Clash City Rocker

Joe Strummer gives his band enough rope, and arrives at a democratically created, internationalist gem

The new Mescaleros album elaborates fluently upon the musical and lyrical themes of its predecessor. Highlights of Global a Go-Goare many: the vibrant, Pogues-flavored "Johnny Appleseed" (about, tellingly, a punk-rock Pied Piper/Robin Hood preaching the truth); "Cool 'n' Out," a frenetic Latino-ska rocker that hilariously zeroes in on the pressure cooker of life ("God sure baked a lot of fruitcake, baby!"); the kinky reggaefied, Burundi-ized, hip-hop-o-delica of the title cut, which sends shout-outs to everything from Marconi, Buddy Rich and Quadrophenia to Bo Diddley, Baaba Maal and the pan pipers of Joujouka; a sensual dub-reggae lament for the world's dispossessed nomads called "At the Border, Guy"; even a traditional Celtic number, "Minstrel Boy."

The democratically written and recorded album came together rapidly, primarily as a result of the Mescaleros gelling as a touring unit and knowing when the creative juices were at high tide. Explains Strummer, "We first slotted into the studio for a five-day session before [going on tour with] The Who. It just started to happen, and your antenna goes up when you know that you're on a roll. We just went straight back in after [the tour] and kept the ball rolling. It was a very strange session afterwards, a real breeze -- a nice one to be at. I only had bits and pieces of one [song lyric] on the deck beforehand. The guys would start to make the music, get the tunes going, and I'd use that to get inspired by the atmosphere inside each tune."

And, he points out, the band -- which in addition to the album's Scott Shields (guitar), Richard Flack (loops, sound effects), Pablo Cook (percussion), Martin Slattery (keyboards) and Tymon Dogg (violin) now includes bassist Simon Stafford and drummer Luke Bullen -- seems to be on a roll: "Just show us a studio and we'll be in there like wrapped up a drainpipe!"

Strummer is enjoying a creative resurgence after a quiet decade of record-label wrangling.
Strummer is enjoying a creative resurgence after a quiet decade of record-label wrangling.


New Times:Are interviews the devil's way of torturing artists?

Joe Strummer: No, no! [laughing] It's something you have to enjoy, which is what I've decided.

NT: You deejay occasionally on the BBC World Service, everything from blues, African music and reggae to Dylan, Small Faces and The Pogues, which is really all over the map.

Strummer: Yeah, that's true. I just thought I might as well make hay while the sun shone. That's kind of rare in the modern world, to be on the radio broadcasting and have a free hand to play the music that you want and that you like. I'm determined to make the most of it.

NT: What would you program off your new album?

Strummer:I might play "At the Border, Guy" -- that would be weird. Or I could always play all of "Minstrel Boy" and go and have a sandwich!

NT:You've got Roger Daltrey singing on the title cut, and you mention Pete Townshend deep in the mix in "Minstrel Boy." Won't the punk purists be going, "Uhh . . . dinosaurs . . ."?

Strummer: You must have ears like a bat! You're the only person apart from me that knows it's on there! No, we can't have any of that kind of purism! Let's give the kudos to where they're due, c'mon! The Who in anybody's books must be great, with a body of work that fantastic. We'd been booked to support The Who on a British tour in November. Roger began to hang out with us as we ran up and down. He knew we were recording, so one night he said, "Hey, if you want me to come by I'd be more than pleased to do that." I said, "Sure, come on down, and let's get out the mikes and sing."

NT: How did Tymon Dogg [longtime Strummer/Clash associate] wind up becoming a Mescalero?

Strummer: It was pretty weird. I started to play at these kinda beatnik evenings called "Poetry Olympics." Tymon dropped by one of these; I hadn't seen him in years. I says to him, 'Hey, where's the violin?' And he said, 'About a mile away in the back of the car.' I said, 'Go get it!' He came running back with it just in time for our slot so we did a bit of jamming. And then I just invited him in to the session we were having the following day. For me, it's a laugh, because I started out collecting money for him when he was busking in the London Underground. That was my start in the music world!

NT:Did you plan on making an album that filled up a CD?

Strummer:No. But as we began to reel off the final mixes and build up the album, I began to think, these CDs are 731/2 minutes capacity, so whatever we've done, we'll stack the tunes up. We recorded "Minstrel Boy," which at the time I was thinking it could come in useful as a B-side, and I may have specified doing it for about 31/2 minutes. The guys started playing -- and stopped 21 minutes and 22 seconds later! [laughs] I decided that whatever time was left on the album we'd dedicate it to "Minstrel Boy."

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