On the ninth anniversary of the great Joe Strummer's death, Mick Jones talks about the Hillsborough Disaster, early days in The Clash, his immigrant roots and why you should never, ever, buy The Sun...
An emotional night at Liverpool’s Olympia saw a quality local line up including The Farm, John Power, Pete Wylie, The Sums, Ian Prouse and others put on an electric night of music joined by Clash legend Mick Jones. It was a real treat to get a half-hour interview with one of the most revered Rock’n'Roll singer-songwriters ever (well, I think so anyway). He talked about a range of things, past & present and why he wanted to be involved with the duel causes of the night: “Don’t Buy The Sun”, and the remembrance of a young local lad – Jamie McVey. This is what Mick had to say…
On The “Don’t Buy The Sun” Gig
“Just totally happy it went so well, you know what I mean? It was fantastic and we’re in the most enviable position because the best thing you do is the last thing you do and that’s the great thing – we could never have hoped for anything better than that tonight, all us guys who played tonight we know the best thing we did was tonight and that moment. All the things we’ve done before is great and everything but it was a combination of things tonight that made it real special; and it wasn’t a bullshit hype corporation sponsor thing – it was very real and straight from the artists themselves.
We’re also here to pay to remember Jamie, a popular local lad unfortunately killed in the streets where he hung out, so that’s why I did it.
I didn’t know it was going to turn out as well as it did but I hoped that it would. I tried to connect with the light of the Creator. Before coming here I was in my hotel taking a half-hour rest and when I came out the Cathedral bells were ringing and I just knew there was going to be some thing special tonight.”
On The City Of Liverpool
“I’m very, very privileged and proud to be associated with the people and artists of Liverpool. We’ve played here many times from the punk days playing Eric’s and meeting a lot of these guys like Pete Wylie. I remember giving him a guitar because he was starting his band and I was encouraging them all, you know, but initially it all started with The Beatles and that was my first connection to the city.
I’ve been really lucky because I’ve been taken in by all these guys (Pete Wylie, The Farm, Ian Prowse & others) so they’ve welcomed me in even though I’m not a Scouser – which is a special thing to me because to see it through my eyes, being a Cockney, not many people like me get the chance to experience all that on such an emotional level. I’ve built up relationships over the years.
What’s important to me is to carry what we did in The Clash and try and stay true to that original idea. There’s no place better than Liverpool for people standing up for their rights, which is my truest connection with Liverpool because these people and the spirit they have is what I draw strength from, you know what I mean?”
On The Hillsborough Disaster
“I know the truth of what happened all those years ago at Hillsborough and [the way] all those fans conducted themselves and the rescue operation. All of them, they acted impeccably you know, and they were slandered and it was me and Pete Wylie who did something first so soon after the event with a Hillsborough benefit gig at Liverpool Royal Court. So to be asked back tonight is a real honour within that context you know? It’s very special to me.”
On Joe Strummer
“We were in Japan on tour where we played the Fuji Rock Festival, which is really amazing – though an earthquake hit when we were there – but Joe used to really love it. At the Festival they have a ‘Strummerville’ type thing going on which is great you know?
Anyway Joe once found an off season ski resort there because it was summer and not in use, and in there he found this disused old cable car that he’d sit in. Over time people had written lyrics of Joe [Strummer] and Paintings of him all over it and its amazing… and so we were in there in the pouring rain and its only a 6 man cable car and I was just sitting there in the presence of Joe… Joe is with me all the time you know… He’s here tonight with us right now and he was with me when I went on stage and when I was playing tonight. I can feel him in so many ways, its something that’s with me a lot of the time.”
On Career Opportunities
“I was born for this… To tell you the truth it was all I ever wanted [to make music]. I remember going to the career’s officer when I was a kid leaving school and the career officer said “what do you want to do?” and I said, “I want to play in a band” (smiles) and they said, “Well all we can do is civil service or the armed forces, that’s all we have. So good luck to you but we cant help you in anyway” (laughs). But I always knew what I wanted to do.
I saw a clip of an interview with David Beckham as a kid and they asked him “what do you want to do?” and he said, “play for Manchester United” and he was still a school kid in Leytonstone. When I saw that I thought ‘Exactly!’ It’s the same type of thing you know and I related to it totally. If you believe enough and are righteous enough and don’t give in you can do that and everyone who does go forward and makes their dreams come true is a great example to the others.”
On Being Influential
“We always got criticism in The Clash but we always thought ‘you should be happy. We’ve gone a long way and it represents what you can do’, you know what I mean? We took it all the way to Broadway and that meant something. When we got the flack we thought we don’t care because we represent something that will go a long way, because it’s righteous and tonight here at this gig was righteous in every way. All the issues were discussed in a entertaining way rather than a downer and being a drag and that’s what I mean, that’s the way to get round it. If you’re intelligent you have to keep your own cool. It’s possible to achieve things.
It was great having Carl’s son the bass player [from The Farm] come on stage to play. And that’s the future, you know what I mean? He’s like me when I was a kid – only wanting to play music and be in a band. Even before I could play I would ask, “how do you do that?” to anyone I saw doing music. So say music is a line, and you go back and do your research, and find out what and who influenced the people you like, but at the same time you’re taking it into the future; so its going both ways you know, and it’s like ‘wow, this is incredible!’ You do your bit and some one takes it up and does theirs, and its reciprocal and repeats its self in strange permutations and that’s the wonderful thing.
It’s the life basically, and the life you choose and its the best life you know because you’re going out with your mates and you’re going all over the world. All we wanted originally was to play a few numbers and have a good time playing the music we liked – it wasn’t contrived – but people look at it in retrospect and they put extra analysis on it you know what I mean? So we go “OK” and go along with it because it sounds a better story but a lot of it wasn’t there originally.”
Joe is with me all the time you know… I can feel him in so many ways, its something that’s with me a lot of the time.
On Starting Out As A Musician
“I got chucked out of one of the first bands I was in (Little Queenie), which was a decision that involved Guy Stevens (who went on to produce “London Calling”). When we worked with him later on with The Clash he knew who I was, but I respected him that much – in fact I adored him – and I got over that you know, him chucking me out of the group. I still knew he was great.
You see I was a pretty limited guitar player when I got fired, and that made me go back to my bedroom and practise along to all my records for a year. When I came out again I was accomplished; at first I was terrible and it was almost righteous that I should get chucked out but the only thing was – and I didn’t really realise it at the time – but I was actually the main song writer in the group, so it screwed up that whole situation because they chucked me out you know?
Song writing came to me at the same time I was learning so it all come together at that point. I was 16 when I started on guitar but before then I was always asking, “how do you do this?” “How do you do that?” on any instrument because I didn’t start on guitar, I started on drums. Then I went on to bass, and then I thought I could handle a couple more strings so then I took up the guitar. It was like Black jack you know; I’ll stick with this I don’t want to go crazy. Lead singer didn’t interest me – I thought it was cooler to be on the guitar.
At the very start I was a roadie looking after the drums and bass, then guitar, which was for my school band. I started roadying then they said, “go on.” So I started rhythm guitar then on to being the songwriter, then they chucked me out… (laughs).
I was like “Little Mick” you know? So I was a kid but I was the coolest one because some how I had it. I was going to the Speakeasy and they’d be like “how did he get into the Speak Easy?” I always had the best looking stuff. When I met Paul Simonon we were two of the biggest punks in London before The Clash and all that. We were hanging out and he said, “show me the bass.” So I showed him and then Joe [Strummer] who was singing in The 101′ers saw us.”
On Knowing Sid Vicious
“The Sex Pistols were supporting the 101′ers at the Nashville rooms, and that’s when Joe met Sid and all The Sex Pistols. Sid walked into the venue in a shiny gold Elvis Lame jacket on he said, “Where did you get that jacket?” and they were like, stuck-up you know, not saying much; but Sid was great.
Sid could be quite intimating guy but when you got to know him he was a beautiful intelligent guy - and no one ever really says that much. We were really good friends me and Sid. Well all of them really, but Sid was more in our group than theirs [The Sex Pistols] he was John’s [Johnny Rotten] mate but he hung out with us more. We were in a squat together and were really close. We were the only ones who stuck up for him when it all happened in New York.
As I say he was an intelligent guy but so much of it is like being a boiled sweet and getting sucked down to the inner, he was a much more complex guy than how he was perceived to be.”
On The Band ‘Taurus Trakker’
“[Taurus Trakker] is Martin Muscatt, my cousin, and Alison Phillips’ band. The name is from Martin reading the Bob Dylan Chronicles in which it’s written that Dylan once owned a gun called a ‘Taurus Tracker’, but they added an extra “K” so it doesn’t get mixed up with the gun itself.
We all come from a pretty large extended family of Jewish immigrants that escaped Russia and settled in London at the turn of the century, so there’s quite a lot of us. Martin is younger than me, and the first thing I recall with him back in the Clash days was a football game he organised with the kids from the estate versus The Clash. He was working on an adventure playground in Camden as a youth worker and put the game together, which was great fun. Joe [Strummer] was in goal with his Elvis T-shirt and worker boots on. Martin still has pictures from that day.
I play guitar and bass on the album and its called “Building Ten”. I’ve played live with them a few times and if I can make it I’ll get on stage with them again. I’ve supported the band all the way down the line because Martin is about some thing [as me] and his music his about something, which is important these days. Both Alison and Martin are great and I love playing with TT.
On His Immigrant Roots
“When I got chucked out The Clash they couldn’t get it right anymore, and Bernard [Rhodes, Clash manager] would say “No, no do it like Mick!” When I’d left they were shouting at the new guys and Bernard would turn to Joe and say ” See, Immigrant Blood!” because Bernard had a similar back ground to me, and he believed it was all in the blood [laughs].
But it’s amazing how people were simulated coming to London to escape from their home countries and settling in the capital. First to the East End then spreading across the city. My family were originally from West London, then I was born in South London and grew up there ‘til I was a young teenager. Then I moved back to West London and the family was there already.
At first I was living with my Gran, her sister and her sister in law so I was living with three old ladies in Edgeware Road. It was like completely mad and it was a completely matriarchal society. I’ve been completely surrounded by women all my life of different ages, like I have three daughters, one 27 and one 7 and one 8 and I’ve got a step-daughter of 22.
I was brought up by my maternal grandmother, so I was a latch key kid with a key round a chain to get in and out of the council flat. But to come so far is an amazing thing, it’s a story for everybody and I love to use it to inspire other people. It doesn’t matter where you’re from – its what you are. For me to be here playing after all these years is such an incredible thing.
People can recognise the truth when they hear it and they can relate to it as well but that’s like an amazing thing, because I don’t know where it comes from. I believe it comes from out there, you can see it but you can’t ascertain it. It’s a feel.”
On The Summer Riots
“Well as far as The Clash and songs like “White Riot”, the thing behind it all that was Joe. In that case Joe was the prophet of that, like they talk about “Cheat The Prophet” and G K Chesterton, it’s a game people play. They recognise what’s happening and imagine it in the future. Well that’s it – Joe was the prophet, I just put the music to it.
I was always away during the recent riots, but it looked terrifying to me. It looked like “The Flat Screen Sneaker-ed Disturbances” it didn’t look like plenty of cause, just some thing to riot about.
We were away and we got terrified because we only got the hysterical Fox news. We were in the US and the news we were getting looked very bad, but I’ve since talked to people about it and they did say it was terrifying, you know, terrifying people…. That’s not right because they’re not going to be with you, you know what I mean? And forget about the guys who did the Pound Shop, your gonna riot and do a pound shop? What’s that about?”
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