This here music mash up the nation
This here music cause a sensation
Tell your ma, tell your pa, everything's gonna be all right - The Clash, 'Revolution Rock', 1979
Summer 2012 brought with it not only apocalyptic drunkenness in muddy tents, but my first introduction to the wonderful world of The Joe Strummer New Music Foundation. I was eighteen, big-haired and wide-eyed, and decided to celebrate my new found liberation from college by piling a tent, some shorts and a bottle of whiskey into a holdall held together with tape and heading down to the wilds of Somerset to attend the tiny Strummer of Love festival. At the time, all I knew about Strummerville was that they were occasionally on the telly and that they had kindly arranged a weekend long party for the benefit of a vaguely directionless and music obsessed teenager; I cared about their aims and ideology, but more about the fact that The Pogues, Billy Bragg and Mick Jones were all on the line-up and that you could take your own lager into the main arena.
How things have changed. That weekend, surrounded by 5000 of the friendliest and least judgemental people to ever grace a festival field, was nothing short of revelatory. I may have pinched the hand-drawn billboard that served as the welcome sign (apologies!) but I came away with the sense that not only were the aims of Strummerville vital, but that they were capable of really making a difference to peoples' lives, both in the UK and abroad. Nearly two years later, and as a copywriter for the charity, I've seen first-hand the dedication and commitment of the Strummerville team, their knowledge and enthusiasm for all things musical, and the profound effect which their hard work has had on so many people.
So what is Strummerville? In the years after Joe Strummer, legendary member of pioneering punk group The Clash, passed away, his friends and family set up a not-for-profit charity that aimed to reflect his particular values and musical contributions by offering support, resources and performance opportunities to artists who wouldn't normally have access to them. In its essence, it's a social mobility project that not only results in a bit of good in this crappy, divided world, but some bloody good music from a wide range of genres. They also run projects abroad: for example, in November I helped with a campaign to save a recording studio in Sierra Leone that provides a facility for those suffering from the repercussions of the brutal civil war or who may otherwise be coerced into gang violence. It's egalitarian, inclusive and founded not only on some stellar political and social ideology, but on the hard work of some truly lovely individuals.
When I interviewed Nima, the frontman of Arrows of Love last year, it really brought home just how much good Strummerville actually manage to do, on a fairly limited budget and low profile. Sat in his garden in the surprisingly warm Autumn sunshine, I asked him how he felt about the charity to which he replied "I feel honoured that we've been supported by them, but the only reason I feel that way is because they're such a good foundation. Their way of running things with the principle of helping musicians that don't always have a huge amount of options is great. They do it without prejudice. There isn't a music style which artists have to stick to; if you're earnest and you're trying hard, and they can see that, then they'll support you. What better principle can there be than that?" And really, what better principle or approach can there be, especially when the immense and all-compassing emotional response to music is considered. From scratching the needle across my mum's copy of 'The Queen is Dead' as a child too young to consider its lyrical impact but lost in the dreamscape of the guitar lines, to the young woman in pathetic ecstatic tears at The Stone Roses' comeback tour, music has always been a refuge, something to depend on. It's been an emotional crutch and a means for celebrating, soundtracking triumphs and the flow of teenage tears into the night. If this is the impact that music can have on an individual - especially one for whom even singing in tune proves an impossible obstacle - then think of the catalyst it could be on a larger scale.
We live in a society stratified. Separated from each other by the artificial constraints of income, postcode, prejudice and snobbery, we seem to focus more on our differences than what we have in common. At Strummerville, these barriers are broken down through music to allow the possibility for these things to become irrelevant. Quite frankly, they ought to be.
On the 7th February, Strummerville are taking over the Borderline for a charity gig in support of the Tech Music School, as part of their #RIPITUP festival. Featuring the musical diversity of Francobollo, DarkMoon, Burning Beaches and Lyza Jane (and having chatted to her whilst putting on lipstick in the grimy toilets of a tiny concert venue, I can testify that she's a sweetheart), it should be an amazing night with a social conscience, something which sadly seems a rarity in today's nightlife scene. Do come, it's going to be amazing. The eighteen year-old me would definitely have hosed off her wellies and given it a shot - and besides, the music's sure to be phenomenal.
Tickets for the TMS Strummerville charity gig are available on the door or athttp://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/strummerville-charity-gig-tickets/101775?camefrom=CFC_UK_BUYAT_102463
For more information on the Joe Strummer New Music Foundation, visit their website athttp://www.strummerville.com/
All photographs provided by the author, Christine Fitzgerald or The Joe Strummer New Music Foundation