It’s the anniversary of Joe Strummer’s passing, Twitter tells me. Looking at all the photos and videos reminded me of what I loved about his singing back when I was a teen. It might seem odd that a jazz singer is influenced by a punk icon, but to me there is something inherently logical about it. Where else does one find raw power, intensity, emotion and a sense of immediacy? Back in the 80s I was studying film at York University but spent most of my time hanging out with the cool kids in visual art. We chopped and dyed our hair, wore ear cuffs and ripped clothes. I got stopped in the airport on my way to NYC for having a belt on that looked like it was studded with bullets. But aside from the fun of the testing the limits of fashion, the music was really important to me. Here we were, far from the polished, velvety tones of jazz standards, the pearls and sleek dresses. And yet those songs are also about emotions at their core.
London Calling by the Clash with Joe Strummer’s vocals had me sitting up and paying attention, just as my own political views were coming into focus. There were amazing bands coming through the Queen Street scene in Toronto at that time, mainly thanks to The Garys and the clubs that they filled. The memorable ones that spring to mind now were The Swans, Einsturzende Neubauten, Gil Scott Heron, Linton Kwesi Johnston, The Pogues and Billy Bragg.
In April, 1984, my brother Reg and I were performing at happy hour gig at L’Air du Temps in Montreal and I left a day early so I could go and see the Clash at Maple Leaf Gardens. Reg was also playing at night with the great J. R. Montrose who, when he heard why I was skipping out of town, told Reg, “tell your sister to stop listening to that yeh yeh music”. I was definitely straddling two musical worlds but it is still all just great music to me.
I spent many happy hours singing along to the Clash’s Combat Rock record in an attic loft while typing up a manuscript for my dad on our first ever home computer. At other times I would develop photos in our basement darkroom while playing Unit Structures by Cecil Taylor on a small tape deck, flipping the cassette over and over as the hours went on. I was printing up the images for Bill Smith’s photo book “Imagine the Sound”. This is the soundtrack of my late teens and perhaps explains how I ended up recording this track, Wild Howls, with Michel when we formed our improvising duo, Black Fungus. Listening to Wild Howls, I realize there is still much more to explain … to be continued: