In the months before Joe Strummer’s sad passing in 2002, the singer and guitarist for punk icons The Clash was looking to get the band back together, sick over being forgotten, now was the time for The Clash to reassert themselves. The band were to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the scene seemed set for London’s sons to finally take on the world once more.
With an acrimonious break-up to get over — no small feat in the world of music — Joe Strummer set the wheels in motion and reached out to the other principal songwriter in the group, the legendary guitarist Mick Jones. It was the most obvious connection to make; after all, together they had created some of the century’s seminal rock songs.
Seven days after the announcement of their Rock Hall induction, and with perhaps half an eye on the dwindling bank account most of the punk icons of the seventies were struggling with, Strummer and Jones got together to test the waters for a Clash reunion and a possible big payday.
Though the two songwriters, who had both enjoyed relatively muted musical success after The Clash, may have been a little commercially minded with a possible reunion they started those proceedings with good intentions — to reunite the band. Strummer invited Jones to perform alongside his own band Mescaleros at a charity gig for striking firefighters at the Acton Town Hall in London. It was the perfect moment to try out The Clash 2.0.
The three-song set saw Jones share the stage with Strummer for the first time since their split in 1983. Their last performance coming at Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak’s US festival. Those lucky few audience members were treated to a sneak preview of the big reunion on the way as Strummer and Jones played Clash classics ‘Bankrobber’, ‘White Riot’ and ‘London’s Burning’.
With 2003’s Rock Hall induction offering the band members a lucrative opportunity, and with the new performance under their belts, Strummer went on the offensive. He quickly got drummer Topper Headon on board, but a Paul Simonon shaped hole ruined his plans.
Simonon told Rolling Stone in 2008 that at the time it didn’t make sense to him or the band, “I was the one who always said no. In this instance, I really didn’t believe it was the right moment. A big corporate event like that, two grand a seat. Nah, that wasn’t in the spirit of The Clash, was it?” He has a fair point, the show is notoriously thought of as a self-aggrandising event in the calendar and has been routinely turned down by some of the biggest rock stars of the day.
Strummer wouldn’t take no for an answer, however, and began harassing Simonon the way only old friends can. However, with Simonon not moving his position, Strummer considered a replacement on bass. On December 21st, 2002, the singer sent a final message to Simonon saying: “Come on, Paul. Give it a try. You might even like it.”
The next day Joe Strummer, iconic punk and leader of The Clash, dropped dead due to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. It would send shockwaves across the world and leave the entire punk family mourning over their most cherished leader.
It means, The Clash remain one of those few acts from the past to have not sullied their incendiary beginnings with a bloated reunion, however enticing a prospect it may have been. It’s a small grace provided by a tragic set of circumstances.
At least we have this moment, as Joe Strummer and Mick Jones put on a performance that sees two friends share a stage, singing an old tune of theirs at a charity gig for firefighters – exactly how a Clash reunion should be.
Watch them perform ‘White Riot’ below and listen to the full show below that.