Yesterday, a festival under the banner ‘Love Music Hate Racism’ took place in East London’s Victoria Park to mark the 30th anniversary of Rock Against Racism and raise consciousness about the racist BNP in the run-up to the local elections. 1978’s Rock Against Racism in the same location featured The Clash, Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex and the Tom Robinson Band. This time around, several stages were graced by the likes of Paul Simonon’s new band The Good, The Bad and The Queen (with Damon Albarn of Blur), The Paddingtons, Jay Sean, Jimmi Pursey of Sham 69 (now in Day 21 with the Rev, ex-Towers of London), Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, Don Letts, Jerry Dammers of The Specials, and many other acts.
The main problem was that even the £2 “schedule” booklet did not state any stage times. You had to run from one stage to another in the hope of eventually catching a particular act that you wanted to see. I heard Poly Styrene sing her bondage tune somewhere in the distance, I missed the Paddingtons, and I caught the last few minutes of Jimmy Pursey doing White Riot as he had done when he joined The Clash on stage at the 1978 event.
A propos Sham 69, it was surprising to see how many skinheads were present, and not only during Pursey’s set. While they were legions of skins at RAR in 1978, they’re an extremely rare sight in London these days. The anti-fascist badges most of them were wearing for yesterday’s occassion betrayed a certain level of commitment: they had not just showed up to singalong-a-Pursey.
Paul Simonon’s new band The Good, The Bad and The Queen had enormous problems with the sound, but the man is still one of the best movers on stage. Hailing from an age when punk stood for more than just a particular music style or haircut, Simonon played for the same cause 30 years down the line, and as in 1978 with The Clash, he did it for free.
While some hear similarities to English 60s psychedelia, The Good, The Bad and The Queen veer a bit too much towards Adult Contemporary for my liking. But given the purpose of the event, this is not the right moment to discuss my musical preferences. Let’s talk politics instead.
I do have to say that the permanent chants of “Fuck the BNP” and particularly the cheesy slogan “Love music – hate racism!” that speakers and artists tirelessly prompted the crowd to repeat after them were getting close to mind-numbing after a while. While the intentions were good and the cause noble, the preaching to the converted was getting a bit too much for the crowd to take in. As for some of the the slogans, I had the impression that the speakers had estimated the lowest common denominator of the crowd a little bit too low, to the point of being patronising.
What I find more problematic is the exclusive fixation on the BNP. Fair enough, it’s election time, and the BNP are a particularly sad bunch of scumbags . One veteran RAR speaker stated that back in the 70s, the National Front used to blame blacks for everything that was wrong with the country while today, their successors in the BNP blame Muslims and Eastern Europeans. That is fair enough too, and it’s a good thing that the speakers made an effort to address current manifestations of racism rather than just nostalgically celebrate the 1970s “black and white unite” consensus.
I just wonder why Love Music Hate Racism and the SWP are so fetishistically obsessed with the BNP. I’m not so sure if it’s helpful to act as if the BNP had invented racism and held a monopoly on it. Is a vile rag such as the Daily Mail, for instance, not infinitely more influential and successful at poisoning ordinary people’s minds than the BNP ever could, let alone has the budget to? This newsrag prominently championed Adolf Hitler as well as Hitler copycat Sir Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. When antisemitic pogroms began in Germany, the Daily Mail campaigned against the immigration of Jewish refugees to the UK. It was only when Britain declared war on Germany that the paper’s rabid British nationalism ultimately outweighted its Nazi sympathies. Today, the Daily Mail continues its proud tradition as one of the UK’s prime xenophobic agitation organs. Yet it remains one of the most widely read newspapers in this country.
I would love to see Love Music Hate Racism stage events which expose the racism of the Daily Mail and of other such mainstream agitators. To permanently point at an unpleasant yet comparatively marginal phenomenon such as the BNP gives the impression that racism and xenophobia are their exclusive domain. Hopefully, Love Music Hate Racism will broaden their subject matter in the future instead of projecting all evil on one particular far-right boogeyman.