We Dont Need This Fascist Groove Thang (Rock Against Racism)

Strangeways here we are !  A crowd was gathering outside Manchester’s Victorian prison getting ready to Rock Against Racism, to “Stop The Nazis”. If you had been to other rallies/marches like this, had spent any time on a picket line, you knew that an amount of “hanging about” was a part of the day. It would not be cool for leftist groups to embrace the organizational efficiency characteristic of those bastards we wanted out of here. Stuff will get done…eventually. Now where did I leave that petition ? I liked it like that.

I felt a tug at my sleeve, my attention sought by a small boy, about 8 years old, who wanted a “stop & chat” ( © Larry David) & to show me his toy car. This was Keith from Liverpool. We had met earlier in the year when I had been involved in & he had attended the creche at the National Womens’ Conference. A ad hoc bunch of male volunteers were responsible for up to 200 children of feminist mothers in a school donated for the weekend by the city council. It was two days with a lot of laughter. The cloud of marijuana smoke wafting from the kitchen across to the canteen may have helped the kids to chill the hell out but no-one was hurt & we didn’t lose even one of them. L.P.Hartley nailed it…”the past…foreign country…they do things differently there”.

How great was it that this bright-eyed, smiling young boy had remembered me from the games of football I had “organized” (seriously, that is funny !) that weekend ? How gratifying that our paths should cross while sexual stereotypes were being challenged & Fascism confronted ? The forces of reaction were massing behind their Warrior Queen Thatcher. When the time came to take to the barricades I knew that my crew would stand fast. This thoughtful, friendly Scouser  & his two mothers would be welcome alongside us. “Power to the Correct People” ( © John Belushi).

We were showing out for the Northern Carnival Against the Nazis, a quickly organized complement to the momentous day out & concert in London. Rock Against Racism & their allies the Anti Nazi League found they were able to engage & mobilize surprising numbers of the youth by hooking them up with a chance to have a punky reggae party in a park. It’s modern to view political commitment in terms of social pathology. Man, that neo-con bullshit, like trickle down economics, was just as wrong the last time they tried to put it on us. Manchester has a significant tradition of radicalism reaching back to the Luddism of early industrialization. The 40,000 people who rallied, marched then danced knew they were part of it & were adding to it.The kids are alright.

The Buzzcocks are, undoubtedly, punk legends. They are remembered for singles which linked a lyrical romanticism to minimalist punk power chords. Pete Shelley & co-founder Howard Devoto were not just early adopters  they were on point for the Sex Pistols when it was more about the fury than the filth, fixing up 2 momentous, celebrated Manchester gigs for the new sensations. They trailblazed with the independent release of their climacterical debut EP “Spiral Scratch”, following up with “Orgasm Addict” & “What Do I Get ?”. Triple Wallop right there. Two LPs & 5 singles in a busy 1978 made them the pride of Manchester. This was a hometown gig , “Love You More” was the current record & the band just rocked Alexandra Park.

Steel Pulse, Handsworth Revolutionaries, had played at the London rally in April. We had watched their set from the sound desk, perched above the packed,rippling, excited crowd. On this day I found Pulse’s soundman Horace, an old friend, before the band’s set. His dreads were coming along. I remember the Michael Jackson ‘fro. He was not long back from a European tour with the Wailers, not sure what day it was & would have to guess what town we were in. Still, if you are not smoking the best weed on a Bob Marley tour then I don’t know where you would be. I left Horace to his job. I had spent all day in the company of 4 women, skanking with the sorority, bubbling to a Brummie band of brothers was the very thing to make a good day great.

The band had always hit the spot. “Handsworth Revolution” is a fine debut LP, remember that 12″ of “Ku Klux Klan” ? I guess that we had always seen them as straight out of Handsworth Wood Boys School, local youth made good.Those big support gigs had pushed them along & here was a more assured, confident, mature combo.Those impressive songs stretched & flowed seamlessly into serious dub versions. This was the day we discovered that Steel Pulse were about to go international & that felt right.

My wife wandered off to explore the grounds of the inner city park & returned with the cherry on the icing on the day’s Bakewell tart. Our 85 mile journey North from Birmingham had been sweet & dandy, a cheap ticket on a well organized fleet of coaches. My 19 year old kid brother & his girlfriend had made rather more effort to hitch hike the 100 miles West. Good one ! It’s a family affair, fighting the good fight together, Rick & Marlene doing exactly the same stupid shit that we did when we were teenagers. We were proud of them. They met our friends, we fed them, got them high, slipped them a few quid & wished them luck on their journey home. ( They did not have it, they slept on the platform of a railway station ).

I was in London in May 1977, staying with friends, looking at the results of the local council elections. The right-wing party of the day (there’s always one), the National Front, had attracted a disturbing amount of votes. This would not stand, it was time for action, time to shut these fuckers down. In August 1977 anti-fascists & local youth confronted a march in London at the “Battle of Lewisham”. There were injuries on both sides, the NF’s police protectors used riot shields outside of Northern Ireland for the first time.  This seemed to us to be the way forward. Our own involvement was through  the workplace, trades union & community groups, now the racist right must be confronted, challenged & denied at every opportunity. What can a poor boy do ?

For the next 2 years the Anti Nazi League & Rock Against Racism worked effectively alongside each other. The showpiece concerts were the largest political gatherings of the time. Across the UK the best gigs in town were organised by R.A.R. The punk/reggae mix of the music reflected the multicultural ideology which reached precisely the same young people the NF hoped to influence. The 1979 election was a disaster for the far right. Thatcher’s Tories invaded their heartland with shifts in immigration policies (a tactic being used in the present day). An egotistical display of hubris by the National Front produced 300 candidates, all of whom got their arses kicked. It is, luckily, a characteristic of these fantasists that if you give them enough rope they do tend to hang themselves. I am biased but I do think that it was the harassment & challenge of the anti-fascist opposition, denying credibility to their actions & their policies, which kept them out of mainstream politics.

The Front were reduced to a bankrupt, squabbling rump. In the West Midlands stronghold an MI5 controlled organiser tipped off the ANL about activities hoping that the resulting punch ups would generate at least some publicity. It is the nature of single issue pressure groups that perceived success can lead to a loss of support. The ANL, a group run by the Socialist Workers Party, attracted mass appeal. The essentially exploitative nature of the division of labour within a capitalist economy…that’s a harder sell. In the next decade it was the Thatcher government which pursued policies which were anti-worker, anti-immigrant, even, in her own words, anti-society. An extra-parliamentary movement with a wider view than fighting fascism, banning the bomb & who knew how to organize a good party, could have been useful. Rock Against Racism seized the time & did the right thing at the right time. The amount of support it received created a grass roots energy for direct action. It incorporated the punk do-it-yourself attitude & made going to a gig into a political act. As my favourite Marxist said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member”, but in this case I was happy to make an exception.

A Day In the Park (Stop the Nazis)

In 1976 I was 23, married & almost a decade long adherence to Hippiedom made me too old to be a Punk. The four young guns, just 16 years old, who treated our flat as a second home/crash pad were however in the right place at the right time. These Bowie/Roxy Music kids were just starting to go to clubs & it was there that they saw the Damned, the Clash and the Pistols. After rifling through our record collection for so long now it was their turn to introduce new music to us. They loved this switch around & we did too,Talking Heads, Television, Buzzcocks and ,of course, The Ramones were all friends to our turntable.

I bought “Horses”, Patti Smith’s debut album on the day of its release. My wife cut her hair & bought a leather jacket, my first non-flared jeans of the decade were not far behind. Of course we knew from our friends that this was about more than a new fashion. The history of the Punk Wars, initially chronicled as a moral panic by an oppositional media & even now by those who were there does seem to sometimes misguidedly emphasise haircuts rather than attitudes. Fuelled by the energy from cheap amphetamine Punk was about doing music for yourself & extending that ethic to get other things done, your big brother’s hippie shit was worn out & it was time for a new generation, blank or otherwise to have their say. A Saturday night in Amsterdam where the  “punks” were an expensive fashion parade showed us how serious our friends were. A Patti Smith concert was Art with a heart. A scorching band with a shared connection to the audience. She was serious, joyous & G-L-O-R-I-O-U-S.

Index of /wp-content/uploads/2018/07Punk brought a new force into British politics. In the 70s my own activism was through my trade union. A fast track on to national committees felt like progress but monolithic bureaucracy & archaic attitudes felt like a separation from the people I wanted to help, my workmates & that would not stand. The National Front, a bunch of perverted neo-nazis , were becoming more prominent. The Anti-Nazi League was formed in 1977 & linking with the already existent Rock against Racism it succeeded instantly. Young punks knew what side they were on instinctively. This was my kind of politics. confront the Nazis with 3 chords and a dub reggae beat as the soundtrack. I was active in the ANL, organizing gigs, fighting on the street, doing something important. At an anti-Fascist rally turning into a riot we pulled a young teenage boy from the floor. “Hello Miss” he said smiling to my teacher wife. “Go Home NOW” she sternly said to one of her class. I was glad the kid was safe, pleased that he knew the importance of showing out against these thugs & amused at my wife’s off-duty activities becoming known at her school.

Rock against Racism had the best new bands at the best gigs & in 1978 they went national. A Carnival Against Racism was organised, a march to Victoria Park in Hackney where X Ray Spex, Tom Robinson Band, Steel Pulse & the Clash would play. No-one was gonna miss this. We travelled down from Birmingham for the weekend. The bunch of merry punks joined us on the Saturday. My friends in London knew the Birmingham boys and wanted to show them a good time in the big city. The next morning there was no chance of getting 15 people in the same place, in the same shape, never mind walking 10 or so miles. A decision was made. We would go to the gig in the van, picking up friends along the way.

The History of Rock Against Racism | Redbrick MusicIt was a massive turn out. These were the biggest public rallies of the century. People were streaming in from every direction. The atmosphere was celebratory. Today the city was ours. A couple of our posse fell under the nearest tree, refreshments had been taken again. We arranged a meeting place for later and went off to have fun. Any crowd of 100,000 people inspires awe. When they are all there for the same reason, all in it together, it’s the greatest thing. “Sing if you’re glad to be gay” said the Tom Robinson Band & we were all happy to do so. I had worked and played football with Steel Pulse’s soundman, Horace so we went over to the sound desk to say hello. He was well pleased to see two old friends & we found places by the sound desk to see the Pulse, a band we had known about from their start. Best view in the house over 50,000 heads bobbing to “Ku Klux Klan”. Those Birmingham boys were making good. It was the Clash everyone wanted to see, the size of the crowd were gonna make it an event whatever. We said our goodbyes to Horace and re-joined our friends. It was time to POGO !

Clash/Buzzcocks/X-Ray Spex – Rock Against Racism/Anti Nazi League 1978  Carnival PosterStarting with “Complete Control” the Clash were our band playing for their audience. London was burning with positive energy not boredom. Everyone was anticipating “White Riot”, a riot of our own & when it came the release & celebration was cathartic. This was by no means a riot but there were enough of us & it could have been. The British political world had shifted that day. All who were there went back to confront and isolate racism. The NF, so emboldened by resurgence in the local elections of 1977 were smashed in the 1979 general election. The youth had done the right thing. It felt then & still does like the most significant gig I have ever attended & you know what they say, some of it was true.

Those punky boys ? I am still in contact with 3 of the 4. Unfortunately one of them, the only black punk in Birmingham, a talented animator, didn’t make it. he is fondly remembered & much missed. Three of us shared a flat in London as the self styled “Last Gang In Town”. We were a rubbish gang. For 2 years (until 2002) I lived with the other in Birmingham helping to repair an old house. He was unhappy then having little contact with his children but, through their own choice, they are back with him & he’s cool. C  looks after his elderly folks who helped him break a 20 year heroin habit more than we did. M lives with the woman he always loved, just 20 years later than he should have. These two men are the best people I have ever met. I am proud to call them my friends and to have shared so much of their lives.