For a person with the musical history of ex-The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite frontman, Mick Jones, he is a very unassuming man. I meet him on a humid afternoon in West London as he and a team of helpers are madly trying to finish putting together the Mick Jones Rock n Roll Public Library — an exhibition of some 10,000 pieces of musical and pop culture memorabilia that Jones has been collecting since childhood. While I wait for my time to speak with the man, as he poses for a photo shoot with a London paper and finishes putting pieces of jewellery into a glass case in a room titled American Artefacts, his press officer relays to him: ‘Southampton University want to offer you an honorary doctorate.’ Jones’ response is: ‘Why would I want to do that? I haven’t done anything.’ But that’s far from the truth.
Mick Jones is the guitarist and vocalist from The Clash – the group widely described as ‘the only band that matters’, whose politicised lyrics and musical experimentation continues to influence musicians to this day.
In the 80s he formed Big Audio Dynamite to critical and social acclaim, and currently performs in Carbon/Silicon with Generation X’s Tony James. He’s also a renowned producer, having helmed The Libertines’ breakthrough album ‘Up The Bracket’ and Hard Fi’s ‘Stars Of CCTV’.
It is less than an hour until the media and other invited guests will arrive for the exhibition opening and Jones is just beginning to place the individual contents of a box of old cameras into an upright glass case.
‘We’re not ready, as you can see,’ he says, but is more than happy to talk as he works.
‘The basic idea of all this was that I had all this stuff and I thought ‘it doesn’t do me any good if it doesn’t do anyone else any good’.
‘I’m trying to put something back; give people something that they can enjoy. I get a lot of enjoyment out of my stuff. It jogs my memory. And when people see it, they have their own personal memory, their own trip; it makes them think about things in their life.’
There certainly are a lot of touchstones of cultural value that visitors will relate to around us – from a signed Beatles poster, to gold records, tour passes, posters, records, clothing, photos and too much more to begin to list.
And that’s not to mention the monetary value. In any auction room or even on eBay these items would be worth a fortune, but Jones is unconcerned about such things.
Nor is he worried about any damage that may occur from the extraordinary opportunity he is offering attendees to handle and even copy items with a giant scanner.
‘It’s only stuff,’ he says.
‘I wouldn’t be worried about it. It’s only here to enjoy while it’s here.
‘That’s just the kind of person I am, you know. When we first started (setting up) someone asked if I wanted to make lists (of all the items), or just wing it. And of course we’re winging it.’
But despite the items’ intrinsic value – and sometimes intensely personal nature, like the hand-written note from Joe Strummer, probably once slipped under a hotel room door, admitting defeat and asking Jones for a reconciliation – to him it just ‘is what it is’ and he remains oblivious to, and untouched by, its ‘worth’.
All Mick Jones is concerned about is ‘doing something with it’.
‘People don’t really have ‘stuff’ in the same way as they used to’ he explains, ‘They put all their music on MP3 and they don’t have the space to put ‘stuff’. Or they put it in storage and then go and visit it on the weekends, instead of visiting their parents.
‘It’s part of the dissolution of society, in some way. If we can, I want to redress that,’ he says.
‘Around the turn of the century I started to want to share (what I had) in some way. I felt compelled to do something. I’ve always been a person who likes to try and do things, and I believe the only way to do something is to actually do it. Believing in that is how I ended up doing this.’
But more than a social remedy, and probably most interestingly to his many fans, Mick Jones’ Rock n Roll Public Library is his new musical project.
‘This is my music at the moment. It’s a big musical arrangement, it seriously is.
‘It’s an extension of the music, but in a visual sense. It’s like when you close your eyes and listen to music and pictures come into your mind’s eye. That’s what this is,’ he says.
‘It’s very personal. The whole thing inspires me. I wonder sometimes what I’m doing. It’s almost got a life of its own. It makes me all dewey eyed.
‘However, I gotta say that I don’t spend a lot of time getting all dewey eyed and mushy about the ‘old days’.
‘These are the good old days now.’
And while you won’t get a chance to see The Clash, in any incarnation, playing again – ‘(The Clash and the songs) were the best with the guys who knew it best, the guys who did it the first time around’ – he is giving people the chance to play with, or at the least be ‘produced’ by, a member of The Clash during this exhibition.
Mick Jones explains: ‘There are two other rooms here. A live room provided by Strummerville (the musical charity set up in honour of The Clash’s front man Joe Strummer) and the other room is a replica of my studio in Acton.
‘We’re getting people to come in and knock out a few tunes. There are people out there queuing now. And other people will be coming down by prior arrangement.
‘Something will come out of it. We’re inviting people to create something. And then we’ll make a creation out of those creations.’
But don’t any preconceptions of what might come out of it. Jones isn’t just into rock and roll, or political messages.
‘There’s still a lot to be said, and I still like the greats, but I am interested in other stuff as well. I like that Rihanna girl and her song ‘Umbrella’, ella, ella, ella. And that song ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley. I like new shit, I like what’s going on now.
‘I love The Streets. He’s a poet,’ adding, ‘Of course I still listen to Dylan and Bruce.’
And his advice to the musicians out there now – ‘Relax and don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter if they don’t like it.’
And that’s Mick Jones for you, really – the epitome of relaxed.
Rock’n’Roll Public Library, 18 July – 25 August, 2 Acklam Road, Portobello Green, W10 5XL. 11-7 Wednesday-Sunday. Admission is free