On Tuesdays from 6-8pm GMT listeners in the Exeter, England area have the distinct privilege of being able to tune their radio dials directly to 106.8. Elsewhere in the world they can point their iPhone or browser to Phonic.fm at the corresponding time (1pm EST in my corner of the world). Those of us that do this are rewarded with a treasure box filled with two hours of diverse music presented as Trash City Radio Show with host Joe Rebel. Joe, a long time music-o-phile, takes us on a genre hopping ride underscored with his encyclopedic-like knowledge of music he includes in his show, including anecdotes, factoids, and in some instances first hand accounts from a man who has been on the UK punk scene from it’s earliest years.
So how did some girl in the middle of America learn of a local radio show all the way across the Atlantic? Much like other discoveries, I first learned of Trash City via the string of serendipitous events surrounding the Mick Jones Rock n Roll Public Library, which has been chronicled here on the blog in earlier posts (see side panel to the right on this blog for all the info you need on that!) Long story short, I recognized the “Trash City” reference along the way (I being a fellow Clash/Strummer affectionado, and Joe likewise, as well as he being a friend of the late great Joe Strummer), and so it was a given that I should tune in. My first passing thought was a “hmm, this could potentially be a good one, I should check it out.” Little did I know then that almost a year later I would be striving to tune in every single week from home on the internet connection, and as weeks rolled by if I wasn’t home, via the iphone in diverse places such as my local grocery store (getting a chuckle out of the looks I was given as I passed down the aisles with my purse blaring out Joe’s show), while in Philadelphia on a visit to see some family, all the way to the wooded mountains of Shenandoah National Park (as recent as last week’s show, and the connection worked for awhile until we headed out to a trail) so that I wouldn’t miss out.
So what drives me to be this diligent? In addition to his between song dialogue (which I enjoy every bit as much as I do the music) we listeners are granted the pleasure of listening to a massively diverse offering of music old and new, from punk to reggae, to ska to indie and everything in between (the only genres Joe purposely omits is metal, hip hop and dance) and regular features such as “Reggae music worldwide,” “Lost indie treasures,” “Forgotten seventies gems,” “great lost punk tracks,” and my personal favorite his “Black Market Clash” which was recently expanded to four tracks featuring Clash or Clash-related bands, most of which are rare or less known tracks. There is also the dedicated show (with tracks being selected by listeners) in tribute to Joe Strummer that airs in December that should not be missed.
Big thanks to Joe, who agreed to sit down and answer quite a few questions for my blog. So without further introduction, here’s a little more from the man behind Trash City, the only radio show that matters!
Joe: Phonic FM began about five years or so ago as a promotional tool for the Vibraphonic festival. DJ’s were asked to turn up at a meeting if interested in doing a show. Myself and Sketch did a show. Initially, the radio broadcast was for a month while the festival was in full flow. We were informed from the off, that we could only play ‘music of black origin’ which to me is everything really. However, one time we played ‘Complete Control’ and ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and the station manager threw a fit. He didn’t know nothing. ‘Control’ was produced by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Rotten was a huge reggae fan, even helping Richard Branson find and suggest reggae artists for his then fledgling Virgin Frontline label. ‘Trash City’ in it’s current form was born when the station was awarded a full license about 2/3 years ago.
TT: Has the focus of the show evolved over that time? If so how does it differ from when you first went on air? When I first tuned in Sketch was there with you, was that a temporary thing?
Joe: Well, I always wanted Sketch and I to be a team on the show. But as he has always had his own show on Phonic, he was never fully committed to Trash City, so after a while it was obvious his heart wasn’t in it and we had a disagreement about his contribution to the show (which was minimal anyway) and I sacked him! We fell out for a while and I was very angry and upset he’d let me down, but we are buddies again now. After he left I had to basically reinvent myself, as prior to Sketch’s exit, it was very ‘banter’ based. As it stands now I think I made the right move, as am now being myself instead of attempting to be some bad comedian. Also, I don’t have to put up with Sketch turning his nose up at some of my selections.
TT: I know you also DJ, what types of sets do you do, and where? How long have you done shows, both DJing and radio shows?
Joe: I have a monthly residency at a club in Exeter called The Cavern. I’ve Dj-ed at ‘The Beautiful Days’ festival since it began in 2003. It’s funded and run by The Levellers and its management. Also, I’ve played support DJ slots with amongst others – The Levellers, Carbon-Silicon, Buzzcocks, Toots & The Maytals, Don Letts, The Selecter, Mike Peters (The Alarm), Hayseed Dixie, Lars Fredreksen (Rancid) and more.
TT: You’ve mentioned to me before that you worked for a (now defunct) ‘zine and conducted some interviews, what mag was it, how were you involved, and what were some of the pieces you produced through it?
Joe: I used to run a Manic Street Preachers fanzine called ‘Tortured Rebellion’ back in the early 90’s – also a couple of low key affairs ‘Adrenalin’ and another I can’t remember the title of!!
TT: What is your personal record collection like? What are some of your most prized items?
Joe: I’ve bought records since I was ten years old! About 13 years ago I bought a CD burner (free standing not PC) and set about whittling down my collection (transferring tapes, vinyl etc.) – It was like having a shop! I own a few thousand CD’s at present, but I am adding stuff all the time from various sources. Of course, I’ve kept my prized vinyl. But a lot of it was sold. My most valued is my signed Clash/Manics stuff.
TT: Who are among your all time favorites and what new artists are you listening to now?
Joe: My favourite band of all time is most definitely The Clash. But I’m also a big fan of Manic Street Preachers, Bruce Springsteen, BAD, Strummer’s solo stuff, The Alarm, Blaggers ITA, lots of reggae, soul, old rockabilly / rock n roll, 70s glam. What am I listening to at present? I like The Gaslight Anthem, The National, Gorillaz. But I would say that none of that stuff comes near what I feel for my absolute favourites. I suppose a lot of that is to do with the majority of that shaped me as a person and has a lot more substance and relevance to me and my life than bands and artists of today.
TT: Live shows: what are among your most cherished memories?
Joe: I’ve seen so many. I saw The Clash 13 times. First, in 1978 and lastly around the time of Clash MK2. I can remember thinking at the time that not only was the music fantastic (and the clothes played a HUGE part too) but the way it made me feel was second to none. Saw a lot of Strummer’s solo shows too. I worked as security on the 1988 ‘Rock Against The Rich Tour’ and that was a trip. ‘Earthquake Weather’ period was great too. And of course Mescaleros gigs were something else. Other bands? Manic Street Preachers 92 / 93 – The Alarm 84/85. Blaggers ITA 95. Big Audio Dynamite in the mid 80s was amazing. These days I can’t get worked up about gigs. Most of the new artists seem so insipid and boring to watch. I’ve never seen Springsteen though, but would love that opportunity.
TT: Back to Trash City, how do you go about putting together a week’s show? What is the creative process and the thought process behind the track selections and how long does it take to put a show together and what media do you usually play?
Joe: I LOVE putting the radio show together. It takes about 2/4 hours to compile a show. Sometimes it just flows, other times I get half way through and start again as I think listeners will think it’s rubbish! I’m a very hard task master. I’ve realised as time has progressed what the show is all about. It’s not for the chart / pop crowd or people who just use music as background or whatever, The radio show is for those who love and know music. I feel chuffed when I play something that a listener hasn’t heard for years and it jogs a particular memory or a new track that people dig.
TT: Of all your current weekly features, what is your personal favorite to put together?
Joe: I like all the music I play and I’m always trying to think of new features to put into the show. ‘Black Market Clash’ is a good one, because I get to share the rare stuff with listeners that may previously been unaware of or only heard on a dodgy bootleg. I’ve got a vast Strummer / Clash archive of nearly 200 discs. A lot of it is not ‘radio friendly’ quality but there’s plenty I can play and I hope listeners love it as much as I do.
TT: Of all the experiences that have come from your DJing, what are some of your fondest memories and experiences?
Joe: Playing to thousands of people at Beautiful Days opening for The Levellers a few years back and the crowd singing along to ‘White Man.’ Supporting Lars from Rancid and he said ‘You are doing a great job there’ Mike Peters complimenting me on my selections and saying what a fine DJ I was. Another one was when i was talking to Mick Jones at the Rock n Roll Library and I mentioned I’d played ‘Torchlight’ (Ellen Foley, written by Mick & Joe), The Card Cheat and Straight To Hell (Mick & Lily’s version) on the show and he said how great that choice was. Plus loads of great nights at my monthly Cavern shows, the crowd go wild sometimes!
TT: I am aware of your friendship with Joe Strummer over the years. In what way did this friendship influence you personally and professionally? Many of my readers know of Joe’s London Calling BBC radio show, and in some ways I see your show as a continuation of his show in the same spirit: a deep love and passion of music from all walks of life and genres, and a sharing of this music along with the knowledge of it. Certainly the name suggests an homage being paid.
Joe: Joe (Strummer)’s ‘London Calling’ shows are definitely an influence. Although his tastes are more eclectic. I used to send Joe CD compilations, which him and his wife Luce loved. They were played on the tour bus on The Who support dates. Getting to know Joe a little in his later years was one of the greatest things that happened to me. I’ve got lots of memories which I’m trying to put out in book form. Joe was a good man and I supposed I loved him, not in a sexual way of course. I was absolutely devastated by his death, but I put Trash City together as a lasting tribute. First, as a DJ / Club night then later the radio show. Like Joe said to me once, “I’ll come down to one of your nights, and sit in the corner with my roll-ups. But don’t tell anyone.”
TT: I ask this of all my interviewees now (becoming tradition): If you had a super power, what would it be?
Joe: If I had a super power I’d make it so I was getting paid for doing my show and I could play what I want, and thousands would be listening and it would go on as long as I wanted it.
Again, thank you Joe for that, I appreciate you taking time for this interview. Readers, you can tune in to Trash City with me tomorrow (that would be Tuesday) and every Tuesday after that at 6-8pm local Exeter time, which would be 1-3pm EST in the United States. All you need to do is visit this link to Phonic.fm and click on the “Listen” icon at that time. The show streams live and if you do tune in, you’ll be happy you did, be sure to send an email to Joe while he’s on the air and let him know you are arriving via the Tulip Tree blog by sending an email to email@example.com during the show!