A guest contribution from Dave Martin
I thought long and hard about making a Joe Strummer compilation that would fit within the confines of the ICA series, and had several different ideas in my mind during that time. I had thought about his work with other artists, and interesting as this concept was, I rejected it as being unrepresentative of his own body of work. I also swapped my ten tracks and their running order several times before coming up with what I think is the best compromise, in that it cohesive and also almost reads true to the chronological line of recording and progression in his music.
When The Clash finally came to a stop with the aptly named Cut The Crap, Joe Strummer had suddenly lost his place in The Only Band That Mattered. His initial recordings were followed by a decade, the Wilderness Years in his own words, and then a quite different, more worldly set of releases in what was a far too short period of time before his premature death. I have split the ICA accordingly, with side one allowing ten years before side two starts. Of course, you can choose to cut this gap down accordingly, but bear in mind, this was an era for a man who had released eight slabs of vinyl in a five-year period from 1977, and represents a loud silence.
The first few recordings in Joe’s post-Clash career came through soundtrack recordings, the first being from Sid & Nancy. Joe realised quite quickly that kicking Mick Jones out of The Clash had been a mistake, and soon hooked up with him for Love Kills and also to co-produce and co-write on BAD’s second album, No.10 Uping Street. However, this is Joe’s album…
1 Evil Darling
The third film soundtrack Joe Strummer participated in, with two songs, was Straight To Hell, a parody of spaghetti western films by Alex Cox. Filmed in the Almeria region of Spain, like most in the genre actually were, the film and soundtrack also featured The Pogues as a bunch of cowboys addicted to coffee. Joe would later play some of the band’s tracks live with them in later years, but his main (vocal) track is an evocative piece which captures the sense of the wild west and effectively draws a line in the sand between where he was and where The Clash were when he left them behind.
2 Tennessee Rain
Released earlier in 1987 than Evil Darling, the entire Walker soundtrack was ‘written and produced by Joe Strummer’ as opposed to being called a Joe Strummer release. For those who want the whole story behind this, go read, but suffice to say for our purposes, Joe was limited to singing on three tracks on this album. The Unknown Immortal vies with Tennessee Rain for me, at times, but this song just makes the cut for the album. Tennessee Rain has a warmth to the lyric which had not always been evident in Joe’s music before, and towards the end breaks into a mood that is so far from the posturing he’d been guilty of a few years earlier, that it becomes the first sing along song he did, rather than chant along – with the possible exception of White Man In Hammersmith Palais.
3 Trash City
From the fourth soundtrack album in three years, Permanent Record, Trash City saw Joe going back to a more formal band line-up with Latino Rockabilly War. The guitarist, Zander Schloss, had actually been on the previous two releases, and he had clearly become a foil for Joe to work with, and while not being of the calibre of Mick Jones it should be remembered he was not in competition either. Having said that, this is perhaps the most Clash-like song Joe did, and his first single in two years, since 1986’s Love Kills with Mick. However, it’s the beginnings of a band sound that makes the difference here, and at the point where they seem to break loose, you hear a bunch of men comfortable in their grouping.
4 Island Hopping
The second single from Earthquake Weather, Joe’s first bona fide solo album, featuring LTW in recording but not in credits, this is yet another breakaway from Joe’s previous sound. If The Clash had broken musical barriers in their career, Joe was continuing that trend and adapting to his freedom quite handsomely. This is a song I love, and in the last year it has had more plays on Kirkwall jukeboxes than probably anywhere else in the word. My only regret about this not bothering the charts is that it will never be the answer to the pub quiz question, “What hit single mentions ‘Papa Hemingway’ by name while describing life in the setting of his later years?” I’d get that one right.
The closing track on Earthquake Weather, and a dark, brooding song which in typical Clash lore was supposedly written for Frank Sinatra. Whether Jo believed that or not, the many ups and downs in his personal and professional life in the next ten years lend the lines ‘what good would it be, if you could change every heartache that run through your life and mine?’ a certain poignancy and close side one.
1 Sandpaper Blues
Ten years later, and 1999 saw Joe Strummer releasing Yalla Yalla as a single from a new album, Rock Art & The X-Ray Style. Dating back from work with Richard Norris, the single and this track herald the coming of a new band in The Mescaleros. Featuring hand drums and African chanting, Sandpaper Blues is an all embracing song, immediately telling the listener it’s going to boom Mariachi and urging everyone to shape it up all around the world. A man back with a purpose.
2 Bhindi Bhagee
The second album with The Mescaleros saw old time friend and occasional collaborator Tymon Dogg join the band. Despite never being released as a single, this track can be argued to be the defining sound of the band. The album had a genre-melding folk-rock sound a million miles from Steeleye Span, and this track is at first a celebration of the diverse and exciting ethnic and multi-cultural areas of the local London High Streets, principally through the foods on offer, and then describes the band’s sound in a similar manner.
3 Johnny Appleseed
A call to look after the planet, or just looking out for his cider? This is a rare animal in that it is an environmentally charged song without seeming to be so, or being dragged down by the message. It works on different levels, like good songs do, but the simple message of looking after the bees if you want to get the honey is a lesson not easily learned by everyone.
4 Get Down Moses.
Released posthumously, with instrumentation added to demos, Streetcore stands as a good indication of the sort of third album Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros were capable of. This track, also released as a single, had already been in the live set for most of 2002, harks back to ideas Joe had over 30 years earlier. The failure of religion and modern society had already been covered on The Sound Of The Sinners, but whereas on Sandanista’s track the message on the tablets was Valium, the modern tablets were LSD pills.
5 Willesden to Cricklewood
Actually the last track from Rock Art, this also featured as the closing track on the film and soundtrack of The Future Is Unwritten, Julian Temple’s documentary of Joe’s life. And this song seems to be about Joe’s life. The lyrics, ‘thought about what’s done is done, we’re alive and that’s the one’, sound like a man content with his life. These thoughts were articulated by Antony Genn, who had provided the inspiration while tinkling about on the piano in the studio. Antony had also been instrumental in getting Joe back into music, and told this story with barely hidden emotion.