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)
The Wailers will be there
The Damned, The Jam, The Clash
Maytals will be there
Dr. Feelgood too'