Joe Strummer’s Blue Plaque Unveiling
7th December 2016
33 Daventry St. NW1 London
“Everybody has a story to tell.”
– Joe Strummer, Musician Wordsmith
Joe Strummer’s community blue plaque was unveiled on the 7th of December 2016 at 33 Daventry St. NW1, the squatting location where Joe Strummer lived during a pinnacle creative period in 1978 and 1979.
A small gesture with a big statement, turning this spot the centre and beginning of it all. There are several reasons as why this site, NW1, is considered as the Ground Zero of London’s Punk. Robert Gordon McHarg III explains it to us with great detail:
“Everyone knows Kings Road was the fashion Hub of punks forty years ago but what is less known is how the Bell Street NW1 area was the punk HQ of the UK scene.
In 1976 Malcolm McLaren was living at 93 Bell St. with his art school friend Helen Wellington-Lloyd, the “Helen of Troy” character in Julian Temple’s film The Great Rock’n’ Roll Swindle.
The first Sex Pistols press release bears 93 Bell St. as the official address.
Steve Jones and Paul Cook also lived in Bell Street.
The Damned’s Captain Sensible recalled how the band used to rehearse in a church in Bell St. NW1.
43 Daventry Street, off Bell St. was where The Slits hung out and rehearsed, Viv Albertine mentions it in her 2014 book “Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.”
Julian Temple filmed Sid Vicious’ “C’mon everybody” and “Something Else” videos in 33 Daventry St. where Joe Strummer lived /squatted from late ’78 until mid-1979.
The Clash used the Edgware Road Ice Cream parlour as their office and were interviewed there by then local student Gary Crowley.
The infamous story of Mick and Paul spotting Joe in the Dole office, took place in Lisson Grove Jobcentre (still there to this day). Marc Zermati, the organiser of the “first European punk rock festival” in 1976 Mont de-Marsan, FR opened “Bizarre” the first independent records store in Praed Street, just across Edgware Rd.
Mick Jones lived down the Harrow Rd, in Royal Oak looking 18 storeys high over the Westway.”
Even if Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols might have been known for, let’s say, ‘deploying’ Punk in London, it were undoubtedly The Clash who kept and developed its true meaning. Or so it is for me at least. And I’m immensely thankful for what McLaren and Sex Pistols helped generating: the freedom to express ourselves and create without angst nor boundaries. But Punk is more than that. Punk is fighting against the status quo, against conformity, consumerism, capitalism; against the grey suits and their grey rules and their grey lives in their grey boxes. Punk is to stand against what makes life unlived. Punk is to live life, together, without prejudice, without fear nor commodity. To stand together in community, helping each other, being a friend. In Punk, there’s no social status, everyone is a human being with their unique needs and unique peculiarities. Each one is different and therefore, everyone is equal. Now this is what Strummer preached, this is what Punk’s all about.
7th of December 2016. The very day the single “London Calling” was released, back in 1979. After a small introduction, at 1.01pm a Joe Strummer community blue plaque would be unveiled at 33 Daventry St. London, NW1, the squatting location where Joe lived in 1978 and 1979. A tremendously creativity-filled era for Joe Strummer.
I arrived early, honouring my German side and its Überpünktlichkeit. The day was perfect, bright enough, with light clouds working as natural soft boxes. There were only two in the street before me: Michel, a former squatter who lived in this same street and the photographer John Chase from the Museum of London.
Jonathan, another former squatter, was upstairs rolling down a banner and playing us some yummy Clash. The banner stated: “Everybody has a story to tell.” A resident from the building was delightfully kind to bring us tea as we waited there discussing squats, council, new housing rules, the corruption that rules so many newspapers, and even our own aspirations. Hey, “the world might be drowning, but us Londoners live by the river and have no fear”.
Slowly, more people gathered around. Joe’s ex-wife Gaby, his widow Luce and step-daughter Eliza have arrived, the Night Czar Amy Lamé was there too, as well as many of Joe’s friends.
We were not a big lot, which gave me the opportunity to meet wonderful people. The all warm and fuzzy atmosphere was palpable, with everyone smiling and everybody laughing. A small group yet so huge within.
A little after 12.45pm, Murad Qureshi, a British Labour and Co-operative Party politician, former Member of the London Assembly and who’s a local resident, made the honours by introducing us to the project, thanking all of those involved into making this happen. Afterwards, he passed the word to Robert Gordon McHarg III from Seymour Housing Cooperative Ltd, who has arranged the plaque. He read us a short passage written by Joe Strummer pleading his beautiful philosophy that should be our reality at all times.
Now the moment approaches as the blue plaque is about to be unveiled. Murad asks Jonathan and Michel to do the honours and pull the string. We all wait eagerly for the scheduled 1.01pm in regard of the 101’ers but the clock wanted to hold the suspense for a wee longer. Heck, it’s 1.01pm somewhere, so without further ado, there it is, the much deserved permanent homage, the community blue plaque honouring the two years of Strummer’s heightened creativity whilst living here. Joe Strummer, a true Musician Wordsmith.
Afterwards, we went, obviously, to the nearest pub, The Perseverance, where welcoming drinks and delicious mince pies were waiting for us to mingle away. Inside, we could appreciate some photos that Joe took around the neighbourhood during these two years.
After talking to some interesting and equally passionate people here and there, I settled at a corner of the bar with Julian Yewdall and William Ritchie.
Julian sang and played harmonica in an early line-up of Strummer’s The 101‘ers before leaving the band to pick up the camera. His self-published book, “A Permanent Record”, documents those early days and I can’t wait to finally have it in my hands, signed by this marvellous person.
William Ritchie is, in his own words, a half-Mod half-Rocker.He’s also a novelist going on his second book, “Vambo”, the cover of which was designed by Chris Musto and Gordon McHarg (these two, along with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, have created the Clash box set “SoundSystem”). Billy says if his first novel, “Funtime”, is like a frenzied first EP, “Vambo” is then a more mature following album.
Books, albums and movies have more in common than one might think. They are all made of layers, of ups and downs, with their own storylines, their rhythm and their flow. It goes as far as Humankind’s first signs of storytelling, be it through pictures, notes, words, or all of them together.
Saying goodbye to Julian and with “Vambo” signed under my arm alongside my camera, Billy was kind enough to give me a ride to Camden. I then floated by the canal, upstairs into the streets and grabbed myself a short bus ride home.
Ecstatic, it took me a while to come down… you read it right: come down, not calm down – I was calm as a summer breeze, as high as a kite, believing that everything would turn just fine with this new crazy world of ours. That we can hope, and create, and inspire younger generations. That this world still has a lot in store for us and that all we need is to believe and to never ever give up.
Beloved Joe Strummer, after all these years, you’re still keeping us together, working your magic, influencing our hearts, and maintaining the true spirit of Punk: Solidarity, Community and especially, Humanity. For “Without People, You’re Nothing.”
By Penelope York