Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Punk and firefighters' strikes in 1977 and 2002

Good luck to firefighters on strike today in England and Wales in their pensions dispute, and to those in the London fire stations facing closure next week by Boris Johnson's cuts.

There's still a couple of days left on BBC IPlayer to watch 'Never Mind the Baubles: Xmas '77 with the Sex Pistols', Julien Temple's remarkable documentary about the Pistols last gigs in the UK. In 1977, firefighters were on all out strike over pay, walking out on 14 November for a 30% pay claim. The government mobilised the army to operate a strikebreaking fire service, and as Christmas approached firefighters and their families were facing great hardship. The Sex Pistols meanwhile were being banned from venues all over the country.

Huddersfield, December 25 1977

On Christmas Day 1977, the Pistols played two gigs in Ivanhoe's nightclub, Huddersfield. The first was a party for the striking firefighters' families, with the band handing out Xmas presents including t-shirts, albums and skateboards. The gig ended up with a cake fight and kids pogoing in their 'Never Mind the Bollocks' t-shirts. In the evening the band played a regular gig for adults. Temple was there on the day and filmed both sets, their last on British soil before heading off to the USA where they split up in January 1978.

The Pistols weren't the only band to play a benefit gig. The picture below is of popular pub rock band The Pirates at Hammersmith Fire Station in 1977, who also played for the strikers. Drummer Frank Farley's dad had been station officer at Hammersmith.

picture by 'Mick' at flickr
25 years later in November 2002, firefighters staged a series of strikes in another pay dispute. Another old punk, Joe Strummer, played a benefit gig for them at Acton Town Hall and was joined on stage by ex-Clash guitarist Mick Jones - the first  and only time they had played together since Jones left The Clash in 1983. The following month Strummer died.

Strange how these iconic moments in the history of punk and its aftermath coincided with these waves of firefighters' struggles.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rote Flora eviction protests in Hamburg

There were violent clashes in Hamburg yesterday over the threat to evict the Rote Flora social centre. The ex-theatre in the city's Schanzenviertel has been squatted since 1989, and serves as a a space for political and social  projects as well as gigs and parties. The local council sold the building to private developers some years ago, and they have recently announced plans to evict Rote Flora and develop a concert hall and office building.

At least 7,000 people took to the streets of Hamburg yesterday, protesting against the planned evictions and also for the right for several hundred Lampedusa refugees to stay in the city. Demonstrators faced 2,000 riot police deploying water cannon, baton charges and pepper spray.

See Flora Bleibt ('Flora stays') for more information. Their English language call-out for yesterday's demonstration states: 'Worldwide, cities are places of political struggles which frequently refer to each other and connect. When people are demonstrating against gentrification, eviction and increasing rents in Istanbul, Athens, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Berlin, Amsterdam or Copenhagen, not only the issues and architectures of investors overlap but more and more the experiences of protest and political goals as well. Political movements are newly created and evolve from the cities' social basis. The fight for Rote Flora's preservation is intersecting with struggles of other squats and urban district projects worldwide. There is tenants' resistance against revaluation and displacement, protest against privatisation of urban life, self-organisation and sabotage against repression and the inhuman system of deportation and sealing off borders... Right to the City - Fight Capitalism! No Border - No Nation!'


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Time for Team Tulisa

So Prime Minister David Cameron sticks his nose into a current court case and proclaims his support for Nigella Lawson - well of course she is the daughter of a former Tory minister. Judging by twitter and facebook he's not the only one - my timelines are full of people proclaiming their allegiance to #TeamNigella. I've got nothing against that, but I would like to see a bit more solidarity with #TeamTulisa.

The difference between the support given to Nigella vs. Tulisa says a lot about the different ways drugs are regarded according to class. Nigella has admitted taking cocaine, and has been accused by witnesses in court of doing so regularly. Does anyone imagine she is going to be arrested and questioned about this? No, a bit of Class A drug use is OK for upper class celebrities.

But what about ex-N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos? She has been charged with being involved with the supply of Class A Drugs followed an operation by The Scum newspaper. Their story claimed that she had merely introduced their reporter to a dealer after the former said he was trying to score some coke. No indulgence for her though - a working class London Irish/Cypriot woman is seen as being practically a gangster if she is accused of going anywhere near drugs. And of course a woman from her background who dares to have a 'female boss' tattoo is considered fair game to be denounced as a 'chav' and cut down to size.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Charlotte Bronte and Alexander Trocchi: Silent Revolt of a Millions Minds?

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) and Alexander Trocchi (1925-1984) might not seem to have too much in common as writers, but I wonder whether the famous passage in Jane Eyre about the 'millions in silent revolt' might have influenced Trocchi's coining of the phrase 'invisible insurrection of a million minds'? 

Of course Bronte's version has a more proto-feminist slant - it is the denial of agency to women that is her main point, though she does generalise to the 'masses of life which people earth'. Trocchi's appeal is to those who he sees involved in a diffuse cultural revolt:  'the cultural revolt must seize the grids of expression and the powerhouses of the mind... The cultural revolt is the necessary underpinning, the passionate substructure of a new order of things'. But in both there is this sense of a simmering insurgent intelligence.

'It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags'.  (Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, 1847)

Bronte in 1854
'Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds...What is to be seized - and I address that one million (say) here and there who are capable of perceiving at once just what it is that I am about, a million potential "technicians" - is ourselves. What must occur, now, today, tomorrow, in those widely dispersed but vital centres of experience, is a revelation. At the present time, in what is often thought of as an age of the mass, we tend to fall into the habit of regarding history and evolution as something which goes relentlessly on, quite without our control. The individual has a profound sense of his own impotence as he realizes the immensity of the forces involved. We, the creative ones everywhere, must discard this paralytic posture and seize control of the human process by assuming control of ourselves. We must reject the conventional fiction of "unchanging human nature." There is in fact no such permanence anywhere. There is only becoming' (Alexandre Trocchi, Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds, first published in the Scottish journal New Saltire in 1962 and then as 'Technique du coupe du monde' in Internationale Situationniste #8, January 1963).

Trochhi in 1967

Sunday, December 08, 2013

International Workers Music Olympiad 1935

In 1935 the International Workers' Music Olympiad, an anti-fascist festival, was held at Strasbourg in France close to the German border. The composer Hanns Eisler helped organise it, and one of the songs he wrote with Bertolt Brecht, the 'Einheitfrontslied' (United Front Song) was 'premièred by a chorus of 5,000 members of the workers song movement'. Also present was the British composer Michael Tippett (1905-1998), who wrote an account of it in 'Comradeship and the Wheatsheaf',  a publication of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society in August 1935 (Tippett worked with the RACS choirs).  This was later republished in 'Music of the Angels: essays and sketchbooks of Michael Tippett' (Eulenburg Books, 1980). Here's an extract:

'Over the Whitsun week-end an English choir of fifty voices went, under the conductorship of Comrade Alan Bush, to take part in the first international festival for working-class music organisations at Strasburg. The membership was drawn mostly from the London Labour Choral Union and Co-operative choirs (in particular the Federation Operatic at Abbey Wood). There was a competition piece to sing as well as music for the concerts and demonstrations.

The most numerous entries to the festival were workers' brass bands. Choral singing has not so strong a tradition in France as wind bands. There were choirs from various parts of France and Switzerland. Russian and Dutch choirs were, unfortunately, refused permits to enter the country by the French government. The Czecho-Slovakian contingent was unable to come, and all workers' organisations in Germany, Austria, or Italy only carry on illegally underground under the stress of the three forms of the fascist terror.

The festival was organised principally by the Strasburg Workers' Music League, with the help of other Alsatian music organisations. These musical and sports unions are very strong in Alsace and Lorraine, in Switzerland and France proper. The membership often runs into thousands. Benefits similar to those of our friendly societies are paid to members, and concerts, practices,and gymnastics are organised. All the unions have a political basis and join together for public demonstrations under the name of the United Front against Fascism, which the various socialist and communist parties of France have laboriously built as a weapon in their struggle...

Strasburg is an ideal town for an international festival of this kind. The older men fought in the German army and navy, their sons are conscripted into the French army. The president of the Strasburg Music League fought in the Kiel Mutiny in the German Revolution of 1918. Formerly a communist worker in Germany, he is now a communist worker in France. Working-class international solidarity has been forced on him by blood and war and revolution...

Michael Tippett
At the festival itself one could not help being struck by the delightful air of equality and informality. Everyone was a comrade, whatever language he might speak. It was like a foretaste of a free classless society but for the police ban on street music and the clashes that arose because of it. Over thirty bands marched onto the big festival ground played 'The International' while thousands of  voices sang it in various languages. The children were as free as the grown-ups. They walked onto the the microphone platform, they talked to whom they liked. No one was ordered about. Occasionally someone called for space round the microphone so that we might sing there, or a telegram of greetings be read from a sympathetic groups of workers'

A note in the book states that the London Labour Choral Union shared first prize in the Mixed Choir competition with the Chorale Populaire de Paris.

For more on 'Einheitfrontslied' (United Front Song) see Marxist Theory of Art:

'Und weil der Mensch ein Mensch ist,
drum hat er Stiefel im Gesicht nicht gern.
Er will unter sich keinen Sklaven sehn
und über sich keinen Herrn'

'And because humans are human,
they don't like a boot in the face.
They want to see no slaves under them
And no master over them'

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Pirate Radio: Article from Muzik magazine, 1995

There's now an online archive of every issue of Muzik magazine, from 1995 to 2003. The launch of the magazine by IPC was an indicator of the state of music in the UK a the time - dance music was massive and the coverage of it in IPC's NME was woeful. Magazines like Mixmag and DJ were flying off the shelves and IPC wanted some of the action. Likewise by 2003 the boom was well and truly over and there had been a revival of the guitar-led bands that NME liked to feature - so it was farewell Muzik.

There's lots of great material to be found in this archive. From Issue no.2, July 1995, here's an article on pirate radio (click on image to enlarge, or go to the archive and look through the whole issue).

'''Meet me outside McDonals in Crystal Palace. I'll be there in 10 minutes". The voice on the mobile phone belongs to the man behind Energy FM, one of London's longest-running pirate radio stations... As one of the highest places in London, Crystal Palace is a prime location for pirate radio transmitters and a prime target for the DTI investigators. Energy has been broadcasting on and off from here for over three years and the station's boss knows the area intimately. Tower blocks are central to pirate radio mythology because their height provides stations with the widest possible catchment area. Most hide their transmitter in a lift shaft or a drainage pipe within cable reach of an aerial placed on top of a block. Energy's transmitter is sufficiently high to enable their programmes to occasionally be picked up in Luton, which is some 50 miles away'. Dream FM (Leeds) and Power FM (Nottingham) also feature in the article, as does Kiss which by then had gone from being a pirate to being legit (the article mentions that they also used Crystal Palace tower blocks).