Thursday, April 23, 2009

Southall 1979

30 years ago today, on the 23 April 1979, the far right National Front were planning an election meeting in Southall, West London. The mainly Asian local population mobilized against this incursion in an area where racist attacks had included the murder of Gurdip Singh Chaggar three years previously. Workers went on strike and the local community, supported by anti-racists from elsewhere blocked the main road.

The police - in particular the Special Patrol Group (forerunner of today's TSG) - used horses, batons and vans against the crowd and clashes continued into the evening. 350 people were arrested, and many were injured. Most tragically, Blair Peach (pictured)- a socialist teacher from New Zealand - was killed by police.

Reggae band Misty in Roots, who came from the area, were involved in setting up People Unite, a community centre. On the day the building was used as the anti-fascist HQ and it was stormed by police, wrecking the building and beating up those inside. Clarence Baker, the manager of Misty, was so badly injured that he ended up in a coma. Police smashed up a sound system and other equipment.

Jack Dromey from the Transport and General Workers' Union said: 'I have never seen such unrestrained violence against demonstrators ... The Special Patrol Group were just running wild.' No police officers were ever charged for their actions.

Punk band The Ruts were also involved in the People Unite collective and released Jah War, a song about the events on the People Unite record label. The lyrics include the lines: 'Hot heads came in uniform, Thunder and lightning in a violent form... Clarence Baker, No trouble maker, Said the truncheon came down, Knocked him to the ground, Said the blood on the streets that day'.

The Ruts and Misty also played at the 'Southall Kids are Innocent' benefits organised by Rock Against Racism in July 1979 at the Rainbow in London, as did The Clash, The Pop Group, Pete Townshend, Aswad, The Members and The Enchanters.

See also:
Blue Murder: songs about police killings (including songs about Blair Peach)


Raven said...

Hi - I enjoyed reading this piece a while ago. I grew up in Southall, and was on both the tragic Gurdip Chagger and Blair Peach marches - though I have now long-lived in SE London.

I remember Mistry in Roots being around and the well-known Southall reggaae venue at the time, the Tudor Rose (is it still there, I don't know). Though bhangra was bubbling up by then, it didn't really have any political edge to it - just glittery turbans and suits!

As you probably know questions are being pursued again about the murder of Blair Peach - I've just written about it here

Transpontine said...

Thanks Raven, yes it's interesting that the Blair Peach story is still live 30 years later. The Tudor Rose is evidently still going as a reggae venue, judging by a quick search on google. There's some youtube footage of Jah Shaka there last year.

Shakila said...

Does anyone have a copy of the Southall Kids are Innocent poster? I would like to put it in an exhibition in early April, but will need it in the next week or so.

Thanks so much.


notingfishy said...

Whats your exhibition shakila? I was part of Rock Against Racism team who put that gig on. I used to have a copy of that poster but Syd Shelton 'lost' it. You can contact him through maybe he's miraculously 'found' it. Don't mention me though :<))