Joe Strummer's pub rockers the 101ers recall their frontman...
A series of shows with Eddie And The Hot Rods brings them to the attention of Dr Feelgood producer, Vic Maile, with whom they cut six tracks at his studio in Rickmansworth. They never hear from him again, their despondent mood lifts however when they’re approached by Ted Carroll and Roger Armstrong who run the Rock On second-hand record stall in Shepherd’s Bush. They want to record The 101’ers for their fledgling independent label, Chiswick. Ted sees them at Dingwall’s in January, 1976, just after Mole has been replaced by Dan Kelleher, who’s actually played with a very early version of the band.
“Ted came down to the market and said, ‘I’ve just seen this amazing band. The lead singer is a real star. They’re called The 101’ers,’” Roger, now the MD of Ace Records, sunlight streaming through the windows of his Harlesden office. “I realised I’d already seen them at The Elgin. I was with a friend and they were playing in the other bar and sounded a bit of a shambles. I remember thinking they were a bit weird, because they had a trumpet player. So Ted and I went to see them at Imperial College. There was no stage. The band just set up in a corner of the room. There was me, Ted and maybe 40 people in the bar and no more than 10 of them watching the band. But Joe delivered this performance like he was playing Glastonbury. He had the big white suit by then, the Little Richard suit. When he moved, the suit went one way and he went the other. He really was a knock out.”
On March 4 and 10, they’re at Pathway Studios in Archway, where Nick Lowe records most of the early Stiff records, and emerge from the sessions with a version of live favourite “Keys To Your Heart” Chiswick plan to release as a single in May. Almost as soon as he’s run off a cassette of the tracks, Joe brings them around to my digs in Willesden, lit up with excitement and much excited chat about what suddenly looks like a brighter future for The 10’ers. By the time the record comes out, however, Joe’s left the band.
“I was at a Jam gig at the Windsor Castle, at the bar,” Roger Armstrong recalls. “The place was half empty, it was early evening. Joe stood next to me and said, ‘Have I done the right thing?’ I said, ‘What the fuck are you talking about Joe?’ He said, ‘I’ve started a band with this guy.’ And there was this skinny, long-haired kid standing in the background, Mick Jones. Joe said, ‘I’ve left The 101’ers. We’ve split up.’ I just said, ‘What the fuck…’ Of course it was a shock, with the single just coming out. In the end, we just said, ‘Well, good luck to you, fair enough, off you go.’ It was disappointing, yes. But we didn’t feel especially betrayed. You just moved on. At that time, people were forming and leaving bands all the time and there was always another band around the corner.”