How Clash legend Joe Strummer lives on in his music, art and writing
To mark the release of a boxset tribute to punk pioneer/singer/songwriter/activist/all-round inspiration Joe Strummer, who died in 2002, MALCOLM WYATT talked to Joe's widow, Lucinda Mellor
Later this month, Ignition Records issue new LP/CD/digital boxset, Joe Strummer 001, the first compilation spanning Strummer’s career outside The Clash.
It includes various rarities and fan favourites from recordings with pre- and post-Clash outfits the 101’ers and The Mescaleros, solo LPs, soundtrack work and an LP of unreleased songs.
Strummer is seen as the most charismatic and passionate frontman to emerge from the late ’70s punk explosion and, after his death aged just 50 in late 2002, it was discovered he’d been quite an archivist of his own work, with barns full of writings and tapes stored in his back garden.
There are more than 20,000 items in the Joe Strummer Archive, as worked on – as per the boxset – by his widow, Lucinda Mellor, and Canada-born artist friend Robert Gordon McHarg III, with songs restored and mastered by Grammy winner Peter J Moore in Toronto.
Gordon also worked on The Clash Sound System with bass player/artist Paul Simonon and curated a Black Market Clash exhibition.
To mark the release, I asked Luce about the project and Joe’s legacy.
We first talked about the hard graft that went into compiling the archive and boxset, and she admitted they had ‘no idea of the wealth of
recording material buried in the boxes and bags’.
For one thing, Joe was one for ‘hidden tracks’. Was there a fear some tapes might snap, be lost forever?
“Yes, real fear, and for this reason Gordon sought out the amazing Peter Moore in Canada, a master at repairing these precious old tapes.”
Were there occasional conversations above with Joe compiling this, feeling a need to ask his opinion?
“Continual, but then I still find that today and wonder ‘What would Joe do or say?’”
With more than 20,000 items archived, were there moments when it all seemed too much to sort?
“The project has been huge, and without input, help and enthusiasm from Gordon and Martin Bradley and his team, I would have abandoned it years ago.
“It really has been a mammoth undertaking.”
Were there sleepless nights about which tracks to leave off? And is there scope for Joe Strummer 002?
“Many sleepless nights, and I’m sure there are many varying opinions out there as to what we should and shouldn’t have included, but there is easily a 002 … maybe even a 003.”
In a 2007 interview, you suggested an ‘amazing book’ may follow.
“This is what we were originally planning when we realised Joe left so many interesting, beautiful lyrics, poems and drawings.
“We put one together to accompany the release with hand-written lyrics, scribbles, drawings, photographs and a bio he wrote himself.
“In effect, we have left the book to Joe to introduce us to the album.
“That is not to say that sometime in the future I would love to put out a glossy coffee table book!”
It took Joe’s departure for much of his work to be truly recognised in certain circles, but I’m more and more convinced he was on a genuine career high, judging by his later Mescaleros work.
“I feel he was just getting back into his stride and had a fantastically talented bunch of musicians in the Mescaleros who reignited his passion for writing, recording and performing.”
Inevitably, talk always returned to a Clash reformation. Signs suggest It was at least on Joe’s bucket-list.
“Mick (Jones) and he were swapping ideas in the last few months of his life, and I guess The Clash was always unfinished business.
“He had enormous respect and love for Mick, so who knows.”
It’s now 25 years since you met, and you knew him so much better than most. Although you both had West London links, he seemed just as at home in Somerset.
“He took to Somerset life easily and loved it down here, although he never lost his thirst for London and indeed other cities.”
Joe could outdo most of us with his ‘hoarding’, a ‘carrier-bag man’ keeping hold of so many items that might one day come in handy. Were there ever difficult ‘Do you really need this, Joe?’ conversations?
“Many. I couldn’t understand why he kept these endless plastic bags which littered the house, especially as I am the opposite, and love a good clear-out.”
How important was Gordon’s input in setting the right tone on this boxset?
“This whole project is really Gordon’s baby.
“He masterminded and engineered it from conception.”
Have there been moments when you’ve been overwhelmed by just how much love there is still out there for Joe, around the world, touching so many lives and inspiring so many people?
“I’m continually amazed that the passion and love for the man and his music is still so strong.”
Finally, in a sense, Joe never left us – his music remains. Approaching 16 years after his passing, what do you both think of when he springs to mind today?
“I see him in the kitchen with a half-eaten sandwich, his dog asleep on his feet, waving a piece of paper at me and asking me to fax it quick to Mick.”
You can pre-order Joe Strummer 001, out Friday, September 28, at https://JoeStrummer.lnk.to/001, either on limited-edition deluxe boxset or deluxe double CD in an A4 book, double CD in slipcase, quadruple heavyweight vinyl in slipcase, or digital download. Meanwhile, ’London Is Burning’, an alternative/early version of ‘Burnin’ Street’ is available now via https://JoeStrummer.lnk.to/LIBt
And for more details about ongoing charity projects in Joe’s name, go to joestrummerfoundation.org.