I found myself last night for the first time in decades in Ladbroke Grove, an old stomping ground, not much-visited since I lived around there for a year of largely wild times that ended badly in 1977 with a recuperative fortnight in intensive care.
Through the summer of 1975 and into the autumn that followed it, you would have, however, found me in this particular neighbourhood nearly every Thursday night. This was when, of course, The 101’ers had their since-legendary residency at The Elgin, as mentioned in my earlier Greatest Shows On Earth blog, and where I first interviewed Joe Strummer for what used to be Melody Maker.
Since I was passing the pub, I thought I’d drop, as they say, in – curious to see what changes had been wrought on The Elgin by the passage of time on somewhere I had spent so much of it back then.
Thirty two years on, and uncannily there was a greater resemblance than I would have imagined to the dusty old pub whose roof Strummer and co had blown off every week with their proto-punk R&B and high-octane, pedal to the floor rock’n’roll – and the memories of those famous nights came back in a flood. I was barely in the door when ghosts started walking out of the walls, unquiet and smiling.
The famous flock wallpaper you can see in the few photographs there are of The 101’ers playing here is obviously long gone. And there are a couple of pool tables now where according to what’s left of my memory there used to be a small stage – where thanks to some convenient kink in the time-space continuum, I can see now as if it’s really happening The 101’ers in a typically manic huddle.
Dudanski’s behind a battered old drum kit, The Mole’s on bass, ‘Evil’ Clive Timperley’s on lead guitar and Strummer, his leg pumping like something with a life of its own, is belting out something like “Letsagettabittarockin’”, “Keys To Your Heart”, “Silent Telephone” – or something plundered from rock’s illustrious archives like “Junco Partner”, “Shake Your Hips”, “Gloria” or “Roll Over Beethoven”, a great favourite at the time.
“We usually play two and a half hour sets down here,” I remember Strummer telling me when I interviewed him at the Elgin, about a month into The 101’ers residency there. “Playing that long can kill you. Like there’s this line in ‘Roll Over Beethoven’. . .‘Early in the morning, I’m giving you my warning/Don’t you step on my blue suede shoes. . .’ And if you’re a classy Chuck Berry kind of singer, you’ve got to do the whole thing in one breath to keep the energy flowing.
“Straight after that line, I usually pass out,” Joe went on. “Everything goes white. If you haven’t eaten for a few days and you haven’t had any sleep, you just keel over backwards. But I always get back on my feet for the next bit. . . ‘Hey diddle diddle, I’m playing my fiddle/I got nothing to lose. . .’ That’s such a great line, you’ve got to stay on your feet for that.”
Sitting there with these memories making my head swim, wondering vaguely why there isn’t at least some kind of plaque on the wall or a couple of blow-up pictures, something to commemorte a small piece of history, I can hear now a kind of staticky crackle, something distant but growing louder.
It takes me a moment to realise what it is, at which point I have to smile, happy to have been here when the joint was jumping and Joe was rocking.
It’s the sound of London calling from a far away time.