GEOFF MARTIN invites readers to celebrate Joe Strummer with the FBU
FRIDAY November 15 2002 — marked down in rock and roll folklore now as the day that Joe Strummer and Mick Jones from the Clash were reunited on stage at Acton Town Hall for the first time in the best part of two decades in support of striking firefighters.
Fifteen years on, bang underneath the Westway and in the shadow of Grenfell Tower, right in the heart of the Clash manor of west London, we will be at the fabulous Maxilla Social Club on Saturday November 11 for a celebration of Joe’s life and legacy at a night of campaigning and music supported by the Fire Brigades Union and RMT. There are still a few tickets left but you will need to look sharp.
I was the London convener of the public service union Unison at the time of the original Acton FBU show and at lunchtime I met up with some good friends and comrades on the picket line at Soho fire station in the middle of their 48-hour strike for pay justice.
48 hours, hey? The Clash/Strummer symbolism had already entered the equation. More was to come as, after a couple of liveners, I headed out on the Tube through west London under the shadow of the Westway and on to Acton.
Acton Town Hall, since closed, was one of those time-warp buildings which, as Mick Jones later said, was the sort of place the Clash cut their teeth on the White Riot tour. It had been chosen for its proximity to the local fire station. A few hours later it would be shaking at the foundations.
The boozers in the area must have done a roaring trade that afternoon. When we threw open the huge wooden doors onto the Uxbridge Road at 7pm where there was already a big crowd for a show that could have sold out many times over.
I’ve since heard tales of woe from a bunch of people who claim they missed out for any number of reasons. I couldn’t care less. I was there and not only that, I’d been asked to look after the stage management and compering for the night. Get in.
Barry “Scratchy” Myers, the Clash DJ who’d been there pretty much from the off, was taking care of the sounds as the building filled up and I don’t know if it was adrenalin, testosterone or just sweat but something was hanging heavy in the air as we got ready for the off.
A long pull on a can of Red Stripe and the Mescaleros are bouncing around me at the side of the stage, stoked up and ready to get on with it and its straight into Shaktar Donetsk and the whole place erupts.
I saw the Clash many times after the first time at Vicky Park in ’78 but this was Joe turning the clock back and, whether it was the significance of the night or just a crowd so up for it they were bursting, the geezer was riding the waves of emotion and leading us on a tour through a series of Clash and Mescalero tunes at steam gauge pressure.
The encore was always going to be something special on a night like this and the looping bass and chopped chords of Bank Robber kicked the whole house back into action. What could top this for a night then?
You already know. I’d been told earlier by my compadre George Binette that Mick Jones was in the house but now he’s standing next to me on the stage with a grin on his face as wide as the Blackwall Tunnel. “You going on Mick?” “Bloody right mate!”
A quick scramble around and the only way for Mick to plug in is through the second channel on Joe’s amp. Garageland-style. The reaction from the crowd as Jonesy skanked his way onto the stage was only topped by the look on Joe’s face as he realised that his old mate was joining him in live action for the first time since San Bernadino in 1983.
Then it’s a race through White Riot and London’s Burning and the night comes crashing to an end. Up in the dressing room its chaos. Half the crowd seem to be up there but Joe and Mick make time for everyone and I can’t even remember how late it was before we eventually got out of there.
A bit of history was made that night and after the Clash had been offered millions to re-form for US and Japanese stadium tours it seems fitting to me that that one time Mick and Joe did it was ad-hoc, in west London and as part of a fight for economic social justice.
A few weeks later the mood could not have been more different. Once again we assembled in west London but this time on a cold, grey morning alongside a firefighters’ guard of honour to say goodbye to Joe Strummer who died so criminally young just before Christmas 2002.
And now, every few years, under the leadership of former firefighter Mark Bedford, we put on a night to commemorate the Acton show and that’s what we will be doing on Saturday November 11.
The bill will feature local artists The Rotten Hill Gang and long-time Strummer collaborator and sometime Mescalero, Tymon Dogg, the musician who helped Joe get his first chords together back in their west London squatting days. Tymon, who performed alongside Joe at Acton, has said: “The Arms Aloft memorial events are very important for remembering and celebrating Joe’s lifelong commitment to musical and political non-conformity.”
There will be a set of classic Clash numbers from top-rated tribute band Take the 5th and contributions from solo artists The Lone Groover, Joe Williams, Comrade X and serving firefighter Steve White.
Holding the ring on the DJ decks will be Joe’s old friend and the lead actor in Clash movie Rude Boy, Ray Gange and Strummer’s biographer Chris Salewicz will read passages from the book Redemption Song.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack will be speaking on the night, alongside Mick Lynch from RMT and guests from the local Grenfell campaign.
The torch that Joe raised, and the spirit he ignited within so many of us, will not be extinguished. Not on our watch anyhow. Come on join us on November 11 to raise a glass.
n The Joe Strummer/FBU celebration is on Saturday November 11 at 7pm at Maxilla Hall W10 6SW. Tickets are still available from www.armsaloftinactontown.co.uk.