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Paul Hodson's play Meeting Joe Strummer in Ipswich
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

The Clash in 1977
The Clash in 1977 - Jones, Headon, Strummer and Simonon

A play looking at The Clash, punk and 'selling out' is coming to Suffolk.

Meeting Joe Strummer, at Ipswich's New Wolsey Theatre, looks at two fans' relationship with the band they adore.

As they grow older they try and stay true to their youthful ideals in the face of getting jobs and holding down relationships.

"The value The Clash gave to me was about trusting your own instincts and doing it yourself," said playwright Paul Hodson.

The Future Is Unwritten production is touring the UK and should find some takers, maybe from some who attended The Clash's gigs in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich - more of which later.

The play centres on characters Nick and Steve and their friendship over 25 years - after meeting at the legendary Rock Against Racism gig in London's Victoria Park in 1978.

Nick went to a public school and rejects his middle class career path - as did Joe Strummer who was a diplomat's son. Steve is from a more working class background and is also searching for his place in the grand scheme of things.

Steve in Meeting Joe Strummer
Nick (Steve North) visits the Anti-Nazi League gig in Victoria Park

Paul Hodson got into The Clash after hearing their 1977 debut album and was at the Victoria Park event in real life:

"There was something about that whole day that was positive at a time when politics was very ugly," said Paul. "The National Front were everywhere, there was a lot of football hooliganism, a lot of negativity around.

"A lot of people think about punk and negative things - and there was a nihilist wing of the punk movement that I suppose the Sex Pistols were part of.

"But I've always thought there was a positivity about punk and it was encapsulated in the Rock Against Racism day."

The characters eventually get to meet Joe Strummer in the play, something that nearly happened to Paul.

"There's always this thing about 'never meet your heroes'. I had a couple of opportunities to meet Joe, but I didn't want it to go wrong I suppose."

Joe Strummer died from heart failure in 2002 at the age of 50.

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, 2002
Joe Strummer with The Mescaleros at the Fleadh in 2002

Selling out

While selling out theatres is something the production aspires to, central to the play and punk is the other concept of not 'selling-out'.

Paul defines 'selling-out' thus: "If you are totally living your life responsible to a company that owns your soul.

"I've sort of done it for a while working for TV companies where you're doing your own work, but it's owned and controlled by someone else.

"I think the big thing about punk and The Clash was breaking out of that. And, of course they fell into disrepute with some people for selling-out to a major record label [CBS].

"The value they gave to me was about trusting your own instincts and doing it yourself.

"Nick's journey takes him into theatre where he's trying to express himself, but he gets tempted into a world where he's very highly paid and celebrity beckons.

"But it is a comedy really! It's about two lads caught up in a historical moment and how they muddle through their lives.

"There seem to be a lot of chaps in their 40s and 50s sitting in the audience who know what we're on about.

"There were a lot of women into punk, but there have been a lot of girlfriends and wives who've come to the play and understood a little bit about what their chaps have been on about."

Today he still listens to new music:

"BBC 6music I listen to especially in the evenings and there's some interesting stuff going on. I think Jamie T is just breaking through into the mainstream and I would put him in direct lineage with Joe Strummer."

Paul Simonon and Joe Strummer of The Clash
Clash bassist Paul Simonon with Joe Strummer in 1984

The Clash in Suffolk

The Clash played at Ipswich's Gaumont (now The Regent) in 1980, but further off the modern-day gig circuit, they played the Bury St Edmunds Corn Exchange in 1978 supported by The Coventry Specials (who later dropped the 'Coventry').

The promoter for the Bury gig was John Hessenthaler:

"The punk thing was a bit of a no-go area, because on the Sex Pistols' Anarchy tour, which The Clash were on, many of the advertised gigs had been cancelled because of local council policy, swearing etc.

"It was a July gig and the local council tried to stop it, but because I had a contract with them I insisted it went ahead.

"There were rumours that there was going to be trouble, but that didn't happen.

"There was also a rumour that Bob Dylan was going to come to the gig, because he was a labelmate and in the country for the Blackbushe Aerodrome festival, but that didn't happen."

The promoter estimates that tickets cost around £2.50 and the capacity of the Corn Exchange was around 900 - around double what it is in 2010.

"It was a great night and quite interesting from a business point of view," said John.

"I'd agreed a fee of £250 with The Clash's management and they were so convinced that it was going to be rammed, that they rang me up a few days before the gig wanting to change it so that they'd get a percentage of the door.

"However, I didn't feel it was going to be quite as big as they thought, so I agreed and they ended up going away with less than the original agreed fee!

"Once you get into the realms of dealing with PA companies and agents, all this 'power to the people' stuff - it doesn't really apply behind the scenes."

The final version of The Clash split up in 1986.

Meeting Joe Strummer is at Ipswich's New Wolsey Theatre , 19/20 March 2010.




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