Mick Jones: Rock & Roll Librarian

Not that I thought it was possible, but Mick Jones has gone up further in my estimation. Last Tuesday, while in London, I squeezed in a quick visit to ChelseaSpace, in Pimlico, where Jones’ Rock & Roll Public Library is on display until April 18. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that Jones is not only a major contributor to pop culture (The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite, Carbon/Silicon, etc.) but an enormous fan, too, an ardent collector who has been hoarding thousands upon thousands of valuable ephemera in an Acton lock-up over the years and has now decided to find a home for it. The month-long “exhibition,” for want of a better word, at ChelseaSpace, is but the tip of his collection’s iceberg and represents a mere toe in the water in terms of his plans for the project: Jones, to his eternal credit, is seeking a way to take his entire lock-up and make it available to the public, as resource center, lending library and digital distribution point. It’s an enormous undertaking but from a musician who has given away most of his latest band’s recordings, we should perhaps not have expected less.

At ChelseaSpace, part of the Chelsea College of Art and Design, visitors enter through a welcoming lobby into a relatively narrow hallway. Understandably, this area is festooned with framed posters and photos of Mick Jones’ career, including one for the Clash’s first gig at the ICA, though a hint at what lies around the corner can be found at the very entrance, where an old-fashioned singles rack is filled with ancient 7”s from Jones’ own collection. Music piped through the space quickly reveals itself to be a mix of Mick’s personal choices narrated by the man himself.

img_1385.jpg A small cross-section of the small cross-section of Mick Jones’ Rock & Roll Library, no longer locked up in Acton.

The main area of the Space, which includes a large glass wall opening onto the campus, reveals, quite literally, a cultural treasure trove. It would have taken me a week to catalogue everything I saw, but here are just a few items that caught my eye: a spray-painted boom-box. A Fender Telecaster, an original Linn Drum machine, a Roland GR-700, a Kork DD1, an ARP odyssey, an Akai 5950. A hand-written note addressed to “Mr. Jones” in the Royalton’s Room 802 from “Joe” that admits, “You win. Call me.” Hand-written lyrics to “Good Morning Britain.” Original cartoons by Ray Lowry. Jones’ personal scrapbook from the early 1970s with photos of his earliest bands, the Delinquents and Schoolgirl’s Undies, and a Caroline Coon review of the Clash in Melody Maker with her encouraging conclusion words circled in red. The top part of one wall filled with Jones’ cut-off stage shirts. Baseball caps dominating another.

This, admittedly, is mostly the sort of stuff that you might expect to see at a Hard Rock Café, which is why it’s so important to mention the other material Jones has loaned out: thousands of books, videos, magazines and tapes. The books are on anything and everything: from Nick of Notting Hill and The Legend of Lord Snooty and His Pals, to an impressive collection of Dylan and Beatles biographies. The videos are mostly the bootleg type, many covering the early hip-hop era of which Jones was such a champion. There are boxes full of cassette tapes, too, though I didn’t write down their contents. The far wall is covered with music, film and other kinds of pop magazines, creating a colorful kaleidoscope that spans the 60s through to at least the 80s, with several classic black and white punk fanzines in amongst the many old copies of Fabulous, Creem and Zigzag.

A small cross-section of Mick Jones’ magazine collection.

Best of all, with the exception of a glass-sealed storage trunk and the magazines on the wall, nothing is out of bounds. This is a library, not a museum, and customers, if not exactly invited to handle everything, are not forbidden either. I just wish I could have spent a whole day rummaging through the entire contents. To give an idea just how small a percentage of his Acton lock-up the ChelseaSpace exhibition contains, allow that maybe only 200 books out of a library some 10,000-strong are on show. So, when Jones is quoted in the accompanying program (£2, notes by Chris Salewicz), as saying “I’m interested in everything, really,” you know he’s not bluffing.

So much about the exhibition, and the accompanying program notes, made me feel better about my own collector-hoarder status. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one to keep a scrapbook of my own bands from the very beginning. Not the only one to keep every fanzine that ever came my way. (And while I regret that mine got lost in transition – see this recent post about the Fanzine Library – it was a genuine thrill to know that Jones held on to his.) Not the only one to try (though I failed) to hold on to all my 7” singles and 33rpm albums. To keep button badges. And on a different level, having read Salewicz’ notes on Jones’ upbringing, to have purchased Red Bus Rovers to travel round London all day, just soaking it up. To have stood on a street where the famous rock stars lived in the hope I might meet them: Jones did it on Cheyne Walk for Mick Jagger, I used to do it on Oxford or Cambridge Gardens (whichever one it was), in the hope of meeting Mick Jones himself, taking the rubbish out or whatever, and ask him for an interview for Jamming! (This never came about, of course.) Some of us, I guess, are just fanatic obsessives and this is how we spend our lives, immersed in pop culture, collecting, commenting, disseminating, doing what we can to keep it all alive.

I can’t wait until Jones finds a permanent home for his entire collection – and for the opportunity to borrow some of his videos and cassettes. In the meantime, London-based iJamming! readers can do themselves a great service by getting over to ChelseaSpace before April 18 to soak up some of the Rock’n’Roll Public Library for themselves. Admission is free: did you expect anything more?

A closer look at Jones’ Acton lock-up – soon, hopefully, to be open to the public in some form(at) or another.

Coincidentally, barely 24 hours but a whole continent after visiting the Space, I found myself listening to Uncut magazine’s latest promo CD, London Pride, which includes the Carbon/Silicon song “Acton Zulus,” which has little to do with London but plenty of Jones’ philosophy of caring and sharing. This lyric seemed extra pertinent from a man who was sacked from the Clash because of his ego, something he admits to, in the programme notes, and insists has has gotten under control over the years. As if we hadn’t noticed.

“In our digital kingdom we have total control, where keeping it free is the new rock’n’roll. Maybe it’s crazy to give it away, but it’s still a buzz to enter the fray.”

Cheers, Mick. You’re a cultural treasure yourself.

More Clash at iJamming! here
More Carbon/Silicon at iJamming! here
Tony Fletcher’s 2004 interview with Mick Jones here. (Better late than never!)

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October 2021