One of the most seminal dates in the history of rock n' roll was 3 April 1976. At a gig that hot and sweaty Saturday night, Joe Strummer's pub rock group the 101'ers were supported by the then unknown Sex Pistols, a fledgling 'punk band' who had been gaining increasing attention for their chaotic performances. The venue was West London's Nashville Rooms, and amongst the riveted audience members were Mick Jones, guitarist with London SS, and an outspoken entrepreneur who had plans to manage a punk band to rival the Pistols, Bernie Rhodes.
Joe was similarly impressed by the so-called punks, who he felt had blown his ageing rhythm n' blues exponents off the stage. "Five seconds into their first song, I knew we were like yesterday's paper, we were over." Joe recognised which way the wind was blowing, so when Rhodes and Jones approached him after the show to discuss their plans to start The Clash, he jumped ship. While the Pistols went on to enjoy a meteoric rise and fall, their star waning within 18 months, The Clash went on to become, for a period, the greatest and most lauded rock band on the planet.
It is within the context of their being at the forefront of the British punk movement in the late 1970s that Joe is most vividly remembered and celebrated. Driven by youthful energy and passion, his devotion to his art and his commitment to the fierce integrity of his people politics was undeniable. I recall an article in the long defunct Sounds Magazine, which catalogued the punk scene from shortly after its inception to the point where it disintegrated into self-parody in the 1980s. The story featured an infamous gig at the Glasgow Apollo, on 4 July 1978, when the venue's security staff had overstepped their remit, beating up many of The Clash's mostly teenaged audience. Appalled by their treatment, Joe was arrested while protesting.
Punk was about many things. It could be contradictory. Full of self-importance but equally self-deprecating. Nasty and vitriolic but awash with humour. Joe personified many of those ambiguous attributes but he always seemed genuinely down-to-earth, cut from the same cloth as another great champion of the sounds of the late 1970s, John Peel. Like Peely, Joe passed away far too young. He was 50 when he died of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect, 10 years ago to this day. He has bequeathed a fantastic legacy of music and inspirational verse.
In tribute, here he is singing 'White Man in Hammersmith Palais', one of The Clash's legendary tracks, with his latter band, The Mescaleros, filmed in New York in 1999. In characteristic style, he stops singing half-way through to defend a fan being mistreated by the security staff.