Joe Strummer: 10 years gone
In 1990, Strummer produced the fifth Pogues album Hell’s Ditch, the last to feature Shane MacGowan. He later stepped in as last-minute replacement singer after the band were forced to tour the album without MacGowan. But the tour became a kind of career finale for Strummer. Locked in a legal dispute with Sony, his public profile fading, he drifted away from music to focus on his young children and turbulent private life.
Splitting from his long-term partner Gaby Salter, Strummer moved to a rented cottage in rural Hampshire and began a new romance with Lucinda Tait. Like Dylan in Woodstock, this former generational icon dropped off the map.
“The weird thing about Joe was for the longest time he didn’t do anything,” muses Cox. “He did have crises of confidence that lasted a long time. That’s the mystery of those years when he retired to the countryside and didn’t produce anything, because he had such torrential creative flow going on in the years I knew him. It’s hard to imagine that ever dried up.”
“I think it was lack of confidence,” explains Joe’s widow Lucinda. “He felt Earthquake Weather had been totally unsupported by his record label at the time. It just left him disheartened, doubting himself and his abilities.”
In 1994, Strummer and his fellow Clash veterans received a multi-million-dollar offer via Perry Farrell’s Hollywood-based agent to reform for the alt-rock touring festival Lollapalooza. These former punk legends debated the offer seriously, but eventually declined.
“It was five million dollars for 50 gigs or something,” Strummer told me five years later. “But you can’t put something together for money that was originally for an idea. We could probably knock up a few gigs but it’s not going to do anything for the world, is it? Creatively you’re really The Searchers on a chicken-in-a-basket tour. If you’re confronted with a choice: take one million dollars for the death of an artist, or you can live as an artist forever – maybe – you’re gonna take the second option.”
The next year proved to be pivotal in Strummer’s fluctuating fortunes. In May 1995, he married Tait in a low-key ceremony at Kensington and Chelsea registry office. Previously an occasional visitor to rock festivals, he became an enthusiastic convert that summer, setting up his makeshift ‘Strummerville’ camps backstage at Glastonbury and WOMAD. Here he would gather around communal campfires with friends old and new, including Mick Jones, Keith Allen and his daughter Lily, artist Damien Hirst and his partner Maia, Shaun Ryder and Bez of Happy Mondays fame, Primal Scream bassist Mani and many more.