When Joe Strummer, lead singer with The Clash, died suddenly in December 2002 members of our local community got together to consider what we could do to mark the legacy of this hugely influential artist.
Joe lived in the area during the 1970s, and this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the first gig played by Joe’s first band, The 101ers, at the Chippenham pub in W9.
The group took their name from the squat they were living in at the time at 101 Walterton Road.
The squatting scene was a politically well structured operation and The 101ers were a squatters’ band.
Whenever they played at the Chippenham they would be guaranteed a huge crowd without having to print fliers because the whole community would already know about it.
The result of local people, including the housing association, Walterton and Elgin Community Housing, coming together is the exhibition “Joe Strummer – Past, Present and Future”, curated as an installation by artist Gordon McHarg.
The show contains a unique selection from Joe’s personal archives, including never before seen handwritten lyrics, personal drawings and scribblings, rare artefacts, and posters that he made at Paddington Printshop some 30 years ago.
The show will also contain a large number of never exhibited before photographs by Julian Yewdall, photographer of The 101ers and The Clash.
His images present a unique and intimate portrait of the musician in his early years.
This part of west London was then, as it is now, a diverse multicultural area. Joe’s experience of living here in the 1970s had a massive influence on his outlook.
The Clash’s “sound of the Westway” took much of its inspiration from the area. It fused reggae, ska and rockabilly in a multicultural rant against poverty and discrimination.
It is no coincidence that The Clash chose to cover Prince Buster’s “Police and Thieves” on their first album.
On the doorstep of Notting Hill, Strummer was inspired by the spirit of resistance shown by the local black community in fighting back against racism and police repression.
Although harassed and arrested most of the year, for two days at carnival the black community would take over the streets and make them their own.
The Clash’s “White Riot” was an exhortation to white working class youth to fight back, inspired by this black spirit of revolt. Many of the people Joe knew then still live in the area and had an input into the show.
“Joe was good at motivating people and inspiring people to do stuff themselves – not to be put off by difficulties,” says Julian Yewdall, who was also an early member of The 101ers and became their manager for a while.
“Everything seemed more possible then – we could seize whole houses. It encouraged people to think, ‘Well, if I can do this I can do other things’.”
Jon Phillips, owner of what is now the londonprintstudio which is hosting the exhibition, says that what they were doing in the 1970s “started as a local thing. All the posters were printed at the Paddington Printshop.
“Everything we did in those early days was a collaborative effort. This was not the bourgeois art world – we had the idea that ‘everyone is an artist’.
“This exhibition is a continuum. We wanted to be consistent with those values.”
He says that Strummerville, the Joe Strummer Foundation for New Music, “represents the future. It was set up to provide music resources for young people.”
Joe would hang out in the many shebeens (unlicensed drinking venues) in the area, and one of his early influences was the sound of Duke Vin, a local resident who introduced the first reggae sound system to Britain.
In our recent festival, held in a small park a stone’s throw away from where Joe used to live, Duke Vin played his sound system and many of The Clash’s songs, while under a canopy nearby local children sat and made flags.
Gordon McHarg came up with the idea of using flags as a tribute to Joe.
Gordon knew that Joe liked flags. During his time recording with his band The Mescaleros he would deck the studio out with them.
“Joe had a worldview, a world vision, a world sound. He was an internationalist – he liked telling people that he was born in Turkey.
“In the video for The Clash’s ‘Tommy Gun’ there are many flags in the background.
“He loved sitting round the campfire because it was a meeting place. He loved the humanity of communicating around a campfire – he wanted it real.”
Gordon has included some of the campfire experiences in the show.
“Joe was an educator. I love the fact that this is a community-based exhibition. It is a real triumph for all involved,” he explains.
“The installation will be an interactive thing that people can participate in.
Julian Yewdall adds, “Joe inspired people with what he did – the exhibition is about getting people involved.”
“Joe Strummer – Past, Present and Future” is a testimony to the influence he had and the legacy he left.
Joe never lost his politics.The “sound of the Westway” and those early influences stayed with him all his life.
His later band, the Mescaleros, continued with themes of anger against the Criminal Justice Act and the effects of globalisation.
Gordon McHarg was amazed at how well Joe had catalogued all his experiences.
Joe said in an interview in the Guardian in 1999 that during his time with The Clash they had thought they were going to change the world, and that one day he would write their story. Sadly he died too soon to do that, but his legacy to all of us lives on – past, present and future.
Joe Strummer – Past, Present and Future will be at londonprintstudio, 425 Harrow Road, London W10 4RE from 4 to 18 September 2004. It is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10.30am to 6pm.