How appropriate that today's entry coincides with the original UK edition of THE CLASH, which appeared 36 years today (4/8/77).
Reams and reams of long-winded testimonials have been written about how that album changed our lives, permanently altered the musical landscape as we knew it, inspired us to take on the world, blah-blah-blah, and so forth...you can fill in your own example here, I'm sure.
However, as trite as those sayings appear in cold print, that's exactly how the story played out. Once you heard something like THE CLASH, there was no way that you could imagine yourself shrugging your shoulders, and "settling" for something, ever again...less was not an option anymore.
Before the Clash, of course, stood the 101'ers, and the man at the center of both those particular whirlwinds: Joe Strummer, whose gap-toothed delivery provided an instantly recognizable imprint. However, it's only recently that the 101'ers' "hot beat music" has been gotten a fresh appraisal in the light of day...and, as it turns out, stands up well, not least because of the man who coined such distinctive titles as "Letsgetabitofrockin".
Julian Yewdall witnessed the 101'ers' peaks and valleys, which he also documented relentlessly with his camera. A small slice of these photos appeared in 1992, which Julian self-published as JOE STRUMMER WITH THE 101'ERS & THE CLASH. Though I was well into my embryonic research for a proposed bio of the band, like any fan, I naturally snapped it up right away.
Now comes A PERMANENT RECORD: JOE STRUMMER WITH THE 101'ERS/CLASH/LATINO ROCKABILLY WAR/SLITS (West Nine, which -- at 352 pages -- amplifies and expands the original treasure trove of previously unseen images that its out-of-print predecessor contained.
Suffice to say, if you have even a passing interest in the issues that Julian's camera records -- whether it's the squatting movement, the transition from pub to punk rock, or Joe's development as a performer -- you need to have this book, simple as that.
Naturally, I had to seek out Julian again -- after a 20-year absence of contact, give or take 12 months -- and he took the time to answer some questions that percolated in my head, once I'd finished the book.
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): As you state in your introduction, many of these photos take place in the context of the squatting movement – what's the most important thing that you want people to understand about it now?
JULIAN YEWDALL (JY): That it's just as relevant today as it was back then. The number of people homeless now is an even bigger problem and the global economic crisis is creating a situation where more and more ordinary people are being pushed into conflict with state authority and the rule of law.
CR: What kind of legacy did the movement leave, in light of the authorities spending so much time and money to suppress it?
JY: Well there's a whole history of knowledge, tactics and information to assist people in organising and resisting state intimidation, back then it was done using photocopied leaflets, street meetings and the phone, today we have the internet. Ironically almost forty years after I first started squatting, the British Cameron/Conservative government finally brought in a law last year to make squatting residential property a criminal offence. The fact is only a very tiny minority of people ever bothered to squat such properties, most homeless people look for places they can occupy, improve and live in for a reasonable period of time; breaking into someone's house while they are away for the weekend was never viable solution for the majority of squatters. But that didn't stop politicians and the media from creating fear and anxiety in the middle classes with such stories in order to further denigrate people who squatted.
The law does not apply to factories, industrial buildings, empty schools, hospitals, and other public buildings, and I'm happy to report that just today a few streets away I discovered a huge Adult Education Centre that had been closed down for over a year has now been occupied. The rhythmic thud of a bass drum drifting through the open window took me back to days gone by, but none of this stuff has gone away.
CR: Looking back, the 101'ers were one of hundreds, if not thousands, of local bands looking to make a mark – what qualities made them stand out, at the time?
JY: Being a squatting band living in 'survival mode' with little to lose, toughened up and contributed to a certain 'edge', plus they came into being with a ready made following of squatters and events to play at, which helped in making the transition over to playing pubs and other events.
CR: How did Joe come across, when you first met? Some accounts claim that he was ambitious (even a bit ruthless) from the start – others state that it took him awhile to find his footing, even in the group. Which impression is closer to the mark?
JY: When Joe came to live in 101, he came through connections at 23 Chippenham Road, so he was vouched for if you like, and accepted into the house. At that time living in the house was a bit like joining a gang, in that you had to trust and sometimes watch out for each other. Music became a unifying factor, though I cannot remember who's idea it was to start a house band? Alvaro was the most experienced musician, he had already had a band in Chile, Antonio got hold of a drum kit, Joe continued to practice guitar, and the band kept getting bigger. Somewhere along the line tensions within the band regarding where it was going and who was leading it started to arise, and it was then that Joe's ambition/ruthlessness surfaced in the form of 'a certain coldness' towards people he came to perceive as obstacles in his achieving success. At the time it wasn't easy to explain, though now in retrospect, and having read Chris Salewicz's biography of Joe, I think he was applying similar strategies that he'd used at public school.
Joe never openly revealed much about his past, I knew about his brother's suicide, and that he had come to London from Wales, but his main focus was always on the band, I would talk of wanting to travel to far away countries and he would act totally disinterested, never letting on he had already been to some of these places, I guess he felt he would have to explain too much ?
CR: Musically, which performers or bands exerted the biggest impact on Joe's songwriting style?
JY: That's hard to say, I know that he was listening to a lot of the early blues masters like Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Little Walter, and Sonny Boy Williamson, tracing back to the real roots of rock 'n' roll, then there were people like Chuck Berry, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and the Stones. The 101'ers would go up the road to see Dr Feelgood at The Windsor Castle on the Harrow Road, other bands like The Kursaal Flyers and Eddie And The Hotrods, and Ducks Deluxe were also around. Joe was writing his own songs within the first four or five months of being in the band, Keys To Your Heart, Mr Sweety of The St.Moritz, Rabies From the Dogs of Love, Motor Boys Motor, Silent Telephone were all songs inspired by actual people and events.
CR: Within a short time, it seemed that Joe was writing a lot of songs, some of which haven't seen the light of day – are there any plans to issue them, such as the famous tape that Joe made, and gave to you, to guard his copyrights? I'm sure that hearing him play those songs (like “Keys To Your Heart”) solo would be revelatory!
JY: The original audio tape and typed lyrics were given to Joe's wife and now reside in the Joe Strummer Foundation Archive, I don't know of any plan to release them, but who knows ?
There's a huge amount of material that Joe left behind, some of it has already been shown in various exhibitions, and I've included some of this in the book, but there is still more that I hope will appear in one form or other in the future.
CR: In hindsight, it might be argued that the 101'ers didn't accomplish much, beyond getting “Keys To Your Heart” released – what kind of footprint did they leave, from your perspective?
JY: It's true that the output in terms of records was small, I think Ace records released 'Keys To Your Heart' / 'Five Star Rock'n'Roll Petrol in 76, and four years later Sweet Revenge'/ 'Rabies From The Dogs Of Love.
Only in 1981, five years after the band broke up did the L.P. 'Elgin Avenue Breakdown' on Andalucia Records finally appear, but listen to it today and it still sounds as fresh, raw and utterly compelling as ever.
Joe learned and developed so much with The101'ers and later it helped direct the Clash on beyond the initial wave of Punk into creating their own unique style that embraced influences from far and wide.
What The 101'ers left behind is a rough-cut diamond, forged out of blood, sweat and tears that shines a light not only on Joe Strummer, but also that water-shed period of musical and social history. It's a rare treat just waiting to be discovered.
Clash Book Dispatches
To find older entries, simply click the "Archive" button, and follow the links from there. Also, please note: in light of the Clash II book announcement (see "Communiques"), the author reserves the option to hold back entries for different projects.