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Tuesday, 24 December, 2002, 08:52 GMT
'When I met Joe Strummer'
Jo Strummer playing live
Strummer playing live: he was back in his element

When I met Joe Strummer in the summer of 2001, to say he was energetic was putting it mildly.

He was conducting interviews at the Groucho Club in central London, his shoes and socks off, and a pile of coffee cups and water bottles next to an overspilling ashtray.

He was in rude health, and utterly enthused about making music again.

His new band The Mescaleros, were about to release their second album, Global A Go-Go.

Strummer was at an interesting time. He was nudging 50, and seemingly at odds with his own back catalogue (the pleas from promoters to reform The Clash were met with stubbornly deaf ears).
Joe Strummer strikes a pose
Joe Strummer was once banned from East Germany by the Stasi

The initial wave of euphoria that had greeted him climbing back on stage - the Mescaleros' first album had been released in 1999 - had waned a little.

Could Joe Strummer's new music rival his old? How could he keep hold of the spark, the love of music that given birth to The Clash over 25 years on?

International stew

Strummer was certainly game to try and find the answers. Global A Go Go had been recorded in Willesden, north-west London, and the Clash frontman, all hairy toes and flailing arms, was ecstatic about the area.

"You go out to get something to eat, buy a newspaper, some honey, a couple of bottles of wine, and you go to about 10 countries," Strummer said.

That multi-ethnic stew just outside his studio had pervaded the album and Strummer had created a musical internationalism that he served up as an antidote to capitalist globalisation.

This is the Joe Strummer of legend. A man who could find the exotic in a nondescript London locality and then celebrate it in song.

Or who could paint, on the same album, the tale of Macedonian migrants to the UK (Shaktar Donetsk), and carry it off with weight and meaning.

Strummer's politics may have been painted as sloganeering sometimes, but it did not seem like it close up.

East German ban

He was good-naturedly jealous that the Manic Street Preachers had, a few months before, played to Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba. "We should have done that," he told me, grinning.

The Clash had tried to get to East Germany during the Cold War, but had their offers declined. Years later, Strummer told me, he found the Stasi had covertly studied their music and lyrics and deemed them too inflammatory.

The afternoon carried on in a wave of snapshot memories of earthquakes in Mexico and half-remembered gigs in Wellington, New Zealand, where Strummer was incredulous to see the punks' styles were more cartoonish than Carnaby Street.

But at 48, Strummer's enthusiasm was infectious. He was ecstatic to have a band again, happy to bring music back to his fans, talked about them as part of his grand plan to take his album, guerrilla-style, into public consciousness.

Happily, the music has not died with him.



The Clash's scene

See also:

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