Joe Ambrose works as a writer, filmmaker, and arts agitator. A member of Islamic Diggers, described as "rai-hop terrorists" by The Wire, he co-produced the CD 10%; File Under Burroughs which features tracks by Paul Bowles, Bill Laswell, The Master Musicians of Joujouka, Marianne Faithfull, Chuck Prophet, John Cale, Scanner, and William Burroughs.
After a turbulent career as a Dublin student activist - working on Trotskyist, feminist, and anti-imperialist campaigns - he ran The Irish Writer's CoOp in the 80s. This writers collective published early work by Neil Jordan. Sebastian Barry, and Desmond Hogan. Ambrose edited - for the Co Op - an anthology of new Irish short stories and three volumes of modern Irish drama.
While working with the Co Op he met Eamon Carr, drummer with Horslips. This meeting brought about Joe's first dalliances with the music industry via tours, pranks, and albums.
Throughout the 80s Ambrose had a career as a literary journalist, interviewing, amongst others, Nina Simone. Nick Cave, Anthony Burgess, James Ellroy, Michael Herr, Bill Wyman, and William Gibson. He became a controversial columnist with In Dublin, the city's alternative listings magazine.
His first book, in 1981, was a biography of Dan Breen, the I.RA leader who started the Irish War of Independence in 1919. The history of Irish separatism remains an interest, and he has written three books on Irish history.
While working as a journalist he met a musician, Frank Rynne, who became a major artistic collaborator. Ambrose managed Rynne's punk rock band, The Baby Snakes, as they made a series of albums and singles. The Baby Snakes recorded Four Toe Tapping Greats, a homage to Johnny Cash. Ambrose, along with the band, subsequently met with Cash, who endorsed the band's work.
It was as manager of The Baby Snakes that Ambrose moved to London in 1986. He lived in a Brixton squat - the emergent hip hop scene he observed made a profound impression and much of his work in the 90s was inspired by the remorseless urban beat and style absorbed from Brixton's Afro Caribbean community.
Returning briefly to Dublin in 1992, Ambrose helped organise The Here to Go Show, a celebration of the wild cultural experimentation of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Collaborators on this included Iggy Pop, Hamri The Painter of Morocco, Marianne Faithfull, The Master Musicians of Joujouka, and Burroughs. The Here To Go Show gave rise to the movie Destroy All Rational Thought. This was subsequently issued as a sell-through video in Europe and the U.S.A. It is now available on DVD.
Man From Nowhere, the book which accompanied The Here To Go Show, was written by Ambrose, Rynne, and Terry Wilson. Now considered something of a collector's item, it features handwritten texts by Burroughs, Iggy Pop, Keith Haring, Paul Bowles, and others. The album 10%; File Under Burroughs developed out of the work undertaken at this time.
In 1993 Ambrose helped launch The China White Show, an anti-art exhibition involving graffiti artist China White, William Burroughs, Genesis P. Orridge, and Hakim Bey. This project was catalogued in Radio Alamut, a counterculture zine featuring Patrick McCabe, Allen Ginsberg, Negativland, Stanley Booth, Lydia Lunch and Ira Cohen.
In 1993 Ambrose also began managing The Master Musicians of Joujouka with Frank Rynne. He conceived and realised a major political publicity campaign on behalf of the Musicians - whose copyrights were being undermined by powerful music industry figures like Philip Glass - leading to a global debate on ethics in the corrupt World Music industry.
Ambrose recenlty jold a Greek journalist that, "while the Master Musicians are probably the best-known Moroccan musicians in the world, they’re virtually unknown within the country. People in Ksar el Kebir, the nearest city to Joujouka, know all about them of course. That’s where Hamri, their “founding father” in terms of there being a recognizable band putting out records and doing gigs, came from... I had lunch with a very senior and well-connected member of the Moroccan Royal Family last year. This individual made it clear to me that Joujouka was not part of the Moroccan cultural heritage. I argued otherwise to no avail."
His books include two novels for Pulp Books, Serious Time (1998) and Too Much Too Soon (2000). his punk rock books for Omnibus Press are Moshpit Culture (2001), an investigation of covert punk culture from inside the moshpit, and Gimme Danger (2004), a biography of punk icon Iggy Pop. He contributed, along with Brion Gysin and Genesis P. Orridge, to Flickers of the Dreamachine (1996). His short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies published by Serpent’s Tail, Hodder and Stoughton, etc.
In 2000 Islamic Diggers promoted No Expectations, an evening of 60s Super 8 movies by Anita Pallenberg accompanied by a live DJ soundscape created by the Diggers and Anita. These films, featuring Pallenberg's pals like Keith Richards, Allen Klein, Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones were shown at the ICA and The Chamber of Pop Culture in London. During these years Islamic Diggers toured extensively in Europe.
Ambrose has performed live with Lydia Lunch, John Cale, Daniel Figgis, John Giorno, Scanner, Howard Marks, Tav Falco, Richard Hell, and The Master Musicians of Joujouka.
In 2005 he appeared, with Chrissie Hynde, on a BBC Radio 2 documentary about Iggy Pop. He contributes regularly to www.outsideleft.com - where he's Literary Editor; he has also written for The Guardian, Time Out, The Idler, The Irish Times, and Metal Hammer. In 2007 he was invited by Iggy Pop to write the sleeve notes for an Iggy and the Stooges DVD, Escaped Maniacs. Chelsea Hotel Manhattan (Headpress) came out in 2007; Ambrose wrote the main text and there were ancillary texts by Ira Cohen, Herbert Huncke, and Barry Miles.
In 2008 Joe Ambrose went to live in Tangier, Morocco, and took time out from writing, performing, and promoting. "I did a bit of DJing in Marrakesh," he recalls, "just to keep my hand in. I'd been living in London for decades and needed a break. I'd dialled a few wrong numbers, personally and professionally, so I sought the freedom of Morocco in order to rearrange my priorities.n I spent a fiar bit of time in Marrakesh and in Ksar El Kebir."
In 2010 he participated in the London gallery show, Dead Fingers talk - The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs. This marked the commencement of his musical collaboration with Portugese duo Alma on an ambitous project inspired by his Chelsea Hotel Manhattan book. The Alma/Joe Ambrose single Radio E/He Also Took That Boat was released in October 2010 with vocals by Arthur Baker and Ira Cohen.
In 2012 Ambrose contributed the essay Festimad to Academy 23, a homage to William Burroughs which also featured Jack Sargeant and Gerard Malanga. He organised FINAL ACADEMY / 2012 with help from Raymond Salvatore Harmon, Gerard Malanga, Liliane Lijn, Tony White and Scanner. His short story, Whatever Happened to the Teenage Dream? Is due for publication shortly in Antibothis, a Portugese literary journal also featuring Scanner, Joe Coleman, Raymond Salvatore Harmon, and Mike Diana.
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"It's an absorbing book. I suppose the phrase 'essential study' may be a little overdone but there is no other way of describing it. Its easy style, its arguments, makes it an involving read." - Peter Somerville Large
on 'Dan Breen and the IRA'