ON THE WAY out of that pub, last Friday afternoon Joe Strummer suddenly gripped my elbow, and propelled me urgently away from the rest of the crowd.
“That photographer,” he hissed, nodding his head back towards Janette. “Do I have to have my photo taken?”
“Well, it would help,” I replied.” Why, what’s the matter?”
“Well, it will just add to these ridiculous Clash to split rumours,” Strummer hissed, guiding me further down the street. “Naturally
I don’t want that to happen.”
Immediately I understand.
“Oh, I see. Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’ll make it clear from the outset that you’re here strictly as a favour, for a laugh.”
“Well I hope so,” he shot back nervously, as we approached the front door of the flat where his friend the Mole lives. “Because the Clash are the most important thing in my life still. Okay?”
“Okay Joe,” I said: And then entered the flat, closing the door softly behind me.
FOR JOE Strummer, Richard Dudanski and the mysteriously named Mole (“because he doesn’t come out till night,” Strummer said), the two years between 1974 and 1976 were memorable for one thing, and one thing alone. The 101’ers. Their band. A band they formed out of desperate circumstances.
A band they formed out of a need to make money, which was scarce, and a need to excite people, which in those dull old days was something rock clearly wasn’t capable of doing.
The 101’ers did that, over two years they built up a reputation, that in the following punk years was to take on legendary proportions.
Renowned for their energetic, aggressive attitude the band played mainly around London, spreading their wings only towards the end.
If they had appeared during the immediate punk assault they would have been huge. But they existed at a time when small bands had no chance whatsoever of breaking out. Perhaps that was finally for the best.
Interest in the band will undoubtedly be revived in March when Richard Dudanski’s label, Andalucia, which he specially set up for this one album, releases Elgin Avenue Breakdown, a collection of old 101’ers recordings.
Whether the fuss and interest is justified, we’ll see then. But for “a favour and a laugh,” three of the original members of the band, Strummer, Dudanski and the Mole, are now sitting in the latter’s flat trying to explain what the 101’ers were all about.
“It was me and Big John and his brother,” says Joe Strummer, pointing at Richard Dudanski who’s sitting next to him, revealing how the band originally formed.
“Dudanski’s brother was the original bass player. But he left because he couldn’t quite…”
Strummer stumbles for the words. “He said to me in a pub, he said, ‘I can’t believe that we’re in a group’. And I said, ‘what do you mean?’ He said, ‘I can’t believe we are in a group. So I’m going to leave.’ He said that to me!” shouts Strummer excitedly as the room bursts into roaring laughter.
“He said that to me. Over half a Guiness in the Chip (the Chippendale pub in Ladbroke Grove). He’s gone to Sudan now. He’s teaching. But like me and his brother decided to do it and the saxophone player, Big John. He’s a lawyer now.”
Those were the humble beginnings of the 101’ers, the modest genesis of a legend. The 101’ers played their first gig at a pub called the Telepraph in Brixton. Strummer will always remember it.
“We didn’t know how to play, you know,” he states. “None of us knew and Matumbi lent us all their gear and I’ve never come across that since.”
“We got there,” Dudanski interjects, “and said, ‘Look, we’ve got no gear and we’re going to do the support on this gig.’ They said ‘yeah’, and we used their drumkit and everything.
“They lent us their drumkit,” Strummer says incredulously. “Can you believe that? And they were really late. Their van broke down and they were two hours late and there was hardly time for them to do their set. But they still lent us their drum-kit and their amps. I thought that was great and I’ve always supported Matumbi since that day.”
THE SUPPORT Strummer gave Matumbi that night was somewhat different. Revved up versions of old R&B numbers was the order of the day, the band’s repertoire limited to six songs.
It was with this set that the band struggled to get gigs, going through various line-ups as time went by.
“We never really got off the ground,” Strummer reveals, “until this girl pushed us into renting that room – right? Above the Chip. Because we couldn’t play, how could we get any gigs? Like that one gig was a benfit for refugees, so the only thing we could do to learn to play was to start our own club up.
“I say that today,” continues Strummer. “Like someone in a cafe yesterday said, ‘well my son has got a group going. Have you got any tips?’ I said start your own club up and learn how to play.”
Strummer pauses. “It was just a room and it cost us £1 a night.”
The band themselves were living close by in a squat, so travel was no problem, plus all their friends could come and see them and spread the word around.
“We took our own record player up there,” recalls Strummer, tapping on Mole’s slightly battered old Dansette, “like one of these, and by the time we were finished the place was so packed the cops kept raiding it. We were only charging 10p weren’t we? 10p to get in.”
Inevitably as the weeks went by the band’s reputation began to spread. Not that they were any strangers to controversy. Although neither Dudanski nor the Mole were present at the time, Strummer clearly recalls an early Royal College Of Art gig.
“They threw us out,” Strummer says laughing. “It was the Chilean Refugee Exhibition and we started playing ‘Bony Maronie’ and they went, ‘Get this capitalist rock ‘n’ roll out of here!’ Really. We got two numbers in and then we had to fucking clear out.”
THE CLUB the band had so imaginatively started also started to run into trouble as the word got round. “The landlord wanted to redecorate,” recalls Strummer.
“He said we couldn’t have it the next week. But there was something weird going on because he was doing a roaring trade. All the people that were coming, were going downstairs to buy a pint to come up, and then going back again.
“He was doing a roaring trade, and we were paying him a quid to rent the room. I think somebody must have told him to knock it off because he said to us, ‘I’m re-decorating,’ But he never did. Not for months and months.”
Perhaps the reason for the landlord’s reluctance came from the antics of the crowd who would turn up each week, but not solely with the 101’ers in mind.
“They used to nick bags,” says Dudanski.
“And throw them out of the window,” Strummer remembers. “To their mates down below,” Dudanski says, topping off the recollection.
Eventually the club closed down and the band moved on.
“We went down the Elgin,” recalls Strummer, “with a tiny bit of press from Melody Maker. It was about this big,” he says screwing his finger together to represent a miniscule shape.
“I remember that cutting, it was from Allan Jones and said, ‘with all the attention being paid to New York bands like Television it seems ludicrous that a British group with as much energy as the 101’ers should be living on desolation row…’
“That was our first mention in the press,” Strummer says with genuine nostalgia. And if you do look at those early press cuttings, one thing above all is emphasised. The agggression and speed at which the band played.
“It was the only thing we could play,” adds Strummer.
“It just kept getting faster and faster,” laughs Dudanski. But as for record deals or people taking notice.
“You’re kidding!” Strummer bursts out. “You’ve got to understand, no-body was interested. That little cutting from the MM I was telling you about, that was like the summit of a year’s sweat. That was like the ultimate. This little cutting. No one was interested. Nobody. And when these blokes said they wanted to make a record at the South Bank Poly, I was flabbergasted. And they were just a bunch of rip-off artists anyway.”
“Radio Concorde. They were just a load of people who would stick up an aerial on top of a house and they had a transmitter and they would transmit tapes and stuff. They came and did it from where we were living once. You had to keep a lookout for the police and the post office vans looking for them. They put out some of our stuff.”
“They broadcast a live gig we did at Ronnie Scott’s one night,” says Joe, confirming the attention, however small, the band were starting to receive.
THE BAND were also working in part time jobs. Strummer for instance worked, of all places, at the Coliseum Opera House.
“That was good, yeah, I was maintenance man. I had to sweep the pigeon shit up out of the roof. Do odd things like that. Then I went to Hyde Park, doing gardening. Cutting the verge that never ends. You can spend your whole life there. I was only doing that now and again when we needed some dough, or I needed some dough. I was trying to get an electric guitar and an amplifier, an AC 30.”
Strummer points to a dusty old amp standing idle by some bookshelves that he will hilariously knock over later that day.
“We managed to borrow a couple of Linear Concordes which were not too far removed from that. Without even the plastic case. And we were just all using them. They had two sockets on them and I built a cabinet out of two drawers. I got two drawers and knocked the ends off and hammered them together and put them back. Cut two round holes for the front…”
As for Richard on drums, he borrowed a kit, “to start with”, and later found himself having to pretend he was Spanish, along with Joe, so as to put off some guys who had come round to the flat to collect their belongings.
The rest of the band struggled by, but the group had at least stabilised into some kind of a constant line-up, with Joe or guitar and vocals, “Evil” Clive Temperley on lead guitar, “Desperate” Dan Kelleher on bass and keyboards and Richard Dudanski on drums.
Mole joined later. But for the time being the 101’ers concentrated on their new club in Elgin Avenue. Until they turned up to play one night.
“The residents across the road got a petition together. We turned up to set up and he said his phone had been ringing all day,” Strummer says.
He could only have two Irish acoustic musicians and these two guys were dead nervous. I remember we turned up with all our gear and we sat around having a drink, and they came up to me and said, ‘Is it all right if we play?’ And I said ‘Oh yeah mate, sure.’ They probably thought were going to do them if they started cranking out of tune. But it was the residents across the flat who put the block on. After that we got on the road anyway.”
The 101’ers also managed to finally get on record too. After a typical gig, Chiswick, the small independent label approached the band.
“Ted Carroll and Roger Armstrong came up to us after a gig,” recalls Strummer, “and said ‘do you want to make a record?’ So we said, ‘yeah’ and they booked us into Pathway.”
IT WAS from these sessions that the legendary ‘Key To Your Heart’ was recorded. A Strummer song, it has since gained status simply by it’s deletion. I never saw the 101’ers play live, so I can only assume that it’s an accurate indication of the genuine raw and energetic passion that the band thrived on.
At the time, though, the band were quite unaware of the ground they were setting for the up and coming punk movement. As Dudanski puts it, it was all a matter of trying your hardest to get gigs. There was no time to sit down and analyse what came naturally.
“It was just hustling around,” shrugged Dudanski.
“And the MM again,” breaks in Joe, “they put 15 bands to watch for the coming year and we had a paragraph in it. Jools our manager went off and he came back and said, ‘Guess what? I’ve got you a gig at Ronnie Scott’s!”
The Nashville was also another of the group’s regular haunts and on a couple of occasions they were supported by a band who inadvertently provoked the split that occurrred within the band in the Spring of ’76.
They were called the Sex Pistols.
Joe Strummer remembers them well.
“The Pistols were supporting us at this time, right at the end. We’d done a couple of Saturdays there and it was like something was going to happen. Well to me anyway. We had to break up because we didn’t all agree at that point. Like the bass player and the guitarist, they didn’t think that much of it really.”
Also “Evil” Clive Temperley was becoming a threat to the 101’ers whole ideal. He was too good.
“We had to get rid of him,” stresses Joe, “because this bloke was pushing his way in, this multi instrumentalist. We couldn’t play right and that’s an important fact. He could.”
MARTIN STONE from Chilli Willi joined for a while, but it was no good, the band was near the inevitable end. Punk was really starting to take off and Joe suddenly found a new input for his energy.
Dudanski however wanted nothing to do with punk.
“The Pistols, I liked them better than a lot of other things,” he says, “I mean at least they were there making an impact. But I didn’t like a lot of other things about them. I didn’t like the way it was manipulated, basically by McLaren. Just the way he’d set up a scene and they’d get all the attention. I just didn’t like the way it was being run.”
Strummer of course saw it differently.
“You see we’re talking about a movement of ideas, and he’s talking about a riff on a stage. See the difference? I saw it not only as a ‘good group,’ but as a new attitude. He didn’t agree.”
Strummer could cope with the manipulation which he sees as necessary in a way, to get such a movement off the ground, whilst Dudanski, disgusted at the exploitation and manipulation he saw, did the only sensible thing a man can do.
He took off for a holiday in Sicily. Before he left he’d been asked to join the Clash, but after a meeting with Bernie Rhodes, and a realisation of what Rhodes had in mind for the Clash, he turned them down.
Naturally, he had regrets. On his return to England he went to see Joe’s new band, the Clash at the Rainbow. It was May 9, 1977.
“I got really pissed and don’t know how I got in. I don’t know how I got backstage, but I ended up talking with him and Mick, and there’s Steve Jones, all in leather, and he’s pissed off because he wants to go onstage. And he goes, ‘Here Joe, who’s that jerk!’ Cos I was wearing a hat and that kind of thing, wasn’t de rigueur punk. And we ended up on the floor, me getting chucked out. I felt resentful, but not personally towards Joe. I mean people do different things in life don’t they? They go different ways.”
Just like the 101’ers. Clive Temperley is now in love with German film stars and writing songs about them for the Passions.
The Mole has worked for various bands since, like the up and coming Vincent Units, while Dudanski has played for a host of bands ranging from PiL to the Raincoats and Basement 5 who he’s just left.
Now, he looks like moving to Brazil. As for Strummer, his last five years need no chronicling, but it’s only now, under Dudanski’s initiative, that we’ll get to see whether the 101’ers manage to live up to their legend.
The band themselves take the (re)issuing of this, their debut album, very lightly (“it’s probably been clogging up his flat for six months,” was a Strummer quote about the need to issue it now), but in their anecdotes and the way they recounted their experiences, it’s clear that, whatever their present concerns, the 101’ers still remains a key to most of its members’ hearts.
“They always used to say we were on speed,” says Dudanski with a broad grin on his face.
“Yeah, they always said that,” agrees Strummer.
“Used to annoy me. At the Western Counties one night we played this really great set, really firing on all cylinders. Then we went out into the bar to have a drink and this bloke goes nudgingly, ‘not bad that’. And he’s winking and nudging me and I was going, ‘what’s the matter with the geezer?’ And he says, ‘how many lines did you snort before that set then?’ And we weren’t into speed. We couldn’t afford speed. We couldn’t afford a drink.”
ON THE cover of the album, when it comes out, is a photograph of the Metal Man. This character is an old black guy who sits around Ladbroke Grove, covered in metal objects. He was there before the 101’ers, and he’s there now.
When we came out of the flat somebody spotted him and the “band” went and posed with him. He wanted a piece of chicken as payment.
It was just another Elgin Avenue breakdown.
© Paolo Hewitt, Melody Maker, 28 February 1981