The Clash, B.A.D. And Other Secret Histories: Mick Jones Interviewed

Jude Rogers takes a bag of tinnies round to Mick Jones' lock-up to talk to him about a life time of collecting rock and pop culture memorabilia

Somewhere near the strange, western end of the Central Line stands a building that has been weathered by time. Its sign has shed letters over the years, and quiet curry vans and forgotten cars sit like leftover details from Edward Hopper paintings at its grey, weathered flanks.

And inside this building, just around the corner from a bed-makers and a forbidding gents toilet, we find Mick Jones’ lock-up – and within that, next to the studio where Carbon/Silicon now rehearse and record, we find his treasure trove of pop culture history. It’s a jaw-dropping, shelf-buckling archive which includes reams of pop and style magazines, stacks of rare comics, and piles of chintzy toys, battered paperbacks, newspaper supplements, cherished vinyl albums, taped-off-the-TV VCRs, painted robots, ’70s cop show-themed jigsaws, kitsch slot machines, maps, gold discs, old flight cases and stacks of tour memorabilia from The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite and Carbon/Silicon’s on the road lives.

From March 18, part of this collection moves to the Chelsea Space, in the Chelsea College Of Art And Design. For now, it sits, lies and stacks here, in two incredible rooms. The Quietus shared a blue, swinging carrier bag of Carlsberg cans with the gentle, weathered man behind this incredible collection and asked him what inspired it.

Why did you start collecting?

Mick Jones: “I didn’t used to know why, but I always just did. Ever since I was a little boy. Hoarding things – all sorts of things. People say it’s because I had a bit of a difficult childhood, and perhaps that’s true. But I got so much pleasure out of it, I just kept going. Maybe it’s in the genes, because my mum did the same, too. When I first was in The Clash, she’d make scrapbooks of our tours, cut out pictures, hoard, hoard, hoard. [Laughs] Other people just say this is me showing everyone what my brain’s like inside. Look! [Stretches arms wide and looks up] This is my brain!”

Is your collecting a compulsion, then? And, if so, why decide to tell other people about it now?

MJ: “It is a compulsion, I suppose, and it’s one I think I’m finally coming to terms with. Thing is, I’ve been confused-dot-com for a long time, you know? But now I want to share something with everybody – something that I’ve been keeping to myself. And, slowly, over the last few years, it’s become clearer to me what I should do with it. You know what I mean? It was kind of a bit overwhelming before. But now some clarity has arrived.”

So what are your plans for it?

MJ: “I want to make this stuff available to people like an educational resource. I imagine school parties coming to see this. That’s what I dream of, really. For them to learn something really exciting, as they see all this dirty, lovely stuff from the past. Also in the last few years, popular culture has become bigger and bigger, hasn’t it? It hit me some time a while back, that, when people coming in here would say, you know what? This is great. Cos when people come in, they go wow. Nah, they go WOW! And as space is a big premium these days, just to put stuff in storage just to look at on weekends…it’s kind of sad. So this needs to get out.”

How long has this collection been growing?

MJ: “Well, since I was a kid, the collecting, but this lock-up’s been here fifteen years at least. Back then, we had a studio in London in Notting Hill Gate and we had to move, and we found this place. Next door’s our studio – years ago, the Cocteau Twins had it, then a sign makers took it over, but we came after that. We painted it ABC1 Red, and had to fix the joists to hang things up – a proper Fawlty Towers set-up – and then I started using these rooms to store all the stuff that was in the house.”

What are your most cherished items?

MJ: “Other than the band stuff, the clothes from the tours and that…probably my book of footballers’ autographs that I got when I was young. I got the whole England World Cup-winning squad – and I took time to get it, player by player, at different times, all round different grounds. A few of my records too, like the Jimi Hendrix and Cream ones. And I like the maps and stuff. I love my old county school atlas, and my school map of Palestine behind the door here [gets up and walks across the room to it] – good to look at when you’re listening to the news about Gaza. [Looks below it] Oh, and here’s Hank Williams’ last poster, this is great. "If the good lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, i’ll see you…" And he didn’t make it! That’s a good one.”

What are your plans for your collection after its month at the Chelsea Space?

MJ: “I want a permanent space – I really want a permanent space. I dream of putting it in the Commonwealth Institute by the bottom of Holland Park. That’s been disused for a very long time, and it’s a beautiful building, but I might be hoping too much. Any old house would do in West London. Any place that was disused – that’d be a place I’d pick.”

And what do you think about when you look at your collection now, after all these years?

MJ: “How I started doing this really early on. And the days when I used to go to the States with The Clash and B.A.D., and how excited I’d get looking through all these thrift shops that had all this cool stuff. Because, at our age, you see, we’d grown up on American culture but had never really seen it. And that feeling was fantastic. That’s why I want kids to feel the same excitement with what we’re trying to do here. Get the same kind of wow. To see such a lot of it together, just like a personal, social, cultural history, that could mean so much to so many people.”

Mick Jones: The Rock and Roll Public Library is exhibiting at The Chelsea Space ( from 18 March to 18 April 2009

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