Well I Was Walking Down The High Road

It would have been Joe Strummer’s 68th birthday yesterday had he lived. The world has been a poorer place for his absence. He would have had plenty to say about the events and issues of recent years- The Clash were a band who looked outwards and embraced the world in all it’s colours and varieties, his songbook is full of songs sympathetic to the plight of immigrants from Something About England to At The  Border, Guy and he would have had no time I believe for rabble rousing populists intent on breaking bonds between people and creating distrust and division. In 1999 during a magazine interview he said ‘In fact, punk rock means exemplary manners to your fellow human being. Fuck being an asshole…’.

On Global A Go Go, his second album with The Mescaleros, he sounds like a man reborn, there’s a joy to the songs, the band are attuned to Joe’s worldview and way of working and he writes some of the best songs of his solo career. On Bhindi Bhagee he takes a chance encounter in the street and the wide selection of takeaway food available on Willesden High Road and turns it into an affecting, giddy, life affirming song, this multinational, global food range causing him to throw his arms open and welcome an Australian tourist to ‘the humble neighbourhoods’. The stranger in the street asks him what his music is like…

‘So anyway, I told him I was in a band
He said, “Oh yeah, oh yeah, what’s your music like?”
I said, “It’s um, um, well, it’s kinda like
You know, it’s got a bit of, um, you know”
Ragga, bhangra, two step tanga
Mini-cab radio, music on the go
Um, surfbeat, backbeat, frontbeat, backseat
There’s a bunch of players and they’re really letting go
We got, Brit pop, hip-hop, rockabilly, lindy hop
Gaelic heavy metal fans, fighting in the road
Ah, Sunday boozers, for chewing gum users
They got a crazy DJ and she’s really letting go’
His outlook and politics in a song. Happy birthday Joe.
Bhindi Bhagee

We’re off to Anglesey for a couple of days, a chance to unplug and recharge in Ynys Mon. See you next week.

Bedrock City

Here’s Joe Strummer, sometime in NYC, in a Bedrock City t- shirt. Joe had a thing about cities. His solo career has songs named after at least three (imaginary) cities. To Joe, cities seem to have existed as a state of mind or a condition. With The Clash he spent time in Clash City and Innoculated City.

Trash City came out in 1988, Joe backed by The Latino Rockabilly War. The song was one of five done for the soundtrack to Permanent Record and came out as a single too. Trash City is fantastic, one of those chugging railway guitar riffs and there’s some terrific Joe imagery in the lyrics, American junk culture over a clattering rhythm. It sounds like it could have been written and recorded in five minutes and none the worse for it.

Trash City

Forbidden City was on the first album Joe did with The Mescaleros, 1999’s Rock Art And The X Ray Style, acoustic guitars and bongos, a song for the people of China and a ‘dream of freedom’.

Forbidden City

Bummed Out City is from his second album with The Mescaleros, 2001’s Global A Go Go. Bummed Out City is where Joe resides following a bust up with his wife. ‘It was me/drove off the off- ramp/ of the sweetheart highway’ he sings at the star and then in chorus follows up with ‘we’re in bummed out city/ that signs says/ I plead your mercy and your pity’. A gentle apology over acoustic guitars and a fiddle.

Bummed Out City

Bedrock City was the home town of the Flintstones, ‘the modern Stone Age family’. My ‘research’ shows that there were two Bedrock City theme parks, one in Arizona (which opened in 1972) and one in South Dakota (which opened in 1966). It looks like both are now closed. Whether Joe’s t- shirt came from a trip to one of the two theme parks I don’t know but it paints a nice image in my mind, Joe with leather jacket, quiff and family trawling round some Yabba Dabba Doo rides.

In 1986 Joe’s ex- Clash mate Mick Jones put out Badrock City, an electro/ dub version of their rocking C’mon Every Beatbox single, seven minutes of cut and paste samples, sirens, drum machines and bassline. The single led BAD’s second album, No. 10, Upping Street, a record which Joe produced and on which he co- wrote some of the songs with Mick.

Badrock City

BAD also provided a song for the soundtrack to the 1994 Flintstones movie, a song called Rock With The Caveman. It pens with roaring dinosaur sounds and Fred shouting ‘Wilma, I’m home!!!’ before heading into rock ‘n’ roll pastiche territory, covering a 1956 Tommy Steele song (actually the first British rock ‘n’ roll record to enter the UK top 20, a fact which apparently has pissed Cliff Richard off over the years). You’ll probably only need to listen to this once.

Rock With The Caveman

Joe Strummer

Joe Strummer died on this day in 2002, seventeen years ago. It seems fitting to remember this each year and especially so this year, London Calling being all over the media and the internet. There’s a good BBC show here where Pennie Smith, Don Letts and Johnny Green listen to the album and talk about their memories and role in it.

In 2001 Joe and his Mescaleros had released Global A Go- Go, an album which had back at the top of his game and leading a band who suited him. The gigs they played to promote it were raucous and life affirming affairs, Joe mixing up the new songs with Clash ones. I was at the opening night of the tour at Manchester Academy, November 17th, the venue packed with all the young punks and the old punks too, out in force. Early on there were a few beers arcing through the air towards the stage. Bass player Scott Shields scowled as he got a soaking, lager down the front of his shirt. Joe noticed this and when the song finished told Scott, over the mic, not to worry about as things were about to get a lot worse- they then ploughed into Safe Eurpean Home and the whole venue went up in the air as one, seconds before more pints were flung towards the stage. The gig finished with a memorable version of Yalla Yalla and then Joe returning for the encore with a child on his shoulders before they group followed him on to play Bankrobber.

The song that closed Global A Go- Go was a version of a traditional Irish song, The Minstrel Boy, an eighteen minute lilting lament to the boys who have gone off to war.

Minstrel Boy

A different version of the song, shorter and with Joe’s vocals, was played over the closing credits of the 2001 film Black Hawk Down, a Ridley Scott about the U.S. army’s raid on Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993.

The Minstrel Boy

The lyrics are a version of Irish Republican Thomas Moore’s words, written in the late 18th or early 19th century.

‘The minstrel boy to the war is gone
In the ranks of death you’ll find him…

…thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery’


Tony Adams

I’m not an Arsenal fan- my allegiances are with Manchester United- but I have an admiration for Tony Adams, the Arsenal and England centre back, twenty two years with one club and club captain for much of that time. The sort of player you’d like in your team. He had well documented problems with alcohol and at times has the look of a man who has been hollowed out on the inside.

In 1999 Joe Strummer put out his first album with The Mescaleros, Rock, Art and The X Ray Style. After his self declared Wilderness Years, roughly spanning the break up of The Clash and this record, Rock, Art… was a comeback, an album that was confident and coherent, Joe back at the top of his game lyrically and vocally with a sympathetic band and top class collaborators. The opening song is named after the Arsenal man (and as far as I know Strummer was a Chelsea fan, for his sins). Tony Adams starts with a burst of static, some squally guitar and tom toms and then Joe on the mic ‘late news breaking, this just in…’ Joe goes on to describe a power cut in New York over a Clash- like groove, reggae guitars and saxophone. The chorus us a rousing ‘Hey hey the morning sun/Has anybody seen the morning sun?’

Tony Adams 

In typical Joe Strummer style the song drags in all sorts of pop culture and apocalyptic imagery, funky Broadway, a solar flare, Tony Bennett, the search for a phone, dead men, debris and party hats. No clear reference to Tony Adams. When I saw him at Manchester Academy touring this album, a raucous and heady gig with Clash songs causing mass celebrations, Joe introduced this song by asking us to put aside our tribalism and rivalries and appreciate the man of the song’s title. Which we did. Adams had published his autobiography Addicted the year before and it was this acclaimed book, the story of Tony’s life long struggle, that struck a chord with Joe.

“England is used to worship a brand new band every now and then and throw them away into the ten following minutes. England is used to get rid of these kind of people, that’s disgusting. That’s a vicious behaviour but symptomatic of one certain illness which corrupts the UK. I’ve written one song about that which is called “Tony Adams”: No one in this fucking country rose up when he was denied the England armband, whilst he was winning his own fight against alcoholism. People might imagine footy is mundane, sometimes mundane stuff are important. We need people like Tony Adams.”


Food for Friday again today. Following on from honey, sugar, wine and lemons today I give you apples, a rich source of song titles.

Milltown Brothers were/are a five piece from Colne, Lancashire (not Burnley as was often said of them although apparently they were regulars at Turf Moor). They had bowl haircuts and an organ led sound that got them drawn into the fringes of the late 80s Manchester scene. They had some coverage from the NME including a single of the week (a much coveted award at that time), a near hit with Which Way Should I Jump? and then a major label deal with A&M in 1990. But what we’re here for today are apples, specifically Milltown Brothers’ 1990 song Apple Green which at this distance sounds pretty fresh, infectious 60s inspired pop, the work of a band who maybe got missed, chewed up and spat out back in the early 90s. They re-united in 2004 and have released an album as recently as 2015.

Apple Green

A Man Called Adam came through at the same time but from a different part of the country (Middlesborough, Teeside) and from a different background (dance music, 60s soundtracks, acid jazz and a Balearic epiphany). Their 1991 album The Apple is a Bagging Area favourite with several songs that are often palyed round here, Barefoot In the Head, The Chrono Psionic Interface and Righteous Life for starters. And the album’s opener…

The Apple

Also from 1990 (but here in a re-edited version from 2016 by Rhythm Scholar) A Tribe Called Quest  were part of hip hop’s second wave, part of the Native Tongues collective and had a real way with both tunes and words. Bonita Applebum was about a girl from high school who clearly stuck in the memory…

Bonita Applebum (Rhythm Scholar All Nite Excursion)

Manic Street Preachers burst out of South Wales in the early 90s, in a riot of mascara, feather boas and heavy rock. In 2009 they released an album called Journal For Plague Lovers which contained a song called Peeled Apples (a song I don’t think I’ve ever heard in its original form). They commissioned some remixes and Andrew Weatherall peeled the Manic’s apples further, a heavily percussive stomper with some guitar parts echoing through.

Peel Apples (Andrew Weatherall Remix)

Lastly, a Joe Strummer’s song from his Mescalero years, a top ten Strummer solo song for sure. Johnny Appleseed is a joy, with a rollicking rhythm on acoustic guitars, a full throttle vocal and lyrics about bees, Martin Luther King, a Buick 49 and Johnny Appleseed (a character from the early years of the USA, a pioneer who scattered apple seeds wherever he went). This song makes me really miss Joe Strummer.

Name Check

Every so often I get an email from Mark, the founder of the Quiet Storm family, asking for a suggestion. He’ll provide a theme or a photo and ask for a song. A while back he asked for songs that name-check other artists and the Quiet Storm family responded in spades. Mark has compiled and mixed the songs together into a 70 minute mix that is a hit from start to finish, as the tracklist below shows.
The songs I suggest for these mixes often end up being the last song, the play out tune. I don’t know what that tells you about me. That I like to have the last word? That the songs I choose are all end of night records? That I go for encores? This time it’s Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros’ Yalla Yalla, a favourite of mine since it came out in the late 90s. Joe spins out lines about Kool Moe Dee, The Treacherous Three and Brownie McGee.

1. Consolation Prize – Orange Juice
2. Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken – Lloyd Cole And The Commotions
3. You Get What You Give – New Radicals
4. Just Like Eddie – Heinz
5. You’re Right Ray Charles – Joe Tex
6. Aretha Sing One For Me – George Jackson
7. When Smokey Sings – ABC
8. Thou Shalt Always Kill – Dan le Sac VS Scroobius Pip
9. Daft Punk Is Playing At My House – LCD Soundsystem
10. Lighten Up Morrissey – Sparks
11. All Men Are Liars – Nick Lowe
12. Sweet Gene Vincent – Ian Dury
13. Faron Young – Prefab Sprout
14. Tinseltown To The Boogie Down – Scritti Politti
15. Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back to Leeds – The Mountain Goats
16. Elvis Presley Blues – Gillian Welch
17. On My Way To Harlem – Gregory Porter
18. Yalla Yalla – Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros

Here’s Joe back in 1999

Without People You’re Nothing

Joe Strummer died on 22nd December 2002 and I’ve got into the habit of marking it here. God only knows what he’d have made of the events of 2016 but his famous quote that gives this post its title is as relevant as ever.

I finish work today for the Christmas holiday and I cannot remember ever feeling so tired. I’ll be raising a glass to Joe’s memory tonight. This song from Global A Go Go typifies Joe’s multicultural look at the world and his joy in other cultures.

Bhindi Bhagee

His bandmate and friend Paul Simonon turned 61 on the 15th of December so happy belated birthday to him too.

And They’re Ringing The Bells All Over The City

Yesterday was Joe Strummer’s birthday. He would have been sixty four. His passing in 2002 seems a long time ago now. I’ve no doubt he would have had a lot to to say about the world as it has unfolded over the last fourteen years, more songs to write and records to release, more places to tour, constant offers to reform The Clash. So it goes. This song does a typical Strummer trick, taking the commonplace (a nitcomb), building some versus and a chorus around it with some typically Joe street-poetry touches, and turning it into something affecting and real, a song of devotion.


Keep The Lantern Bright

It seems like it’s all going to pot at the moment. Maybe Joe Strummer has some answers…

Sandpaper Blues

This is one of those Joe and The Mescaleros songs where the band play three or four musical styles simultaneously and effortlessly (hand drums, African chanting, cowboy music…) and which reaches outwards, out into infinite variety of the world.

‘It’s gonna boom Mariachi
This really fine piece of madera
And this will be the counter
Of the Pueblo Tabacalera
Shape, it up, shape it up, shape it up, shape it up
All around the world

Oh, this keel could save a life
When the storms hit the Pacific
To make it really true
You really gotta be specific

Keep the lantern bright
Keep food upon the table
If you shape it well tonight
As well as you are able’

You Gotta Live In This World Diggin’ The New

On this day in 2002 Joe Strummer died of a heart attack at home after walking his dogs. I think he is still sorely missed, not just by his family and friends (which goes without saying really) but by his fans, his people. 1970s punk has had such a high profile over the last decade, autobiographies and documentaries abound, the clamour for a re-union would have been immense (especially as Paul and Mick both continue to record and perform), and his views on British and world political events would have been sought. Of his solo albums Rock, Art And The X Ray Style, released in 1999, was his step back into the world and it captures the spirit of Joe as much as any record he made since the Clash split up. On Tony Adams he sings about a power cut in New York over thumping timpani and pays tribute to Arsenal’s troubled captain. On Yalla Yalla  Joe and Richard Norris play electro-dub and raise their arms aloft. On Sandpaper Blues The Mescaleros shoehorn umpteen musical styles into four minute highlight with cowboys, African chanting, male voice choirs, hand drums and mariachi and Madeira. On Diggin’ The New Joe sings ‘You gotta live in this world, diggin’ the new’ and that kind of sums up the man up- always looking for the next thing, open to new ideas and experiences. I miss him.