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.

Homegrown Vibrations (British Reggae)

In 1976 we went up to the Notting Hill Carnival, the Bank Holiday celebration of Caribbean culture, for the first time.  West London was rammed, a riot of colour & noise, people dancing in the street to the tune of the Summer, Junior Murvin’s “Police & Thieves”. There was tension bubbling between the youth & the police as we left & the headlines the next day were of riot & trouble. The Clash left that day wanting a riot of their own. We had a fine day out & knew we would return for more of this good stuff.

At this time my wife was teaching in a Birmingham school in which the pupils were predominantly of Afro-Caribbean origin. She took her photos into school to show the kids. There were two reactions. The girls wanted the phone number of a friend of ours who they thought was cute. They also wanted to know where the photos were taken. They did not make the connection between the sight of so many people who were the same colour as they were and the country in which they lived. These children were the first generation of Black Britons & just down the road, in Handsworth, a young group of musicians were adroitly expressing this experience in their tunes.

Steel Pulse were Birmingham’s boys, formed by friends from the Handsworth Wood school. I worked with their sound guy, Horace, & would see him sleep-walk through the mornings after late-night returns from gigs. He brought me the “Nyah Love” single on Anchor Records & the 1977  “Live at the Hope & Anchor” LP on which the band had a track among the pub-rockers & the punks. A contract with Island Records followed & Horace left our office with a contract in his back pocket…the school band done good. The first LP, “Handsworth Revolution” (1978), was just the ticket. There was anger , conviction & some seriously good tunes. “Tribute To The Martyrs” followed, it was so great that a young British reggae band were this good. Punk & Reggae were a good fit, the band found a wide audience.

Steel Pulse went international, the sound got bigger, the songs, while still roots reggae, a little less specific, more universal. This clip of the first single “Ku Klux Klan”, a warning about the dangers on British streets for young black men, shows that Pulse had got it going on right from the beginning. I always loved to hear them dub it up in concert & they do ir here so smooth & sweet. Last year I bought their  “Reggae Greats” compilation on Island & reminded myself of just how good they were.

Fast forward to Carnival 1983. We are in a packed park, Meanwhile Gardens. An afternoon of people watching, eating  dancing and  osmosing the vibes was geared towards arriving at the park in time to see Aswad. Another group of school friends who played reggae about the British experience. Aswad took a little longer than Pulse to make their mark but Notting Hill was their manor, their crowd. As dusk became night Aswad played to their people. The group had added a horn section (including veteran players Vin Gordon and “Tan Tan Thornton) which reinforced the confidence, the assertiveness of the music. These attributes were shared by the audience. There was delight and celebration that the local boys were this good. Every tune was a winner. Extra percussion arrived onstage for a soca tune, it was received with such abandon that the band played it twice. The Rockers  Medley of hits inna Aswad style added to the feeling that this night was unique. As we danced and cheered together I have never known such a connection, a unity of audience and musicians. When it was over we said our goodbyes to people we had danced with and would never meet again. It was more than smiles that lit the August night it was the glow from a tiny patch of West London.

An LP “Live & Direct” was released of the gig, a fine memento. I have seen Aswad play at festivals, on the night of my 30th birthday, at a Sunsplash & one superb night when the roots rockers went uptown to the Royal Albert Hall. They never disappointed but that August night was unforgettable.

We were spoiled in London in the 1980s. We came away from Aswad shows convinced that we had seen the best of British reggae & then we would see Misty In Roots. Their 1979 “Live at Counter Eurovision” LP had a lot of airplay on John Peel’s radio show & deservedly so. Misty, from North West London were a wonderful live band. This clip is too short but it was pretty much this gentle, uplifting chug all the way. It was truly a spiritual thing, no show just a heartfelt exposition of their truth. Man, you could not get a Rizla paper between them & Aswad when they were at their best. One night I saw Misty steal a big show at the Brixton Academy from Johnny Osbourne with a great set. On a summer Sunday afternoon, after a free concert in a Brixton park, I would have floated all the way home if I could only remember where I lived.

I saw many of the great Jamaican artists, listened to more of them. These homegrown acts all made some equally fine music (a mention here for Dennis Bovell & Matumbi),  we were able to see them more often. Seeing Steel Pulse in Birmingham & Aswad in West London were absolutely exhilarating times as their crowds celebrated the local boys made good.

A Day In the Park (Stop the Nazis)

I was too old to be a punk. I was 23, married and had been too committed to being a hippie for the last 10 years. Through someone’s older brother there were four 16 year old boys who used our flat as a second home/crash pad. They were Bowie/Roxy boys just starting to go to clubs in 1976. It was there that they saw the Damned, the Clash and the Pistols. They loved bringing me this new music after using our record collection for so long.
I loved it as well. Talking Heads, Television and ,of course, The Ramones were all friends to our turntable. I bought “Horses” by Patti the day it came out. The next day my wife cut her hair and bought a leather jacket. My first non-flared jeans were not far behind. Through the punks we knew it was about more than fashion. All this history of the Punk Wars reflected through the media that didn’t get it is misguided. It was about doing music yourself, about cheap amphetamine, about no longer buying your big bro’s worn out hippie shit. A weekend in Amsterdam where the “punks” were an expensive fashion parade showed us how serious our friends were.


We saw Patti Smith twice. She was serious and joyous. She was Art with a heart. A scorching band with a real connection to us.
Throughout the 70s I was very politically involved, mostly through my trades union. I was being fast tracked on to national committees but, as I progressed, feeling separation from the people I wanted to help, my workmates. Punk brought a new force into politics. The National Front, a bunch of perverted neo-nazis , were becoming more prominent. As a reaction to this the Anti-Nazi league formed 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 and fighting on the street. Doing something important.
At one anti-Fascist rally, turning into a riot, we pulled a small boy from the floor. “Hello Miss” he said smiling to my teacher wife. “Go Home NOW” she sternly said to one of her class, as I fell about laughing.

                         
Rock against Racism decided to go national. A march in London followed by a gig in Hackney .X Ray Spex, Tom Robinson Band, Steel Pulse and THE CLASH .No-one was gonna miss this.
We came down from Birmingham for the weekend. The bunch of merry punks joined us on the Saturday. Boy did we party on that night. 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 to the gig. A decision was made. We would go to the gig in the van, picking up friends along the way.
It was a massive turn out. These were the biggest public rallies since 1840. 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. the music started “2-4-6-8 Motorway”, “Glad To Be Gay”, crowd pleasers. I had worked and played football with Steel Pulse’s soundman, Horace. We went over to the sound desk to say hello. He was well pleased to see two old friends and “Bingo” we were sat 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.
It was the Clash everyone wanted to see and 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 !
They didn’t let us down. They raged through “Janie Jones”, “London’s Burning”, “Garage Band”, the first album. The whole crowd just went nuts for the anthem of the whole day. All of us there will never forget “White Riot”. The park just went nuts. It was not a riot but the point was there could be if we were not heard. Unforgettable, the soundtrack to 30th April 1978.

For many it had been a long day travelling and marching. Some of our brave crew had never really shaken the morning’s hangover. Lucky we were driving against the traffic and were not far from our friends’ place in Greenwich. The British political world had shifted. All who were there went back to confront and isolate racism. The NF were broken. One – Nil to the good guys.

Those punky boys ? I am still in contact with 3 of the 4. Unfortunately one of them, the only black punk in Birmingham, had a breakdown in the 80s. 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 but is now a very happy man He lost his children and now, through their choice, he has them back.
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.