Good BAD guy Jones set to rock the Picnic
Mick Jones was at the heart of The Clash. Now he's back with his favourite incarnation, writes Barry Egan
Published 28/08/2011 | 05:00
The Clash were one of the greatest bands that ever roamed the earth. White Riot or Train In Vain were both as good a piece of art as anything from the brush of Picasso or Pollock.
That lead singer Joe Strummer chose to effectively put a bullet in the brain of the band's creatively by getting rid of his arch co-conspirator -- and the Clash's musical leader -- Mick Jones, was, in hindsight, an act of unforgivable hubris and outright stupidity.
It was an almost Shakespearean in its tragic reach. No one was quite the same after it.
Yet, I suppose, the one saving grace was that they never reformed for a legacy-destroying $200,000m US Tour sponsored by Viagra.
In Julien Temple's 2007 documentary Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, Big Audio Dynamite's Don Letts accuses Strummer of "cowardice" over Jones's removal (in September of 1983 for, said Strummer at the time, "drifting apart from the original idea of The Clash").
Journalist Tony Fletcher put it to Jones that he seemed to forgive Strummer very quickly for booting him out of the iconic punk band that meant so much to many so people -- "the only band that mattered", as one critic put it at the time.
"Yeah," mused Jones, who went on to form Big Audio Dynamite directly after, or even during, his expulsion from The Clash. "I was in Nassau. I'd just done the first BAD album, and Joe came looking for me. He came and rode round the island for two days on a bicycle, looking for me. Literally! And he found me, and I said: 'come and listen to the new BAD record'.
"And we went into the studio and I played him the record and I said: 'What do you think of it?' And he said, very gracefully: 'I never heard such a load of shit in my life! And we should get it back together again.'
"But it didn't seem the right time. We never got back together again, but we all became firm friends again very soon after. That was the nicest thing of all about the band. We were great friends again."
For me, Mick Jones is one of the greatest guys in music of the last 30 or so years.
He wasn't Elvis. But he was that cool guy in The Clash who wrote all the unforgettable, unyielding flashes of brilliance. (He also produced Pete Doherty and made him sound great -- a feat in itself).
He never lost his enthusiasm or his edge.
I had the honour of meeting him twice, albeit all too briefly: 23 years ago at a party in London where he signed my Johnny Rotten T-shirt; and
backstage at Benicassim on the beach in Valencia in the summer of 2010 where he had just come off stage with Gorillaz, his supergroup with Damon Albarn et al.
We talked for about 10 minutes about The Clash, rap, cheese, sunburn, the glorious Spanish weather and his former band BAD.
I mentioned that there were certainly elements of BAD (the sampling, the movie soundtrack-y vibe -- courtesy of film director Don Letts, who is still in the band -- the futuristic rap with old school reggae etc) in Gorillaz' sound. He didn't disagree.
A few months ago, with BAD reformed to play shows across Europe -- chief among them on the final night of Electric Picnic in Stradbally on September 4 -- Jones intriguingly had this to say to The Daily Telegraph: "Doing Gorillaz helped me come out of myself."
He added how it was Damon Albarn and his cohort in Gorillaz, Jamie Hewlett, who originally persuaded him to reform his post-Clash band.
"They were always saying, 'We love BAD!' Through the second half of the year, everyone was saying, 'You've got to do BAD.' So, it feels timely."
"The great thing about doing Gorillaz was that all the responsibility was on Damon, not me," he added. "But that definitely gave me the appetite for doing bigger gigs again."
When asked why it was OK to reform BAD (who had hits in 1986 with E=MC2 and Medicine Show and fell away as a unit in 1990) but not The Clash (who provided the soundtrack to so many people's youth and ended in ignominy and rank embarrassment for Strummer in 1986 after the Cut The Crap album -- it was crap), Jones replied: "Everybody knew the story of The Clash, so it always had that limitation to it."
"And, in the end, it's just like a beautiful memory to everybody. With BAD, we weren't overplayed back then, so we've got more of a chance as a present thing.
"It's about doing something that fits me as I am now. I don't want to be chasing some illusion continually into old age. That's not a good look.
"The best reunion gig I've seen was Mott the Hoople, because two of those guys hadn't played at all for 35 years. One had been an antiques dealer, so they came back with fire, with meaning!"
"It's all the original guys," Jones said recently of the BAD reformation. "Thank God we're still alive!"
It's only a pity Joe Strummer -- who died in 2002 -- isn't around too.
Big Audio Dynamite play Electric Picnic next Sunday, September 4