Articles/Writing

Joe Strummer remembered

Joe Strummer

“A Lot of people won’t get no supper tonight”
Joe Strummer R.I.P.

When you reach 34 like I am now most of your time is spent reminiscing. I remember the TV club in Dublin. I remember 5p crisps and popcorn. I remember Showaddywaddy. I remember Elvis Costello’s first album - I was in 5th class in school and one of my classmates bought it. Armed Forces. I borrowed it. I never gave it back. It was great. Far better than Showaddywaddy’s Red Star. That was my first album. I brought that one into Dolphin Discs in Dublin and swore I had got 2 copies as presents. The shopkeeper saw the fingerprints on the vinyl. He stalled me. He must have decided that I was making the right move and so he gave me a token. With the token I bought a Clash record. Or if I didn’t I should have.

Freebird used to have a shop on Grafton Street. It was upstairs, above a newsagent. As a signal to the times we are living in it is now an Internet café. Going up the narrow staircase into a crammed record shop was an intimidating experience. It was made an even more intimidating ordeal by the people standing outside enquiring if you had any change. These people were the Dublin punks and the change they were looking for was 10p. I didn’t realise it at the time but it was a worldwide phenomenon, made famous by the Ejected in their track “Have You Got 10p”. This song was made even more famous by that fabulous Dublin band – The Grown-Up’s (see I told you I get nostalgic all the time). Anyway I braved the punks, my grey flannels didn’t fit in with the bondage trousers but they let me away without loosening me of my spare coins.

To go into Freebird was something else. I can remember it as if it was yesterday. Vinyl everywhere except where there was people or postcards or badges, or indeed the odd poster. I can still get the smell. That mustiness that old vinyl gives off. Brilliant. Awwww, where was I? Oh yeah, Grafton Street, punks, Freebird. Yep, freebird use to sell 2nd Hand 7’s I picked up some classics there. Classics by bands whose names I’d never heard before but there was a leather jacket or some such icon on the front cover so it needed checking out. Johnny Curious and the Strangers – gotta buy that for 50p - The Leyton Buzzards – a steal and how could you skip over Devo or The Specials. It was great. My education. After that I could toddle on down to Basement Records (Base X) on the quays. Forget about the Dandelion and pretending that you saw U2 live. These places were real.

I am going to share a secret with you. Selling records is anathema to me. I learned the hard way and went years before doing it again. One Saturday morning I was heading into town. I’d no money and my Red Star album had already been returned to Dolphin Discs. I took a few 7”’s from my brother’s record collection and duly swept by the punks gathered at Freebirds entrance. The Blades were playing on the shops speakers. “Do you buy records”, I asked. I knew full well that they bought records but it seemed like the right thing to say. I had heard that line many times previously – as the 2nd hand 7”s was on the counter. The affirmative answer was greeted by me passing over “Do Nothing” by the Specials – “Down In The Tube Station at Midnight” by the Jam and “Bankrobber” by The Clash to Des behind the counter. When I left the shop 60p richer I ignored the requests for 10p and felt bad.

Straight away I was guilty. I had taken my brothers records? Would he ever forgive me? I knew Terry Hall and Jerry Dammers (Specials) could cope. I knew Paul Weller (The Jam) could care less but what about Joe (Strummer – the Clash). It was his band that got me into music after Armed Forces. I gave up on Elvis Costello as soon as I heard Joe Strummer’s voice (I was young and I was fickle). I got a bass guitar and a Clash book for Christmas. My mate Andy got a guitar and my buddy Paul from the Artane Boys Band who had a drum kit already started a band with me. Garageland was our first song. It was what we wanted to be “A Garage band”. Joe Strummer said it was ok. From 1983 to December 2002 I couldn’t think of Joe without the memory of us in our homes blasting out Garageland while our parents hoped it was just a phase. From the minute I sold Bank Robber to Freebird I felt bad. It took 15 years for me to sell my next record. The collection that wasn’t intended to be a collection just grew and grew. It’s all Joe Strummer’s fault and I thank him for it. A great and inspirational man.

Niall McGuirk