Mid 90’s. Just graduated from university I visit an old friend for the weekend. Dave has always been a chancer and social climber. Doing a Ceramics Degree at St Martins he had latched onto a fellow student from an aristocratic family and one year after graduating he was running a pottery studio with him on the family’s estate and living rent-free in one of the family’s tied cottages.
I arrived at a Hampshire village station and Dave who was a heavy drinker, probably already an alcoholic, took me down the pub. He talked about his pottery and commissions, lots of name dropping. He mentioned local teenagers who helped in the studio. He told me that ‘Jo’ would meet us and drive us to Dave’s place and I assumed Jo was one of these teenagers. I wasn’t sure of the gender. Then Jo arrived.
Oh … my … God! It was only my teenage rock god hero. The face and body I had seen in hundreds of posed photos, I had all his records, been to his gigs, read countless interviews with him and I had learned to play my first ever tune on a guitar from his songbook. I had so identified with his tough but tender rebel schtick.
And here he was, standing in front of me, shaking my hand and addressing me in the husky voice I knew from the TV. This just didn’t add up. How could this media figure that I could accept seeing on a stage actually be existing and talking to me. To me!
Or another take on the same scenario:
In the summer of 1994 I had just graduated from university and was spending a bit of time long distance footpath back packing, clearing my head and relaxing after the effort of studying for almost 20 hours a day for a few weeks. I had been within spitting distance of getting a first class degree and therefore was very focused on that. I would never again in my life be able to achieve such an effort of stamina and concentration.
I was back-packing in the older, original sense of the world – travelling on foot carrying one’s shelter and sustenance in large sack on one’s back. As I was skint and relatively new to this, I was using an old, cheap and nasty frame back-pack that had been knocking about my family home for over a decade. I was walking the Ridgeway National Trail which starts in the Chiltern Hills, near Hemel Hempstead in Herftfordshire, 20 miles to the north west of London and ends 90 miles of walking later near Avebury in Wiltshire, a few miles from my parent’s home in Swindon.
I walked for three days from London and then stopped for the weekend, getting a train from Goring where the path crosses the Thames to the village of Hook in Hampshire, where I intended to spend the weekend with an old friend from the punk rock scene in Swindon, Dave.
Dave was a funny one to be sure. I realise, now that he was an alcoholic and a closeted homosexual, but in those days he just seemed an exciting and different person to know. From a large Irish family, he had the common touch and the gift of the gab. He’d hang out in pubs all day long and seem to get on with everyone. If we went to a gig and it was sold out, he’d have a word with the bouncers and we’d be let in.
He was also a social climber. He’d been studying Ceramics at a renowned London art school and I remember him telling me with great excitement that a person from a prominent aristocratic family was starting in the year below him. Now, one year after graduation, Dave had talked this person into setting him up with a pottery studio on the family’s estate with Dave living in one of the family’s tied cottages just off their land.
Dave met me at the rail station and took me straight down the pub. We were there for a couple of hours or so, drinking in the pub garden on a sunny August Friday afternoon. I hadn’t seen Dave for nearly a year since he was in London so he was telling me about his life, his studio and the people he was getting commissions from, lots of name dropping. He mentioned local teenagers who helped him out, firing the pots, and was generally dismissive of efforts. He told me that ‘Jo’ would come and pick us up and take us to Dave’s place and I assumed Jo was one of these teenagers. I wasn’t sure what gender Jo was. For some reason I was expecting a girl.
Then Jo arrived. Oh my God. It was my teenage rock god hero, Joe Strummer of the Clash. The face and body I had seen in hundreds of posed photos although I had never gone quite as far as to tear them out of the music papers and put them on my bedroom wall. I had all his records, I had read countless interviews with him and I had learned to play my first ever tune on a guitar from his songbook. I had so identified with his intelligent rebel schtick.
And now he was like three feet in front of me, and shaking my hand, and his voice was just as it had been in the handful of television and film clips I had seen of him. It was him but it seemed unreal. How could this man who has always been an icon, a faraway media figure creature exist in the same world as me. He felt like a hologram or something. Dave had really set me up because he probably knew what this guy meant to me or maybe he didn’t. And another thing about Joe, he was small, like tiny, maybe 5 foot 5 but with like small delicate features. This explained maybe some of the sensitivity that perhaps made him more believable than your standard punk rebel hero. He was accompanied by Lucinda, his girlfriend, later to be his wife, she too was totally tiny 4 foot 10, I would guess. She was the driver and when she drove us back to Dave’s, stopping off at their place en route for cans of post-pub Stellas and spliffs, he sat next to her, his hand on her thigh, I felt like they were two doll like creatures, something quite unworldly about them.
Dave introduced Joe to me and told him I was walking the Ridgeway. Joe, in his man of the people guise, seemed genuinely interested in this. He picked up my backpack and considered the weight “Impressive”. He said. He had, what my friend Phoebe, who grew up with a famous musician dad and a few rock stars growing up, described as having the rock star thing of ‘being interested in everything and nothing’
I can’t remember much of the conversation during the next two hours but at no point did I acknowledge or admit that I knew who he was or that I was familiar with his work, or what he meant to me. At one point he talked about how the road outside his cottage had previously been the quiet bypass but had now been turned into the main road and the old main road was now a quiet bypass. He spoke of plans to get a petition up and get it changed back. “St Joe” I thought “Still the patron saint of lost causes”