Sunday, July 03, 2011

Short Hot Summer 1981: Southall

The first of a series on the 1981 July uprisings/riots in Britain. Night number one was in Southall:

Thirty years ago today, on Friday 3 July 1981, several 'Oi' punk bands were set to play a gig in Southall, an area of west London with a large South Asian population. The line up at the Hambrough Tavern included the 4-Skins, The Last Resort and The Business.

I certainly don't believe that Oi was a fascist movement, nor that all its bands and adherents were racist. It was quite distinct from the White Power music scene around bands like Skrewdriver (see: Misunderstood or hateful? Oi!'s rise and fall by Alexis Petridis, Guardian, March 18 2010). But it is true that gigs by such bands did attract skinheads with neo-nazi sympathies, and their presence in an area like Southall was asking for trouble. This was after all where Blair Peach had been killed by police in anti-National Front demonstration in 1979, and where in 1976 Gurdip Singh Chagger, a teenager, had been murdered by racists - prompting the formation of the Southall Youth Movement.

In July '81, reports of racist incidents involving people heading to the gig in the Hamborugh prompted Asian youth to take to the streets. Skinheads were said to have broken a shop window and abused an Asian shopkeeper, among other things. The police formed a cordon around the pub, and deployed riot shields. Clashes intensified as the police attmepted to disperse the crowd. Petrol bombs were thrown and the pub was set on fire. Cars and police vehicles were overturned, and a police coach was burnt out. Walls were demolished to provide bricks for ammunition. 61 policemen were injured and at least as many civilians; there were 21 arrests.

(There's some footage of the riot on youtube in the course of an old documentary about Oi)

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