Friday, December 31, 2010

Bobby Farrell takes the Night Flight

Bobby Farrell of Boney M died yesterday at the age of 61. Born Alfonso Farrell in Aruba, off the north coast of Venezuela, he left home at the age of 15 to become a sailor. He lived in Norway and the Netherlands and then Germany where he worked as a DJ before he was recruited by German singer/songwriter Frank Farian for Boney M. Farian now says that he actually sang on most of Boney M's songs, and that Farrell just mimed to them on stage. But clearly Farrell was the male face of Boney M, and they wouldn't have been Boney M without him.

In 1978, Boney M released a bona fide Disconaut classic, Night Flight to Venus:





Geraldine Hoff Doyle: death of a Rosie the Riveter

Geraldine Hoff Doyle (pictured) died in Lansing, Michigan on December 26th at the age of 86. Nearly 70 years ago she was working as a 17 year old in a metal pressing plant during World War Two. A photograph taken of her was used by the artist J. Howard Miller as the basis for an American war effort poster issued in 1942 by the Westinghouse Company’s War Production Coordinating Committee.


The We Can Do It poster subsequently became associated with Rosie the Riveter, the fictional character representing WW2 women factory workers in the US. It has also become a feminist icon, widely recycled in popular culture (see some examples at Jezebel).


Interestingly, the history of the image isn't as straightforward as it seems. For a start, Doyle only worked in the factory for a couple of weeks. And the poster itself had a very limited local distribution during the war - seemingly hardly anyone saw it. It wasn't until the 1970s and 80s that the poster was rediscovered and became an icon of 'Rosie the Riveter'. Doyle herself was seemingly unaware of the poster's existence until then (see excellent post at Pop History Dig). But none of that detracts from its enduring power. In recent years for instance, Christina Aguilera (Candyman), Pink (Raise your glass) and Beyonce (Why don't you love me?)have all recycled versions of this image:









Rosie the Riveter was originally named in a 1942 song, with various versions recorded including this one by the Four Vagabonds:






Monday, December 27, 2010

Happening 44: Groovy Food and Rave Groups 1967



From International Times no.14, 2 June 1967, an advert for Happening 44, a psychedelic club at 44 Gerrard Street in Soho, where basement clubs of one kind or another had been held since the 1930s.

An invitation to:

'Tune in, Drop in, Come to Life, Love, Be-in with The Colour of Sound, The Sounds of Colour, Rave Groups, Exotic Entertainment, Movies, Strobe, Discs, Groovy Food, Fantastic Decorations, The Astounding Slides of Ron Henderson and the Fiveacre Light Show'

All night on Thursdays and Saturdays from 10:30 pm.

Starchild RIP - Teena Marie


US R&B singer Teena Marie died yesterday at the age of 54. Lots of love to her on the internet already, such as this piece at Soulwalking, so I will confine myself to appreciating her fine slice of space funk from 1984:




'Starchild' is in the 'dream lover from outer space' sub-genre of space-themed dance music (see also I lost my heart to a starship trooper and Spacer) with a dash of Earth Wind & Fire-style Egpytology:
Gazing into outer space
My telescope sent me to another planet
Since I was a child I yearned
To wear the rings around Saturn
My fingers burned

But when you hold me baby
That's the only time
I'm content, element, so sublime
Don't it make you wonder that your universal lover
Could be wearing the same smile

Ooo you are my Starchild...
Baby beam me, baby beam me up up
Drink the milky, from the Milky Way cup

Hold me tighter, touch me, then do
All of the sweet things
That star lovers do

Visions of another time
A strong pyramid, where secrets of life hid
Ancient Hieroglyphics told
of one man touching like Midas
He turned my love to gold

And when you hold me baby and I wear your magic ring
I feel you like no one in this world I've seen
Don't it make you wonder that your universal lover
Could be wearing the same smile

Oooo you are my Starchild...
Baby beam me, baby beam me up up
Drink the milky, from the Milky Way cup

Hold me tighter, touch me then do
All of the sweet things
That Star Lovers do

Take me to your heaven
I'll lay your odds to seven
And the Stars up in the sky
I can see them in your eyes
Oooo you are my Starchild...
Starchild...Starchild...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dancing is poetry with arms and legs


'The dance can reveal everything mysterious that is hidden in music, and it has the additional merit of being human and palpable. Dancing is poetry with arms and legs. It is matter, graceful and terrible, animated and embellished by movement'

(Charles Baudelaire, La Fanfarlo, 1847)

Photo of Mary Wigman, 1912, by Hugo Erfurth

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Black Album - Hanif Kureishi

Hanif Kureishi's novel The Black Album (1995) is, among other things, a great snapshot of late 1980s London. Its main protagonist, Shahid, is torn between the demands of militant Islamists at the time of the Rushdie Affair (1989) and the sexual and chemical possibilities of the secular world embodied in the rave scene.

There are some good descriptions of clubbing at the time with its mixture of love, ecstasy, crime, danger, joy and vacancy. Shahid's first E experience starts with a trip to a club in south London:

'The lip of the bridge was slipping them into the mouth of south London... They turned into a narrow cul-de-sac designed for murders, past workshops, lock-up garages and miserable-looking trees. They took a sharp corner into a lane. The building at the end, subtly vibrating, was the White Room. It was a silver warehouse.

In front of it was a forecourt along the centre of which had been laid a pathway of rolled barbed wire. The whole area was circled by a high fence and was washed in harsh yellow light, making it resemble a prison yard. Three pill-box entrances were manned by sentries mumbling into radios. Crowds surrounded them in the freezing night. Some kids, not admitted, clung shivering to the fence. Others attempted to climb it like refugees, yelling through at the building, before being yanked back to earth and pushed away.

Deedee gave her name and they were admitted. Filmed by security cameras, they swung through the floodlit walkway while being watched enviously. It was like being pop stars at a première. They entered a dark bar area of tables and chairs, where people sat drinking water and juice beneath billowing parachutes. Alcohol was not for sale.

‘This way.’

He followed her through maze-like tunnels of undulating canvas. Eventually they were released into a cavernous room containing at least five hundred people, where shifting coloured slides were projected on to the walls. There was a relentless whirlwind of interplanetary noises. Jets of kaleidoscopic light sprayed the air. Many of the men were bare-chested and wore only thongs; some of the women were topless or in just shorts and net tops. One woman was naked except for high heels and a large plastic penis strapped to her thighs with which she duetted. Others were garbed in rubber, or masks, or were dressed as babies. The dancing was frenzied and individual. People blew whistles, others screamed with pleasure…

With his eyes half closed, he peered into the incandescent ultra-violet haze. He noticed, through the golden mist, that no one appeared to have any great interest in anyone else, though people would fall into staring at one another. Then he was doing it; everyone was looking so beautiful. But before he could think why this might be, or why he was enjoying himself so much, an undertow of satisfaction rippled through him, as if some creature were sighing in his body. He felt he was going to be lifted off his feet. The feeling left him and he felt deserted. He wanted it back. It came and came. In a pounding trance he started writhing joyously, feeling he was part of a waving sea. He could have danced for ever, but not long after she said, ‘We should go.’
Electric waves of light flickered in the air. Fronds of fingers with flames spurting from them waved at the DJs, flown in from New York, sitting in their glass booths.

Afterward they head further south to a party in a squatted mansion:

They arrived at the ominous iron fence of a white mansion, the sort of place an English Gatsby would have chosen, he imagined. Trucks were parked in the driveway. Big men stood in the gloom. They searched Shahid, putting their hands down his trousers; he had to remove his socks and shake them while standing on one foot in the mud.

They went into the marble hall and found themselves staring up at a grand staircase. Then they passed the efficient cloakroom, the bar and the stuffed polar bear on its hind legs with a light in its mouth, traversed the deep white carpet, through doors, wide passageways and a conservatory where trees touched the roof, until they came to a Jacuzzi in which everyone was naked. Beyond was an illuminated indoor swimming pool. On its shadowy surface floated dozens of lemon and lime-coloured balloons. Beyond that the garden stretched away into the distance, lit by gassy blue flames. It was the perfect venue for a house party…

The house had been squatted the previous evening after being claimed by the drummer of the Pennies from Hell, a window cleaner who’d spotted it on his rounds. Tonight it was overrun by hordes of boys and girls from south London. They had pageboy haircuts, skateboard tops, baseball caps, hoods, bright ponchos and twenty-inch denim flares. Deedee said that most had probably never been inside such a house before, unless they were delivering the groceries. Now they were having the time of their lives. By the end of the weekend the house would be ashes. ‘The kids too,’ she added.

Deedee and Shahid started up the stairs, but dozens of people were coming down. Others danced where they stood with their hands in the air, crying, ‘Everybody’s free to feel good, everybody’s freee . . . ‘ Some just sat nodding their heads with their eyes closed. Then Shahid lost Deedee. On the landing a runty little wiry kid had taken up a pitch and was jigging about and shouting, ‘Want anything, want anything . . . Eeeee . . . E for the people! Up the working class!’

…Upstairs in the chillin’ space no one was vertical; kids were lying on the floor not moving — except to kiss or stroke one another — as if they’d been massacred. Shahid needed to join them, and he lay down, slotting into a space between the bodies. The moment he shut his eyes his mind, which in the past he had visualized as ancient and layered like a section through the earth’s crust, became a blazing oblong of light in which coloured shapes were dancing… He was high and accelerating — liquid, as if the furnace in his stomach was simmering his bone and muscle into lava. But what the girl said grated. Somewhere in his mind there lurked desolation: the things he normally liked had been drained off and not only could he not locate them, he couldn’t remember what they were. He needed to find a pen and list the reasons for living. But what on the list could be comparable to the feeling of this drug? He had been let into a dangerous secret; once it had been revealed, much of life, regarded from this high vantage point, could seem quite small.

He and the girl next to him were kissing, drawing on one another’s tongues until they felt their heads would fuse. Someone was lying down beside him and tugging at his shoulder. Shahid ignored them. The room had become one nameless body, one mouth and kiss.

…They clambered into the silence of the taxi and discovered their ears were yearning for music much as one’s stomach complains for food, but there was none available.

The song mentioned is Everybody's Free by Rozalla. I remember dancing to this at a party in Newcastle in 1991 to celebrate the release of a prisoner who had been jailed for refusing to pay the poll tax. On the chorus, everybody sang her name, 'Beccy Palmer's Free'.



Shahid's experiences open up a vision of the city as a giant desiring machine:

'This journey, as he headed home, involved a different disturbance. It had been the best night. Now he wanted to dream it again, luxuriating in what he remembered… he could see that today, although the secrets of desire were veiled, sexual tension was everywhere. He couldn’t doubt its circulating tangibility. Beneath the banality and repetition of this ordinary day there ran, like the warm inhabited tube tunnels under the city, flirtation, passion and the deepest curiosities. People dressed, gestured, moved, to display themselves and attract. They were sizing each other up, fantasizing, wanting to desire and be adored.

Skirts, shoes, haircuts, looks, gestures: enticement and fascination were everywhere, while the world went to work. And such allure wasn’t a preliminary to real sex, it was sex itself. Out there it was not innocent. People yearned for romance, desire, feeling. They wanted to be kissed, stroked, sucked, held and penetrated more than they could say. The platform of Baker Street Station was Arcadia itself. He had had no idea that the extraordinary would be alive and well on the Jubilee Line. Today he could see and feel the lure'.
The novel takes its title from Prince's famous lost album, available only on bootleg after its release was cancelled in 1987 (in the novel Shahid is a big Prince fan).


Saturday, December 18, 2010

January 1980 in the UK: chronology

A while ago I conceived of a series of pieces on 1980 on the premise that it was now 30 years since the birth of the eighties. With 2010 running out soon, it will soon be 31 years so I will try and post some more of The 1980 Archive in the next week. The following chronology of events in January 1980 is taken from 'The Book of the Year: September 1979 to September 1980' edited by the late socialist David Widgery and published by Ink Links at the end of that year.

The book's summarises that year as follows: 'A new government: pledged to change the face of Britain with a new threadbare philosophy and ruthless policy. A new decade: of economic collapse and international tension. A year when all our cosy institutions suddenly seemed fragile: the Labour Party, the NHS, civil liberties and the Olympic Games. But a year, too, of new forms of opposition, hopes for something better than survival. More strikes than 1926 and a rapid rise of popular protest movements'.

Clearly there are parallels with today, 1980 and 2010 both seeing incoming Conservative governments on a cuts programme. But reading through the chronology it is also striking how different the context was - the Cold War (Russia had just invaded Afghanistan), war in the north of Ireland, the colonial endgame in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, and a large industrial working class in the UK (January 1980 was dominated by a steel strike).

During the current student movements I've noticed a return of various 1980s anti-Tory slogans and tactics. I'm all for learning the lessons of the past, but we should be wary about trying to re-run the 1980s - after all in many ways radical and working class movements were defeated in that period, and in any event, those were very different times.

January 1980

1 Libyan oil price reaches $34.50 record. British army patrol kill each other in Northern Ireland (N.I.) despite procedures supposed to prevent ‘unnecessary’ killings. New chief of Royal Ulster Constabulary takes over as large march in solidarity with Republican prisoners is banned from going to Maze prison. Bill Sirs [leaders of steel workers union] predicts long steel strike: Keith Joseph [Tory mininster] intransigent in radio interview. Bad weather hits holiday sports programme.

2 Biggest-yet one day rise takes gold price to record $567 an ounce. International Transport Workers Federation pledges complete halt to union handling of steel imports into Britain as first day of steel strike gets strong support. Government-imposed commissioners in charge of Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham AHA suspend kidney transplant operations until April: three patients face death. NI Ombudsman-designate not to take up post after maladministration revelations.

3 Bill Sirs [leader of steel workers union] seeks guarantee from BSC [British Steel] of productivity element in their pay offer. Gold price reaches $660 an ounce. President Carter postpones Senate discussion of SALT treaty with USSR, because of invasion of Afghanistan, as US ambassadors seek support for anti-Soviet moves from NATO countries. Government concessions after protests mean South London kidney patients will not die.

4 DPP announces no police to be charged over death of Jimmy Kelly [killed by police in Liverpool]. Robert Mugabe accuses British of favouring Smith-Muzorewa side in Rhodesia. TUC makes further bid for peace in steel strike as TGWU declares dispute official. Carter announces sanctions against USSR.

5 British ceasefire administration announces 17,000 guerrillas have reported to ceasefire assembly points in Rhodesia.

6 US spokespeople say sanctions over size of Soviet embassy in Washington and export credits will last long time, and hint at closer alliance with China.

7 British-sponsored conference on future of NI opens to immediate disagreement among participants. Collapse of yet more steel-strike peace talks. Health Education Council launches campaign against smoking in front of small children. Teachers in Trafford, near Manchester, refuse to operate new timetables imposed to cut jobs through reorganization. US government to offer to buy grain which would have been sold to USSR before their embargo.

8 US sanctions stepped up: Soviet diplomats expelled, US consulate in Kiev closed, Soviet airline flights to America curbed. Steel pickets arrested in Sheffield. Australians’ second test victory in three-match series during England tour. 350 applicants for job of warden patrolling 15 miles of Hadrian’s Wall.

9 Talks on BSC craft workers’ pay collapse. Local councillors with children at state schools forbidden by government to vote on cost of school meals, milk, bus fares because of pecuniary interest’. Atkins announces second NI conference because first unable to agree on agenda. Summonses issued against two men over December attack on Tommy Docherty [manager of Manchester United].

10 Second closure will mean both nuclear reactors at Dungeness out of action for safety checks. TUC Steel and Nationalized Industries committees threaten industrial action over steel closures in bid to prevent Welsh miners’ strike planned for 21 January. Leaders of five African states deplore presence of South African troops in Rhodesia. Dog licence in N.I. to go up from 30p to £4.
11 Police arrest pickets outside steel stockholders in Strathclyde, and Whitelaw denies police are taking sides. Sirs says strikers now looking for 20% pay rise. Representatives of GMWU majority of water workers vote in favour of industrial action. Former IRA activist Peter McMullen wins right of political asylum in USA.

12 Reports of Soviet troops defecting to rebels in Afghanistan. Major grain-exporting countries reach deal with US to restrict supplies to Soviet Union.


Spizz Energi's Where's Captain Kirk was number one in the first UK Indie Singles Chart, issued in January 1980.

13 Press scaremongering continues against Militant Tendency in Labour Party. Veteran nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo returns home to a hero’s welcome from Rhodesia blacks: calls for moderation and reconciliation. ISTC [steel workers' union] leaders willing to talk with BSC provided there is a government-backed inquiry into the industry. Life- size statue of Charlie Chaplin found mysteriously abandoned in London’s Leicester Square.

14 Tories pledge support for possible US boycott of Olympic Games. Keith Joseph refuses to intervene in steel strike. BP raises pump price of petrol by 5p a gallon. EEC Commission to take France to court over continuing restrictions on British lamb imports. Planned all-out strike in Wales from 21 January is postponed to 10 March after TUC pressure.

15 Scottish TUC and CBI successfully pressurize steel strikers to scale down picketing in Scotland. Machbox’ toy firm announces over 1,200 redundancies. Brussels meeting of NATO and EEC countries fails to back Anglo-US hard line over Afghanistan. Government not to increase child benefit in April. Following strong protests Heseltine cancels ban on councillors with children at state schools voting on school meals, prices, fares. New Statesman magazine acquitted of contempt of Court for publishing interview with juror in Jeremy Thorpe trial.

16 Gold price reaches $755 an ounce. Government announces new financial targets for electricity and gas industries: large price increases will follow. ISTC decides to call out 15,000 workers in private sector of steel industry. US threatens to boycott Olympics if Soviets don’t withdraw from Afghanistan. Foreign Office announces resumption of full diplomatic links with Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. Parents and children join staff in protest at Nottinghamshire suspension of teacher who would not teach oversize classes. Paul McCartney arrested at Tokyo airport for possessing marijuana.

17 Bill Sirs says he is surprised that BSC announces closure plans for parts of Welsh steel industry in middle of strike. Picketing stepped up at private steel works and stockholders. Thatcher to support US initiative over boycott of Moscow Olympics. Unions at BL to hold ballot of workers over pay claim. Gold price rises above $800 an ounce.

18 Lord Soames renews emergency powers taken by Smith regime in Rhodesia after UDI. People queue to sell gold watches, rings in Hatton Garden.

19 Four arrested, including two policemen, by officers from Operation Countryman inquiry into alleged police corruption. At meeting with steel unions, Joseph and Prior make no concessions. John Tyndall resigns as National Front leader after losing vote of confidence. Dinosaur experts incensed by libel of brontosaurus in adverts for Audi cars.

20 President Tito of Yugoslavia has leg amputated. Carter issues one-month ultimatum to USSR: withdraw from Afghanistan or the US will boycott Moscow Olympics. UN Secretary-General Waldheim claims to have reached deal with Iranians for release of Americans in Tehran embassy. Protest outside Pentonville Prison over jailings, lack of inquest on Blair Peach following Southall demonstrations in April.

Dirk Wears White Sox by Adam and the Ants was Number One in the first UK Indie Albums Chart in January 1980

21 BSC works in Derbyshire closed by mass picket as steelworkers plan to increase pressure on North Sea oil industry’s steel supplies. Thatcher urges more negotiations in separate Downing Street meetings with steel unions and management. Gold price briefly exceeds $1,000 an ounce. Somerset County Council bans use by its employees of notorious herbicide 245T, which is alleged to cause serious illnesses. Mass evacuation of homes in Barking as fire releases cloud of cyanide from store in blazing chemicals warehouse.

22 Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov arrested and sent into internal exile in provincial city of Gorky. Gold prices plunge as speculation comes to an end. Over quarter of a million demonstrate in Dublin against injustices of Ireland’s tax system. Large rise in unemployment is announced. West Indies defeat England in World Series of one-day cricket matches by two games to nil.

23 Labour Party NEC defies press and right wing, decides to take no action against Militant Tendency and other left-wingers, and fails to change composition of inquiry into party organization. Anglo-US call for boycott of Moscow Olympics gets scant support either in sporting circles or from most governments. NUPE health workers follow example of local authority colleagues and accept 13% pay offer. Catholic Archbishops in Britain call for new anti-abortion campaign. Row continues between British authorities and ZANU leader Robert Mugabe over when he will be allowed to return to Rhodesia.

24 Carrington announces reprisals against USSR for invasion of Afghanistan: unused credits withdrawn, visits by Brezhnev, Kosygin and Red Army choir cancelled. Defence Secretary Francis Pym announces £4,000 million plus spending on replacement for Polaris missile submarines. ISTC and NUB refuse to attend talks between smaller unions and BSC. IBA announces it will look at plans for breakfast TV during discussion on new contracts for ITV companies. Staff occupy St George’s Hospital, London, in bid to prevent closure.

25 House of Commons committee to investigate deaths in police custody. Independent steel companies fail to get court order preventing ISTC bringing private-sector workers out on strike from Sunday 27th. Paul McCartney deported from Japan.

26 Lord Denning issues injunction against strike by ISTC members at private steel companies, bans secondary picketing. Financial Times survey shows London is the world’s most expensive city to stay in.

27 Massive welcome demonstration greets Robert Mugabe on return to Salisbury. Iranian Presidential election won by former moderate’ Foreign Minister Bani-Sadr. Sixteen arrests in Birmingham as Right-wingers attempt to disrupt large march commemorating British shooting of unarmed demonstrators in Derry, NI in 1972. US Olympic committee votes unanimously to back Carter’s boycott of Moscow.

28 BBC to repeat ‘Law and Order’ TV series on police corruption which met hostile establishment reception when first broadcast in 1978. Over 200,000 strike in Wales in protest against proposed run-down of steel industry. Many private steel workers defy Lord Denning. Employers make improved offer to water workers in face of threatened industrial action. British-sponsored conference on NI resumes meeting but makes little progress. Granada TV’s World in Action’ alleges corruption at Manchester United.

29 ISTC executive gives way to Lord Denning over ban on strike in private sector. 39 pickets arrested in South Wales. Four Persian Gulf oil states follow Saudi lead and raise price by $2 a barrel.

30 New Statesman magazine publishes details of massive British government phone-tapping operation. ISTC rejects pay offer from private steel companies in Midlands. Picketing continues at many steel plants in defiance of Lord Denning. South African troops withdraw from Rhodesia. Anti-abortionists lobby parliament in support of Corrie bill. Teachers’ strikes against cuts, job losses in Avon local authority to be extended. Post Office chief blames 20% + price increase on government-imposed cash limits. China’s Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping calls for ban on wall posters.

31 ISTC granted leave to appeal to House of Lords against Denning judgement. Private meeting of BSC officials with ISTC and NUB. BL chief Edwardes threatens end of company if workers' ballots rejects management's pay offer. Thatcher and Whitelaw deny that unauthorized telephone taps are made by police, security forces. White Rhodesian leader calls on black voters to back Joshua Nkomo against Robert Mugabe in forthcoming elections.



The Specials released their EP The Special AKA Live! in January 1980 and it reached number one in the UK singles chart in early February. It featured Too Much Too Young and Guns of Navarone (recorded live at the Lyceum) and Skinhead Symphony - a medley of "Long Shot Kick De Bucket", "The Liquidator" and "Skinhead Moonstomp" recorded at Tiffany's in Coventry. I once kissed a girl in that club but that was also a very long time ago.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Captain Beefheart RIP - Hard Workin' Fucked Over Man

RIP Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, who died today.

He features on the soundtrack of one of my favourite films, Blue Collar (1978), in which a group of Michigan car factory workers (played by Harvey Keitel, Richard Pryor and Yaphet Kotto) revolt against the company and the union which is in cahoots with it by staging a robbery. I love the way in the title sequence that the sounds of the factory are built into the music, with Ry Cooder on guitar and Beefheart on vocals.


When I was a school boy,
teacher said study as hard as you can,
It didn't make no difference,
I'm just a hard workin' fucked over man
Incidentally I once saw this film at the Ritzy in Brixton and they accidentally showed the reels in the wrong order - beginning, end then middle, Godard style

St Pauls Uprising, Bristol 1980

The current ConDem government has faced riotous opposition six months after coming into office. The last time a new Conservative government came in in 1979 it took almost a year for this state of affairs to arise, but the riots were much more ferocious than anything seen in recent years. In the St Paul's area of Bristol in April 1980 the riot saw police cars and a Lloyds Bank set on fire. Interestingly in terms of the broader themes explored at History is Made at Night, the riot was sparked by the police raid on a cafe in the context of broader conflicts about racism, black sociality and licensing laws. 134 people were arrested - 88 black and 46 white - so it is misleading to describe it as a race riot even if police racism was a major factor. Remarkably, in the most serious trial arising from the riot, the jury failed to convict 16 people charged with 'riotous assembly'. The collapse of the trial in March 1981 was followed a month later by rioting in Brixon and then a wave of summer uprisings.

The first document is an extract from the book Uprising! The Police, the People and the Riots in Britain's Cities by Martin Kettle and Lucy Hodges (London: Pan Books, 1981):

'St Paul’s is an area to which black people from all over the city come for parties, shebeens (illegal drinking clubs) and to play ludo, dominoes and pinball machines at the Black and White Café, the premises where the spark for the riot was lit. They come because there is nowhere else to go. Much of the activity is perfectly lawful and, even where it is not, it involves behaviour such as illicit drinking and cannabis-smoking which does other people no harm.

If the district is the focus for black social life in the city, the Black and White Café in Grosvenor Road, the ‘frontline’, is its nerve centre. When the riot broke out, it was the only black café (it,is in fact run by a black and white husband—and-wife team) which had not been forced out of business for contravening local authority health regulations or for similar reasons. But it had had its licence to sell alcohol removed. A seedy joint created out of the ground floor of a terraced house, the café was of great importance to the black community. It was the only bit of territory they had left and they were prepared to fight for the right to do what they liked there...

What brought hundreds of black and eventually white Bristolians up against the law on 2 April, 1980, a day when the schools closed at midday, was a police raid on the Black and White Café. This had happened many times before but serious violence had never broken out though it had in London in connexion with the Mangrove and Carib clubs). On the Second, as the occasion become known, thirty-nine policemen armed with search warrants for drugs and illegal consumption of alcohol moved in; the majority were to go into the café and the rest were to be held in reserve...

What they could not have known was that tension was high in the Black and White that day. There was much talk about a St Paul’s youth who had been arrested on ‘sus’ in London and was appearing in court the following day. Young blacks were angry about the ‘police harassment’ and talked of going to London to protest.

At about 3.30 p.m. the officers, the drugs squad in plain clothes and the rest in uniform, raided the café. They searched the place and questioned the twenty customers, searching some of them as well. Bertram Wilks, the café’s owner, was arrested and taken away in handcuffs, protesting loudly, to be charged with possessing cannabis and allowing it to be smoked on his premises. The police found large quantities of alcohol, including brandy, vodka and 132 crates of beer which they proceeded to load into a van in front of a growing crowd outside. The loading took a long time because there was so much liquor. As each crate was humped into the van, the crowd grew more restless, and when the van left a bottle was thrown, but there was no real violence as yet.

A man complained that his trousers had been torn by a police officer in the café, an allegation which was later canvassed as the reason for the riot, and drugs squad officers made a run for it clutching their booty. This was what really seemed to annoy the crowd. ‘Let’s get the dope, let’s get the drugs squad,’ they are reported to have shouted. Missiles were thrown in earnest at a police car and at officers, and the riot had begun. The violence spread quickly: officers outside the café took refuge inside under a steady hail of bricks, bottles and stones from the crowd of black and white youths which had grown to about 150 (others were looking on) on the grassy area opposite.

The police radioed for help and at about 5.30 p.m., two hours after the raid began, reinforcements arrived, assembling down one end of Grosvenor Road and marching down the road to rescue their besieged colleagues. This was a hazardous operation, with officers coming under a terrific barrage and being forced to take cover under crates and behind dustbins. It was the start of the really serious violence. As a black prostitute told the Sunday Times: ‘They came down the road, left right, left right, like they were on parade. They had dogs with them. When they came in front of the café, we let them have, it.’ The mistake the police may have made was to try to impose control with too few men. The marching column contained only 100 police and, on this interpretation, was a positive incitement to the angry crowd.,, Defence counsel at the riot trial months later suggested that the police had provoked the crowd by their military- style tactics. The police said, in turn, that they hoped this show of strength would disperse the crowd. It did no such thing'.


The second document comes from The Leveller magazine in 1980, a very radical piece from a member of its collective who later became... well I won't spoil it, read it first before you skip to the end to see who wrote it:

'Just when it had become fashionable for world-weary, elitist, metropolitan lefties to claim that class struggle was somehow ‘old-wave’, the Bristol race riots have put it triumphantly back on the political agenda in its most classic form - urban insurrection. The riots confirmed that the front-line is still where it has always been, which is not in animal liberation groups or whatever happens to be the current O.K. cultural preoccupation. The front-line is located where people are in struggle; where working people under all types of pressure, racism, capitalism in crisis, clash with the forces of the state.

The riots are probably the most politically progressive thing that will happen all year. But because they are difficult to assimilate into conventional political thinking they run the risk of being dismissed as almost a sideshow. The ‘New Statesman’, at a loss as to quite what to say about them, chose to say nothing at all. Paradoxically the state probably has a clearer idea of their significance than the white left establishment. Social workers, vicars, race relations officers, local councillors — in other words the whole structure of social control - wrung its collective hands and wailed ‘How could this have happened in Bristol, it had such good community relations?’ Someone ought to tell them that the race relations industry has increasingly little to do with the reality of life as it is lived by most black people and as such is not a barometer of anything, still less a cure or even a palliative. They could try asking black people from St. Pauls. They are scathing about ‘community leaders’ who are unknown to the community, black social workers who are primarily concerned with holding down their jobs and the local Community Relations Council. This body has allegedly been involved in deals with the police which would involve handing over lists of names of rioters in return for police promises to confine prosecutions to names on the list.

In parliament politicians tried to incorporate the riots into their own sterile Westminster games. Labour MPs blamed Tory policies for the riots, ignoring not only the fact that Geoffrey Howe and Willie Whitelaw are carrying out monetarist and law-and-order policies which were initiated under Denis Healey and Merlyn Rees, but that the Labour party record on fighting racism is just as bad as the Tories. The extra-parliamentary left has followed its traditional opportunism towards black struggles. At the march commemorating the anniversary of the death of Blair Peach the ANL [Anti Nazi League]— ever sensitive to fashion — had a black youth from Bristol on the platform.

The response of the state to Bristol has been more considered. It is clear that the other big city police forces are very cross indeed with the Avon and Somerset force for failing to stand and fight it out in St. Pauls. The Metropolitan police — in a novel exercise in community relations — has called in key black activists to warn them against following the Bristol example.

The significant thing is that the people of St. Pauls were able to hold it for five hours against the police, not just because they technically outnumbered them but because a whole system of police control, which includes surveillance had broken down. They won’t be caught like that again. The lesson of Bristol for the police is not only the need for bigger and better SPG type units in all the big cities but the need to strengthen the whole submerged infra-structure of police control: surveillance, phone-tapping etc.

Black people in St. Pauls dislike talk of the riots as a defeat for the police. They say the police victory is only just beginning. Over a 140 people have been arrested on charges connected with the riots — the first batch of them came up in court on May 1st. It seems there will be extensive use of conspiracy charges and the community is having great difficulty co-ordinating its defence because of the lack of grass-roots organisations and committed lawyers in Bristol.

The riots have had interesting reverberations within the black community as a whole. My mother is a black working class lady nearing 60. Eminently respectable and conservative-minded, she was pleased and excited by the ITN film of policemen running away from black youth and said firmly: ‘It shows they can’t push us around any more’. The riots politicised my mother and others like her and the state is well aware they posed a direct threat to its power — the more so because they were entirely spontaneous. But those on the white left who won’t learn the lessons of Bristol and insist on incorporating what happened into their own world-view may well find that the revolution happens without them'.

(The Leveller, no.38, March 1980 - written by Diane Abbot, later Labour MP)




So what about music? There is actually a direct line between the Bristol riots and the Bristol music scene that exploded later in the 1980s and early 1990s. Quite a few people from that scene were amongst the estimated 2000 on the streets that night. More to the point the riot carved out a social space in which music flourished. According to the excellent Port Cities:

'In the early 1980s competing ‘crews’ like The Wild Bunch (who later became Massive Attack), 2Bad, City Rockers, UD4 (Roni Size’s brother) and FBI Crew were battling it out on home-built speaker systems, modelled after those in Jamaica in the Caribbean. The Wild Bunch became legendary for their much-attended parties at which their music sets combined punk, reggae and Rhythm and Blues. They played at local events, such as St Pauls Carnival and in disused or empty buildings in or close to the St. Pauls area. After the St. Pauls riots in 1980, the police avoided the area, which made such gigs possible'.

Clifton Mighty, brother of Ray Mighty of 'Smith and Mighty' fame, was one of those acquitted in the riot trial (though he was still facing hassle from the police twenty years later).


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eadweard Muybridge

Earlier this year I went to the Eadweard Muybridge photography exhibition at Tate Britain. Of particular interest to me are his studies of dance. 'Woman Dancing (Fancy)' is from his 1887 Animal Locomotion series. An early photographic documentation of the dancing body, it features Kate Larrigan (a 'Danseuse from New York' as he described her). For an animated sequence of these photographs, see here.



The Edweard Muybridge is on at Tate Britain in London until January 11 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Night is not an object


"When [...] the world of clear and articulate objects is abolished, our perceptual being, cut off from its world, evolves a spatiality without things. This is what happens in the night. Night is not an object before me; it enwraps me and infiltrates through all my senses, stifling my recollections and almost destroying my personal identity. I am no longer withdrawn into my perceptual look-out from which I watch the outlines of objects moving by at a distance. Night has no outlines; it is itself in contact with me and its unity is the mystical union of the mana. Even shouts or a distant light people it only vaguely, and then it comes to life in its entirety; it is pure depth without foreground or background, without surface and without any distance separating it from me." (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 1945)

Isn't this quality of night part of what makes people interact differently after dark? The light reinforces our sense of separate identity, watching the world from our personal lighthouse, the dark begins to dissolve it.

Photo by Anthony Rahayel at Picable, taken at BO18 club in Beirut. Quote sourced from Documents.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Some more DayX3 Music Notes

I know it seems trivial to focus on the music played in the recent riotous demonstrations in London and elsewhere against education cuts, student fee rises, and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance for low income 16 to 18 year olds. Still plenty of other people are commenting on every other aspect of it, and for me what protest sounds like in 2010 is as important as what it looks like.

So having already written on some of the sounds on the December 9th demonstration and the Battle of Millbank, here's some more notes on the subject.

- Dan Hancox has put together a 2010 Riot Playlist of tracks he heard being played in and around Parliament Square on December 9th. Tinie Tempah, Rihanna, Princess Nyah and Sean Paul all feature, while in the comments others add Rage Against the Machine (Killing in the Name of) and Polynomial-C by Aphex Twin. Dummy mag has turned this into a Spotify playlist.

- I've noted previously that the Star Wars 'Imperial March' theme, also known as the Darth Vader tune has cropped up several times in the current movement. I've been down to the Goldsmiths occupation a couple of times in New Cross and couldn't help but notice that some of the people involved had put together a short film using guess which tune?



- Another track I heard being played at the demo on Thursday was Liar Liar by Captain Ska. It was being played from the fairly dismal National Union of Students bus on the embankment (footage here). It is an explicitly anti-cuts anthem, is this what Dan Hancox had in mind in his recent call to arms for musicians to make some noise about the cuts?:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Strictly Scum Dancing Stopped by Police

Last weekend SkumTek's Strictly Scum Dancing free party was stopped by police on an industrial estate in Enfield. The press release issued by the police stated : "At 2300 on Saturday we attended a premises on a trading estate regarding a possible illegal rave being planned. Three people were arrested and a sound system was taken. Subsequently about 800 people attended and we dispersed the crowd." (BBC News, 5 December 2010)

But other accounts suggest it was more chaotic than this implies. According to the Enfield Independent:

Riot police clash with Enfield warehouse ravers (Monday 6th December 2010)

'Police officers were pelted by fired-up ravers furious their illegal warehouse rave was shut down prematurely. Officers visited the abandoned warehouse on an Enfield industrial site, in Lincoln Road, at 11.30pm on Saturday night after a tip off that hundreds of young people were gearing up to party.

It is believed the rave was put together by a rave group called Scumtek which organises guerilla dance events dubbed Strictly Scum Dancing, spread by word of mouth and on the internet. One reveller broadcasted the event on the web, stating: "London ravers! Strictly Scum Dancing from Scumtek is happening now in Lincoln Road, Enfield...if the Old Bill says it's off, it's not".

Up to 300 turned up and more than 800 people were said to have been turned away before even getting to their destination. As officers tried to move the party-goers along, a small group started throwing bottles and rocks at the police near Great Cambridge Road. Enfield police were inundated with calls from frightened residents from Percival Road as small groups of the ravers sat on cars, setting off alarms and drinking alcohol, leaving behind their cans and beer bottles.

Neighbours who live near the scene said it all started to "turn nasty" around 2am when police arrived in riot gear. They claimed 100 young people were penned in by officers, in Main Avenue, and were charged by officers in a bid to force them along. Many of them fled into a nearby housing estate and down side roads with small groups lingering in the area until 4am. A total of 12 people were arrested for public disorder, three people were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and a sound system was seized'.

Was the police operation pay back for the recent high profile Holborn Halloween party, which the police were criticised for failing to stop? Both were organised by SkumTek, and in the days leading up to the Enfield party, police raided the homes of people they believed to be involved, seizing computers, phones and other equipment. On this occasion, the police seemed to have got the upper hand, although many people made it on to another squat party that night in Hackney Wick (Smeed Road) afterwards.

Lots of discussion about all this at Party Vibe and Facebook. Much of it the usual armchair moaning - 'they shouldn't have organised a party in Central London last time'/'they shouldn't have organised a party so far out of Central London'; 'They shouldn't have put it on Facebook'/'Why can't I find out what's going on?'; 'You kids should have been there when the parties were much better in 2000/1995/1988/1066' etc. etc. Putting on parties like this is a risky business, nobody can guarantee that it will always work out and maybe some of the moaners should try putting one on themselves.

On the other hand it is important to acknowledge that there are some real problems that the scene has to deal with - mostly not the fault of party organisers - such as people being mugged at parties and other stupid behaviour. Somebody reported that on the bus back from the Enfield party they narrowly missed being injured by a brick coming through the window thrown by another disgruntled would be party goer. Still if the Enfield party had been allowed to go ahead, maybe there wouldn't have been any trouble.

Here's some footage of last Saturday night, with the crowd beginning to face off to police behind makeshift barricades. Funny how the Holborn events were front page news but something like this happening just a few miles north is more or less ignored by the media:

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Panic on the Streets of London

Not going to attempt to comment on today's epic events in London, with the Government voting to increase student fees amidst riotous scenes, with the Treasury, Supreme Court, Oxford Street shops and Prince Charles's car all coming under attack. Many people injured by riot police charging in with horses and batons.

For now just going to post a few photos and report what I saw. At lunchtime crowds came down the Strand and into Trafalgar Square then on to Parliament Square.

As this sound system came into Trafalgar Square it was playing Damian Marley's Welcome to Jamrock and Tribe called Quest 's 'Can I kick it?'. People were bouncing up and down. Then I heard it playing Benga and Coki's Night.

Interestingly the BBC's Paul Mason has written today of the 'Dubstep rebellion':

'The man in charge of the sound system was from an eco-farm, he told me, and had been trying to play "politically right on reggae"; however a crowd in which the oldest person was maybe seventeen took over the crucial jack plug, inserted it into aBlackberry, (iPhones are out for this demographic) and pumped out the dubstep.

Young men, mainly black, grabbed each other around the head and formed a surging dance to the digital beat lit, as the light failed, by the distinctly analog light of a bench they had set on fire. Any idea that you are dealing with Lacan-reading hipsters from Spitalfields on this demo is mistaken.

While a good half of the march was undergraduates from the most militant college occupations - UCL, SOAS, Leeds, Sussex - the really stunning phenomenon, politically, was the presence of youth: bainlieue-style youth from Croydon, Peckham, the council estates of Islington' .

(though while there was certainly dubstep being played, as Dan Hancox notes on Twitter, the sounds of grime, rap and bashment were also prominent: 'they banned grime from the clubs, now THERE ARE 300 KIDS RAVING TO POW IN PARLIAMENT SQUARE' (Lethal Bizzle's Pow).

I also heard another sound system entering Trafalgar Square playing John Lennon's Working Class Hero!

There was the usual percussion...

... and the not so usual bagpipes:


Later in the evening on the Victoria Embankment there was what seemed to me to be an attempt to use music to pacify the crowd with a National Union of Students bus playing music and then telling people to disperse. Bizarrely they had hired private stewards (SFM) who were blocking the road to stop demonstrators heading down to the House of Commons where a line of riot police were guarding the entrance to Parliament Square near to Westminster Bridge. People pushed past the stewards who got very aggressive - two of them shoved me as I walked through afterwards.
A couple of hundred then formed up at the police line, including this trumpet/guitar duo who were playing 'A message to you Rudi'.


I went round to Trafalgar Square having heard that there was an occupation going on at the National Gallery. Then around half past seven a crowd surged across Trafalgar Square and there was an attempt to set alight to the big Christmas Tree - no doubt inspired by the burning of the tree in Athens during the December 2008 riots.
The crowd of several hundred started going up Charing Cross Road and then on to Oxford Street. The police had totally lost control, in fact they were nowhere to be seen with the exception of a couple trying to keep up. People were blocking the road with rubbish bins etc. and on Oxford St there was lots of chanting outside the shops targeted recently in the UK Uncut campaign - Vodafone and Topshop closed their doors. But I didn't see any windows smashed. I doubled back down Oxford Street where another crowd had emerged by Oxford Circus, with police pouring out of vans. This time the main Topshop window on Oxford Street had been broken, and 'pay your tax' painted on it.


Although by now police had formed across the road, they didn't seem to know what to do. Oxford Street on a Thursday night before Christmas is full of shoppers and tourists and it wasn't easy to tell who was standing around excitedly watching and taking photos and who was a protester. Every so often the police would surge forward and shoppers, tourists and protesters would scatter, then another stand off started.

Topshop in trouble

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

More on Occupations and Dance Offs

In the last month a sustained movement against austerity has emerged seemingly out of nowhere. Since the student demonstration/riot in London on November 10th there have daily protests, meetings and occupations in towns and cities all over the UK. I have found myself wandering down Whitehall surrounded by hundreds of school students on an unofficial demonstration, seen students training for direct action in the occupied library of my local university (Goldsmiths) and swapped ideas with people from Brazil, Italy and Greece in a Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination workshop at the Arts Against Cuts weekend. I have been at a public meeting of 500 people cheering a 15 year old talking about organising a walk out from his secondary school.

What has been impressive is the innovation and the rapid circulation of struggles. A group of school students from Camden School for Girls visited the occupation at University College London - today 100 young women have occupied Camden School for Girls. As far as I know this is the first occupation of a school in London for more than 30 years! (anyone know differently let me know).

A 1977 Occupation

The most recent school occupation I have come across was from 1977: ''Sixth formers at Wanstead High School, east London, occupied their common room and front hall yesterday in protest against education cuts. 'We have a lot of support in other schools and our teachers are sympathetic' Richard Boyes, aged 17, a reprsentative at the school of the National Union of School Students, said". The occupation followed a 12 day occupation at the University of Essex "against Government increases in tuition fees" (Times, March 19 1977).

Sheffield Occupation dance off

Reported previously on the occupation dance offs in Oxford and UCL. Here's another one from the occupation at Sheffield University:




Next chapter tomorrow, with the call to Shut Down London on the day Parliament votes on student fees.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Classic Party Scenes (6): Warriors, 1979

When Walter Hill's film The Warriors was released in 1979, there were fears that it would lead to an explosion of gang related violence. Watching it today the violence seems mild and indeed it seems incredibly camp, as leather vest-clad street gang the Warriors make their way back home to Coney Island fighting off other equally implausibly-dressed New York gangs along the way.

Musically my favourite scenes are those featuring the radio DJ who broadcasts a coded commentary on the gang battles with lines like 'All right now for all you boppers out there in the big city, all you street people with an ear for the action' before playing Nowhere to Run as a threat to the Warriors.

Then there's the scene where the Warriors are enticed into the club house of The Lizzies, an all-women gang who promise 'Let's party a little, get something going'. You don't need a PhD in queer studies to work out that Lizzies suggests 'Lezzies', with women dancing together to "Love Is A Fire" by Genya Ravan. Of course the welcome is a trap and as the women pull out their weapons a hapless warrior shouts 'The chicks are packed'. The film is loosely based on an ancient Greek story, so The Lizzies also stand for the Sirens.



Update: As mentioned in the comments, a sample from the film features in the mid-1990s house track Can You Dig It by Mark the 909 King (sample kicks in at about four minutes):


The Can You Dig It sample comes from a speech by gangleader Cyrus early in the film, where he calls for the gangs of New York to unite and take over the city:


This speech is also sampled in Can U Dig It? by Pop Will Eat Itself

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Fight the Imperial Forces

So many student protests in the UK in the past couple of weeks that I can't keep up, let alone follow what's happening in Italy and elsewhere. Which is a good sign I think.

On Tuesday things were moving so fast that when I turned up at London's Trafalgar Square the whole demonstration had moved on unexpectedly through the snowy streets of the West End. On the previous Wednesday in Trafalgar Square there was an amazingly lively crowd, with lots of school students and others climbing all over Nelson's Column. We headed off down Whitehall and within half an hour most of the crowd were surrounded by police where many remained 'kettled' until late in the evening. But not deterred, less than a week later a few thousand were braving the freezing cold to demonstrate again. Interesting times.


Plenty of time to ponder this significance of this later on, for now just a few more notes on the musical aspects. There were a couple of small 12v sound systems on the 24th November London demo including this one, which was playing hip hop when I saw it - to be precise Modern Day Slavery by Joell Ortiz/Immortal Technique.


Lots of other music and dancing going on. Here's students dancing during the occupation of University College London (UCL):





And here's students dancing in the occupied Radcliffe Camera Library at Oxford University:




But what is the tune of the of the movement so far? Unexpectedly one contender is from the soundtrack of a film made in 1980. On this week's protests GdnEdinburgh noted: 'Student protesters are singing the Darth Vader tune as police move in to guard the door at the Scottish Parliament'. Meanwhile on the same day in London, Tanya Gold reported: 'We gather at Trafalgar Square at 12 and run. The protesters say they do not want to be kettled like last week in Whitehall. And so the students, a block of teenagers with a sound system that plays the Imperial March from Star Wars, run under Admiralty Arch and into the Mall, then past the Treasury and into Parliament Square'. Two weeks previously on the first big student demonstration in London, Luke Young from Swansea posted on Twitter 'Students on this bus hummed the Darth Vader imperial march as I walked past earlier. They will feel the force later' .
The Imperial March, aka the Darth Vader theme, was composed by John Williams and first featured in the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Fights Back. Coincidently Irvin Kershner - the director of the film - died this week.

The ultimately successful fight of the Jedi against the Empire is now an established myth for rebels everywhere. The Fight the Imperial Forces image below comes from Alec Empire's 1994 album Generation Star Wars.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

World AIDS Day: Piccadilly Palare 1991

Yesterday the police were chasing thousands of students up round Piccadilly Circus, here's a tale of something similar from 1991...

Today is World AIDS Day, a day for everyone to reflect on the ongoing global health disaster that is HIV/AIDS. For me personally, a time to remember my time in the 'AIDS Wars' as a HIV worker and sometime activist in the early 1990s, when prejudice was at its height and medical treatments were in their early stages. A time too to remember those who haven't made it through, like 'Jane', one of the founders of Positively Women who I met at a World AIDS Day event I helped organise and died not long after.

On World AIDS Day 1991 (or to be precise, the Saturday before - November 30th), I took part in a demonstration at Piccadilly Circus. It was quite small - probably only about 100 people - but fairly lively, featuring the famous Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence radical drag nuns. People sat down in the road and chanted, among other things, 'we're here, we're queer, we're not going shopping' before the police piled in.

The following report by Nicola Field was published in the magazine Mainliners (for drug users with HIV), Issue 18, January 1992:

'On November 30th I went along to a peaceful demonstration in central London marking this year’s World AIDS Day. Organised by the London AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), the London Bisexual Women’s Group and the National Union of Students, the demo aimed to draw attention to the scandalous lack of information surrounding treatment, healthcare and safer sex/ drug use in this country. The action was interrupted by a violent and brutal attack by the police - more of this later...

Anyway, it was good to gather together in Piccadilly, around the statue of Eros. the Greek god of love, and inject a bit of sanity and reality into the chaos of Christmas consumerism. Quite a few passers-by hung around to read our leaflets. Wildly warpainted Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from Britain and the US looked brilliant and kept everyone buoyant as a number of people spoke to the crowd about the need to fight back against ignorance, hatred, censorship and intolerance. What stuck in my mind was an American activist forcefully reminding us that we have to take drastic direct action, targeting the institutions which control our access to information and new treatments. Alison Thomas of the London Bisexual Women’s Group told how the media went to Moral Town after the death of Freddie Mercury: as you probably know, Freddie was accused of being a ‘vigorous bisexual’ (!), of living a depraved lifestyle - because he loved men and blamed for his own illness and death. She demanded that the government ensures we are given proper information about safer sex so that we can make our own choices. The number and gender of our partners is irrelevant when it comes to HIV prevention, so long as we take care not to exchange blood, semen and vaginal fluids.


After the speeches the crowd decided we needed to make a bit more impact and so we started an impromptu march down Haymarket, determined to make as much noise as possible about the fact that we and our friends and lovers are being sentenced to death by poor healthcare and education. I was about to plunge into the centre of the crowd, which had stopped the traffic by sitting in the road, when I was suddenly shoved aside by a flying policeman. Reeling against the railings, I watched in amazement as uniformed bully-boys charged in droves, their faces contorted by fear and hate, down to where the protestors chanted ‘People with AIDS under attack -fight back!” Motor vehicles, filled no doubt with good citizens devoting themselves to the sacred ritual of shopping, beeped and shuffled forward. One bus drove inexorably into the crowd, acting as a convenient battering-ram for the police. People were snatching their loved ones out of the way. Like a drowning woman I saw my life flash before me and I recalled my part in supporting transport workers’ actions against low pay and poor safety standards. Where is that solidarity now? Is AIDS not a working class issue? Six police vans had by now screeched on to the scene at breakneck speed.

Now we all knew that the police were out to break up the demo without so much as a moment’s dialogue. Things moved very fast. Officers began shoving marchers on to the pavement. Many people were grabbed and wrenched from their friends and thrown violently into the back of the vans. A woman came towards me crying. She had just watched as a man was handcuffed from behind, thrown face down on to the road screaming and his head repeatedly smashed on to the tarmac. I and others stood helplessly and horrified by the side of the road, terrified to move as officers barged about arresting people brutally and sadistically. One man was arrested for a1legedly swearing at a vanload of police. As he was thrown like a sack of potatoes into the van, five or six policemen hurled themselves on top of him. We stood crying out as the door slammed shut and the van sped away. I myself was too scared to take photographs, fearing violence. I wish I had been brave enough; I wish we as a community knew how to fight back.

Twelve protestors were arrested, others assaulted, many more were hurt and bruised and everyone was terrorised. The attack was nothing more than a legal exercise in bashing the ‘queers’. At a time when murders of lesbians and gay men are reaching persecution proportions, it makes you wonder whether violence against lesbians and gays, Black people, drug users and people with HIV and AIDS will ever be treated seriously as crime. It’s particularly ironic that this event took place whilst ‘leaders’ of the lesbian and gay communities are trying to meet with the Metropolitan Police to appeal to them to protect us.

But the police arrest us for showing love and affection in public, for standing up for our rights, for trying to show people what we are suffering, and for trying to warn the public about the dangers of HIV infection. They shut us up, no questions asked. So when I read that we should explain to the police what we are going through, and ask for their help, I say: Who’s fucking listening?'


See also World AIDS Day: we salute the disco dead (1) and World AIDS Day: we salute the disco dead (2).

(top two images from 1991 flyer; bottom two from Mainliners January 1992 - click on images to enlarge)