Entertainment & Arts

Remembering Joe Strummer 10 years on

Joe Strummer
Image caption Strummer was born John Graham Mellor in August 1952

In the early hours of the 23rd of December 2002 , I took a call telling me that Joe Strummer had died. After the conversation, I lay in bed for a while not quite believing what I'd heard.

I didn't have a reliable internet connection, or any other way of confirming the news. It wasn't reported in the early bulletins that morning.

Arriving earlier than usual at our offices in BBC 6 Music, I logged onto his website where a picture was captioned "Joe Strummer 1952-2002".

Much of that day on 6 Music was punctuated by friends, colleagues and bandmates talking about his legacy. Contributors included Jake Burns, who formed his band Stiff Little Fingers in March 1977, some months before The Clash played in his native Belfast.

"The Clash's big influence on us was showing us there was more to punk rock than the initial 'shock value,'" he told me.

"It was thanks to them we saw the direction we could, and should, take."

Of course this influence wasn't just down to Joe Strummer. Every band he played with - The 101ers, The Clash, The Mescaleros - was fuelled by, and reliant upon, the input from each member and the chemistry between them.

But Strummer was central to these bands: In the middle of the stage, usually the taking lead vocal, his leg pumping up and down while he hammered the life out of his Telecaster.

The Clash left a huge legacy in terms of the groups and musicians that they influenced. Every time I try to name them, the list becomes unwieldy - but it includes Manic Street Preachers, U2, Moby, Aztec Camera, Green Day, Public Enemy and Billy Bragg.

You can't necessarily hear The Clash's music in those artists, but the key legacy for any band is the ability to inspire others. Strummer sang about being in a "Garageband" and he undoubtedly motivated many thousands of others to do the follow the same path.

It's important to realise what a musical magpie he was. Influences, ideas, lyrical and musical phrases were harvested from many sources and from many different genres of music. Running through the bands of which he was a part, you can hear blues, reggae, ska, rap, rock and roll, African beats, Balkan beats... you name it.

Not all of those influences were down to Joe in particular but, if any upcoming band or musician can listen to his music and then endeavour to be as curious and as musically open-minded as he was, then that's another huge part of his legacy.

As well as their music, The Clash also had a swagger which inspired bands. The Redskins said they wanted to sing like the Supremes and walk like The Clash. And Billy Bragg told the NME in 1984: "When a folk club artist goes out with his guitar, he might think he's James Taylor or Bob Dylan. When I go out, I still think I'm The Clash."

Another lesson he learned from Strummer was about using music to convey a political message.

"[He] was the driving force who helped give punk its 'political edge,'" Bragg told the BBC in 2002. " have a great admiration for the man. His most recent records are as political and edgy as anything he did with The Clash.

"His take on multi-cultural Britain in the 21st century is far ahead of anybody else."

Strummer's legacy has been underpinned since his death by Strummerville - the Joe Strummer Foundation for New Music. A registered charity, it seeks to offer support and resources, such as performance and rehearsal spaces, to musicians who would not normally have them.

If there is one tangible defining, example of his influence then it's through the work of Strummerville.

There are other celebrations of his life, though, such as from the Canadian Radio station which plays nothing but his music each year on the 22nd of December. Meanwhile in the UK, Class 47 Locomotive 47828 was renamed the Joe Strummer in 2005. And quite a few children are growing up with Strummer as a middle name.

Most of all, people still listen to his records.

Image caption The Clash's London Calling was stuck on repeat during the 2012 Olympics

Everyone has their favourites but, personally, I'd recommend all of the Clash's output up to and including This Is England.

Sandinista! - a sprawling three-disc masterpiece - will always hold a special place for me. Then there's his wonderful soundtrack for the Alex Cox movie Walker, and his somewhat overlooked solo LP Earthquake Weather.

Added to these are the records he made with the Mescaleros. One comfort that can be drawn from his passing at such an early age is that he did so shortly after making some of the best recordings of his life.

My son is seven and inherited my old portable music-listening device. Some days later he asked me to teach him the words to Safe European Home by The Clash.

I think we can be sure that Strummer's music will prove to be influential long after we've gone.

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