Young guns, old rock stars, and a movie set in Spain

Straight to Hell – what’s that?

It’s all about a comedy of errors really! A tall tale of hardened punk and rock stars, big name actors, a Hollywood script – and too much time on their hands! Straight to Hell is a farcical Spaghetti Western, set in the heat of the desert – in Almeria, Spain. Not quite Clint Eastwood, but a stellar cast all the same.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…

The cast is made up of some familiar names in the music industry, who banded together in 1986, to make a movie. The director was Alex Cox, the actor and director best known for his work on the likes of hit movies ‘The Repo Man’ and ‘Sid and Nancy’.

The actors? Joe Strummer – The Clash front-man, Shane MacGowan of The Pogues, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Elvis Costello – not to mention Hollywood A-listers Tim Robbins and John Cusack. A stellar cast indeed…so far, so good.

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What was the idea behind the movie?

Like most big ideas in the 80’s, it all started in London. Strummer, The Pogues, Costello and others had just completed a sell-out concert in aid of The Sandinistas of Nicaragua. The concert was such a roaring success, it was decided to do a tour with all the artists in Nicaragua as a show of solidarity. The idea was touted around all of the record companies and bigwigs of the music industry  – but unfortunately none of them were interested.

At this stage, all of the artists that WERE interested, had cleared a month completely free of commitments – and wondered what they could do instead?

A story, and ideas were required. Fresh from the success of Sid and Nancy, the film producer Alex Cox was quickly drafted in, and jetted off to LA to write up a script, and the film Straight to Hell was born. Ideas were bandied about, but Joe Strummer was determined to get his own way. He wanted to make a serious, all guns blazing Western, and there was only one place for that…

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Destination: Spain

Strummer was already in love with Spain. Andalucia, and in particular San José in the Cabo de Gata, which had been his holiday destination of choice for many years. He knew both Almería and Granada well, having had a sabbatical in the latter city during the death throes of his band The Clash.

Courtney Love, Eddie Tenpole Tudor and others joined the gang and off they set for sunny Spain.

Island Records decided to have a change of heart on the money front and put up roughly a million pounds to fund the project, and it was decided that filming would take place at locations in the old Wild West sets of Tabernas, using the infamous desert landscapes.

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Stars sleeping under stars

Joe Strummer took the role very seriously and in true grit style he decided to sleep out in the desert, wearing his gun holster underneath his jacket, invoking memories of his video for the hit single Love Kills, which was also filmed in Almería.

Strummer might have happily roughed it but the rest of the cast and crew luxuriated in the comfort of the Grand Hotel in Almería city, where the opening scenes were also filmed.

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No rest for the wicked

Then it all went wrong. Comfort ended abruptly when shooting over-ran, and the stars found themselves plunged into the middle of a real-life Fiesta. During the 1980’s the city Fería took place right outside the hotel, situated on the main plaza and thoroughfare. After long arduous, and tedious days of filming under the baking hot desert sun, the cast and crew would return to the hotel to find themselves in the middle of an all night party – too much even for hardened rock stars! The Spanish party mentality almost finished them off, and the only ones to actually enjoy the fiesta were John Cusack and Tim Robbins who had already been kicked off set as they wouldn’t have haircuts due to later filming commitments. They stayed on anyway and simply partied.

The Pogues popular song Fiesta immortalises the nightmare felt by the jobbing actors, and the lyrics perfectly sum up the mood of the time.

Grace Jones and Dennis Hopper

It didn’t end well. Despite the fact that big names such as Grace Jones and Dennis Hopper were flown in for cameos, the relative inexperience of the other actors, the rotten script and rushed time scale meant that the film was, well, a flop.

As rock and roll films go, it’s still worth a watch though – but probably best viewed with your tongue firmly in your cheek. Classic Hollywood it’s definitely NOT!

It’s all summed up really, when Cox once said “Well, it did only take three days to write”.

And the retort? “What took you so long?”!!

The legend lives on

And Joe Strummer?. He continued to return regularly to San José with his family and friends for long holidays.  His untimely death at the age of just 50 (too, too young) didn’t stop the legend living on. Strummer’s legacy is still very much alive and well in Almería. Every year in August to commemorate his birthday, the San Joe Strummer Music Festival takes place. There’s a Facebook page dedicated to just that.

Should you find yourself on holiday in Granada city, make time to find the recently inaugurated Joe Strummer Plaza, as well as the more famous sights on your Granada holiday list.

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