While The Clash may have appeared on the front pages of fewer magazines and caused less moral panic, their music has aged with far more grace than that of the Sex Pistols. Where many of their angst-fuelled contemporaries suffered under the minimalist aesthetics of punk, the group’s core trio -comprised of Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, and Paul Simonon – positively thrived, managing to craft six studio albums that sound as fresh and vital as they did when they were released.
In an interview on BBC Radio 6 Music’s The First Time, guitarist Mick Jones recalled his first meeting with the enigmatic Joe Strummer and went on to explain how he poached the frontman for the fledgling group that would go on to become The Clash. “We used to go and see the 101ers. Joe was in a band, playing around, and it was one of the best bands in London,” he said. “It was like – not really pub rock – it had elements of that, but they [the 101ers] were more squat guys.”
At the time of their meeting, Joe Strummer was already a familiar face on the London music scene before the arrival of punk. The 101ers had gained a reputation for their riotous brand of Rockabilly, so when Mick Jones and Paul Simonon spotted Strummer in the queue for the dole office, they were struck dumb. “We were in the other queue – Paul and I,” Jones recalled. “And he was looking at us, and we were looking at him. And we were looking at him because we’d just seen him play. We were going ‘wow, it’s Joe Strummer’. But he thought we were going to have a fight with him…But that didn’t happen.”
A few months later, Jones and Simonon were wandering around Portobello Road market, which at that time was speckled with specialist record shops and second-hand clothing stores.”It was Paul and I and Keith Levine, who was in the group in the very early days. And we’d all just gone to buy some car coats. It was like really cheap old lady leather car coats for like 50p each. And we put them on and we felt like we were a group. And then we walked down the street – I think we were with Glen Matlock – and we sort of had a brief conversation with Joe then.”
A few days later, Jones and Simonon went to see Strummer perform with The 101ers perform again – this time at The Golden Lion In Fulham. After the show, they decided to approach Strummer. “Of course, that was kinda’ a mad idea considering we hadn’t done anything, and he was already in a happening group at the time. See, when you’re young you don’t have any confidence problems. We already had a manager, so we were already sort of involved, but we hadn’t done anything obviously.” The manager in question, unperturbed, went over to Strummer after the show and asked him to have a word outside. “He said: ‘I’ve got these guys here and they want you to be in the group,” Jones remembered. He gave him [Strummer] 48 hours to think about it and then phoned after 24 to say ‘come on we’ve got to know.'”
According to Jones, the reason Strummer decided to accept the offer was because of something that had happened just a few weeks earlier. “Before then, he’d played – and the Sex Pistols had supported – at the Nashville rooms,” Jones continued. “And that was the famous one where the Sex Pistols had had a big fight onstage and it was on the front of Melody Maker – and they were actually supporting The 101ers, but they [The Sex Pistols] stole it all. Joe must have seen something there; you know what I mean? The new thing, I think. And we were already part of that, in a way, so we looked the part. So he must have seen what was going on and thought, ‘right I’m gonna join these guys.'” Thank God he did; that’s all I can say.