Thursday, May 19, 2022

May Days in Dublin, 1994

I have taken part in many May Day celebrations large and small, but the biggest was certainly in Dublin in 1994. The occasion was a huge parade to mark the centenary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, I believe it was actually held on Monday 2nd May 1994, notable as the first May Day bank holiday in Ireland.

It was more a celebratory affair than a demonstration with a spectacular street theatre pageant. It looked great, and in the evening there was a fantastic open air gig with a rare (for then) appearance of Moving Hearts, some songs from Christy Moore, and 1990s favourites The Saw Doctors. I ended up with friends and a guitar singing rebel songs in a pub. 

There's some RTE footage of the event online; here's a few photos I took on the day:

Still it was also a dangerous and tragic time in the North, with the Irish Peace Process inching forward towards an IRA ceasefire later that year while loyalist killers seemed to be stepping up sectarian attacks.  The following month saw the UVF kill six people watching a World Cup match at a bar in Loughinisland.

 In Dublin we stayed for the weekend with some Irish friends we know from their time in London and who had moved back home. They had been involved with the Troops Out Movement in London, which I was a member of. I was also active in Justice for the Casement Park Accused which campaigned around an infamous miscarriage of justice in Belfast.  

That weekend in Dublin we went to an an event in a hotel where long time Troops Out Movement member Nina Hutchinson was being honoured for her support for Irish prisoners in English jails (I will write more about Nina another time). The 'Gathering of the Clans' brought together families of prisoners.

After it finished some of us went on to an after party in the far-famed Ballymun Flats, late night drinking with ex-prisoners amongst others. The next day we went to the Widow Scallans pub in Pearse Street for a drink, followed by the May Day parade on the Monday.

Later that month, on the 21st May, the band The Irish Brigade were playing a benefit gig at Widow Scallans for prisoners in an event organised by Sinn Fein's Prisoner of War department. There were hundreds of people inside. Two UVF members approached the bar with a bomb, intending to place it inside but were blocked by one of the stewards, Martin Doherty. Doherty was shot dead but he managed to prevent them getting in and they abandoned the bomb and fled. Had the bomb exploded inside the pub, there would have been a massacre and no doubt many of the people we had met on that May Day weekend would have been killed or injured (I later heard that Doherty, who was from Ballymun, had been at that party).

Martin 'Doco' Doherty memorial fund appeal, An Phoblact, 23 June 1994

[I recently donated some photos and papers to the MayDay Rooms in London for their archive of Troops Out Movement and related materials. If you have anything you can share with them get in touch with them. This post is one in a series where I contextualise this material with my recollections]

See also:

Thursday, May 12, 2022

New Protest Laws and Two Years of London Protests

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 is now law, bringing in new police powers summarised by Liberty as including:

Creating a ‘buffer zone’ around Parliament.
Giving police power to impose noise-based restrictions on protest.
Criminalising one-person protests.
Giving police power to impose restrictions on public assemblies.
Creating the offence of wilful obstruction of the highway.
Powers to criminalise trespass.

 No sooner has it passed than it was announced in the Queens Speech this week that one of the Government's key forthcoming priorities is to pass yet more laws against protests. 

None of this is really about police 'needing' new powers  - they have for instance had the power to arrest people for obstructing the roads for decades. As with the inhumane plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, this is a theatre of performative cruelty which aims to appease and politically mobilise that section of the population that seethes and resents those seen as 'other' and bringers of social, demographic or political change. But the Government is clearly trying to create a hostile environment for protestors after several waves of inspiring demonstrations over the past couple of years.

Here's a selection from the movements since 2020, as seen from London.

Black Lives Matter 

The police murder of George Floyd in  Minneapolis on May 25th 2020 sparked a global wave of  Black Lives Matters protests. One of the biggest in London took place on 7 June 2020 with at least 50,000 people starting out from near the American Embassy - crowd seen here heading on to Vauxhall Bridge.

Sarah Everard Protests

The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police office in March 2021 saw the heavy handed policing of a vigil at Clapham Common (near where Sarah was kidnapped) and many local protests against rape and sexual violence, including walk outs from some schools. Picture below is of school students in Trafalgar Square in April 2021.

Kill the Bill protests

What was originally known as the Policing Bill met with a movement of opposition including riots in Bristol in April 2021 (for which 12 people are currently in prison) and protests in many other places. Pictures below are from London demo from Hyde Park, April 2021.

Kill the Bill posters (these were flyposted around Brockley, South London):

Priti Patel, useless criminal (from Brick Lane, April 2021)

Kill the Bill protest squat of former Camberwell police station, Summer 2021

Trans Rights

Small demonstration in Trafalgar Square against conversion therapy, September 2021


'Refugees Welcome' rally in October 2021  against Government's anti-refugee bill (more photos and report here).

Extinction Rebellion

Climate emergency protests from Extinction Rebellion and related groups are an explicit target of new police powers. Why can't the Government just be left in peace to do nothing about climate change?

31 August 2021 - Extinction Rebellion blocking southern approach to Tower Bridge:

Police surrounding sound system

April 2022 - Extinction Rebellion week of action including here on 16 April a march from Hyde Park up Edgware Road.

Samba band leaving Hyde Park

'Nationality and Borders Bill is Racist' - yes it is, and i'ts now law

The new laws are designed to make protests more difficult but they will not drive us off the streets!

Monday, April 25, 2022

Linton Kwesi Johnson interview, 1982

This interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson was published in the newspaper Socialist Challenge (29 April 1982) under the headline 'We're di forces of vict'ry', alongside a couple of his poems.

'I am an artist who creates for people's entertainment and edification and enlightenment. If my poetry does that I'm happy. If it doesn't I'll have to try harder. If I do write about matters which are of political significance and importance that is only by accident. It's only because I happen to be a political animal who is involved in organisatonal politics.

I have been involved in the black movement since I was a youth. Maybe I would still be writing poetry if I hadn't been involved in the movement with about something completely different. But I don't ever get the two mixed up. You end up with a very cheap progagandist art and I'm totally against that.

I don't believe you can legislate for art. You can't say that the artist must be conscious and the artist must write to free people. An artist creates out of his own experience and at certain times in history there are certain individuals who happen to have these concerns and their art reflects it. For example, Martin Carter, the Guyanese poet; Nicolas Guillen from Cuba; and even in England William Blake who did the painting. These are coincidences. You can have an artist produce good art and be politically reactionary and vice versa.

I think as far as the black movement is concerned that what I do in Race Today is more important than writing ten poems or making ten albums.

Poetry has a role to play. I wouldn't go so far as to say it leads to political action. It has a role to play in the ideological struggle, the struggle for ideas. All it does is to reinforce existing sentiments. I think my poetry has a way of recording our experiences and of expressing the sentiments that we have. These are popular sentiments. I don't invent them. I'm not saying that art has no role to play in the revolutionary movement. Obviously it does. But it is very dangerous to overestimate that role. It is a stimulus.

What most artists hope for if they have a revolutionary perspective is that their art, whether their songs, their novels, their poetry will make people think about their situation or educate them.

It's about entertainment - not in the show business sense but you listen to a piece of music for instance and it'ssad. And because you're a human being and you have that human capacity for sadness you're moved. That's entertainment. And if that isn't what you do then it becomes cheap propaganda. And bad art as well'.

The paper also includes an advert for a '3 the hard way - an evening of poetry with Dub Poets' at Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton with LKJ, Oku Onouua and Michael Smith. The latter was to be killed in the following year in Jamaica after heckling a government minister of the then ruling right wing Jamaican Labour Party.

(Socialist Challenge was the newspaper of the International Marxist Group)


Saturday, April 02, 2022

Life Between Islands

Images of musicking and dancing feature heavily in the exhibition 'Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art' at Tate Britain.

Paul Dash - 'Dance at Reading Town Hall' (1965). Dash played piano in a band, the Carib Six - this is a view from the stage.

'As unofficial 'color bars' restricted access to public social spaces, homes became places of sanctuary. The front room, full of reminders of the Caribbean, became a site for intergenerational connection and somewhere to socialise with family and friends. Sound systems provided the soundtrack to the period. DJs, engineers and MCs set up in homes, on the streets and in community centres. They offered a way to connect with culture coming out of the Caribbean, especially Jamaica. For young Black Britons, music created opportunities for collectivity and celebration but also a means to address hostility and discrimination with a spirit of defiance. Dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson named them the 'Rebel Generation' (exhibition notice)

Tam Joseph - 'The Spirit of Carnival' (1982)

Denzil Forrester - 'Jah Shaka' (1983)

from Liz Johnson Artur, 'Lord of the Decks' featuring photos from the early UK grime scene.

'The various musical styles created in widely defined Black Atlantic history have proved so influential that we are obliged to consider the consistency with which they have summoned the possibility of better worlds, directing precious images of an alternative order against the existing miseries, raciological terrors and routine wrongs of capitalist exploitation, racial immiseration and colonial injustice. Those gestures of dissent and opposition were voiced in distinctive keys and modes. They carried the cruel imprint of slavery and were influenced by the burden of its negation.

However, that is not the most important observation we can make about them. The transcoding and transcendence of suffering made productive, becoming useful, but never, in spite of what Bob Marley had said, seeking redemption, directs our attention towards more elusive possibilities. Energised by political and social movements, those musical formations were anticipatory. They helped to construct and enact a 'not-yet' and enchanted it so that it could be both pleasing and seductive. It could be intoxicating and it could be enhanced the ingestion of intoxicants. 

Here we encounter the possibility that, under optimal conditions, singers, dancers and audiences, DJs and selectors might be able to collaborate so that they could glimpse the edge of their world, grasp the fragility of the order they inhabited and apprehend the fleeting but fundamental possibility of Babylon's overthrow'

(from Paul Gilroy, 'Colour Bars and Bass Cultures, Dub Aesthetics and Cockney Translations: Music in the Creole History of Black Life in Britain' in 'Life Between Islands' (Tate 2021)

The exhibition closes on 3 April 2022

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Always Remember: the AIDS Memorial Quilt in Hyde Park (1994)

TV Programme 'Grayson Arts Club' (March 2022) featured long term HIV survivor Jonathan Blake making a new panel for the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt.

The original quilt from the 1990s consists of '48 twelve foot by twelve foot panels, each comprising up to 8 smaller panels' each of which 'commemorates someone who died of AIDS and has been lovingly made by their friends, lovers or family' with nearly 400 people remembered (UK AIDS Memorial Quilt). It was inspired by the US AIDS quilt started in 1987 in San Francisco.

In June 1994 the UK quilt was displayed in London's Hyde Park, laid out on the grass alongside sections of the US quilt in the very moving 'Quilts of Love' exhibition. Here's a few photos I took a the time. As always wish I'd taken more and had a better camera!

This section of the quilt was made by women prisoners at FCI Dublin, a prison in California.

'Remembering those who died without dignity and respect. Silence = death'

'Although our bodies are confined in prison, our hearts are free to be with our loved ones who died from AIDS'. Not sure what prison this came from, but if highlights that the prison system in many countries was a frontline in the HIV struggle due to the criminalisation/incarceration of intravenous drug users who were at high risk of HIV.  Many people died from AIDS while locked up instead of being cared for in the community.

'Cumann Haemfile na h√Čireann' - Irish haemophiliacs, a reminder of those who were infected by HIV through contaminated blood products.

Jasmine, 24 April 1992 to 26 December 1992: at this time babies were still being infected through 'vertical transmission' (i.e. acquiring HIV from HIV+ mothers) before new drug treatments largely prevented this 

Panel for Joe, Chain Reaction (1980s fetish club held at Market Tavern in Vauxhall); and from Act Up Ireland  - 'don't let our epitaph read we died because of complacency and denial'

There's a great recent article by Clifford McManus in History Workshop on the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt: '40 years on from the first HIV related deaths, and despite amazing advances in the prevention, treatment and support of people living with HIV, stigma still exists. The AIDS Memorial Quilt continues as a living piece of community art through which stigma and attitudes to HIV can be challenged. Every time it is displayed in a public place it tells the stories of real lives lost. It draws the memory of a person, and all those who have died of AIDS and AIDS related illnesses, out of the shadow of stigma into the light of celebration'.

Also a good article by Dominic McGovern at Vice

Hyde Park, 1994

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

London Club Listings 1982

London club listing from Time Out, 26 February 1982. Before my London clubbing days, and I must say it doesn't sound too great though of course there were many other things going on beneath the radar and not listed here.

I mean less than a year after the Brixton riots was there really a Battersea nightspot called Riots with 'perspex dancefloor, games room and cocktail lounge with resident pianist'?

Elsewhere 'The Best Disco in Town' at the Lyceum would no doubt have been fun, broadcast weekly live on Capital Radio every Friday night with DJs including Greg Edwards.

Le Beat Route in Greek Street was 'attracting second generation New Romantics who've just discovered Kraftwerk' and iD founder Perry Haines was putting on 'Dial 9 for Dolphins' at Dial 9 near Marble Arch. A Monday night in South Kensington might find you dressing 'imaginatively' with 'the nouveaux elites' at Images at the Cromwellian, while the Barracuda Club on Baker Street was also busy.

Elsewhere 'cult' clubs included the Fantasy Attic at Samantha's in New Burlington Street (apparently 'psychedelic'. There was 'rapping' at the Language Lab at the Gargoyle Club on Dean Street, and the Fridge and WAG were mentioned, both of them key London dance music venues for most of the 1980s.

See also:

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Gays Against Nazis, Leeds 1978

Gays Against Nazis/Rock Against Racism gig at Leeds Poly, 30 June 1978 with The Mekons, reggae band Tribesman and Sheffield post-punk band 2.3

source: Record Mirror, 1 July 1978


Sunday, March 06, 2022

Skibadee remembered on home turf

The great junglist/drum & bass MC Skibadee died last month and fittingly is the subject of lots of memorial graffiti around Waterloo in South London where he was born, particularly in the graffiti tunnels under the station (Leake Street)

Alphonso Bondzie (his real name)

'Skibadee, 1.2.1975 - 27.2.2022'

'inspired, loved, taught and pioneered, world's no.1 jungle and D&B Emcee Skibadee'

MF Doom murals

There was a similar outpouring on the death of MF Doom in late 2020 - these examples from Deptford Creekside: