Aural Sculptors - The Stranglers Live 1976 to the Present


Welcome to Aural Sculptors, a blog aimed at bringing the music of The Stranglers to as wide an audience as possible. Whilst all of the various members of the band that have passed through the ranks since 1974 are accomplished studio musicians, it is on stage where the band have for me had their biggest impact.

As a collector of their live recordings for many years I want to share some of the better quality material with other fans. By selecting the higher quality recordings I hope to present The Stranglers in the best possible light for the benefit of those less familiar with their material than the hardcore fan.

Needless to say, this site will steer well clear of any officially released material. As well as live gigs, I will post demos, radio interviews and anything else that I feel may be of interest.

In addition, occasionally I will post material by other bands, related or otherwise, that mean a lot to me.

Your comments and/or contributions are most welcome. Please email me at adrianandrews1@sky.com.


Monday, 5 September 2022

Babylon's Burning: Music, Subcultures and Anti-Fascism in Britain 1958-2020 by Rick Blackman

 


I don't usually go in for the business of reviewing books on the Aural Sculptors site but I stumbled across this book in Piccadilly the other day that is so aligned to by point of view that I thought that I would bring it to the attention of others who may wish to read it too.

For anyone interested in the utilization of popular music in the never ending fight against the far right in the UK, 'Babylon's Burning' is an essential read, a perfect accompaniment to 'Walls Come Tumbling Down' (a history of Rock Against Racism, Two-Tone and Red Wedge'). 'Babylon's Burning' takes the latter book's historical narrative a stage further back, to the 1950's at a time when immigration numbers were increasing as West Indians responded to the then Government's request to come to the UK to work in the struggling service industries. At that time Teddy Boy violence in the Notting Hill area of London prompted the creation of 'The Stars Campaign for Inter-racial Friendship', a collective of artists, predominantly from the UK jazz scene, including husband and wife, Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine along with Humphrey Littleton. Whilst the pioneering efforts of SCIF were on a relatively small scale they did achieve a few notable successes, a high profile feature on the BBC's highly respected and widely viewed current affairs program 'Panorama', and articles in their newsletter from two of the biggest music stars of the day, Frank Sinatra and Paul Robeson. Sinatra took a significant career risk in  being so vocal about the need for racial tolerance. America at that time was highly segregated along racial lines and the Civil Rights struggle was still ahead of them. SCIF established the 'Harmony Club', a social centre, in Notting Hill, just a few doors down from the offices of the far-right organisation, 'The White Defence League'. These were courageous actions for the time I think.

As is usually the case with extreme political factions of either side, there is a tendency for in-fighting to periodically render such groups impotent and this has indeed been the pattern seen across far right groups over the past 50 years or so. Organised resistance to far right popularity and their associated organisations (be they focussed on street level agitation or electoral successes) has ebbed and flowed in time with the rise and fall of parties on the far right. So whilst at no time since the 1950's have racial tensions left our towns and cities, there have been peaks and troughs in terms of the intensity of those tensions.

Another surge in popularity of fascism in the UK was triggered by Enoch Powell's incendiary speech that he delivered in Birmingham in 1968. In what has since become known as the 'Rivers of Blood' speech he called for and end to immigration and introduction of a programme of repatriation. The speech saw him suspended from the Conservative Party and yet his words had ignited passions in many that spelled trouble.

Eight years later in 1976, a drunken, rambling tirade delivered by Eric Clapton from a Birmingham stage set in motion the biggest collaboration of music and politics in the name of anti-racism that had yet to be seen in the UK. Clapton's abusive rant prompted activist Red Saunders to write into the letters page of 'Melody Maker' . Eric was derided for his words and the fact that such opinions from a man who had built a career on the back of the talents of far less well known African American blues men were bullshit. The letter closed with an invitation to all those who wished to do something positive in opposition to the rising tide of far right opinion to contact 'Rock Against Racism' (address supplied). The inception of RAR was really as low key as a single letter on a UK music weekly!

Interest in this nascent musical/political movement spread extremely rapidly throughout the country. Interested individuals who contacted RAR's small staff in London were provided with quantities of badges, stickers and leaflets and informed that they were now RAR in their respective towns. The approach was very D.I.Y. and improvised and as such it was very much aligned with the then emerging punk scene. RAR also greatly benefitted from the fact that these new, young punks, followers of the latest counter-culture youth movement were naturally drawn towards reggae (prior to the new punk bands getting signed there was no punk music to play in clubs, so DJ's, perhaps most notably Don Letts at the Roxy, filled the gaps between bands by spinning reggae discs). That both followers of both punk and reggae had outsider status foisted upon them played perfectly into RAR's hands. Bob Marley, perhaps the biggest recording artist in the world in 1977, acknowledged this coming together of minds in his 'Punky, Reggae Party', the B-side to 'Jamming' which reached number 9 in the UK charts that year.

'New wave, new craze (Punky punky punk)
New wave, new wave, new phrase (Punky punky punk)

I'm saying
The Wailers will be there
The Damned, The Jam, The Clash
Maytals will be there
Dr. Feelgood too'

This mutual audience appreciation of both punk and reggae meant that RAR gigs could routinely be set up black and white bands appearing on the same bill.... the perfect embodiment of music triumphant over racial intolerance.

Stages were set for a monumental struggle of RAR and its supporters with the high profile far right organisations of the day, the National Front (NF) and the British Movement (BM).

The RAR message was voiced through its magazine 'Temporary Hording' which ran to 14 issues from 1977 to 1981. Extensive use of photomontage and battered typewriters echoed the DIY style of punk fanzines to which the intended audience could instantly relate.



RAR's reach was extensive and the gigs that were staged in its name ranged from low key gigs in provincial towns to high profile carnival events (those held in London and Manchester being the most prominent). In 1979, RAR staged the 'Militant Entertainment Tour' in a similar style to the package tours of the 1960's.


As the book points out very clearly, this level of intense activity at all levels served as an effective message to youth drawn to the far right that the NF and BM would be opposed whenever and wherever they sought to gather.

In the election year of 1979 the National Front (whose emphasis was on gaining Parliamentary seats more than street level confrontation) fielded their highest ever number of candidates but to no avail. They faired disastrously,  some would say because Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party purloined elements of NF policy relevant to issues of race and immigration and in doing so won the votes of a sizable proportion of the electorate who would have otherwise opted for the National Front. It was a blow from which the NF never recovered.

Smaller campaigns filled the gap in the '80's and '90's, one being Cable Street Beat, some of whose gigs I remember very well, but it wasn't until the 2000's when the forces of music and left wing politics combined again as the next thing in far right politics, namely the English Defence League (EDL) came to prominence. This time the same racial hatred was directed at a different target to previous groups, Muslims. Thus the 'Love Music Hate Racism' organisation came into being, with involvement of some of the same activists that had been the driving force behind RAR. 

'Babylon's Burning' concludes with thoughts on the legacy of the SCIF, RAR and LMHR organisations and campaigns. Did RAR's efforts result in the demise of the National Front, probably not, in the same way that a February 1978 speech by Margaret Thatcher addressing widely held national concerns about immigration did not in one stroke floor the NFs best chance of political headway. The factors in play were multifaceted and highly complex. However, the existence of RAR was undoubtedly a thorn in the side of the NF and BM and it undoubtedly changed the political outlook of some of Britain's disaffected youth who otherwise could have become foot soldiers of the far right.

In 1981 RAR was wound up with a high profile gig by The Specials in Leeds. For Red Saunders the emergence of Two Tone that saw black and white bands not only sharing the same bill but also saw black and white musicians performing in the same band was validation for everything that RAR had been striving to achieve since its inception back in 1976.


The Specials, RAR/ANL carnival, Potternewton Park, Leeds, 1981 (Syd Shelton)

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