Having been invited to open the ‘Love Music, Hate Racism‘ festival in Kenilworth at the weekend, below is the transcript of the speech that I made. Special ‘thank yous’ to the organisers and everyone that supported the event…
Unlike this summer, the summer of 1976 was the hottest since records began.
Things weren’t just hot because of the sweltering temperatures: temperatures were also rising on the streets because of the growing spectre of racism.
In London that year, the far-right, neo-Nazi National Front attracted over 100,000 votes in the local government elections.
Whilst at the Notting Hill carnival, the rise in the levels of policing from 200 officers in 1975 to 1,600 in 1976 resulted in confrontations between London’s black community and the Metropolitan Police. Unsurprisingly, Britain’s tabloids reported these events as ‘race riots’ the following day.
In music, David Bowie was photographed giving a Nazi salute from a limousine whilst at the Reading festival, a number of black artists were forced to leave the stage following a barrage of racist abuse.
And then on the 5th August 1976, Eric Clapton began his set at the Birmingham Odeon by asking whether there were any foreigners in the audience. Asking them to raise their hands, Clapton declared, “I think that we should all vote for Enoch”.
For those of you too young to know who he was referring to, Enoch Powell was a Conservative MP whose name became a byword for racism, having declared in 1968 that within 15 to 20 years Britain would see the white man fall to the whip hand of the black man. In what became known as his ‘rivers of blood’ speech, Powell concluded by stating that continued immigration would end in racial confrontation and bloodshed on the streets of Britain.
Describing Powell as a ‘prophet’, it was the response to Clapton’s comments that bring us here today. Musicians and political activists were mobilised, and as a direct response to Clapton, the Rock Against Racism movement was born. Hastily arranging small gigs that saw black reggae artists play gigs alongside white punks, less than a year later, the Rock Against Racism movement was drawing more than a 100,000 people to a gig in London’s East End where the Clash headlined.
In the words of one of my favourite bands the Long Blondes though, “that was then and this is now” and in the summer of 2008, Britain is a different place to what it was back then.
On the plus side, racism has been largely marginalised from general society where through good legislation and various initiatives, such views and attitudes are no longer accepted as being the norm.
Marginalisation however doesn’t mean that racism has been eradicated.
Unlike 1976, Britain today is a far more diverse place where communities are no longer identified solely by their skin colour or ethnicity. These haven’t gone away, but nowadays we have a much greater focus on religion or nationality for instance, and with this, so the markers and discourses of racism have changed.
Take for instance how the BNP focused on Muslim communities, campaigning for the local elections in May 2006 under the banner of ‘Islam Referendum Day’. And let’s not forget that the BNP won a seat on the London Assembly this year and are the official party of opposition in the Barking & Dagenham council chambers.
Or how the Daily Mail and Express repeatedly publish stories about immigrants and asylum seekers taking ‘our jobs’, ‘our houses’ or ‘our benefits’. So much so, that just a few weeks ago, the Daily Mail published an apology to Britain’s Polish community.
And so in music, artists and activists are again coming together all over the country, where small gigs and festivals are being put together to show solidarity: solidarity against all forms of racism, all forms of oppression, and all forms of discrimination.
Whether its against blacks, Asians, Whites, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Poles, Turks, women, the young, the old, gays, lesbians, the disabled or whoever, the message underpinning racism, oppression and discrimination is the same: a message that is fuelled by hate.
I want to end my slot and open this festival with a quote from the musician, political activist and Rock Against Racism stalwart, Billy Bragg. In his book “The Progressive Patriot”, a book that sets out to reclaim a sense what it means to have a British identity and to be proud of that identity – an identity and heritage that I am extremely proud to have – he says something that all of us can take away from this festival today:
“although you can’t change the world by singing songs and doing gigs, the things you say and the actions you take can change the perspective of others”
Love Music, Hate Racism – enjoy the festival !!!
For those of you that don’t already know, I have been kindly invited to open the Kenilworth ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’ festival this coming Saturday. It really is a very kind gesture – so ‘thanks’ to everyone involved.
If you think that you might be able to attend, or want to find out a little more about the event, then you can check out the event’s Facebook page by clicking here, or you can download the flyer by clicking here.
See you there – fingers crossed for good weather…!!!
Having written for the Post for about a year now, I’ve often wondered how many people read this column. Beyond a few friends and family members who I obviously bribe and given the lack of fan mail, I have been known to echo the latest X-Files movie, ‘I want to believe’ that people are out there. It’s just very hard to do so.
Recently though, I was approached by the organisers of the Kenilworth ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’ (LMHR) festival. What surprised me most was that they had read my Post column and as a consequence, wanted me to open the festival for them. Obviously flattered, I immediately accepted and will now be on stage at midday on Saturday 30th August. What’s worrying me now though is not just what to say, but also what to wear: what does a 40-something non-rock star wear to open a festival when that same 40-something also knows that very few people in the audience will know who he is? Too rock and roll and I run the risk of looking like many in the audience’s dad in the middle of a mid-life crisis: not rock and roll enough and I run the risk of just looking like their dad. Not good either way.
LMHR is a relatively new movement that seeks to bring people together through music by offering a vibrant celebration of our multicultural and multiracial society. Set up in 2002, LMHR was a direct response to what it saw as rising levels of racism as well as the electoral successes of the far-right. To date, it’s shows have been supported by acts such as Ms Dynamite, Babyshambles and Basement Jaxx amongst others.
For all those 40-somethings like myself, LMHR is very much the offspring of the ‘Rock Against Racism’ (RAR) movement from the 1970s. Interestingly and somewhat unknown, it was events in Birmingham that prompted RAR. In August 1976, whilst performing in Birmingham Eric Clapton made a drunken declaration of support for former Conservative minister Enoch Powell: famous for his anti-immigration ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in Wolverhampton. Clapton ranted that he felt that England had become overcrowded and that the only way to stop Britain from becoming ‘a black colony’ was to vote for Powell. Sadly, Clapton ended his tirade by repeatedly shouting slogans about keeping Britain ‘white’. On the back of this, RAR grew rapidly and reached its pinnacle in 1988 with an open air concert in London’s East end – neither in Walford nor Albert Square I hasten to add – where 80,000 people watched bands such as The Clash, Buzzcocks, and Steel Pulse uniting against racism and fascism.
Without being disrespectful, I doubt Kenilworth will attract a similar number. Yet whether that audience is 1, 100, 1,000 or more, they will be coming together to unite against what they see as the same threat: the threat from racism and fascism today. Some things never change.
Sadly, there always seems to be a new form of racism waiting to rear its ugly head. Whether that be black and Asian communities in the 1970s, or Muslims and Poles in the noughties, the fact remains that racism, discrimination and prejudice are still out there. Racism – unfortunately – hasn’t gone away despite the valiant efforts of many.
Nor though has the fear of 40-something men making fools of themselves by trying to be ‘too young’, ‘too cool’ or ‘too hip’ (do young people even use this term any more…???). But that – given the context – has little weight in the grander scale of things. Taking the moral high ground then, if you’re at Kenilworth and I look like your dad – either with or without the mid-life crisis – be kind. We’re there to add our voice of dissent against racism, not worry about what I actually look like. Love Music, Hate Racism and don’t worry about the old guys.
More details about the Kenilowrth ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’ festival can be found by clicking here…
Today I had the pleasure of undertaking my first interview for a magazine. The magazine (unsurprisingly) was ‘Speak Out‘ (unsurprising because I’m the editor of it…!!!) and the interviewee was one of my teenage idols, Ranking Roger from Birmingham/Two Tone ska band The Beat. Best thing about it is that Roger loves it and gives it his seal of approval…!!! Just so that you know, the first edition of ‘Speak Out‘ will be available circa 25th August and if possible, I will upload a free downloadable pdf copy onto the blog (by the way, it’s title has not been finalised yet, hence the amazingly un-original ‘Ranking Full Stop Part 2: Interview with Ranking Roger’). Read and enjoy…
2009 marks the 30th anniversary of the formation of ska band The Beat, one of Birmingham’s most loved musical exports. Following a string of successful live dates around the country – including a homecoming gig at the Birmingham Carling Academy – and in between being on various festival line-ups this summer, Speak Out magazine caught up with The Beat’s front man, Ranking Roger to find out more about him. We started by asking him what it was like growing up in Birmingham.
“It was both exciting and dangerous. We grew up in Stechford a predominantly white area that was also home to the headquarters of the National Front. Even though they weren’t as violent as the British Movement became, I always remember how they used to march right past our house. But Stechford was good too because there was a lot of Irish people living there and they were on our side because they felt threatened too.”
“This was the start of me realising that the way forward was peace, love and unity because people shouldn’t live in fear just because of their colour or because of who they are. From a very early age – from when I was about 9 – I was thinking about how I wished the world was more equal.”
This commitment continued throughout Roger’s teenage years. “When I was 15, I became a punk rocker. And whilst there was an element of racism in punk, this wasn’t what punk stood for. I remember Johnny Rotten going on the radio and telling punks to listen to reggae music because it had the same message as punk: a totally different music but completely the same message.”
“From then, punks started listening to more reggae and bands like the Clash began doing covers of reggae classics such as ‘Police & Thieves’. Despite being four white blokes, they had grown up in multicultural areas and you’d be surprised how many black artists they were involved with – it was phenomenal.”
And out of this came the ska and highly influential Two Tone movement. “Many of the punks that were racist seemed to become skinheads over night and this came out with the Two Tone thing. But many of them didn’t understand what Two Tone was really about. It took about a year before people started realising that it was about black and white uniting. Bands such as Madness used to get skinheads chanting ‘Seig Heil’ throughout their gigs but they hated it.”
Politics was an integral part of the Two Tone ska phenomenon, with tracks like The Beat’s “Stand Down Margaret” and The Specials’ “Ghost Town” perfectly capturing the mood of an early 80s Thatcherite Britain. We asked Roger how things were today compared to then.
“I think the difference between then and now is that the kids have not been educated. They don’t know what happened in the late 70s and early 80s. We knew because we were there but we haven’t told them and so a lot of their rights – our rights – are being taken away by the Government – much of the time under the banner of what they call ‘terrorism’. No-one is doing anything about this because we’ve pacified our kids with Playstations, DVDs, televisions – weapons of mass distraction.
“Our generation of youth was genuinely angry and we wanted to do something to change the future. We had learnt about how tough it was for our parents and for our communities. But today, that element of community is not even here.”
“Because of this, the lyrics The Beat sing are still as relevant today as they were then. There’s still unemployment, there’s still war around the world. We still shouldn’t pay attention to people’s colour yet we do.”
If things haven’t changed that much, what then for Britain?
“Well Britain kind of looks like there’s going to be a lot of decision-making to be made by people. I know it sounds a bit controversial – rebellious even – but there’s going to be questions asked about which side of the fence are you on. I see it already. People are sick and tired of the Government. They’ve had a bloody long run – maybe too long.”
“It’s funny, because nowadays I sing ‘Stand Down Gordon’ which is a real shame because I used to sing stand down Margaret. Between him and Tony Blair, I think they’ve done as bad a job as Thatcher. In a way, Labour have become the Conservatives and that makes me think about things that The Beat have always been involved in – Rock Against Racism, Love Music Hate Racism. In many ways, we came out of the Labour movement but that has really changed. Everything is all very, very controlled now.”
He went on, “I don’t know where it goes wrong with politics: someone sets out with all the right goals, with all the right answers, with all the right things that they’re going to do…but somewhere along the line it all gets warped and by the time they’ve hit the top, it’s impossible.”
After a moment’s pause he quickly adds, “I’m so glad I’m not a politician…!”
Given the fact that Roger has recently taken on the role of patron at human rights and equalities charity, BRAP, we ask Roger whether racism is still present in today’s society.
“It’s definitely changed but of course it’s still there. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, we got rid of all the SUS laws [informal name for ‘stop and search] but they are all back again. There were riots in England against the policies put in place against black people and that got things changed. Yet today’s new racism seems to be aimed towards the new influx of people coming here – the Poles, Africans and others. One day, I was sitting there and I thought, ‘My God, racism is back and nobody is realising it’. “
“In two or three years time, I hope I don’t see black and white people marching on the streets trying to get rid of the Eastern Europeans and others. That’s what the National Front and British National Party want.”
“Racism has never gone away – it’s a new kind of racism today, but it’s still as dangerous. And people need to be aware of this and do something about it.”
For a man who can claim Sting (The Police), Mick Jones (The Clash & Big Audio Dynamite), David Byrne (Talking Heads) and the late Joe Strummer (The Clash) as friends, Ranking Roger is a grounded and real person, someone that is committed to eradicating discrimination and prejudice from British society as well as ‘doing something about it’: his music and activism are testament to that.
And with a new album to mark The Beat’s 30th anniversary next year and his new role as patron of BRAP, it is clear that Roger’s message of peace, love and unity will continue to underpin all that he does.
You can read my earlier piece about meeting Ranking Roger for the first time by clicking here.
An update to this page can be found by clicking here…
I have been approached by the organisers of the Kenilworth ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’ festival to ask if I will open the proceedings at midday on the 30th August. Whilst full details are ‘sketchy’ at present, I have of course agreed so as to begin my long overdue transformation into ‘rock god extraordinaire’ !!!
Will add details as and when they become available, but in the meantime, you can use the banner link (to the right) to visit their website.