Okay, so here is the Strummer & The Mescaleroes blog promised yesterday afternoon…
Once I had an I had an I-Pod, it was a gas. Soon turned out to be a pain-
Yeah, my I-Pod Classic stopped working a while ago and, well, basically, I couldn’t be bothered to go to the Apple Store to try and get it fixed. This left me reliant on the 4GB of storage I have available for music on my HTC Desire. It also means, fairly obviously, that I can’t have all of my 800 odd CDs on my phone. Although the Desire does make it very easy to add, and remove, as necessary.
And so this week, I finally put an album on my phone that probably should have been on there from the very beginning, the final album that Joe Strummer worked on, Streetcore.
As we’ve already established, I can be a bit behind the times with things and so I was pretty much unaware of the Mescaleroes at the time of Joe’s death. Or, more to the point, just how good they were. I don’t suppose I stand out in that regard, the Dick Rude documentary Lets Rock Again makes that pretty clear, but I have also already established my Clash credentials, such as they are. I think I missed out big time.
Anyway, sometime in 2003, or 2004, I picked the album up in my local HMV- the now defunct one in Hounslow- the bright orange cover separating it ever so slightly from the crowd and I took it home.
What lay within that cover was rough and probably unfinished due to Joe’s untimely passing. But it was also achingly poignant. How can you listen to Joe’s take on Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and not tear up? Or hear Joe singing “I’ve got to hurry up before I get too old” on Silver and Gold and not feel your heart burst with the sadness of knowing that he never did “get too old”? Exactly, you can’t. Talking about Redemption Song and the beautiful version that the “Punk Rock Warlord” (his words) produced puts me in mind of a time when my auntie Susan was round and heard me listening to this. Who’s singing, she asked. Joe Strummer, I replied. Oh, it’s a Bob Marley song, you know. Yes, Susan, I know.
But then, watching that goosebump inducing video for Redemption Song that also serves as a tribute to Joe saw my mate Gabs asking me who Joe Strummer was. I would have thought he was old enough to know. Kind of weird to be so moved by something and, yet someone close to you can be so disconnected.
Anyway. I believe much of the emotional power of this record comes not only from the emotion of knowing that this is Joe’s “Last Testament” but from the brilliant work done by Martin Slattery and Scott Shields in pulling an album together from disparate strands. Well, that and hearing Joe sound so alive. And, for the record, I would say that I think this is the best Mescaleroes record. Or perhaps, to make a small but important distinction, the best record that bears the Mescaleroes name.
Midnight Jam takes the form of an instrumental populated with samples from Joe’s radio show. For me, it’s so effective, it makes you wonder why things like this aren’t done more often. You have to think Joe would definitely have approved. Ramshackle Day Parade is a song that shimmers into view like the Manhattan skyline at the heart of it. And threatens to build into something pretty special, something epic, but finishes before it can quite get there. It still sounds pretty moving and features a Strummer special though,
“Taking the freight elevator from the incinerator/ To the hopped up chi-men riding refridgerated alligators”
It’s not all moving stuff though, not even with a track like Long Shadow on there, a song I believe Joe wrote for Johnny Cash. The album kicks off with a cracking tune called Coma Girl, which was clearly influenced by Joe’s later life festival experiences- he set up a campfire at Glastonbury, in case you didn’t know. Yeah, I know, you did. As well as being an absolute classic of a rock song, it also features the brilliant line,
“Some fast food fanatic was burning down a burger van.”
I can relate to that. The track that follows it, Get Down Moses is a right skanking beast that is probably my favourite song on this collection. I love it and I think it’s hear where you hear the Strummer man at his best, it feels visceral, exciting and it makes you wonder what would have happened if….
And I guess that’s thing with this album. Like PJ Harvey and Let England Shake, the Specials and Ghost Town, this album can’t avoid, ever, the fact that Joe died as it was being put together. On the one hand it’s absolutely gutting that Joe never got to see his vision of the Mescaleroes would become through. But on the other, having read so many words about his life, his work and lengthy period of time one of our greatest ever songwriters spent in the wilderness, I just feel grateful that he made it back, gave himself a second shot. And that Martin and Scott were able to put together this fitting tribute to the memory of Joe Strummer. And that, just before his death, at Acton Town Hall, he was reunited on stage with Mick Jones.
If you haven’t heard it already, I suggest you go and find it, now. You’ll thank me for it I promise.
Get Down Moses live