Joe Strum­mer of the Clash was just 50 when his wife Lucinda found him dead in their home. With an al­bum of un­re­leased songs just out she tells how she fell in love with the punk front­man the first time

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

Things were on the up and up for Joe Strum­mer in late 2002. He had started work on a new al­bum. On Novem­ber 15, he and his band The Mescaleros played a ben­e­fit show for the Fire Brigades Union’s strik­ing fire­fight­ers at Ac­ton Town Hall in West Lon­don. Strum­mer’s for­mer band­mate in The Clash, Mick Jones, was in the au­di­ence and went on­stage to play with Joe on Clash clas­sics like Bankrob­ber, White Riot and Lon­don’s Burn­ing.

It was the first time Joe and Mick had played to­gether in nearly 20 years; it was the fi­nal time the two le­gends of The Clash would ever share a stage to­gether.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but it was fate,” Jones said after­wards of the his­toric night. “It wasn’t planned in any way.”

Six weeks af­ter the Ac­ton Town Hall con­cert, Joe was dead. Aged just 50, he died at his Som­er­set farm on the af­ter­noon of De­cem­ber 22, 2002 of a sud­den car­diac ar­rest; he had re­turned from walk­ing his dogs. His wife Lucinda tried to re­sus­ci­tate him when she came home and found him slumped in a chair.

Blonde and re­fined, Lucinda has the look of an indie rock chick Brigitte Bar­dot about her as she strolls non­cha­lantly through an au­tum­nal Maryle­bone. There is a Chi­nese restau­rant around the cor­ner on Glent­worth Street where she wants to have lunch.

Lon­don is full of mem­o­ries for Lucinda. Her late hus­band wrote so many un­for­get­table songs about this city. Set­tling down at a ta­ble in the swish Chi­nese em­po­rium, Lucinda says she would like to think there was a rea­son for Joe’s death “but there wasn’t. Some­body told me that be­cause Joe had a con­gen­i­tal heart de­fect, the fact that he found climb­ing stairs or climb­ing hills dif­fi­cult was a real sig­nal that some­thing was wrong”.

Lucinda can re­mem­ber be­ing on tour with Joe in Por­tu­gal, and the lift had bro­ken in the ho­tel. “We were on the third floor... he could be on­stage for over two hours... but climb­ing stairs, he found dif­fi­cult.

“I wish I knew then what I know now,” she says sadly, “and he could have gone to have a check-up, but you know, he never saw a doc­tor the whole time I was with him. He didn’t be­lieve in doc­tors. He didn’t be­lieve in any­thing chem­i­cal. He never took a parac­eta­mol, not even Alka-Seltzer. He was never ill. Ex­tra­or­di­nary, re­ally. He was very healthy. End­less herbal tea.”

She is here to talk about a new al­bum of 32 un­re­leased songs which she has over­seen called Joe Strum­mer 001. The deluxe box-set also con­tains a su­per-cool hard­back book of pho­tos, notes and ephemera from her late hus­band’s per­sonal archive. “In the be­gin­ning, huge mem­o­ries were stirred up,” Lucinda, says, “be­cause the archive was not just Joe’s lyrics.”

Was it a cathar­sis? “It was cathar­tic,” she an­swers. “But some of it was painful. I would come across a note that was writ­ten to me or a scrib­ble. ‘Morn­ing, babes. Stayed up late’. So in some ways, it was cathar­tic and in oth­ers, you are stir­ring up things that I am not ready for yet,” Lucinda says of a man who died nearly 16 years ago and whom she mar­ried in 1995.

Is any­one ever ready for a close part­ner never com­ing back, be­ing gone for­ever, I ask. “No. I don’t think so,” she replies. “And also, be­cause of his lyrics and be­cause of the fact that I have so much of his spo­ken word, it is like he is not dead any­way.”

Lucinda rec­ol­lects her child­hood in Lon­don, in par­tic­u­lar, that the area she grew up in, Ham­mer­smith, was “very Ir­ish. We had the Bren­nans and the McCoys, who were builders with large fam­i­lies. I grew up on a street where your door wasn’t locked, and we all went into each other’s houses. I re­mem­ber the McCoys had a colour TV, so we could go and watch Cross­roads in their house. And the Bren­nans were so close. Ev­ery­one looked af­ter each other.

“It was just me and my sis­ter,” Lucinda says re­fer­ring to younger sis­ter, Ara­bella, “so on a Satur­day morn­ing we would go round to the Bren­nans and we would go to the Satur­day morn­ing pic­tures with them. It was just a won­der­ful child­hood — of run­ning HAPPY MEM­O­RIES: around th­ese streets, some of which were con­demned. They were our hide-outs. They were our play­grounds. So Ara­bella and I used to run with th­ese great kids. We rode around on bikes. We had a huge sense of free­dom,” re­calls Lucinda. “And now I live in Som­er­set on a small farm. I love it. I have a horse, dogs, chick­ens.”

The horse, called Molly, is 22 years old. Lucinda has had her for 11 years. “I use her to ex­er­cise the dogs and ex­plore the hills. I can ride for miles and miles and miles. I live in the Quan­tock Hills. They are beau­ti­ful. There’s grass­lands, an­cient forests, streams and no fences or hedges. You can just ride for miles. So it is peace­ful down there.”

Lucinda knew rel­a­tively lit­tle of Clash su­per­star Joe Strum­mer be­fore she met him in 1993. “He was liv­ing on a friend’s farm in Hamp­shire. I went to stay with my friend Amanda. My daugh­ter El­iza was a year old. Amanda said to me, ‘Get in the car, we are go­ing to the lo­cal fun fair in An­dover’. It was a grey, mis­er­able, driz­zly May day. Then she said, ‘I’ll just see if Joe wants to come’. She drove around to Joe’s house. And Joe would later tell me that he didn’t know why he said yes as he had al­ready been to the fun­fair with his kids” — daugh­ters Jazz and Lola by Gaby Sal­ter — “and he knew that it was,” Lucinda laughs, “fairly crap.”

“So, he got in the car and Amanda just said, ‘Joe, this is Luce. Luce, this is Joe.’ And that was it.”

What was it? “I just com­pletely fell in love,” she says. “I just looked at those eyes and fell in love. He did have a mag­netic voice. He had this per­son­al­ity that drew you in and made you feel spe­cial, in­tel­li­gent, in­ter­est­ing, beau­ti­ful. I don’t know what it was. It was ev­ery­thing with Joe.”

Lucinda was liv­ing in Lon­don but they ended up rent­ing a small cot­tage to­gether “in the mid­dle ground in-be­tween” (in ev­ery sense of the word be­cause Lucinda’s mar­riage to her then hus­band James was, as he told The Lon­don In­de­pen­dent in 2007, “trundling on in that no man’s land of co-ex­is­tence”) while Joe’s re­la­tion­ship with long-term part­ner Gaby Sal­ter was in a sim­i­larly un­happy place.

“Joe was very in­ter­ested in na­ture. He was def­i­nitely a bit of a hip­pie. He wasn’t do­ing mu­sic then. He was still smart­ing for the lack of sup­port for Earth­quake Weather,” Lucinda says re­fer­ring to his 1989 solo al­bum.

The po­lit­i­cal fire­brand of punk was born John Gra­ham Mel­lor in Ankara, Turkey, on Au­gust 21, 1952, the son of a di­plo­mat whose posts in­cluded Cairo, Mex­ico City and Bonn, be­fore Joe was sent to leafy Sur­rey where he was pub­lic-school ed­u­cated at City of Lon­don Freemen’s School at Ashtead. That didn’t stop mid­dle-class Mel­lor, who changed his name to Joe Strum­mer, be­ing the an­gry anti-Thatcher voice of the un­der­class as the re­bel­lious front man of one of the big­gest bands ever to come out of Eng­land, The Clash, who were formed in 1976. Rolling Stone named The Clash’s Lon­don Call­ing record the great­est al­bum of the 1980s; the Amer­i­can mag­a­zine also placed The Clash 28 on the list of the great­est acts of all time.

The messy fi­nal in­car­na­tion of The Clash hav­ing dis­in­te­grated in 1986, he formed Joe Strum­mer and The Mescaleros in 1999. “So mu­sic was not on the agenda at all for the first cou­ple of years we were to­gether. We hung out quite a lot. He was al­ways writ­ing; there just wasn’t the mu­sic to go with it. We were hav­ing fun. He in­tro­duced me to his friends who lived in New York, in LA, in Paris. His cir­cle was never-end­ing,” says Lucinda.

Asked what she learned about Joe from go­ing through his archive, Lucinda says: “I have just grown more and more in love with him — and more in awe of him as I have gone through it, be­cause I have seen the depth of his pas­sion for peo­ple... and his hu­man­ity and his in­cred­i­ble wis­dom in what he has left be­hind. Things that I wrote off as rub­bish, be­cause they took up so much space in the house or be­cause they had a half-eaten sand­wich in them, or what­ever it was, I sud­denly re­alised that each bag rep­re­sented a time. I could see that there was a method in his mad­ness,” she says, adding: “So when he said, ‘Don’t touch any­thing. I know where ev­ery­thing is,’

Lucinda with Joe Strum­mer’s step­daugh­ter El­iza Mel­lor

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