Rock Against Racism – 1970s
by Roger Huddle
It is very important that we consider the establishment of Rock Against Racism in the wider political and historical context. 1976 was a year of major social upheavals, with the introduction by a Labour government of the Social Contract. It was also the year that saw a real rise of the Nazi National Front.
Red Saunders, a photographer and agitprop theatre performer, and I were both veterans of the 1960s cultural struggles, Vietnam, May 1968, hippies, the summer of love, Ginsberg, the Black Power movement. We were also big music fans, and loved great artists such as Dylan, Country Joe and the Fish, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin.
We had talked about the idea of a one-off gig against the rise of racism, and considered calling it Rock Against Racism. However, it remained just an idea until August 1976, when Eric Clapton made a sickening drunken declaration of support for Enoch Powell (the racist former Tory minister famous for his ‘rivers of blood’ campaign against immigration) at a gig in Birmingham.
Clapton’s speech was all the more disgusting because he had his first hit with a cover of reggae star Bob Marley’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’. In reply we wrote a letter to the New Musical Express and signed it, along with two members of Kartoon Klowns.
We finished the letter by saying that we were launching a movement called Rock Against Racism (RAR), and anyone outraged should write to us and join. We received hundreds of replies.
The founders of RAR were all soul fans, but what really propelled it into what became a mass movement was the explosion of punk. Our slogans were ‘Reggae, Soul, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jazz, Funk, Punk – Our Music’ and ‘NF=No Fun’ (this in response to the Sex Pistols’ record ‘No future’).
What also gave RAR the political context to become much bigger was the establishment of the Anti Nazi League in 1977. Together the ANL and RAR were able to build a really mass movement against the Nazis. The carnival in Victoria Park with the Clash, Tom Robinson and Steel Pulse attracted 85,000, and received fantastic coverage in NME. Twenty five thousand came to the Northern Carnival in Manchester, which had The Buzzcocks, Graham Parker and the Rumour, and Misty in Roots. The Brockwell Park event with Elvis Costello and Aswad had 100,000, and 26,000 heard Aswad and The Specials in Leeds.
RAR also had a fanzine, Temporary Hoarding. It was the only really revolutionary cultural paper in Britain then or at any time. It included interviews with Johnny Rotten, the Clash and Aswad, it raised the issue of Ireland, and always argued against the despair that dominated punk music.
Today the Nazis in the BNP still see all popular music as ‘jungle music’, although they can’t say that openly. It is still anathema to them because it’s multiracial in its essence. As long as the Nazis exist we must challenge them. That is why it is critically important that Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) and Unite Against Fascism are built, enjoyed and supported.
Love Music Hate Racism – 2004
by Lee Billingham
There were a couple of main inspirations behind launching the Unity festivals. Firstly, there’s been an impressive tradition in Britain of music playing a significant part in the fight against fascism – Rock Against Racism (RAR), for instance.
We also found – having launched Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) – that there are hundreds of artists who are passionately anti-racist and anti-fascist, and want to do something. And beyond them there are many music lovers who understand that what the BNP is about is a threat to everybody – that the multiracial, multicultural music scene is something through which we can express our unity, and which can isolate the Nazis.
The main carnival is taking place in London because we feel that this is where one of the greatest dangers is in terms of BNP electoral success. An election win in the London Assembly elections would obviously give them a platform from which to spout their filth and encourage racist violence.
We know that throughout Britain there is a mass movement of people opposed to the BNP that we can mobilise, in part through the music festivals. The public impact of these kind of events will inspire people to get out and vote – because the BNP thrive on a low turnout.
In London The Libertines are headlining and David Gray is also playing. As well as these big names we really have something for everyone – the best in every type of music in Britain today. This again visibly emphasises our unity and our diversity.
We’re also expecting Mick Jones from The Clash, Misty in Roots and Tom Robinson. We do want to explicitly link what we’re doing today with what happened in the late 1970s. Part of what we want to encourage through LMHR is breaking down false barriers between musical genres put up by the music industry. Whereas RAR mixed with reggae, LMHR mixes grime and eski with indie punk, bhangra and hip-hop.
Part of the enthusiasm for the scene comes, I think, from the links people make to other movements – opposition to the war, and to this Labour government more generally. Without wanting to overstate it and to proclaim the birth of ‘the new punk’, acts like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, or emerging new guitar bands out of London and elsewhere (like The Libertines), have an attitude of questioning authority, of anti-materialism, and there is something of a return to the idea of ‘DIY culture’ – whether that means forming a band in your garage or making tunes on a Sony PlayStation.
The other lead we want to take from RAR is that we want LMHR to be a vibrant movement from below – that people go away from the centrally organised carnivals inspired to set up their own gigs and events.
London LMHR/Unity Festival
12 noon-8pm, Sunday 6 June,
Finsbury Park, north London
Entry is free.
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