Saturday, July 06, 2019

'Brutal police attack on disco women' - London Lesbian Conference Social 1981

'Brutal police attack on disco women'

by Michael Mason (Gay News [London], April 16-29, 1981)

'Lesbians attending the main social event of the second National Lesbian Conference in London on April 4 were shattered by scenes of violence unprecedented in the history of the recent British gay movement – even if not in the history of the women’s movement.

Eye witnesses told of “brutality I simply could not believe", of women thrown to the pavements and beaten, of others holding back fearfully, yet desperate to help their sisters.

The shocking events of that night began when a man and a woman started arguing across the square from the lesbian disco at the Tabernacle, Notting Hill. The man chased the woman, threatening her with attack. Outside the Tabernacle she held a broken bottle in front of her to fend him off. At this moment a police constable arrived on the scene – and made a grab for the woman while the man stood by grinning.

Two lesbians went to the women’s aid and almost simultaneously police reinforcements – summoned when and by whom remains a mystery – rounded the corner in a van. There was utter confusion as the police milled around women leaving the disco, and accounts from people in different parts of the crowd tell no clear story. But within moments the violence had begun.

One woman was held spread-eagled at waist height. Her T-shirt was rolled up her body to bare her torso and she was repeatedly struck in the stomach with a truncheon, report eyewitnesses. Other women were thrown to the pavement. Still others were slapped and punched. There were serious injuries inflicted, and at least one woman had to be taken straight to hospital by ambulance.

But the trouble did not in there. Some 20 women were arrested for obstruction and assault and taken to a Notting Hill police station. In cells, in charge rooms and in the public areas of the station there was even further abuse – both verbal and physical. One woman called forward to have her details taken was slapped in the face and pushed back into the wall behind her. Another, in great distress at the scenes, was taken to the cells where three officers are said to have attacked her. Police women offered as much violence as police men, said those who were released from the station at 4 am the following morning.

Only a partial list of injury was given to the conference the next day. One woman had a cracked spine, another a cracked rib. Cuts and extravagant bruising were commonplace.

Lawyers attending conference gathered statements from eyewitnesses in preparation for the prosecution to be brought and for official complaints which are to be laid against the police involved.

Women who travelled to London for the conference and must now stay for the court hearings badly need financial support for their unexpected delay. Conference launched the Lesbian Social Defence Fund and contributions are urgently needed. They should be sent to the fund c/o A Woman’s Place, 48 William IV Street, London WC2'.

Another account:

There's a brief account of this incident in this interview with Trisha McCabe at Gay Birmingham remembered:

'The first national lesbian conference was in London, in 1981 and I don't recall there being a second one. The women I went with were a real cross over between the revolutionary feminist group and the Women and Manual Trades group, some weren't part of our group but hung out with us because they were plumbers or carpenters and there was a link.

I can't remember anything about the conference itself, what it was for, the content, or what came out of it, but I do remember the excitement and the postcard which I thought was very cool. It had a black background with three lesbian symbols against a flash of fire. I sent one to my mother, her response was 'What will the postman think?', and my father was going 'I don't think you should worry about the postman'. I do remember there was a lot of aggro around it and the reaction of the police. For some reason the police were out a lot and a lot of different women got arrested and there was a real carry on. We must have been having some sort of protest, I remember running round on the streets, piling in when a copper tried to get someone out of the crowd, and making sure they didn't. One woman was put in a police car, and these other women went round and opened the other door and she just got out again, but ended up being arrested again and up in court the following morning, so we did a lot of hanging around in the police station. Another friend had this huge argument with the policeman and I dragged her off and nearly suffocated her, just holding her so she couldn't fight and get arrested. A couple of friends of mine got convictions, but I can't remember what they were doing'.

The photo below, which features in Anita Corbin's Visible Girls project, was taken in the Tabernacle, Notting Hill Gate, 1981 on the night of the National Lesbian Conference social:

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Summer Solstice 1999: Autonomous Astronauts on Parliament Hill

 June 1999 was arguably the high point of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts in its UK zone of operations. It was then that the AAA organised 'Space 1999: ten days that shook the Universe - a festival of independent and community-based space exploration', held in London from June 18 to June 27 of that year.

Space 1999 Programme: Front
(the programme was designed by AAA Glasgow Cabal/Datamedia Design)

The festival featured an ambitious range of events including among other things a conference, games of three sided football, an Extraterrestrial Cinema night, a 'military out of space' protest as part of the Reclaim the Streets J18 Carnival against Capital, and gigs including one with Nocturnal Emissions and a space pop night at famous LGBTQ+ venue the Vauxhall Tavern. This diversity reflected the exotic cocktail of ingredients informing the AAA project, including radical art/anti-art, left communism/situationists, post Temple ov Psychick Youth occulture, techno, science fiction and of course a desire to get into space.

Space 1999 Programme

The ten days also included the summer solstice for that year on June 21st, providing an opportunity for an AAA training event. The programme promised 'Solstice outdoor training for autonomous astronauts, featuring star navigation, low level gravity practice, dreamtime workshop and astral projection exercise'.  I wrote the following report of it in my guise as Neil Disconaut in the festival's daily newsletter:

'20+ intrepid travelers gathered at Hampstead Heath station for a magickal mystery tour that was to take them to Parliament Hill, outer space and back within three hours. The solstice training event, facilitated by Neil and Juleigh Disconaut, kicked off with some theoretical orientation using nursery rhymes to demonstrate that most of us have been in training to be astronauts since we floated semi-weightless in the womb. The full meaning of lines like “I saw an old woman flying high in a basket, 17 times as high as the moon"will only become apparent when we go into space.

Next stop was the children’s playground, locked for the night but swiftly reclaimed by the innovative use of  dustbins to scale the fence. Exercises included gravity awareness on the swings and disorientation on the roundabouts. The possible use of the seesaw to catapult people into space was also explored.

Imagination training was carried out under an Oak tree on the hill, dressed with candles, stars and other decorations. Nobody volunteered to climb to the top to see if this was actually the World Tree with its roots in the underworld and its branches touching the sky. A discussion of reclaiming our sense of our relationship to the stars, and of the significance of the solstice, was interrupted by some kids asking us for drugs. Asked for their suggestions of how to get into space, one of them came up with the idea of a tunnel leading from Earth to the moon.

Dreaming is the cheapest and easiest way to fly, and there was discussion of various techniques for inducing dreams about space, such as sigilization. Neil described his dream experiments from which he concluded that in our dreams as in the rest of our lives the social gravity of capitalism inhibits the flight of the imagination. While he had succeeded in having some dreams of flying, this had had to struggle against numerous dreams featuring work, school, the police and other horrors.

After some astral body aerobic exercises contributed by Phil [Hine], John Eden facilitated an astral projection exercise inviting people to float above the heath and out to the stars. There were some interesting experiences with one person reporting that the space she had visited was quite noisy with lots of birds sounds.

The night wound up with some eating and drinking and with people from the band “They came from the stars” playing on toy musical instruments'.

our outline notes for the event

The post festival report, which reprinted the above article and states 'a CIP catalogue record of this book is available on Hampstead Heath'.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Ghost Town racism and resistance - The Specials play Coventry 1981

The Specials classic 'Ghost Town' single was released in June 1981. In the same month the band played an anti-racist gig in their home city of Coventry in a period of murderous racist attacks by far right-affiliated skinheads.

This report is from 'The Leveller' magazine, 26 June 1981, written by Chris Schüller with accompanying photos by Alastair Indge:

'The Precinct is a large modern shopping centre in the middle of Coventry, a warren of split level consumerism, fountains, pubs, car parks and lightbites. Last Saturday morning it was business as usual, thousands of shoppers, bored kids milling around, a number of skinheads. The only unusual things about it were the number of police on patrol in pairs and stationed in vans near every main entrance. And the fact that, for a city with an Asian population of 22,000, there are remarkably few to be seen.

Two months ago, Satnam Singh Gill, a student at Henley College, was beaten, kicked and stabbed to death by a group of skinheads in broad daylight within 50 yards of the Precinct. It wasn’t the first racist attack to take place in Coventry. Just two weeks earlier, 17 year old Susan Cheema was minding her father;s grocery shop when she was attacked about the face, arms and hands with a scythe, losing one of her fingers. But it was the worst so far, focusing attention on the growing racial violence in the city, and prompting local Asian groups to organise anti racist campaigns and set up self defence groups [...]

The day after Satnam Singh Gill died, a meeting was called by Asian and West Indian community leaders. Attended by over 400 people, it’s set up the Coventry Committee against Racism, a broad based organisation to which 37 community associations, temples and political groups are associated. They range from the Supreme Council of Sikhs through to the Communist Party to the Anglo-Asian Conservative Association. On May 23, they held a march to the city centre to protest at the death of Satnam Singh Gill. As the 10,000 strong procession reached Broadgate, a large group of ‘seig heiling’ skinheads began to hurl missiles and abuse from behind the police lines. As the young Asian marchers attempted to retaliate, some of them shouting, 'Brixton! Brixton!', 74 arrests were made. Many felt that the arrests were made far from impartially, and that the police had acted in defence of the right-wingers [...]

May 23 also provided the first concrete evidence that racist activity in Coventry was being coordinated by fascist organisations. Rumours had circulated before that the British Movement had moved some members into Coventry in January, that on May 9, four or five members of the BM and New National Front were seen in the city centre, but on May 23, hundreds of unorganised skinheads who had gathered to abuse and attack the marchers were met by Robert Relf and Leicester BM organiser Ray Hill [...]

Despairing of fair treatment and protection from the police, many members of the Asian community are organising their own defence. Harjinder Sehmi told me that his temple are providing judo and karate classes. 'We’re not out to revenge anything' he says, 'just out to defend ourselves'. Some of the more militant groups and individuals in the Coventry Committee against Racism have formed the Committee for Anti-racist Defence Squads under the umbrella of the larger organisation.

Meanwhile the attacks have intensified. On May 17, arson attempts took place at the Krishna temple and the Indian and Commonwealth Club. A woman of 50 was stabbed by skinheads while out shopping; a bus driver was attacked with a broken bottle, and another, who attempted to defend himself again skinheads was charged with actual bodily harm and with carrying an offensive weapon [...]  At the Coventry Carnival on May 13, the carnival queen, a West Indian, had to ride in a closed car because of stoning threats, and when a group of West Indian youths intervened to help an Asian boy who was being roughed up by skinheads, the police chased them off […]

Then on June 7, Dr Amal Dharry was stabbed in the heart by a 17-year-old skinhead as he left the chip shop in Earlsdon. He staggered to his car, where he locked himself in before collapsing. He died in hospital after 10 days on a life support machine. His attacker gave him self up immediately. He’d done it for a £15 bet that you wouldn’t “get a p*ki that night”.

It was against this background of racist violence that the Coventry-based two tone group The Specials decided to hold a festival for racial harmony in the Butts Stadium last Saturday. They asked other popular Coventry bands to perform for free – and put up the £13,000 it cost to put on the festival. The profits were to go to local anti racist groups [...]

On the day, barely 1000 people turned up. Perhaps they were scared away by rumours of trouble, perhaps they found the £3.50 entrance fee too expensive [...] Things livened up when The Specials came on. They seemed to turn the tension and frustration and disappointment into musical energy, and the small passive crowd suddenly became a big, excited one, and the songs never sounded so urgent, so relevant. But perhaps the high point of the whole set was a guest appearance by Rhoda Dakar who used to be with the Bodysnatchers. 'This is a song about another kind of violence, sexual violence'. It was called The Boiler and was about rape'.

[Hazel O'Connor also played at the festival. A few weeks later riots swept the country - see previous posts on the 1981 Summer Uprisings]

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Youth Strike 4 Climate in London

I jogged along to cheer on the Youth Strike 4 Climate in  central London yesterday. Great to see thousands of school students seemingly wandering in groups all round the area holding up the traffic on Westminster Bridge, Whitehall etc. There was a tangible wave of noise and energy sweeping across the area. It felt like one of those once in a generation moments when people come out on the streets and experience for the first time the sweet taste of collective agency and possibility... that feeling can have life changing effects for many years to come.

In the UK  mass protests on a school day are rare and generally signal a historical moment, like the anti-war school strikes of 2003 and the student/anti-austerity protests of 2010.  The fact that this Friday's school strike in 60 UK towns and cities is part of an international movement makes it all the more significant in this period of resurgent nationalism.  None of the big issues facing us can be solved in one country, even by left wing national governments, so globalisation from below is the only way to go.  

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

New Wave Rave 1977

As documented here before, the words ‘rave’ and ‘ravers’ seem to date back to the post-WW2 UK jazz scene and were widely used through to the late 1960s underground before seemingly largely falling out of use until the acid house era. But here’s a rare example from the punk period- an advert for a 1977 series of gigs in the West Country by Chelsea and The Cortinas (both on Step Forward records) with the strapline ‘New Wave Rave’. A ‘New Wave Disco’ is also promised.

In recent years the name ‘New Wave Rave’ has been used for various punk/indie club nights (a quick search throws up nights in Sydney and Berlin, among others). But I’m not aware of other examples of the use of the word ‘rave’ in the high punk period (1976-78). 

The poster features in the excellent ‘Oh So Pretty: Punk in Print 1976-80’ book by Toby Mott and Rick Poynor.