MICK Jones is sat in a recording studio taking a break from mixing the next album by The Libertines.
“It’s going very well, it’s fantastic. I’m really pleased to be doing something so brilliant.”
Well he was hardly going to say it was yak was he? The break is to big up his latest band Carbon/Silicon which he formed 18 months ago with Tony James, ex-Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik.
“We’ve got a rhythm section from Manchester as well. It’s two guitars, bass and drums and a guy working the computers and stuff. So it’s a regular band but with a totally modern element. It’s a totally like classic thing but with a contemporary twist,” he adds giggling.
I think he’s been at the pop.
The band are selling material internet-only at the moment and have little intention of making any effort to get a record deal.
“I hope not,” he says.
“We do our own artwork, we have our own studio — there’s a lot of the DIY ethic that goes back to the punk era.”
So what’s with the name?
“Tony is a conceptual guy and I’m more of a humanist. He thinks of stuff then I try and put it in to some kind of human language.”
So you’re Carbon and he’s Silicon.
“I guess so. I’m Sapphire, he’s Steel. No that’s the other way round,” he says laughing again.
Jones and James have been mates prior to punk.
“It was 1974 and I was in a band, it was my school band and we used to follow Mott The Hoople around. We invited Guy Stevens (who would later produce London Calling) to come along and see us and he said it was good but we needed a organist and not a rhythm guitarist. So they sacked me. I took it very badly at the time but just as I was leaving I met Tony, who was mates with one of the band.
We played together but it never worked out so we went our separate ways. Now we’ve got back together.”
He’s giggling again.
Punk, he says, was as important and as fertile a period as rock historians suggest.
“The whole thing, socially and culturally... punk was the greatest ever. There has never been anything that has had so much to say.”
Since then music hasn’t been as good he says.
“Though it’s had its moments.”
Jones formed London SS with fellow Londoners Paul Simonon on bass and Nicky “Topper” Headon on drums. In 1975 the band, with the addition of the public school-educated singer and guitarist Joe Strummer, became The Clash, one of the three key bands of the punk era along with the Sex Pistols and The Damned. After the success of London Calling and Combat Rock, including major sales in the US, Jones left.
Strummer had accused him of becoming lazy though later apologized and admitted he was mainly to blame for the break-up of a successful songwriting partnership.
“I stabbed him in the back,” Strummer would say.
While The Clash reached the top 20 with Cut The Crap, Jones bettered it with Big Audio Dynamite and Strummer finally disbanded the Clash in 1986.
Despite rumours and a great deal of wishful thinking, the band would not reform. I suggest there was perhaps an inevitable clash with Strummer with him being, erm, posh.
“He wasn’t posh in any way. He was the most down-to-earth and real guy. Honest and with so much integrity. He wasn’t faking it in any way. All he cared about was people.”
Strummer died suddenly of heart failure in December, despite no obvious illness. It is believed he had a hereditary heart condition. Jones last saw him a few days earlier.
“We met just by chance. We had a really lovely evening together in London,” he says, his voice softening. I ask him about the whereabouts of Simonon and Headon.
“Paul is a really successful painter. And Topper is living in Dover where he came from originally.”
Topper had been sacked from the group in 1982 because of heroin addiction though he would return.
Jones pinpoints his favourite Clash memory as a trip to Japan.
“We had a beautiful time. We made a conscious decision not to be too animalistic and people took us into their houses. We were very emotionally touched by it."
It’s deep but The Clash were always a more intelligent outfit than most punk bands. “The thinking man’s yobs,” wrote Tony Parsons. The artsy element Jones has carried over to Carbon/Silicon — hence the bizarre publicity photograph.
“It’s from the Jean Renoir film The Grand Illusion with TJ as Erich von Stroheim and me as, I dunno, Ronald Coleman. It’s not him but someone like that. Someone smooth.” I’ve no idea either but the image serves to obscure their faces enough so few will actually know it’s Jones and James. They’ve banned venues from advertising the gig as Mick Jones From The Clash and Tony James from Sigue Sigue Sputnik (not that James would attract much of a crowd).
“We don’t want people to come for the wrong reasons.”
So it’s going to be all new?
“It is at the moment. We are very aware of our past and we bring it with us. So all the stuff that we liked when we were younger is there."
I don’t think he’s on about doing cover versions of 70s rock and punk. He certainly doesn’t mean there’ll be a Clash medley.
“There won’t be that but there may be a 15-minute version of one of the newies.”
Lost me. And not for the last time.
“We played with BAD many times at Rock City and it used to be a really good one for us. I remembered wandering around town while I was there as well.”
I’m after specifics. Did he see Robin Hood?
“Yeah I did. I didn’t see the Sheriff of Nottingham though. He’s like a cowboy.”
A cowboy? Lordy knows how that Libertines album will turn out.