Sunday, October 17, 2021

Dance Can't Nice - exploring black music spaces at the Horniman Museum

In '696 - Dance Can't Nice' at South London's Horniman Museum,  the artist Naeem Dxvis explores London's Black music spaces with an installation recreating four kinds of spaces - a church, a 1970s front room, a barber's shop and a late 1990s teenage bedroom.

The focus on more private/domestic spaces is in itself a reflection that Black musics and Black people have often been excuded from public music venues and clubs, down to the Metropolitan Police's Form 696 which discouraged grime nights.

'Bedroom - A place that encapsulates the bedroom DJ culture that birthed grime, garage and drum n bass... it has served as a recording studio, a rehearsal and conference room, as radio station and sometimes even the club. Bedrooms like this are also spaces for young people who don't have safe space to perform or showcase their work'

'Church: The original Black music space that has birthed countless Black British musicians and genres. The church has housed music that creates connected communities'

'I want to evoke a sense of nostalgia and create value for the forgotten. I want to honour our spaces... Each space replicates the imagined and lived utopias of club culture as sanctuary and the everyday domestic and social spaces that infuse the foundation of Black British music' (Naeem Dxvis)

The title of the exhibition comes from a line in General Levy's Incredible ('Dance cyan nice unless we name pon de bill').


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Sophie Richmond on the politics of punk (1977)

So many words have been spilt about first wave UK punk and politics over the last 45 years, but one of the most lucid contemporary assessments came from within The Sex Pistols camp. Sophie Richmond worked for Malcolm McLaren's Glitterbest management company. Amidst all the chaos somebody had to make sure the bills got paid (or not), but she did a lot more than  admin. She was part of a collective effort around the band, also including her then partner Jamie Reid who designed the Pistols' art work. 

It's quite remarkable that in the midst of all this she should take time to consider the political significance of it all for an obscure libertarian communist magazine, Social Revolution (no.7, 1977) . The group behind it had been formed in 1975 and was soon to merge with the longer established Solidarity group. Political threads from this current led back to a shared heritage with the Situationists in the group Socialisme ou Barbarisme - the Situationists being an influence on McLaren and Read among others. Plainly Richmond, then 25 years old, had her own political perspectives that predated punk and the Pistols.

Her conclusion from the heart of the storm is succinct and accurate - music on its own can't change the world, romantic myths of heroic outsiders are a dead end and punk was inevitably on the road to being assimilated. And yet it was expressing something real, addressing how many young people felt, and opening a door of possibility where interesting things might happen before the door slammed shut once again. 

Extracts from article:

'Labels are inescapable and punk isn’t such a bad label really. Something for kids to identify with that sounds a bit vicious and tough, definitely anti the shit/ideology they try to shove down your throat at school.

Punk says “I’m a lazy sod“ and “I wanna be me“. It’s the latest in the glorious line of teenage rebels… From James Dean and Marlon Brando in the postwar American movies through the Teds, the mods, the ever present greasers, the skinheads and now the punks. Someone’s going to ask me why I left out the hippies. Can’t you feel the difference? (the hippies and alternative culture is what I grew up with so my view is jaundiced anyway, but it seems as though it was all very middle-class; it gave us the alternative society; it gave us peasant clothing and beads; but I don’t think it really gave us a lot of help in solving, or even helping us think about the problems of living in and changing a distinctly urban and industrialised country.

Anyway. Punk is teenage rebellion again. So the question to ask isn’t so much “How much potential for social change is there in punk rock?” as “how much potential for change is there in the teenage rebellion syndrome?” So we look back. No, nothing really changed much did it? The rebels have died (James Dean, Gene Vincent) have got assimilated, became successful (Rolling Stones) and have nothing to left to say to their still alienated audience. There are two things here – 

1. the expression of frustration, alienation and pissed offness felt by kids growing up in USA and UK who found the future is even more unattractive than their present. 

2. The eventual failure of those who voiced those feelings to escape assimilation and equally, the failure of the kids who dug it to escape their fate.

The lesson, I suppose, is that culture can only take you so far. Be you ever so pissed off and alienated, if all you do is sit down with your stereo and play "My Generation" a million times, you’re not going to get very far. The value of the Stones, Who, Vincent, Sex Pistols is it they can create a climate, put ideas into people's heads, at their best give off enough energy and enthusiasm to make people feel like they’re doing more than buying the next super duper album.

Because ultimately it’s up to the audience to decide if they’ll buy the action as well. And it’s up to the activists and militants to use the energy, the honesty, to grasp it and take things further and say look, we can do this, it’s not just fantasy.  Because attitudes don’t threaten, not in the cradle of free speech and liberalism. Attitudes are easily defused, rock ‘n’ roll ain’t revolution.

But there’s a point in time, before the media has jumped on your backs and exposed every hypocrisy and contradiction, before it’s become clear that you’re just another rock band, easily bought off by money and fame, when attitudes are potentially threatening to the system. And these kids and bands certainly aren’t upholding it. The Sex Pistols want  anarchy (their meaning clear enough in the song “I wanna be anarchy… I wanna be an anarchist, get pissed, destroy");  The Clash want a riot of their own in the song “White Riot" written in envy and admiration after the Notting Hill riots last summer. The Buzzcocks from Manchester sing about boredom and alienation (can’t stop using that word)… 

“I’ve been waiting in the supermarket, standing in with the beans (ketchup),  I’ve been waiting at the post office for silly pictures of the Queen (stick up), now I am waiting for you to get yourself good and ready (make up),  I’ve been standing in the standing room and I’ve been waiting in the waiting room, no one told me about the living room gonna forget what I came for here real soon" [Buzzcocks, Time's Up]

Great. At least it’s a bit real again. I’m sick of silly love songs which don’t have any meaning when you know, however passionately you’re in love, that your chances of getting a place you can call your own or a job with enough money to support your kids aren’t too hot.

But in some ways the punk bands are carrying on establishment myths of antiheroes, losers, dead enders. Romantic but slush. To be avoided. Liberal containment myths. But there’s a few encouraging things… The sudden emergence of a dozen or more young bands in the steps of the Pistols, not too hot musically or politically but at least a nice reaction against the progressive rock of the last 10 years, so overloaded with technology that it can’t go on the road with less than 40 articulated lorries and a cast of one million technicians. I like the whole do it yourself philosophy which shows in the clothes as well as the music [...]

Bands like the Sex Pistols… The punk bands in this country… Talk a little about reality, however little gets said before it’s all neatly tied up and put in little packages by the record companies, before the dying dinosaur of the music biz jumps in in search of a fast buck, before the posers start cashing in on the image (I see them on the horizon). That’s their value'.

Sophie Richmond's diaries of her time with the Pistols are quoted from extensively in Fred and Judy Vermorel's book 'Sex Pistols: the inside story' (1978). 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The first march against nuclear missiles at Greenham Common, 1980

There have been a number of events this year to mark the 40th anniversary of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp. Having been chosen as one of two sites for the location of Cruise nuclear missiles, RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire became a main focus for the movement against nuclear weapons in the 1980s. In September 1981 a group of women set up the first women's peace camp at the base, which remained in place until missiles left in 1991 (and indeed some women continued to protest there for years later).

But I believe the first major protest at Greenham Common took place a year earlier with the March Against Cruise Missiles on 21 September 1980, called by Newbury Campaign Against Cruise Missiles and the Southern Regional Campaign Against the Missiles. Around 2,500 people marched from Victoria Park in Newbury to the Greenham Common air force base.

Earlier that year, while at Luton Sixth Form College, I had been involved in setting up Luton Nuclear Disarmament Campaign and I believe this was the first time we went on a demonstration as a group. (the poster above advertises coaches to the demo from Luton in bottom right corner). I took a few photos on my cheap camera which do though give a flavour of the demonstration.

Luton Nuclear Disarmament Campaign banner makes its public debut

Some kind of street theatre, mocking Government's 'civil defence' plans

Rally at the end of demo - 'Cruise missiles make Newbury target No.1'.
The speaker here was from the Luton group. Not sure who the folk singers were - anybody know?

Report from Socialist Challenge, 25 September 1980

A few weeks later we went on the massive CND Protest and Survive demonstration in London, which I've written about here before.

[The influence of Greenham women went far beyond the peace movement. The tactic of a semi-permanent 'protest camp' engaging in ongoing non violent direct action has been widely adopted since, notably in the 1990s anti-road movement which interestingly fought one of its key struggles not far from Greenham at the Twyford Down protest against the Newbury bypass. Throw in the 1640s English Civil War Battles of Newbury and there's your radical history of Newbury book right there!].