Saturday, July 06, 2019

'Brutal police attack on disco women' - London Lesbian Conference Social 1981

'Brutal police attack on disco women'

by Michael Mason (Gay News [London], April 16-29, 1981)

'Lesbians attending the main social event of the second National Lesbian Conference in London on April 4 were shattered by scenes of violence unprecedented in the history of the recent British gay movement – even if not in the history of the women’s movement.

Eye witnesses told of “brutality I simply could not believe", of women thrown to the pavements and beaten, of others holding back fearfully, yet desperate to help their sisters.

The shocking events of that night began when a man and a woman started arguing across the square from the lesbian disco at the Tabernacle, Notting Hill. The man chased the woman, threatening her with attack. Outside the Tabernacle she held a broken bottle in front of her to fend him off. At this moment a police constable arrived on the scene – and made a grab for the woman while the man stood by grinning.

Two lesbians went to the women’s aid and almost simultaneously police reinforcements – summoned when and by whom remains a mystery – rounded the corner in a van. There was utter confusion as the police milled around women leaving the disco, and accounts from people in different parts of the crowd tell no clear story. But within moments the violence had begun.

One woman was held spread-eagled at waist height. Her T-shirt was rolled up her body to bare her torso and she was repeatedly struck in the stomach with a truncheon, report eyewitnesses. Other women were thrown to the pavement. Still others were slapped and punched. There were serious injuries inflicted, and at least one woman had to be taken straight to hospital by ambulance.

But the trouble did not in there. Some 20 women were arrested for obstruction and assault and taken to a Notting Hill police station. In cells, in charge rooms and in the public areas of the station there was even further abuse – both verbal and physical. One woman called forward to have her details taken was slapped in the face and pushed back into the wall behind her. Another, in great distress at the scenes, was taken to the cells where three officers are said to have attacked her. Police women offered as much violence as police men, said those who were released from the station at 4 am the following morning.

Only a partial list of injury was given to the conference the next day. One woman had a cracked spine, another a cracked rib. Cuts and extravagant bruising were commonplace.

Lawyers attending conference gathered statements from eyewitnesses in preparation for the prosecution to be brought and for official complaints which are to be laid against the police involved.

Women who travelled to London for the conference and must now stay for the court hearings badly need financial support for their unexpected delay. Conference launched the Lesbian Social Defence Fund and contributions are urgently needed. They should be sent to the fund c/o A Woman’s Place, 48 William IV Street, London WC2'.

Another account:

There's a brief account of this incident in this interview with Trisha McCabe at Gay Birmingham remembered:

'The first national lesbian conference was in London, in 1981 and I don't recall there being a second one. The women I went with were a real cross over between the revolutionary feminist group and the Women and Manual Trades group, some weren't part of our group but hung out with us because they were plumbers or carpenters and there was a link.

I can't remember anything about the conference itself, what it was for, the content, or what came out of it, but I do remember the excitement and the postcard which I thought was very cool. It had a black background with three lesbian symbols against a flash of fire. I sent one to my mother, her response was 'What will the postman think?', and my father was going 'I don't think you should worry about the postman'. I do remember there was a lot of aggro around it and the reaction of the police. For some reason the police were out a lot and a lot of different women got arrested and there was a real carry on. We must have been having some sort of protest, I remember running round on the streets, piling in when a copper tried to get someone out of the crowd, and making sure they didn't. One woman was put in a police car, and these other women went round and opened the other door and she just got out again, but ended up being arrested again and up in court the following morning, so we did a lot of hanging around in the police station. Another friend had this huge argument with the policeman and I dragged her off and nearly suffocated her, just holding her so she couldn't fight and get arrested. A couple of friends of mine got convictions, but I can't remember what they were doing'.

The photo below, which features in Anita Corbin's Visible Girls project, was taken in the Tabernacle, Notting Hill Gate, 1981 on the night of the National Lesbian Conference social:

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Summer Solstice 1999: Autonomous Astronauts on Parliament Hill

 June 1999 was arguably the high point of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts in its UK zone of operations. It was then that the AAA organised 'Space 1999: ten days that shook the Universe - a festival of independent and community-based space exploration', held in London from June 18 to June 27 of that year.

Space 1999 Programme: Front
(the programme was designed by AAA Glasgow Cabal/Datamedia Design)

The festival featured an ambitious range of events including among other things a conference, games of three sided football, an Extraterrestrial Cinema night, a 'military out of space' protest as part of the Reclaim the Streets J18 Carnival against Capital, and gigs including one with Nocturnal Emissions and a space pop night at famous LGBTQ+ venue the Vauxhall Tavern. This diversity reflected the exotic cocktail of ingredients informing the AAA project, including radical art/anti-art, left communism/situationists, post Temple ov Psychick Youth occulture, techno, science fiction and of course a desire to get into space.

Space 1999 Programme

The ten days also included the summer solstice for that year on June 21st, providing an opportunity for an AAA training event. The programme promised 'Solstice outdoor training for autonomous astronauts, featuring star navigation, low level gravity practice, dreamtime workshop and astral projection exercise'.  I wrote the following report of it in my guise as Neil Disconaut in the festival's daily newsletter:

'20+ intrepid travelers gathered at Hampstead Heath station for a magickal mystery tour that was to take them to Parliament Hill, outer space and back within three hours. The solstice training event, facilitated by Neil and Juleigh Disconaut, kicked off with some theoretical orientation using nursery rhymes to demonstrate that most of us have been in training to be astronauts since we floated semi-weightless in the womb. The full meaning of lines like “I saw an old woman flying high in a basket, 17 times as high as the moon"will only become apparent when we go into space.

Next stop was the children’s playground, locked for the night but swiftly reclaimed by the innovative use of  dustbins to scale the fence. Exercises included gravity awareness on the swings and disorientation on the roundabouts. The possible use of the seesaw to catapult people into space was also explored.

Imagination training was carried out under an Oak tree on the hill, dressed with candles, stars and other decorations. Nobody volunteered to climb to the top to see if this was actually the World Tree with its roots in the underworld and its branches touching the sky. A discussion of reclaiming our sense of our relationship to the stars, and of the significance of the solstice, was interrupted by some kids asking us for drugs. Asked for their suggestions of how to get into space, one of them came up with the idea of a tunnel leading from Earth to the moon.

Dreaming is the cheapest and easiest way to fly, and there was discussion of various techniques for inducing dreams about space, such as sigilization. Neil described his dream experiments from which he concluded that in our dreams as in the rest of our lives the social gravity of capitalism inhibits the flight of the imagination. While he had succeeded in having some dreams of flying, this had had to struggle against numerous dreams featuring work, school, the police and other horrors.

After some astral body aerobic exercises contributed by Phil [Hine], John Eden facilitated an astral projection exercise inviting people to float above the heath and out to the stars. There were some interesting experiences with one person reporting that the space she had visited was quite noisy with lots of birds sounds.

The night wound up with some eating and drinking and with people from the band “They came from the stars” playing on toy musical instruments'.

our outline notes for the event

The post festival report, which reprinted the above article and states 'a CIP catalogue record of this book is available on Hampstead Heath'.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Ghost Town racism and resistance - The Specials play Coventry 1981

The Specials classic 'Ghost Town' single was released in June 1981. In the same month the band played an anti-racist gig in their home city of Coventry in a period of murderous racist attacks by far right-affiliated skinheads.

This report is from 'The Leveller' magazine, 26 June 1981, written by Chris Schüller with accompanying photos by Alastair Indge:

'The Precinct is a large modern shopping centre in the middle of Coventry, a warren of split level consumerism, fountains, pubs, car parks and lightbites. Last Saturday morning it was business as usual, thousands of shoppers, bored kids milling around, a number of skinheads. The only unusual things about it were the number of police on patrol in pairs and stationed in vans near every main entrance. And the fact that, for a city with an Asian population of 22,000, there are remarkably few to be seen.

Two months ago, Satnam Singh Gill, a student at Henley College, was beaten, kicked and stabbed to death by a group of skinheads in broad daylight within 50 yards of the Precinct. It wasn’t the first racist attack to take place in Coventry. Just two weeks earlier, 17 year old Susan Cheema was minding her father;s grocery shop when she was attacked about the face, arms and hands with a scythe, losing one of her fingers. But it was the worst so far, focusing attention on the growing racial violence in the city, and prompting local Asian groups to organise anti racist campaigns and set up self defence groups [...]

The day after Satnam Singh Gill died, a meeting was called by Asian and West Indian community leaders. Attended by over 400 people, it’s set up the Coventry Committee against Racism, a broad based organisation to which 37 community associations, temples and political groups are associated. They range from the Supreme Council of Sikhs through to the Communist Party to the Anglo-Asian Conservative Association. On May 23, they held a march to the city centre to protest at the death of Satnam Singh Gill. As the 10,000 strong procession reached Broadgate, a large group of ‘seig heiling’ skinheads began to hurl missiles and abuse from behind the police lines. As the young Asian marchers attempted to retaliate, some of them shouting, 'Brixton! Brixton!', 74 arrests were made. Many felt that the arrests were made far from impartially, and that the police had acted in defence of the right-wingers [...]

May 23 also provided the first concrete evidence that racist activity in Coventry was being coordinated by fascist organisations. Rumours had circulated before that the British Movement had moved some members into Coventry in January, that on May 9, four or five members of the BM and New National Front were seen in the city centre, but on May 23, hundreds of unorganised skinheads who had gathered to abuse and attack the marchers were met by Robert Relf and Leicester BM organiser Ray Hill [...]

Despairing of fair treatment and protection from the police, many members of the Asian community are organising their own defence. Harjinder Sehmi told me that his temple are providing judo and karate classes. 'We’re not out to revenge anything' he says, 'just out to defend ourselves'. Some of the more militant groups and individuals in the Coventry Committee against Racism have formed the Committee for Anti-racist Defence Squads under the umbrella of the larger organisation.

Meanwhile the attacks have intensified. On May 17, arson attempts took place at the Krishna temple and the Indian and Commonwealth Club. A woman of 50 was stabbed by skinheads while out shopping; a bus driver was attacked with a broken bottle, and another, who attempted to defend himself again skinheads was charged with actual bodily harm and with carrying an offensive weapon [...]  At the Coventry Carnival on May 13, the carnival queen, a West Indian, had to ride in a closed car because of stoning threats, and when a group of West Indian youths intervened to help an Asian boy who was being roughed up by skinheads, the police chased them off […]

Then on June 7, Dr Amal Dharry was stabbed in the heart by a 17-year-old skinhead as he left the chip shop in Earlsdon. He staggered to his car, where he locked himself in before collapsing. He died in hospital after 10 days on a life support machine. His attacker gave him self up immediately. He’d done it for a £15 bet that you wouldn’t “get a p*ki that night”.

It was against this background of racist violence that the Coventry-based two tone group The Specials decided to hold a festival for racial harmony in the Butts Stadium last Saturday. They asked other popular Coventry bands to perform for free – and put up the £13,000 it cost to put on the festival. The profits were to go to local anti racist groups [...]

On the day, barely 1000 people turned up. Perhaps they were scared away by rumours of trouble, perhaps they found the £3.50 entrance fee too expensive [...] Things livened up when The Specials came on. They seemed to turn the tension and frustration and disappointment into musical energy, and the small passive crowd suddenly became a big, excited one, and the songs never sounded so urgent, so relevant. But perhaps the high point of the whole set was a guest appearance by Rhoda Dakar who used to be with the Bodysnatchers. 'This is a song about another kind of violence, sexual violence'. It was called The Boiler and was about rape'.

[Hazel O'Connor also played at the festival. A few weeks later riots swept the country - see previous posts on the 1981 Summer Uprisings]

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Youth Strike 4 Climate in London

I jogged along to cheer on the Youth Strike 4 Climate in  central London yesterday. Great to see thousands of school students seemingly wandering in groups all round the area holding up the traffic on Westminster Bridge, Whitehall etc. There was a tangible wave of noise and energy sweeping across the area. It felt like one of those once in a generation moments when people come out on the streets and experience for the first time the sweet taste of collective agency and possibility... that feeling can have life changing effects for many years to come.

In the UK  mass protests on a school day are rare and generally signal a historical moment, like the anti-war school strikes of 2003 and the student/anti-austerity protests of 2010.  The fact that this Friday's school strike in 60 UK towns and cities is part of an international movement makes it all the more significant in this period of resurgent nationalism.  None of the big issues facing us can be solved in one country, even by left wing national governments, so globalisation from below is the only way to go.  

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

New Wave Rave 1977

As documented here before, the words ‘rave’ and ‘ravers’ seem to date back to the post-WW2 UK jazz scene and were widely used through to the late 1960s underground before seemingly largely falling out of use until the acid house era. But here’s a rare example from the punk period- an advert for a 1977 series of gigs in the West Country by Chelsea and The Cortinas (both on Step Forward records) with the strapline ‘New Wave Rave’. A ‘New Wave Disco’ is also promised.

In recent years the name ‘New Wave Rave’ has been used for various punk/indie club nights (a quick search throws up nights in Sydney and Berlin, among others). But I’m not aware of other examples of the use of the word ‘rave’ in the high punk period (1976-78). 

The poster features in the excellent ‘Oh So Pretty: Punk in Print 1976-80’ book by Toby Mott and Rick Poynor. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

How it all began (for me): a School Kid against the Nazis in Luton 1979/80

Going on a recent march against the far right in central London got me thinking about my earliest forays into anti-fascism when I was at school...

In 1979 I was 16, in my last year at school in Luton and getting into radical politics off the back of a couple of years listening to punk. I was voraciously reading anything relevant I could get my hands on from local libraries and bookshops, which included that year Martin Walker's The National Front (dedicated to 'anti-fascists everywhere'), George Woodcock's The Anarchist Reader anthology and Gordon Carr's The Angry Brigade. The latter introduced me to the Situationists and I tried unsuccessfully to get Luton Central Library to find a copy of The Society of the Spectacle. The actual radicals on the ground in Luton were a bit more mundane than my fantasy 1968 utopians, basically the Communist Party, the Labour Party Young Socialists (including 'Militant') and the Socialist Workers Party selling papers in the town centre.  

The Clash were my favourite band, and I'd read all about the great Rock Against Racism carnivals of 1977/78 (in fact I wrote off to Rock Against Racism to enquire about getting involved). In the lead up to the  May 1979 General election, conflict between the far right National Front and its opponents increased in intensity. There were riotous clashes in Leicester and on the 23rd April 1979 socialist teacher Blair Peach was killed by the police in Southall while taking part in protests against an NF meeting in that predominately Asian area of West London.

The election, infamously won by Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives, nudged me towards participating in politics rather than just reading about it. I went to see Tony Benn speak in Luton town centre (29/4/1979), but I still hadn't been on an actual protest. All that changed in June 1979.

Luton Anti Nazi League leaflet, June 1979 - 'your Council allows the Nazi and Racist organization the National Front to use your library. We, the people of Luton, have joined together to oppose this... support racial harmony, oppose fascism'

 Someone I bought a paper off must have told me that the National Front were holding regular meetings at Luton Library with Anti-Nazi League pickets opposing them on the second Friday of every month. The NF had had a presence in the town for some time. In February 1977, NF Chairman John Tyndall was greeted with eggs and chants of  'nazi scum' when he arrived to speak at a meeting in Luton Town Hall (Luton News 10.2.77). The NF stood candidates in both Luton constituencies in the 1979 general election, with Donald How securing 701 votes in Luton West and MG Kerry 461 votes in Luton East.

I approached my first protest on Friday 6th June 1979 nervously and excitedly expecting some kind of Leicester/Southall confrontation, if on a smaller scale. In the event it was all rather tame. There were about twenty of us picketing and a handful of suspected NFers sneaking in and out under the eye of a small number of police, a pattern that was repeated on subsequent similar protests over the summer. 

The very next day though a group of us from Luton travelled up to Bedford town where a group of racist skinheads had been making a nuisance of themselves. As we gave out our leaflets in the name of 'People of Bedfordshire Against Racism' there was a a brief stand off with far right skins and anti-fascists squaring up to each other before the former moved off. Afterwards we went for a drink at a local gay pub, another first for me.

'People of Bedfordshire Against Racism - Day of Action, Sat 7th June... your support in the fight agaisn racism is needed'
(reverse of Luton Anti Nazi League leaflet reproduced above)

I heard a first account of the Southall events soon after, when I went to a Luton Anti Nazi League meeting with Balwinder Singh from Southall ANL. There were also speakers from Luton Trades Council (Jim Thakoordin) and the Pakistani Workers Association, and a collection for the Southall Defence Fund.

Leaflet for Luton Anti Nazi League meeting, 14 July 1979 'Learn the lessons of Southall'
I went to this meeting with a friend, David Heffer. Sadly he was killed in 1992 in an IRA bomb at the Sussex pub in London's Covent Garden.
 On my last day at school at the start of that summer I wrote in my diary 'bought a School Kids Against the Nazis badge, filled in a form to join the Labour Party Young Socialists, left school' (OK last day in school was a bit late to buy a school kids badge, but I did go on to Sixth Form College!).

'SKAN' - School Kids Against the Nazis

It was another year before I went on my first major anti-fascist demo. In November 1980, the neo-nazi British Movement marched from London's Hyde Park to Edgware Road chanting 'We are the Whites' and 'Death to the Reds'. According to this report in The Leveller magazine, there were around 600 BM 'opposed by between 4 and 5,000 anti-fascists' who marched from Portobello Road in Notting Hill. 2,500 police were also mobilised and my main memory is of endless rumours about the whereabouts of the British Movement and never actually seeing any fascists, though the Leveller reports that there were 73 arrests and some scuffles. Afterwards a Luton comrade, who was Jewish, took me to a Jewish Socialist Group meeting at a flat in north London.

So no great heroics, no Cable street or Lewisham-style battles... but maybe that was a good lesson. If you're in it for the long haul, you sure need to learn patience and low key local organising. On the counter-demo to the Tommy Robinson/UKIP 'Brexit Betrayal' march (December 2018). I actually saw somebody else who was there on that first protest of mine in 1979. Of course it's more than annoying that the leading figure on the contemporary British far right also comes from Luton. But hey, Tommy Robinson doesn't represent us (as recently pointed out by Ash Sarkar he doesn't even represent 52% of mortgage fraudsters). We have Nadiya Hussain, Stacey Dooley and the mighty Luton Town FC, we certainly don't need him.

[I didn't stay in the Labour Party Young Socialists for much longer - that's another story - but nearly 40 years later I've been on quite a few more demos! The following year  (1981) things hotted up further in Luton with the formation of an anti-racist Luton Youth Movement and a riot sparked by the presence of nazi skinheads in the town centre. I will come back to that another time].
from 'The Leveller' no. 45, November 28 1980.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Walking in the swarm of stars

I've long been interested in dreams and visions of flight and space, something I experimented with a bit during the fantastic voyage of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts.

‘Nan Domi’, Mimerose P. Beaubrun’s deeply personal account of her ‘inititiate’s journey into Haitian Vodou’, is much concerned with  visions, dreams and the means  for moving between visible and invisible worlds. The title itself refers to what the author describes as ‘the  second level of attention... a state that permits one to see abstract things unknown until then. A lucid dream state’.

Her mentor teaches her that she has three bodies- the physical body (kadav ko) supplemented by a ‘double’, the nannan - ‘our mystery side... that is conscious of the two states- the state of being awake, and the dreaming state’ - which ‘in Nan Domi... is enveloped in light and becomes light-  the nannan-rev’. Her ‘Aunt’leads her on a visionary journey into space, ‘walking in the swarm of stars’.

Opening with the words ‘Ann ay monte Anwo. N apray palmannaze nan Lapousiye’ (‘Lets ascend towards ecstasy. We are going to walk in the Milky Way’), her singing and the sound of the tchatcha rattle help Mimerose to ‘drift into somnolence’and then become ‘conscious of walking in a place where everything was coloured mauve... At intervals, an abyss opened and then fell away. A prolonged movement like the swell of big waves broke into foam the colour of yellow saffron. The scenes before me came and went, fast and fascinating. I plunged into them as one plunges into the sea. The waves rocked me, and suddenly I saw myself as a baby. I watched my own birth’.

The author is lead singer and founding member of the Haitian band Boukman Eksperyan.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

'Sound of police truncheon against body': David Peace's miners strike soundscape

I've written here before about music and the 1984/85 miners strike, including putting together a mix which you can find on mixcloud. But the day to day soundscape of the strike, and particulalry its picket line battles, was less about the bands playing benefit gigs  than the sounds of crowds (including some songs and chants) and sounds of the police with their vehicles, horses and riot shields.

One of the things I like about 'GB84', David Peace's fictionalised ‘occult history’ of the strike, is his description of this. He writes of  'The noise of the battle... The shouts. The sirens' and of the 'Noise of it all. Boots and Stones. Flesh and bones... They beat them shields like they beat us... I heard them again - Them hooves, them boots'.

In his visceral, multi-sensory account the author invites the reader to recall or imagine the  'sound of body against Perspex shield', 'sound of rock hitting Perspex shield' and 'sound of police truncheon against body'.

These sounds are integral to the emotional landscape of the strike which Peace also conveys very well - anger, jubilation, pain, hope, powerlessness, despair, pride...

Peace himself grew up in Ossett in what was then the West Yorkshire coalfied, and as a 17 year old at the time of the strike played miners benefits gigs with his band.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Haircut Sir? - Flat Top Days in Brixton

Sad to hear recently of the death of  barber Andy Haralambous (1/06/1944 - 09/10/2018). For ten years from the late 1980s, Andy cut my hair regularly at his barber's shop at the bottom of Tulse Hill, Haircut Sir? In fact he cut my hair very regularly, as it was short and in need of constant attention. Andy was famous for his flat top haircuts at a time when this was the coolest hair style in town.

I'd had my first a few years earlier at Cyril's in Canterbury, where I was a student. That first time, around my 20th birthday, I didn't even know what it was called, I had to point at some passing rockabilly rebel and say 'like that'!  Not long after I started going to regular Thursday night sessions put on by Whitstable rockabilly band The Keytones at The Tankertons Arms there (this would have been 1983/84). I gravitated towards punkier hair styles for a while, including a short lived mohican, but within a few years I felt the call of the full flat top again.

In the 1980s, the flat top and variations of it were not confined to 1950s revivalists. There was the whole psychobilly scene wtih gothish elements and various post-punk short back and side merchants from Kirk Brandon to Morrissey. There was a black hip hop version, and let's not forget Grace Jones. In the pre-rave warehouse party/rare groove scene, there were flat tops aplenty and it was the haircut du jour of young gay London (including many lesbians as well as gay men).

When I moved to Tulse Hill Estate in Brixton in early 1987, I needed to keep my flat top sharp to go with my black Levi 501s and DMs for nights out at The Fridge and elsewhere. Andy was the local barber. But he was well known beyond the local area for his flat top skills - I remember him being mentioned in either Time Out or The Face, or possibly both, as doing one of the best flat tops in London.  People came from far and wide. Like many London barbers, Andy was from Cyprus, like most barbers from wherever he enjoyed regaling his captive seated audience with his views on the state of the world!

Some Haircut Sir handiwork

In the ecstasy fuelled 1990s long hair made a come back, but there was no going back for me. There might have been some colouring added at times, but it's short back and sides for life (well for as long as I have hair) even if I now have a not-so stark number 3 at the sides. I moved to New Cross in '96 and my regular trips to Andy's faded out. Nowadays I head to KRS Barber Station in Brockley where the clippers are wielded by barbers from the Turkish side of Cyprus. But Haircut Sir? is still going strong in SW2, where Andy passed on the business to his children.

So long Andy and thanks for the haircuts.

update: thanks to Andrew Brooks on Twitter for reminding me of Andy's standard introduction when somebody entered the shop - 'Cup of tea? Kettle’s there. Help yourself'. Of course if you did make one the etiquette was to offer one to Andy and anybody else queuing.

Andy in action (photo from Haircut Sir? facebook page)

Friday, August 31, 2018

July Days in London: Trump as Tyrant Monster and our opposition

I've been thinking again about the Trump phenomenon. As many have pointed out, plenty of other US  Presidents have presided over racist penal systems, nationalist sabre rattling and domination by corporations. Why is Trump any worse? Well partly because he represents an attempt to turn the clock back on some of the limited social progress that has been made in the past 50 years, in the process unleashing overt racism and legitimising the extreme right at home and abroad. But he also prompts  fear because of his very unpredictability  - he is not simply a smooth front man for capitalist business as usual, but someone who creates an impression that his personal power comes before everything, and that therefore nothing is sacred and nobody is safe. There is something almost archetypal here - he is like the 'tyrant monster' described by Joseph Campbell in 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces' (1949):

'The figure of the tyrant-monster is known to the mythologies, folk traditions, legends, and even nightmares, of the world; and his characteristics are everywhere essentially the same. He is the hoarder of the general benefit. He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of "my and mine." The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy tale as being universal throughout his domain... The inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world—no matter how his affairs may seem to prosper. Self-terrorized, fear-haunted, alert at every hand to meet and battle back the anticipated aggressions of his environment, which are primarily the reflections of the uncontrollable impulses to acquisition within himself, the giant of self-achieved independence is the world's messenger of disaster, even though, in his mind, he may entertain himself with humane intentions. Wherever he sets his hand there is a cry (if not from the housetops, then- more miserably—within every heart): a cry for the redeeming hero, the carrier of the shining blade, whose blow, whose touch, whose existence, will liberate the land'.

Yes I know that Campbell's work is problematic in many ways, but there's something to think about in this descrition of a type even if we have to be our own collective redeeming hero rather than waiting for a knight in shining armour to save us... And on the subject of our collective potential, here some pictures from last month's protests in London.
Donald Trump's visit saw one of the largest week day demonstrations in living memory on Friday 13th July 2018. In fact there were two major demos over the course of the day, the second and largest featuring as many as 250,000 people marching to Trafalgar Square.

The statue of liberty in Trafalgar Square:

Women dressed as characters from the Handmaid’s Tale with a sign declaring ‘Gilead steals our babies too’ alluding to the caging of children of migrants caught crossing the Mexican border:

Sound systems:

'we are all migrants'

'Latin American Migrants United Against Trump'

'Latin X Bloc - anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, feminist'

Frida Kahlo says 'Trump, get your nasty little hands off my people'

one of many marching bands

'Trumpets against Trump'

Harry Potter bloc? - Trump as dementor with the words ‘Expecto Patronum’ – the magic charm used by Potter against the dark forces of Voldemort (note Dumledore quote on placard too)
The next day a far right 'welcome Trump to London' march from the US Embassy attracted an embarrassing turn out of less than 200. But it was followed by a Free Tommy Robinson demo in central London that included activists from the UK Independence Party, PEGIDA (Germany), Breitbart, Generation Identity, the Swedish Democrats (SD) and France’s Rassemblement National (formerly the Front National), among many others. Figures associated with Trump such as his former strategist Steve Bannon have supported Robinson (former leader of the English Defence League), indicating a dangerous convergence between elements close to the White House and the previously marginal global far right.

The master race drinking at The Lord Moon of the Mall (Wetherspoons pub) on Whitehalll
In size, this was a smaller protest than the Free Tommy demo in London a month before which ended in clashes with police (maybe 5000 compared with 15,000). The counter demo was also more effective, including an Anti Fascist Network mobilisation (perhaps 3000 anti-fascists out on the day after the 250,000 anti-Trump protest - compared with a few hundred the month before). Still nothing to be complacent about, even if the immediate UK far right grievance has now been resolved with Robinson being released from prison. Globally the far right have been emboldened by Trump's success and believe that history is swinging their way. Last time some of their Tyrant Monsters achieved power it did not end well.

'We are all anti-fascist' - at Jubilee Gardens on South Bank from where marchers moved to Whitehall.

'Defend London: defeat the fascist creep'

'Blake Bloc - Opposition is true friendship' - great William Blake inspired banner on anti-fascist demo

Motorway Madness: 'ravers take over motorway services' (i-D, 1991)

Great article from i-D magazine, no. 91, April 1991 about post-club gatherings at Motorway service stations (click on images to enlarge):

'3 AM, Saturday morning. The M6 is windy, wet and desolate. Its rvice stations offer comfort only to lorry drivers and sleepy executives. For many weeks, however, selected services have paid host to the coffee and communal smoke of hundreds of ravers post club comedown. After the semi legendary Blackburn parties, police continually harassed the convoys criss-crossing Lancashire and beyond. Although parties such as Revenge provided a brief replacement, the next best thing was driving long distance to a club and afterwards passing a few hours chilling at a service station. A network of clubs around the Midlands and Northwest, such as Legends in Warrington, Quadrant Park in Liverpool and Oz in Blackpool now provide the excitement and camaraderie of the raves of 1989 and 1990. Each club generates its own Service station mayhem; favourites including Burtonwood (M62), Charnock Richard (M6) and Anderton (M 61).

The usual M6 choice, Knutsford (with its commanding views of all six lanes from the cafe) has tonight been cordoned off by the police (the “dibble“) and so the hordes head south to Sandbach. Most are returning from Shelley’s Laserdome in Stoke. As the cafeteria fills up and the ghetto blasters rev up, the staff and the casual callers look bewildered, probably by the size of the bubble jackets as much as the weight of numbers.

In the jungle humidity of the club’s, the ubiquitous baggy T-shirt is the only garment which prevents fainting, but in the chillier atmosphere of the services, mountaineering gear and sportswear reign. The clothes are from Chipie, Gio Goi, Soviet and still Joe Bloggs; favourite jackets and thick, fleecy tops come from Tog 24 and Berghaus. The bobble hat, once the preserve of train spotters, is now sported  with pride and appears in a vast range of bobbles, colours and ear-flaps...

A similar situation goes off on Sunday morning at Charnock Richard. 300 cars, each full, descend on the service area. This has been happening since the north-west after hours raves diminished last autumn. However by Christmas the management and police got wise to the game and started shutting the coffee bar, leaving the car park as the congregation area...'

'Phoebe 16, music journalist from Derby, clothes from Stussy and Guy's in Derby. Maddest thing you've ever done? 'Had the best night of my life at Shelleys and then got stuck in Stoke'

Friday, August 17, 2018

Reagan vists London (1984): mass demo, 'punk anti militarists' and a quick rampage through Covent Garden

The recent demonstrations during the visit by Donald Trump reminded me of demos against another controversial US President more than 30 years ago. In June 1984, President Ronald Reagan visited London to participate in a World Economic Summit at Lancaster House. This was during the period when US cruise nuclear missiles were being deployed in Britain in the face of widespread opposition.

To coincide with the summit, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and other peace groups called for demonstrations on Saturday 9th June 1984. We know a fair amount about how these protests were viewed by the state as a result of the release of various official files relating to CND in this period, collected together at the Special Branch Files Project.

Home Office and police correspondence indicates that UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was unhappy about the potential for news coverage of the demo distracting from the Summit. However she was advised that there was no legal basis to prevent the march and that in any event it would be impractical to enforce any ban. Summarising police advice, a note from Home Office F4 Division (Counter-Subversion/Terrorism) states 'unwelcome though this demonstration may be, there do not appear to be any grounds or powers to prohibit it'. The predicted large crowd would be 'a body of a size which cannot be physically prevented from moving if it wished to do so, and the police have proceeded throughout on the basis that some demonstration on these lines should be allowed to go ahead'.  A note from Downing Street (28 May 1984) states that 'Mrs Thatcher agrees that we have to accept the judgement of the police on the handling of this demonstration'.

The Metropolitan Police Special Branch Threat Assessment of the protests was shared with the Home Office on  8 June 1984. It advised was that the main event was to be the 'Return to Sender' march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, expected to attract around 100,000 people (the name of the demo referring to sending back cruise missiles).  In addition a non-violent sit down blockade of the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square was expected to attract 2,000 people. What the report describes as 'autonomous pacifists' under the banner of 'Summit '84' were proposing to undertake similar action to try and blockade Lancaster House itself.

On the day, Reuters estimated that around 150,000 demonstrated (CND claimed it was nearer to 200,000).  There were 214 arrests, including 13 who were arrested in the evening outside Buckingham Palace as Reagan arrived to attend a banquet given by the Queen (Canberra Times, 11 June 1984).

Trafalgar Square, 9 June 1984. photo by Alan Denney at flickr

The police threat assessment also included reference to anarchists:

'The Class War Collective of Anarchists and its motley collection of punk anti-militarist followers are known to oppose the middle-class manner in which CND conducts itself. At the 22nd October 1983 demonstration some 100 Class War followers attempted to storm the stage at the rally but were unsuccessful. Whilst there is no intelligence to suggest they will attempt the same maneouvre, it is known that their 'Spring Offensive against the rich' has not so far been successful. There has been a suggestion, however, that they may use the cover of the demonstrations to go on the rampage in Mayfair and even to subvert other extremists into similar action. It is most unlikely that any other group would in fact act in this way, but if sufficient confusion can be generated these anarchists (about 100) might be emboldened to commit acts of random criminal damage.

Easily identifiable, with their punk hairstyles and dirty black clothing, these anarchists will undoubtedly congregate around their black, and black and red, anarchist flags in Hyde Park prior to joining the main demonstration'.

Knowing what we know now about infiltration of groups like Class War it is highly likely that undercover police were present at an organising meeting held in the lead up to the Reagan demo at the Roebuck pub in Tottenham Court Road, called by Class War with people attending from around the country. So perhaps not surprizingly the police assessment turned out to be fairly accurate.

The events of the day are described in Class War founder Ian Bone's book 'Bash the Rich':

'We couldn't get anywhere near Lancaster House and tail-ended a whooping it up anarcho-punk mob running around central London - ending up at a rally in Trafalgar Square (the opposite of what we'd intended). We had to rescue something from the day's disappointment. Thinking on our feet we decided to trash the Savoy just up the Strand. The word was spread furtively out of the corners of many mouths and about 100 black flag carriers sidled away from the rally at 4 pm and self-consciously drifted up towards the Savoy. Down the side of the Savoy towards the embankment there was a lorry load of scaffolding poles.

Whoop! Go for it!. The poles came off the lorry. Red Rick - an old brick shithouse builder mate from Swansea - caves the first windows in with the poles. Crash, every Savoy glass window in sight goes in. Up and away and leg it down to the river. Five minutes and still no sign of the cops coming. OK, let's have another pop, 4:30 pm. Covent Garden - disperse, mingle and meet up there., and we'll start with the big bank on the corner.  Covent Garden - no black flags now - the distant sound of belated copes getting to the Savoy. People have picked up ammunition on the way. 4:40 pm we'll go for it...  Red Rick leads the way again. Two bricks straight through the bank windows. Shoppers scatter screaming. We run through Covent Garden trashing everything in sight. The sound of smashing glass cascading after us. A two minutes rampage around the streets - an American skinhead girl gets pulled for trashing one restaurant window too many'.

Ian's Bone's account is pretty much as I remember it. There's an alleyway down by the side of the Savoy Hotel leading down to Victoria Embankment and most of the damage was on that side of the hotel. I think the main Covent Garden action was running west along King Street, there was a skip near a branch of Midland Bank (now HSBC) full of lumps of rock some of which ended up crashing through windows. I also recall a window being broken in the office of the Lady magazine nearby.

All of this was taking place against the background of the first few months of the national miners strike - note banner being held up in Trafalgar Square saying 'Yorkshire NUM will win'.

The Reagan demo was to be just the start of a busy weekend. The following day (10th July 1984) there was a free 'Jobs for a Change' music festival on London's South Bank, organised by the left wing Greater London Council. Fascist skinheads stormed the stage as The Redskins were playing, and I ended up with an ad hoc group of ant-fascists chasing them around the area (see here for further details of those events).
Photo by Chris Dorley-Brown on flickr

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dancing London (1902): 'riotous hilarity' and 'rhythmic revolution'

'Living London: its work and its play, its humour and its pathos, its sights and its scenes,' edited by George Robert Sims, is a remarkable attempt to give an overview of London life at the turn of the 20th century (it was first published in 1901). All the volumes can be browsed on, and provide a great resource for historians of this period.

There are a number of chapters dealing with London nightlife. One on 'Midnight London' (in this volume) by Beckles Wilson concludes:

'Such, then, is Midnight London. In all the world's capitals is dissipation found under the name of pleasure; Britain's Metropolis is no exception. The gaudy and glittering throngs swarm over the pavements; and to the midnight sightseer there is a novelty in the spectacle of brilliant toilettes and ravishing complexions now visible at the tables of the brilliantly-lighted salons, which are crowded to the doors by Pleasure's laughing votaries. To such as these mid-day London has no attractions — is dull, tame, stupid. It is not until the mighty electric flare which distinguishes modern London bursts upon the city that they feel, with Edgar Allan Poe, that " the sun mars the ecstasy of the soul "; their pulse beats quicker by gas-light, if they do not hold that "Life is diviner in the dark." London in the twentieth century, however, is never dark, and the interval seems to be growing shorter and shorter  when it is ever quiet'.

The chapter on Dancing London by C. O'Conor Eccles (in this volume) surveys social dancing from
Mayfair Balls to poor children dancing in the streets. There are Highland Gatherings, Irish dances organised by the Gaelic League and a fancy dress ball at the German Gymnasium in Pancras Road. Here's a few extracts:

'When gaslights twinkle like stars, and  arc lamps shine out like moons, Dancing London bestirs itself. Dancing London!  What a vision the words call up of life, of movement, of riotous hilarity. Dancing London, of course, is young; is largely, though not exclusively, female; and is of all classes, from the fashionable debutante revolving to the strains of the Blue Hungarian Band to the coster girl footing it merrily on the pavement to the mechanical beat of a piano-organ. Men in general share in the amusement with less enthusiasm — under protest, as it were, and as a concession to the wishes of their womenkind — though amongst them devotees of the dance are to be found...

Dancing, as already indicated, is by no means confined to one class, or any degree of wealth. Indeed, it is generally found that the less this enjoyment costs the more heart-whole and satisfying it is. Quite as much pleasure can be purchased by a modest expenditure as by the most extravagant outlay. If we desire to see dancing less hampered by financial considerations than that hitherto noted, let us take a bird's eye view of Holborn Town Hall any evening, during the winter months, when the popular Cinderella dances are in progress. Despite a good floor and good music the price of admission is low. The entertainment of the season is the fancy dress ball, to which men are expected to come in cycling, boating, or other costume associated with some athletic sport, while the girls wear any pretty, light dresses at their disposal. Conventional evening garb alone is conspicuous by its absence...

English girls are exceedingly fond of dancing as a recreation. If anyone doubts it, let him visit the girls' clubs in Stepney, or Hoxton, or the Mile End Road. After a long day's labour in a mineral water factory (whose employees are sometimes distinguishable by their bound-up hands, or faces scarred by bursting bottles), in a match factory, a jam factory, or a tailor's shop, they will start to their feet at the first sound of the piano, and circle with an activity fairly surprising. They dance with each other, and seem to desire no other partners. Typical East-Enders are these lasses, with a shock of dark hair combed forward and forming an arch from ear to ear. Their dresses are bright blue or purple for choice, but often the original colour is only to be guessed at... 

...there  are penny dances in rooms at the back of public-houses, where the coster and his "pals" male and female disport themselves. There are also dances " free, gratis, and for nothing," when weather permits, in any asphalted side street with a convenient public-house at the corner where refreshment may be obtained in the pauses. The girls are the first to start. Their "young men" lounge around and guffaw until they are pulled or pushed into the circle and compelled to take their share, which they do after a fashion more uncouth than the girls, some of whom waltz admirably. A Bank Holiday on Hampstead Heath affords, too, an excellent view of this side of Dancing London. Here many such groups may be seen, groups beguiled from the fascinations of "kiss in the ring" by the superior charms of rhythmic revolution. And thus goes it through all classes, from lords and ladies to costers and their "donahs".'