US with a new Clash line-up, Joe visits the grave of Spanish Civil War poet Federico Garcia Lorca.
Playing their final live show in Athens, the release of ‘Cut The Crap’ is followed shortly after by the official announcement that The Clash were completely done.
Presumably burnt out on life in a band, Joe instead explores the medium of film, appearing in Alex Cox’s ‘Straight To Hell’ and ‘Candy Mountain’ in the same year, as well as writing the soundtrack to ‘Walker’. Gaby and Joe’s second daughter Lola is born.
When Pogues guitarist Philip Chevron is taken ill, Joe joins Shane McGowan and company for the Irish songstrels’ UK and US live dates.
Performing live as Joe Strummer and the Latino Rockabilly War before moving to America to start work on his solo album, Strummer also found the time to write a handful of songs for the movie ‘Permanent Record’, which starred a young Keanu Reeves.
Releases debut solo album ‘Earthquake Weather’ and appears alongside Steve Buscemi in Jim Jarmusch movie ‘Mystery Train’.
Stepping into the producer’s chair, Joe mans the desk during the recording of The Pogues’ ‘Hell’s Ditch’ and even takes over vocal duties live when Shane McGowan leaves the band.
Clash best-of ‘The Singles’ is released. Joe and the rest of The Clash reject the obvious cash cow of reforming the band.
Joe splits his time between London, a home in Hampshire and sojourns to Almeria, Spain.
He marries Lucinda, mother of his step-daughter Eliza and becomes enamoured with British musical festivals, soaking up the atmosphere at Glastonbury and Womad and birthing the concept of ‘campfire’ and Strummerville. Also plays piano on The Levellers’ ‘Just The One’.
Joe records new music for the soundtrack to ‘Grosse Point Blank’ and hooks up with Black Grape and Keith Allen for a Top Of The Pops storming performance of ‘England’s Irie’.
Finding a new base in deepest Somerset, the Strummerville campfire launches the Fuji Rock festival in Japan. The idea of The Mescaleros is fermenting while Joe contributes backing music to ‘Kicks Joy Darkness: A Tribute To Jack Kerouac’.
In between rehearsing with The Mescaleros and DJing at various festivals, the radio show ‘Joe Strummer’s London Calling’ begins on BBC World Service, with Strummer as The Controller rolling out everything from ’50s rock ‘n’ roll to Cuban party songs for a worldwide audience who would lap it up for the next four years. Also appears on ‘South Park’ tie-in album ‘Chef Aid’.
The newly-minted Mescaleros, a vehicle for Joe to channel his eclectic band of influences from folk to world music by way of London squats, embark upon their debut tour on the back of album ‘Rock, Art And The X-Ray Style’, culminating in a rousing performance at Glasto.
Strummer makes a further mark on popular culture when seemingly the majority of films and TV shows featured music, be it Clash, solo or Mescaleros, from the man himself, including ‘Billy Elliott’, ‘Complicity’, ‘Daria’, ‘Hanging Up’, ’28 Days’ and ‘Coyote Ugly’.
Inking a deal with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong’s Hellcat Records, the Mescaleros set about second album ‘Global A Go-Go’, and mix up their live set by throwing in a cover of Ramones classic ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’.
The Mescaleros play a benefit show for striking London firefighters at Acton Hall in November that culminates with former Clash wingman Mick Jones taking to the stage with the band for Clash classics ‘Bankrobber’, ‘White Riot’ and ‘London’s Burning’, the first time the duo had played together since 1983. Less than a month later, Joe Strummer dies peacefully in his home in Somerset, the victim of an undiagnosed heart defect at the age of fifty, leaving behind a life and a legacy unmatched.
‘Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten’ is out now on DVD
STRUMMERVILLE: A CELEBRATION OF CREATION
Created by the friends and family of Joe a year after he passed away, Strummerville is a charity that provides new opportunities for aspiring musicians, offering support, resources and places to play, with the first official Strummerville resource located at London’s Roundhouse (www.roundhouse.org.uk/studios). With plans afoot to open more rehearsal spaces and Strummerville offering quarterly showcases for up-and-coming bands, you can find out more over at www.strummerville.com