Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Franklin Rosemont: Mods, Rockers and the Revolution

Robber Bridegroom (Surrealist London Action Group) notes the passing this month of Franklin Rosemont (1943-2009), Chicago-based 'poet, artist, historian, editor, and surrealist activist'. Rosemont was active in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as the wobblies). The following is an article he wrote for The Rebel Worker (no.3), published by the IWW in Chicago in March 1965 - ahead of its time in rejecting the sniffiness of many leftists towards pop music. Many more articles from The Rebel Worker and its London counterpart Heatwave can be found in the excellent Dancin' In The Streets!: Anarchists, IWWs, Surrealists, Situationists & Provos In The 1960s which Rosemont edited with Charles Radcliffe.

Mods, Rockers and The Revolution

Wobblies and other true revolutionaries are much less interested in the vague longings of college professors and Nobel prize-winners for a "better world" than in the day-to-day struggles of our fellow workers- not only the direct strug­gles against exploitation by the bosses, but the struggle to live some sort of decent life against all the obstacles presented by a society divided into classes. Thus it is essential that we concern ourselves not only with the job situation and economic questions but also with more "superstructural" anthropological factors: working class culture.

In this connection, the significance of rock'n'roll, and popular adolescent culture in general, has for too long been ignored. That rock'n'roll is one of the most important working class preoccupa­tions (among the young, at least) is clearly evident. That it has been ignored by the "left" press is additional testimony to the isolation of the ‘socialist’ intellectuals from the class in whose name they so often enjoy speaking.

Certain unfortunate souls, including many of traditional "left" ori­entation, have attempted to deny that rock'n'roll is really a working ­class phenomenon, even suggesting that it is imposed (!) on working-class adolescents by Madison Avenue, etc., as a form of exploitation through cheap talent, record sales and juke-boxes. To them rock'n'roll is a sign only of the "decadence" of contemporary capitalist society. They can neither take it seriously as a form of music nor see in it anything other than a possible "reliever of tensions" which they feel might better be expressed in more constructive activity. Thus Marshall Stearns in The Story of Jazz, thoroughly puts down rock'n'roll as a form of music but claims that by offering "release" to anxious kids, it actually contributes to the decrease of juvenile delinquency. This uneasy, patronizing anti-rock'n'roll "theory" is, amusingly enough, shared by Stalinists, lib­erals, Presbyterians, conservatives and bourgeois sociologists.

We must have done, once and for all, with this kind of evasive excuse-mongering, and look at the situation as it really exists. Rock'n'roll must be recognized not only as a form of music (which, for its players and its listeners is clearly as "serious" as any other) but also as an important expression of adolescent preoccupations.

As music, rock'n'roll is certainly ‘primitive’ but this must not be assumed to mean that it is therefore inferior. No one is less able than musicologists and other prisoners of academic limitations to situate this problem in its proper context. For the importance of rock'n'roll lies not only in the music itself, but even more in the milieu which has grown up with it, characterized above all by delirious enthusiasm, a frenzy which is no stranger to tenderness, and which undoubtedly appears scandalous to the easily-outraged watchdogs of bourgeois morality.

Much could be said for the influence of rock'n'roll on the emer­gence of a new sensibility (intellectual as well as erotic and emotional). Much could be said, too, of its unconscious quality, which, with its roots in speed-up and automation (and thus in the class struggle) lends to its "subversive” aspect. For rock'n'roll is, more than anything else, a latent cultural expression of the age of automation. Indeed, a study of the psychoanalytical and anthropological implications of automation might well make rock'n'roll its point of departure. Witness the fact that almost all of the most popular rock'n'roll groups are from the most intensely industrialized and highly-automated cities: in the United States, Chicago and Detroit; in England, Liverpool, where one out of every fifteen "Liverpudlians" between the ages of 15 and 24 now belongs to a rock'n'roll group.

The best of the new groups - Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, The Jewels, The Velvellettes, The Supremes, Mary Wells (all from Detroit), and The Kinks, The Zombies, Manfred Mann and, of course, The Beatles (all from England)- have brought to popular music a vitality, exuberance and rebelliousness which it has never seen before.

The Beatles are the most successful group in entertainment history. Their flippant replies to interviewers; their wild, raucous behavior; their riotous and insulting sense of humor remove them far beyond the pale of ‘respectable entertainers’. Their first movie, A Hard Day's Night, will remain one of the greatest cinematic delights of 1964, a lone cry of uninhibited freedom and irrationality in a cold desert of "seri­ousness" and pretentiousness.

The legendary quality, which can almost be called mythical neces­sity, of The Beatles, has not failed to attract the critical attention of some perceptive commentators. Consider this judgment from the pen of Jean Shepherd, who interviewed The Beades for Playboy maga­zine (February 1965):

‘In two years they had become a phenomenon that had some­how transcended stardom or even showbiz. They were mythical beings, inspiring a fanaticism bordering on religious ecstasy among millions all over the world. I began to have the uncomfortable feel­ing that all this fervor had nothing whatever to do with entertain­ment, or with talent, or even with The Beatles themselves. I began to feel that they were the catalyst of a sudden world madness that would have burst upon us whether they had come on the scene or not. If The Beatles had never existed, we would have had to invent them. They are not prodigious talents by any yardstick, but like hula-hoops and yo-yos, they are at the right place at the right time, and whatever it is that triggers the mass hysteria of fads has made them walking myths. Everywhere we went, people stared in open­-mouthed astonishment that there were actually flesh-and-blood human beings who looked just like the Beatle dolls they had at home. It was as though Santa Claus had suddenly shown up at a Christmas Party’.

Another British group, The Rolling Stones, has risen to popular­ity more recently, bringing with them a more disquieting, more sin­ister, more violent attitude into the rock'n'roll arena.

It is in England where the adolescent revolt (of which rock'n'roll is only one constituent element) seems to have assumed its largest proportions. In England the kids are categorized into two "tenden­cies": Mods, fashionably (often bizarrely) dressed, and who are asso­ciated with motor-scooters; and the Rockers, who prefer black leather jackets, blue jeans, and motorcycles. In both cases the boys wear their hair long, considerably longer than in America, and (according to a New York Times writer from Britain) "the word in London and Liverpool is that male hair is going to get longer and longer." The girls' hair is usually straight and worn down to the middle of the back.

The hair itself deserves comment, particularly since hair is growing longer in the United States as well as in England and elsewhere in Europe. The social implications of hair fashion have been inadequately studied, if studied at all. Some psychologists and sociologists have confined them­selves to brief, unexplained remarks on "sexual confusion”, "identity problems," and the like, which help very little. Others, it is true, have gotten a little closer to the heart of the matter. Thus the New York Times writer referred to above mentions that "sociologists, always a pessimistic lot, look on our jungled tresses and prophesy a future filled with indul­gence and rebellion." For it is an undeniable fact that short male hair has always been a characteristic of submission to authority. The police, pris­ons, army, schools, and employers are all in agreement in insisting on short hair and regular haircuts. Also, crew-cuts are the symbol, almost, of Goldwater conservatism. Before making unfounded judgments on the "identity problems" of today's kids, one might consider the problems of a culture so obsessed with keeping male hair short.

The riots and brawls of the Mods and the Rockers have also called attention to another aspect of the youth revolt: that rock'n'roll represents the only mass protest music today- another reason why it deserves the sympathetic appreciation of revolutionaries. The most pop­ular jazz has entcrcd the colleges and become respcctable. The most important developments in jazz during the last few years (Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, Roland Kirk, et al.) are hardly known outside a small audience of connoisseurs. It is useless to point out that jazz is, musically, ten thousand times better than rock'n'roll; that's not the point. The audience for contemporary "classical" music is even more limited.

As for "folk" music and its derivatives (country-and-western, bluegrass, etc.) these have become the official expressions of today's college fraternities. (Real folk music is primarily of historical inter­est.) Those unhappy souls of the traditional "left" who try to pre­tend that the "folk revival" has some sort of revolutionary content rellect only their sentimentality and intellectual superficiality. I do not mean to imply that there's not much that is beautiful and impor­tant in the folk tradition, and certainly it deserves serious study. But it can no longer be assumed to have anything to do with the working class. At any rate, workingclass kids are bored by it. Like it or not, what today's workingclass kids are listening to is rock'n'roll.

The rise of the Mods and Rockers indicates to some degree a rise of young rebellion everywhere: the" new youth" of Tokyo, Berlin, Moscow, etc. Inevitably, this has provoked innumerable journalistic scare-stories about "new parent-teen crises" in Sunday supplements throughout the world. Such articles contribute nothing of importance to the understanding of the contemporary adolescent, though they do shed a little light on the problems and preoccupations of adults. Repressed adults, attempting to understand younger people, often merely project their own problems onto the kids.

Many parents, for instance, afraid of participating in uninhibited dancing, approach the question with the presuppositions that there is something wrong with this kind of dancing, and that it must be rooted in some deep emotional anxiety. I do not mean to say that rock'n'roll dances are expressions of "freedom" (the lack of physical contact berween dancing partners is especially problematical). But we cannot advance one step in our understanding of these problems if we begin by saying that the kids are wrong.

There can be no doubt that the present development of rock' n' roll, and the milieu of young workers in which it thrives, is more con­sciously rebellious than it has ever been before. To be revolutionary, of course, is to be more than rebellious, for a revolutionary viewpoint necessarily includes some sort of alternative. And popular adolescent culture is pregnant with revolutionary implications precisely because it proposes alternatives- however crude and undeveloped they may be- to the ignoble conditions now prevailing.

Songs like "Dancin' in the Streets" by Martha and the Vandellas and "Opportunity" by The Jewels show that the feeling for freedom and the refusal to submit to routinized, bureaucratic pressures, are not confined to small, isolated bands of conscious, politically "sophisti­cated" revolutionaries. Rather, they are the almost instinctive atti­tudes of most of our fellow workers. Presently these feelings are to a great extent repressed, and sublimated in bourgeois politics, television, baseball, and other diversions. It is our function as disrupters of the capitalist system, and as union organizers, to heighten consciousness of these feelings, to encourage rebellion, to do all we can to liberate the intrinsically revolutionary character of the working class. Rock'n'roll, which has already contributed to a freer attitude toward sex relations, can contribute to this liberation.

There is no use being overly romantic about all this. I do not, for example, think that adolescent hangouts and record hops will provide fruitful recruiting grounds for the One Big Union; at least, not right away.

And for my part, I vastly prefer the more raucous rhythm'n'blues - songs sung by ghetto Negro groups - to the lukewarm, diluted sounds promoted in teen-celebrity magazines and on American Bandstand.

But what revolutionaries must consider is that many younger work­ers - rock'n'rollers - are discontented with existing society, and are seeking and developing solutions of their own. If traditional revolutionary politics hasn't appealed to them, it's probably because these politics haven't been as "revolutionary" as their protagonists like to pretend.

We in the IWW are not tied to narrow theoretical traditions and immovable dogmas. We are rising today because we are free to seek new solutions and develop new tactics to meet new situations. If we are going to keep growing, we will have to turn more to the problems of younger workers. It might be noted that jobs most common to kids (stock work, filling-station work, store clerking, etc.) are almost completely unorganized, and offer us a splendid opportunity to chan­nel the "youth revolt" into a consciously revolutionary movement.

In any case, we cannot go on assuming that the rock'n'rollers are a helpless, ignorant, reactionary mass; that their problems are not our problems; that they are somehow "irrelevant." We must recognize that the rock 'n 'rollers, too, despite the hesitations of" socialist" politi­cians, are our friends and fellow workers.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Derek Jarman: gay clubbing in the 70s and 80s

In his 1984 autobiographical text Dancing Ledge, Derek Jarman wrote about gay clubs in London and New York in the early days of AIDS:

The dungeon redoubts of the gay world are its clubs with names like the Asylum, the Catacombs, the Mineshaft. The gay Heaven is also deep underground; though the 9th Circle is above. Exotique foreign names abound - Copacabana, La Douce. Down in the dungeons the inmates shout themselves hoarse against the disco music and lasers, which furthers a delicious alienation. This world eschews the overground reality which rejects it, and seeks perfection in an ideal favoured by low lights, denim, leather and the rest. Signs are important - rings on fingers and limp wrists are replaced by running shorts and vests, work-out muscles and moustaches. These in turn fall to the Haircuts.

The next day, as I look down from my window in the sunlight on Charing X Road, I see these drained, pallid faces of the night on their way to the YMCA; the fetish for 'health' the guilty reverse of the night before. Today the gay liberation march winds past. This has an air of festival. Two immaculate pink nuns with moustaches neat as clipped box take the prize. A 'lady' in a ball-gown drops out and rests languidly on the City of Westminster salt bin in front of St Martin's... A pink balloon escapes and circles high in the blue sky.

In the Mineshaft, New York City, the microbes take a Charles Atlas course - and a famous and very old man drifts past quite in the pink and into the shadows. I make a mental note of a 'decent' retirement age - but know I won't bring myself to put myself out to grass. We all know these habits arc possibly damaging, but you pays your dues and takes your chances. In Ron Peck's film Nighthawks I played a very creditable cruiser, so lost in myself I burnt my fingers instead of the cigarette.

Usually self-preservation prevails and I'm home by two. The disastrous late nights are wrought by the unattainable barmen whom the wicked managements spread like jam.

I know the arguments against all this and am certain they have their own fair share of the truth. But I live and work in a single room which I share with some books and large sheets of blank writing-paper; so unless I make some foray into the night I could spend twenty-four hours alone

... In the dungeons pure anonymity prevails and the opening line is much more likely to be, 'Can I get you a drink?' - vodka with ice: much more comforting. And what else? Well, dressing is Fancy Dress. Down here this COUNTS. It's the real test of a person's sexual orientation - the styles forged in the dungeon slip over into the world outside. But here they are a code - the jeans with that exact-tear, the leather jacket and white T-shirt. Why not go to Heaven in a suit and tie? In the Mineshaft they turn you away for wearing aftershave. Elsewhere, a dress is OK, but the suit and tie of the real world is for punters with stuffed pockets. The HAIRCUTS buy theirs second-hand.
I consciously adopt the denim/leather look most nights. I'm assured I don't look like a clone. I have a phobia about moustaches like some people have for spiders - I couldn't conceive of touching one.

Back in 1965 La Douce opened its doors on Friday evening and closed them early on Monday. We danced through the weekend 0n purple hearts. Those without a bed slept in the Biograph Cinema before starting out again.

Drugs are never far from the scene. After the hearts came Acid and quaaludes; then amyl, and something called Ecstasy. Someone always managed to roll a joint in a dark corner, and dance away into the small hours. It's certain that nobody who had taken the steps towards liberation hadn't used one if not all of them. The equation was inevitable, and part of initiation.

Now, from out of the blue comes the Antidote that has thrown all of this into confusion. AIDS. Everyone has an opinion. It casts a shadow, if even for a moment, across any encounter. Some have retired; others, with uncertain bravado, refuse to change. Some say it's from Haiti, or the darkest Amazon, and some say the disease has been endemic in North America for centuries, that the Puritans called it the Wrath of God. Others advance conspiracy theories, of mad Anita Bryant, secret viral laboratories and the CIA. All this is fuelled by the Media, who sell copy and make MONEY out of disaster. But whatever the cause and whatever the ultimate outcome the immediate effect has been to clear the bath-houses and visibly thin the boys of the night. In New York, particularly, they are starting to make polite conversation again - a change is as good as a rest. I decide I'm in the firing-line and make an adjustment - prepare myself for the worst - decide on decent caution rather than celibacy, and worry a little about my friends. Times change. I refuse to moralize, as some do, about the past. That plays too easily into the hands of those who wish to eradicate freedom, the jealous and the repressed who are always with us...

... Raids on gay clubs follow different patterns. The last full-scale raid that I was involved with, in the mid-seventies, closed down the Gigolo in the King's Road. Saturday night, the place is packed to capacity. In the darkness at the far end people are making out. One tall, very handsome boy wades into the throng. He seems oblivious to the attention his presence is causing. He doesn't have a hard-on. I give up and stand at the bar. Three minutes later, whistles. It's a police raid. At the back the unreceptive one is in a fist-fight with a couple of leather boys. The panic is so great that I am carried at least ten feet by the surge of the crowd. Quick thinking: I empty my pockets deftly. We wait for hours in silence while each customer is given a body-search... they know they've got you, this riff-raff in uniforms. The Gigolo is closed down for ever after ten years'.

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)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dark Side of the Club

The Dark Side of the Club is an exhibition of clubbing and music photographs by Jamie Simonds now showing at the Gowlett pub in Peckham. There's some great shots, I particularly liked this one of a pirate radio operator (Kool FM I think) in action on an Aldgate rooftop.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dancing Ledge

Are there many dancing places in the landscape? Obviously there are many places where people have danced in the open air, but what about places that actually have a dance-related name? Dancing Ledge in Dorset is one such place. Situated on the Isle of Purbeck a couple of miles south of Langton Matravers, it is a place created by quarrying. The removal of stone has created a flat surface next to the sea likened to a ballroom dancefloor, hence the name.

Not sure how often people have actually danced there - it is a bit of a climb down the rocks - but in 'Old Swanage: Past and Present' (1910), W.M. Hardy mentions a picnic and dancing on the ledge with music from the Swanage Brass and Reed Band and 'a plentiful repast, consisting of lobster tea, salad and liquid refreshments'.

Derek Jarman was very fond of this place, calling his autobiography after it and filming parts of The Angelic Conversation and his punk movie Jubilee there. At the end of the latter, Queen Elizabeth I and John Dee walk at the Ledge, the queen declaring: 'All my heart rejoiceth at the roar of the surf on the shingles marvellous sweet music it is to my ears - what joy there is in the embrace of water and earth'.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Songs about dancing (6): Out on the Floor

From 1965, this Northern Soul classic by Dobie Gray has been an anthem for many years for some of the most committed dancers ever to have graced a dancefloor. There is something incredibly joyous about this song, to actually be out on the floor while listening/dancing to this record is such a buzz, a perfect beautiful loop - listening to 'on the floor' a joyous song about dancing while dancing joyously on the floor to the song...

'I am on the floor tonight, I feel like singin'/ The beat is running right and guitars are ringin'/ I'm really on tonight and everything swingin' / The room is packed out tight, light at the door/ I Get My Kicks Out On The Floor' (full lyrics at the excellent awopbopaloobopalopbamboom (from where I also sourced the scan of the label).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hillsborough 1989

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, when fans of Liverpool FC were crushed at the Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield. The fans were caged in by metal fences and as a result were unable to escape on to pitch when the crush developed. 96 people died. The Manic Street Preachers later recorded a song SYMM - South Yorkshire Mass Murderer - perhaps not one of their best efforts musically or lyrically, but expressing the sentiment that the disaster was not an 'Act of God' but was caused by the actions of the police and football authorities. A better song is the Liverpool epic Does this Train Stop on Merseyside by Amsterdam, which refers to the disaster with the lines: 'Yorkshire policemen chat with folded arms, people try and save their fellow fans' (Christy Moore has also recently recorded this song).

The following article was written by Jeremy Seabrook immediately after the disaster. Unfortunately much of it still rings true today, not just for football but in terms of the way the wider 'leisure industry' processes crowds for profit - see for instance deaths from fires in nightclubs.

'We were like animals in a zoo' - Jeremy Seabrook (Guardian, 17 April 1989)

Hillsborough has now become yet another placename to add to those that make up the by-now voluminous gazeteer of wasted human lives. Already there has been talk of "learning the lessons of Hillsborough"; but if the lessons of Bradford, Heysel, Manchester Airport and the Herald of Free Enterprise had been even half absorbed, this most cruel visita­tion might have been avoided.

What all these have in common is that they arose from the processing of people through time or space for the sake of experiences provided by the entertainment, holiday and sports industries; as such, they touch upon one of the central purposes of the economy in its most benign guise - that of leisure society. This, it turns out, is dedicated to the necessity of making as much money out of people as possible, in this instance, by making them pay - some, alas, with their lives ­for the privilege of standing for two hours in what are nothing more than overcrowded cages.

Because these experiences are associated with pleasure, it is easy to disregard the dangers, whether these are the use of unsuitable material in the manufacture of aircraft seats, insecure and overloaded ferry boats, or football grounds that prove to be deathtraps. It is only when things go wrong that some deep insight is granted us into the true value placed on human life by the purveyors of entertainment, escape and fun to the people.

"We were like animals in a zoo," said one man afterwards. It was a zoo in which the watchers were primarily electronic: the cameras of the media, the police videos and computers, represent a vast investment in the paraphernalia of surveil­lance, which could monitor every anguished moment, but do absolutely nothing to help. What a contrast this prodigious outlay of money presents with the absence of life-saving equipment. The doctors present testified that there were no defibrillators, and that the oxygen tents were without oxygen; but the presence of all the media hardware ensured that the spectacle of football was swiftly transformed into a spectacle of a quite different genre.

The carnage – how sad that the hyperbole of football writing becomes hideously appropriate – raises intently political issues. Those who insist upon referring to the incident as though it were an Act of God, a sort of natural tragedy, betray only their interest in concealment. The very public display of their humanitarian concern merely masks its absence in the more fundamental matter of preventing the gratuitous squandering of young lives.

Football is perhaps the only remaining experience in our social life where passion - and partisan passion at that - is engaged. Nothing could be further removed from the other characteristic crowd scenes in our society: the people shuffling through the shopping malls, for instance, are self-policing, introspectively concerned as they are upon the relationship between individual desire, money and the prize to be purchased; remote too from pop concerts, where the shared focus of cathartic emotion is funnelled on to a single person, and its ex­pression is without conflict.

But football continues to reach something which neither of these possesses - the pas­sion of locality, and of places once associated with something more than football teams. That Liverpool should have been connected twice with such un­bearable events is perhaps not entirely by chance. For the great maritime city, with its decayed function rooted in an archaic Imperial and industrial past, sport now has to bear a freight of symbolism that it can scarcely contain.

The energies of partisan, mainly working-class male crowds remain, as they always have been, the object of great anxiety and suspicion to their betters. These energies are perceived as perhaps the last vestiges of the turbulence of the mob - unruly, defiant and unpredictable - in a society where all other public passions have been tamed.

The forces released by football provide a glimpse of collective power that has been successfully neutralised in the rich Western societies; a suggestion that such passion could possibly be harnessed to social and political endeavour rather than sublimated in sporting conflicts.

Apart from the sight of the inert young bodies stretched out in the sunlight, perhaps the most chilling images were those of the anguished faces pressed against wire fences. They looked as if they had been taken from the iconography of repression of authoritarian states, and they evoke something quite other than the idea of sport. They bore the tormented expression of those in prison camps; indeed, many spoke of "the terracing that had become a prison", the inevitability of disaster within those reinforced enclosures, where the grisly facts of the quantity of pressure they. were calculated to withstand was conveyed with scientific precision.

We can only guess at what unwanted and redundant human powers are being con­trolled in the use of all this apparatus of containment; what frustrated visions and cancelled dreams are being policed, what doomed alternative use of these energies is being fenced in, sifted through the mechanistic click of the turnstiles. What an irony is the Government's obsession with identity cards in this context, when it is precisely a sense of identity that so many are trying to reclaim in these conflicts between geographic entities that have become, physically, interchangeable. For what now differentiates Sheffield from Nottingham, Manchester from Liverpool, Bradford from Leeds, with their homogeneous housing estates, the sameness of their shopping centres, the identical service sector economy?

There remains also an old class prejudice in the treatment of those who must be systemati­cally humiliated in the pursuit of their afternoon's pleasure. "We are treated like animals," some said afterwards; and in their words is an echo of how Government ministers had described them at the time of earlier disasters. The very idea of "fans" is a humbling social role, a diminishing and partial account of human beings.

Indeed, there could be no greater gulf than that created by the exaggerated adulation that the stars and heroes receive - the inflated transfer fees, the publicity, the column inches and admiring TV interviews - and the abasement and inferiorising of the fans, punters or consumers. The players are mythicised, whisked upwards into an empyrean of fame and celebrity, in which everything they do or say is reported, no matter how trivial; in the process they become remote from their votaries and followers, who are kept in their place as effectively as they once might have been through the mysteries of breeding or station. Part of the process of erecting the infamous steel barriers is connected with enforcing this separation: the pitch is inviolate, the fans must remain content with the wall poster, the autograph, the fantasy.

Already, the aftermath of these tragic disasters has taken on the aspect of a known ritual: the Prime Minister arrives, prayers are offered up, shrines are set up at the scene of the accident, and a fund is opened. It means that these inadmissable horrors have become part and parcel of our social life; they have become familiar. Once again, the real lessons are likely to be that the public enquiry will be a vast exercise in concealment of the true relationship of these unnecessary tragedies to the necessities of what are no longer amiable Saturday afternoon pastimes but are part of a remorseless machine for making money; how fitting that the advertising hoardings had to serve in place of absent stretchers.

More: see the Hillsborough Justice Campaign; there's also a couple of good articles by Merrick at Head Heritage, one summarising the Hillsborough events and the other comparing the policing of football fans with the recent G20 protests.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Blue Murder

Following the death last week of Ian Tomlinson after being assaulted by police at the London G20 demonstration, I guess I'm not the only person whose mind wandered to the Angelic Upstarts classic 'The Murder of Liddle Towers' (1979). The answer, for those who don't know the song, is 'Police Killed Liddle Towers'.

Liddle Towers was a 39 year old electrician and amateur boxer from Gateshead who was arrested outside the Key Club in Birtley (Northumberland) in January 1976. He told people that the police 'gave us a bloody good kicking outside the Key Club, but that was nowt to what I got when I got inside'. A few weeks after being released from custody he died of his injuries. An inquest into his death recorded the notorious verdict of 'Justifiable Homicide'.

The Upstarts sang: 'Why did he die, or did they lie? I think he's dead, so a doctor said / He was beaten black, He was beaten blue / But don't be alarmed, it was the right thing to do / The police have the power, Police have the right / To kill a man to take away his life / Drunk and disorderly was his crime / I think at worst he should be doing time / But he's dead / He was drunk and disorderly and now he's dead' .

Sex Pistols producer Dave Goodman released a record called 'Justifiable Homicide' on the same subject in 1978, apparently with Paul Cook and Steve Jones from the Pistols playing on the track.

The Tom Robinson Band dedicated their 1979 album, TRB Two to Mrs. Mary Towers, the mother of Liddle Towers. The song Blue Murder on this album goes: 'Well they kicked him far and they kicked him wide / He was kicked outdoors, he was kicked inside / Kicked in the front and the back and the side / It really was a hell of a fight... / He screamed blue murder in the cell that night / But he must have been wrong cos they all deny it / Gateshead station - police and quiet/ Liddley-die... / Lie lie lie diddley lie /Die die die Liddley die'.

The Death Song for Alfred Linnell 1887

Liddle Towers was not the first or the last person to die at the hands of the police to be commemorated in this way. Way back in 1887, Alfred Linnell was killed in clashes with police during the Bloody Sunday demonstration n London's Trafalgar Square (pictured below). William Morris helped carry his coffin, and wrote the Death Song to raise money for Linnell's family: 'What cometh here from west to east awending? / And who are these, the marchers stern and slow? / We bear the message that the rich are sending / Aback to those who bade them wake and know / Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay, / But one and all if they would dusk the day'.

Kevin Gately 1974

In 1974 Kevin Gately, a young student, was killed in Red Lion Square, London, during an anti-National Front demonstration. Gately is mentioned in a song called Spirit of Cable Street by People's Liberation Music, featuring Cornelius Cardew and recorded in 1976: 'Now at Red Lion Square the people fought with bare hands / Like their parents did down at Cable Street / Keep alive the fighting spirit of Kevin Gately / Brave anti-fascist fighter. / Unite in the spirit of Cable Street'.

Blair Peach 1979

30 years ago this month, on 23 April 1979, socialist teacher Blair Peach died at the hands of the police Special Patrol Group during anti-National Front protests in Southall, West London. Linton Kwesi Johnson recorded a track 'Reggae fi Peach' on his 1980 album Bass Culture (there is a dub version of this track on the album LKJ in Dub; Basque band Negu Gorriak have also recorded a version as Reggae Peachentzat).

The lyrics include the lines 'Everywhere you go it's deh talk of the day /Everywhere you go, you hear people say / ... ah deh S.P.G. dem a MURDER-AH, MURDER-AH / we can't let dem get, no furder-ah / because dem kill Blair Peach, deh teacha dem kill Blair Peach dem dogs 'n bleeders / Blair Peach was an ordinary man / Blair Peach him took a simple stand / 'gainst deh fascists and dem wicked plan / so they beat him till him life was gone'.

There is also a 1979 song by Mike Carver called Murder of Blair Peach, while the track Justice by The Pop Group mentions both Peach and Gately: 'Who killed Blair Peach? / Political prisoners caught at Southall / And tried by kangaroo courts / A man had to have his balls removed/ After being kicked by the S.P.G. / It doesn't look like justice to me... / Who guards the guards / Who polices the police / What happened at Red Lion Square / Who killed Kevin Gately'.

Colin Roach 1983

Colin Roach died from gunshot wounds at Stoke Newington Police Station in 1983, with many people reluctant to believe the police version that he had shot himself. Benjamin Zephaniah wrote a poem which starts ' Who killed Colin Roach? A lot of people want to know /Who killed Colin Roach? dem better tell de people now, /what we seek is the truth, youth must now defend de youth /Who killed Colin Roach? tell de people now'.

Sinéad O'Connor's Black Boys on Mopeds also refers to the death (without naming Roach) - the sleeve of her album 'I do not want what I can't have' includes a picture of Colin and thanks to to the Roach family. The song includes the line: 'England's not the mythical land of Madame George and roses. It's the home of police who kill Black boys on mopeds'.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Party on Beef Millionaire's Estate

'more than 1,000 revellers turned up at an illegal rave on beef baron Lord Vestey's £15m estate, police said today. Ravers descended on secluded beauty spot Chedworth Woods, near Compton Abdale, Gloucestershire, in the early hours of Sunday morning.Gloucestershire Police entered the site, on the Stowell Park Estate, seized sound equipment and made six arrests. Officers arrived at 3am with riot shields, dog handlers, tactics officers and video cameramen, and put up road blocks at the site... The 6,000-acre Stowell Park Estate is owned by Lord Sam Vestey, chairman of the Vestey Group. The group consists of meat exporter Angliss International and several cattle ranching interests in Brazil and Venezuela'. (Northampton Chronicle, 8 April 2009).

This is kind of 'spatial poaching' isn't it? Instead of sneaking on to the estates of wealthy landowners to poach deer, people temporarily appropriate space for a party. Those who know the history of Reclaim the Streets will appreciate the irony of the location for this particular party.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Drugs Raid at the Peace Cafe 1962

Stewart Home continues his exploration of the undocumented corners of the 1960s London beatnik scene with a post on West London face, Phil Green. Stewart mentions an interesting sounding place in Chelsea:

'On 12 March 1962 The Times carried the headline ‘Drug Charges After Raid On Café’ above an article that mentioned Green among others, then on 26 March 1962 the same paper followed this up with ‘C.N.D. Supporters Given Drugs’, concluding on 26 April with a news story entirely devoted to Phil Green entitled ‘Youth’s Beard A Part Of Façade’. Philip John Green then aged twenty was one of ten men and women arrested for their involvement with a ‘drug ring’ centred on The Peace Café in Fulham Road, Chelsea. At the time Green worked at this establishment as a chef. He pleaded guilty to possession of Indian hemp and twenty grains of opium, as well as ‘hubble bubble pipes’ used for opium smoking'.

The Peace Cafe was described in court as a supposed 'local headquarters of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament' that was actually a place where drugs were 'administered to young people who were supporters of that campaign and congregated there' (Times 26.3.1962). The Magistrate referred to it as 'an absolute den of iniquity and debauchery' when sentencing the manager, Kenneth Browning to 2 month's imprisonment 'for permitting the cafe to be used for smoking opium'. Browning told the court that he had been a supporter of the Committee of 100, the direct action wing of the peace movement (Times, 4 April 1962).

I haven't found out anything more about this place, except that a Peace Cafe was opened in the 1960s in Fulham by Rachel Pinney, a member of the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War. I assume this was the same cafe, one of those places where currents from the beatnik, drugs and radical political scenes intersected several years before the 'counter culture' became a media phenomenon.

If you know any more about the Peace Cafe, or any other interesting clubs, bars and coffee houses from that time please leave a comment.

(see also The Gyre and Gimble)

Friday, April 03, 2009


I enjoyed Jim Shaw's The Whole: a study in Oist Movement exhibition at the Simon Lee gallery in London. The underlying premise of the work was Shaw's self-created doctrine of Oism, a fictional new age religion with dancing rituals: 'Initiated in the late 1990s, it is a fictional religion complete with a pantheon of characters and rituals. Oism is inspired by Mormonism and the Christian Science movement and was allegedly formed in mid 19th Century America by Annie O'Wooten. There is the central idea that time moves backwards and the belief in the supremacy of a female deity, which is often symbolised by the letter “O”'.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was a film where 'the artist orchestrates a symphony of gestures to create a dream like sequence. Here Shaw merges the extravagancy of Busby Berkeley’s films with the esoteric dances instigated by spiritual leaders such as G.I Gurdjieff'. It was a perfect recreation of how you might imagine such a film from the mid-1970s, a group of women in diaphanous tabards floating around a Banyan tree and lying on the floor doing dance moves as if from a synchronised swimming routine (or indeed a Berkeley movie). The styling was uncanny, with the women dancers embodying a very specific period model of beauty -not just in terms of the haircuts (think Joanna Lumley's Purdey cut) but in terms of being older than the current media/marketing ideal.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

California: raves not 'consistent with the values of our community'

The chief of police in Redlands, California has denounced raves being held at Pharaoh's Lost Kingdom, a defunct amusement park. Police Chief Jim Bueermann said: 'I wish they would stop holding these things... I do not believe a rave is consistent with the values of our community. I do not believe that raves are good for young people'.
Police have been busy at the 'Get Lucky' parties at Pharaoh's, arresting 25 people on Feb. 28 and 41 people on March 14th. There's hundreds of photos of the latter party at the amazing Tigger Loves You rave photo site, and it looks like a lot of people think it's very good for them indeed.