Sheffield Leadmill

Still spiky, still bothered; on this form he'd take some beating.

Power resides in the strangest of places. [a]Joe Strummer[/a]’s great strength is that he doesn’t have one. Neither a great singer nor a great beauty, his career has been a constant struggle with his own frailties. As a result, The Clash made some of the most human music in the history of pop. They stumbled constantly, got tangled up in their own earnestness and Strummer has made frequent deviations since their untidy demise which have left his admirers wincing with shame. The film career, the clod-hoppered comments about English football hooligans, the last Clash album – he blew it so much in the mid-to-late-’80s that it’s amazing there’s any of it left.

However, what carried him through the darkest hours and propelled him to such heights of brilliance this evening was something very simple. A writer who uses his own, humbling experiences to communicate with his audience, Strummer has so little side to him that he’s almost two-dimensional. You trust him; you believe in him – you desperately, despairingly want him to do well.

What mystique he possesses in his autumn years is blown at every opportunity. Midway through a reading of ‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais’ he interrupts one of his best lines, “With their Burton suits/They think it’s funny/Turning rebellion into money” to accidentally obliterate a great moment and inadvertently create an even better one. “With their Burton suits… I was talking about The Jam… ner ner ner ner ner ner ner ner money”.

He shambles on regardless, his finger in his ear, guitar slung casually from his shoulder in one of the great unwitting rock poses of history. He doesn’t know where this music is coming from. He doesn’t know why it works. Sometimes he doesn’t look like he thinks it does.

However, with even the new songs from ‘Rock Art And The X-Ray Style’ seeming irrepressibly vital, he is incapable of failure. The languid ‘Yalla Yalla’ bleeds from the stage like warm lemonade, and the appallingly titled ‘Tony Adams’ is imbued with the same glorious spirit of doubt that informs ‘Safe European Home’ – the point of perfection where punk rock should abruptly have stopped.

Strummer tries to politely disentangle himself from the attentions of a few fans as he leaves the stage. He looks nervous, like he’s afraid someone’s about to punch him. Still spiky, still bothered; on this form he’d take some beating.