Sunday, October 16, 2016


Fresh from a re-examination of the cultural and political youth revolutionary movements in or around the period 1966-1970 in the Previous Post, 'Walls Come Tumbling Down' picks up the story with a bumper 56opp oral history of British music and politics 1978-1992 through three important linked  progressive movements - Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge - that emerged to combat the rise of racism amongst the young and fight against Thatcherism in all its aspects.

Based on more than 100 interviews, this book could not be more relevant for the times we are living in now. Once more racism is on the rise in our country. There is a lot of talk about why there are no politics in music anymore. New movements will emerge and the valuable experiences documented in this seminal volume must be used, digested and put to work in a new wave of righteous indignation and great tunes.

If you were there at the time: READ THIS BOOK. Its like watching a movie and from Para 1 you're getting flashbacks, the metallic taste of speed, the grim remembering of the Thatcher years, Northern Ireland, the Miner's Strike, football hooliganism, the National Front alongside the shock and awe of punk, the bounce and brilliance of 2 Tone, the engagement of musicians in leading the charge for a better world, culminating in the massive Nelson Mandela concert that in no small way contributed to NM's eventual release. Thatcher went, the wall came down. 

If you weren't there at the time: READ THIS BOOK. You'll catch your breath in wonderment that such things were possible. Can it happen again? Over to you.

Rock Against Racism was triggered by Eric Clapton's drunken ramblings at a concert in Birmingham in 1976, reinforced by comments later in a Melody Maker interview, praising Enoch Powell as a prophet and called for effing "wogs" to leave the country - a musician whose work is based on black music and who has just had a big hit with Marley's 'I Shot The Sheriff'. 

Red Saunders, a cultural activist and Sunday Times  photographer, heard of the incident and quickly penned a  sharply-pointed letter which was published in all the main weekly music newspapers.It concluded: Rock was and still can be a real progressive culture.. We want to organise a rank-and-file movement against the racist poison in rock music.' 

You were encouraged to write to ROCK AGAINST RACISM. The spark became a fuse and, on cue came 'punk' - a movement that was finely poised - anarchistic, rowdy, offensive rock but with a violent edge, flirting with swastika armbands from the dressing-up box. RAR gigs which got bigger and bolder as the movement gained force, attracted disaffected frustrated youth of all persuasions, with a contingent of NF, a contradiction that peaked around Sham 69 and the Sham Army.


RAR along with the Anti-Nazi league [who formed  in 77 to defeat the NF electorally), Joe Strummer and Jimmy Pursey speaking out, won the day, as a punky-reggae alliance found common solidarity and carried the message across the nation, aided by the print shop and distribution network of the Socialist Workers Party. RAR were against authoritarian politics and dogmatic leftism. This was a movement driven by writers, artists and bands - analogous to the Prague movement in 1968. 

Its an inspiring and educational example of ground-up action as is the wonderful 2-Tone movement, brainchild of Jerry Dammers - out of the Midlands, black and white musicians together, The Specials, The Beat, The Selector, UB40 plus Madness plus girl bands adding their voices to a style and groove that rocked the nation, a rocket that crashed and burned with style when The Special's 'Ghost Town' was at Number One in the Charts.

Paul Weller and Billy Bragg joined forces and, in the summer of 1985, Red Wedge was conceived, a loose coalition of artists with a simple remit: to get Thatcher out of office and to return the Labour Party to power with Neil Kinnock at the helm, offering to do national tours under the banner  'Don't Get Mad. get Organised'. 

This populist movement which directly aligned itself to the Labour Party, aimed to change society from within. When Kinnock lost and Thatcher returned to power, their realigned work continued to lay the foundations for what became New Labour. Bad taste in mouth given what's occurred since but again a valuable movement that has lessons for Corbyn and Momentum.

Final Words in the book belong to Annajoy David, vice chair of the Youth Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND):
'This whole period put culture at the centre of politics and helped to define the language of politics in a way that the country hadn't seen happen before. You had thousands of young people out on the streets with something to say who had taken politics into their lives. It helped to define a generation who brought together culture and politics to stand up and say something about the government of the day. Was it better to do nothing and let the fascists go unchallenged? Was it better to do nothing and let Margaret Thatcher go unchallenged? Should we have stayed silent? Of course we shouldn't. We had a duty to stand up and call people to account. That's what democracy is about. Walls did come tumbling down.' 

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