Sunday, July 10, 2011

Short Hot Summer 1981: Brixton

Another in the series of posts on the 1981 summer riots . 30 years ago today, on Friday 10 July, Brixton exploded for the second time in three months following the arrest of sound system operator Lloyd Coxsone.

'Violence returned to the streets of Brixton this weekend, a few hours after Lord Scarman finished part one of his enquiry into the April riots. Large crowds clashed with police, cars were overturned and set alight, shops were attacked and looted only a short distance from Lambeth Town Hall where GLC leader Ken Livingstone was addressing an Anti Nazi League meeting. His audience had a grandstand view as officers fought looters... 31 officers were hurt hurt and there were 157 arrests, mainly for looting and assaulting police.

Trouble started at about 4 pm when police arrested a Rastafarian called Maliki in Atlantic Road. A popular disc jockey and community leader Lloyd Coxsone (32) tried to intervene but was arrested for obstruction. Within minutes youths had set up barricades across Atlantic Road... Police reinforcements were quickly on the scene but at 4:30 a Panda care in Atlantic Road was overturned and set on fire. An unmarked car which came to its aid was also overturned and fired but officers escaped unhurt.

Outside the Atlantic pub [late renamed the Dogstar in the 1990s] black leaders used a loud hailer to appeal for calm. Mr Maliki told the crowd that Mr Coxsone had been released and urged them to disperse. But some youths had already taken advantage of the confrontation to start looting shops in Atlantic Road. Rattner's the jewellers were attacked at 4.30 and a mob then ran down Electric Lane to raid Curry's the electrical goods shop...

Police formed themselves up in squads of about a dozen men with a sergeant in command. They lined up along the main road, walking under cover of riot shields towards the crowds. They were apparently trying to disperse the mob along Effra Road and Brixton Hill... By 8.30 police had cleared the centre of Brixton'.

(Source: South London Press, 14 July 1981)

Interview with Lloyd Coxsone

'As Brixton licked its wounds this week, an influential black community leader appealed to local youths to leave the shops alone. Disc jockey Lloyd Coxsone, owner of an internationally-famous sound system, said: 'I condemn the looting and shop breaking of last weekend. I know that trust between the youths and the police in this area has broken down. Bu this is not the way to solve the problems. The fighting in April was for a cause and I do feel that a lot of young policemen overstep the mark and are morally wrong. But I would never support any youth who went shopbreaking. It destroys what we are aiming for - a peaceful solution'.

Mr Coxsone (32) of Goulden House, Bullen Street, Battersea, was remanded on unconditional bail until August 24 at Camberwell on Wednesday after pleading not guilty to obstructing PC Kenneth MacKenzie in Vining Street and Atlantic Road on July 10. He admitted that he felt bitter at the way he and a colleague were arrested in Vining Street, last Friday night. The arrests led to a major confrontation in Atlantic Road which was only defused when Mr Coxsone and other black leaders addressed the crowds...

Mr Coxsone, a devout Rastafarian and father of six children also owns a record shop in Coldharbour Lane which he opened last December [Lloyd Coxsone Outernational Record Store, 395 Coldharbour Lane SW9]. A personal friend of the late Bob Marley, he came to England in 1962 to help promote Jamaican music through his sound system. He taken his music and his faith to most cities in England and Wales, and last December was engaged to play in Holland. The sound system is run by a team of about 18 young men, who share in the decision-making, and has an enormous following.

Coxsone himself is famous for his 'toasting' - a form of spoken commentary which underlines the words and music of reggae. Tall and slim, with dreadlocks down to his shoulders and a penetrating gaze, he is an impressive figure by any standards. After the April riots, Mr Coxsone and other influential members of the black community formed themselves into a 'peace committee'. The idea was to act as a channel of communication between local youths and the police. But Mr Coxsone feels it has not achieved full recognition...'

(Source: South London Press, 17 July 1981)

Poor Man Story by Levi Roots was produced by Coxsone and released on his label in 1981:

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