It’s not often that British punk rockers name-drop a place like Granada, Spain, or sing about the Spanish Civil War.
But that’s exactly what The Clash did in the band’s seminal 1979 album, “London Calling.” In a record full of punk masterpieces, the track “Spanish Bombs” really stands out.
But how did The Clash end up writing a song about Spain? Well, mostly it had to do with frontman Joe Strummer’s Spanish connections.
By the time “London Calling” came out in 1979, he had developed an affinity for Spain. Or, at least an affinity for a Spanish woman.
“It goes back to his pre-Clash days squatting in the West of London,” said Nick Hall, a Barcelona based filmmaker currently working on a documentary about Strummer’s Spanish connections. “He ended up sharing a squat with two sisters from Southern Spain, and one of them ended up becoming his girlfriend.”
That girlfriend’s name was Paloma, who went on to become Palmolive, the drummer in the punk band The Slits.
And Strummer went on to form The Clash. “The Only Band That Matters,” as they were called at one point.
In 1981, The Clash actually played three concerts in Spain. And young people in the country, which was recovering from decades of authoritarian rule under Franco, were hungry for punk, Hall said.
“The Clash were huge in Spain. There was a really important scene at the time," he said. "Particularly in Madrid, but also in Barcelona ... and there was a lot of post punk, new wave stuff influenced by British bands.”
But behind the scenes, as the saying goes, all was not well with The Clash. And in the early 80s, Hall says, Strummer oversaw the disintegration of the band.
First, he fired his sidekick and co-writer, Mick Jones. Then, realizing he had made a colossal mistake, Strummer fled to Granada.
“The Granada thing is really an escape from all the problems he’s created in London,” Hall said. “He’s fleeing. And kind of goes to Granada for a bit of peace and quiet and to pick up old relationships that he has there.”
Strummer, you see, had once shared a different London squat with another Spaniard, a guy who had gone back to Granada, and become a medical doctor.
“This guy takes Joe out one night, where they meet this local band called 091,” Hall said. And 091 couldn’t believe that in the audience was THE Joe Strummer, “a self-styled Punk Rock Warlord.”
Strummer ended up going to 091′s rehearsals, and then produced their second album.
To be honest, 091 didn’t last much longer as a band. Of course, neither did The Clash. They broke up for good in 1986.
Strummer, though, kept returning to Spain, and even ended up buying a house on Spain’s southern coast.
Strummer died of heart failure in 2002. A year later, The Clash was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Granada, though, never forgot Strummer or his contributions to the music scene there.
Last year, a group of local friends and journalists petitioned the city to name a square in his honor. The measure is expected to be approved next month, according to a city official.
A local newspaper recently wrote: “Good ol’ Joe traveled to Granada seduced by stories of the Civil War, the killing of Lorca and the image of Granada.”
One might add: “And to get the hell away from The Clash.”
Plaza Joe Strummer will, if all goes according to plan, be just a few hundred yards from the Alhambra.