Just around the corner from Edgware Road Tube Station, where the constant grind of inner-city traffic struggles against the roar of the Westway flyover, as it stretches up over Marylebone and continues its journey across west London, there is a sign at the entrance to a pedestrian underpass proudly proclaiming it as the Joe Strummer Subway. It is a sign as conspicuous as it is fitting: the ex front man of the Clash is after all the man who, in 'London's Burning,' growled the ironic verse:
I'm up and down the Westway, in and out the lights, What a great traffic system, it's so bright!
Descend into the underpass and you'll find the cool gloom, seemingly left undisturbed since the 1960s, given illumination by two kiosks. One of these is a news kiosk; the other, emblazoned with the same Dazzle camouflage used by British and American battleships during World War I, is the Subway Gallery.
This unique and innovative art space is the brainchild of artist Robert Gordon McHarg III, and since the 6th of June 2006 it has served to engage the local community and passers by with a diverse and thought-provoking selection of art. As well as the main kiosk space, McHarg has made use of one wall of the pedestrian underpass - renamed the Black Wall - as a public space for showcasing artists' work.
McHarg is also the man responsible for giving the title Joe Strummer Subway to the underpass where Strummer used to busk, done on the 22nd of Decmber 2009 to commemorate the 7th anniversary of Strummer's passing. Since the opening of the Subway gallery in 2006, it has been McHarg's intention to turn this previously neglected public space into an 'oasis of creativity', an air pocket of human experience amidst the rush of everyday life. Standing in the hushed calm of the underpass, beneath the continuous, muted rumblings of London and the Westway, the reality of this notion becomes easy to grasp.
Current exhibition Strummertime, which runs until the 28th of May, is a rare opportunity to glimpse some of the raw material from Strummer's legacy. As well as mapping out his life from his early days with the 101ers to his later work with the Mescaleros, archive photos, concert memorabilia and enlarged versions of handwritten set lists, song lyrics and chord progressions piece together a picture of a man who wanted his work to connect with people in a positive way. This fact is finally driven home by a quote from Strummer - originally intended to flash above Times Square - that currently dominates the Black Wall:
GREED IT AIN'T GOING ANYWHERE!
Full details can be found on the Subway Gallery website.