Clashing with oldies

Joe Strummer moves forward with Mescaleros


JOE STRUMMER AND THE
MESCALeROS
at HMV (333 Yonge),
Wednesday (July 25), 9 pm. 416-596
0333.

Rating: NNNNN


when joe strummer tells me, “idon’t have the ability to entrance,” his absurd modesty makes me rock in my Keds. Does he not remember the millions of admirers who lusted for his cheekbones and every snarl?Anyway, I predict the former Clash frontman is gonna prove himself wrong when he returns to Toronto, where he once played to a crowd of 50 drunk people at the El Mocambo.

Appearing Wednesday (July 25) at the downtown HMV with his band, the Mescaleros, Strummer is set to play songs off their latest disc, Global-A-Go-Go, due out this Tuesday (July 24) along with material off their first record, Rock Art & The X-Ray Style.

The members of the Mescaleros have histories pocked with both rock and roll ashes and moments of singular brilliance. Anthony Genn, former Pulp and Elastica member, sits in on guitar. Martin Slattery, who played in Black Grape, was recruited along with Scott Shields and Pablo Cooke on drums.

Then there’s Strummer. Think 1976. Depressed and suffering from long-hair overload, Londoners bop to recycled Pink Floyd and new releases by Fleetwood Mac.

Then four working-class guys with no guitars start a band and spray-paint their shirts. They rip the name the Clash out of a tabloid headline. They move Johnny Rotten to gob on his audiences. They eat away at rock pretension and later, in a gross irony, sell out stadiums. When they break up in 1986, after a string of late soft-boiled albums, everyone’s thinking, What about Joe?

“Just hanging out, that’s been my main achievement,” says Strummer over the phone from his country home in England. “People have to realize that you can’t hold onto the past if you want any future. If you do, you will not have a future. We don’t all want to be preserved in aspic, do we?”

Since the Clash’s final sneer, Strummer has worked steadily, though no longer under the glare of the rock press. Twenty-five years after the Clash’s debut, Strummer, now 47, has made the tour of Hollywood occupations. He scored Alex Cox’s biopic Sid And Nancy, and later, Grosse Point Blank.

In 1989 he released his solo album, Earthquake Weather, and toured for two years with the Pogues. But mostly he retired from the droopy public eye, tired of the constant pressure to say something explosive or prophetic.

“I was intuitive enough to understand: you’ve had your say, now it’s time to shut up for a while. I realized I could cool it.

“Many performers don’t realize the public could do with a rest from some of these seriously ambitious people, but the machine grinds on, so there’s no hope of that happening. I got lucky — I was spat out the back of the machine and fell onto the grass. I had time to say, “This isn’t too bad.'”

The new sound Strummer brings to T.O. is unique, a cool mix of dub, salsa and rockabilly. Strummer, now recording on Epitaph’s Hellcat label, credits Tim Armstrong of Rancid, who runs Hellcat and is responsible for signing Strummer.

“It’s been great being on the label. These days no one gives two shits about the music, but it’s different at Hellcat.”

Always the rock and roll partisan, Strummer’s pride and politics have not dwindled since his infernal days as an angry young man. Yet his modesty in the wake of a punk-rock-gilded past stands as a golden reminder that not every rock star has to be an asshole.

“We’ve really started to work as a team,” says Strummer of the latest album. “We’ve been playing a lot of gigs and finding things out about our sound. We’ve been talking a lot with writers. We want people to know about us through word of mouth. It’s the best way to communicate.

“I like to come home and keep the fires of inspiration burning” he finishes with a laugh.

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