Friday, September 30, 2022

The Age of Insurreckshan - LKJ in NME, 1984

From the NME, 17 March 1984, Neil Spencer interviews Linton Kwesi Johnson. Don’t call him a dub poet…

‘I’m not a dub poet and I don’t want to be classified as one… I’ve always seen myself as a poet full stop. I write mostly in the reggae tradition so my work can be described  as reggae poetry in the same way as jazz poetry, blues poetry.. but dub poetry no. I’m responsible for coining the phrase, as early as 1975 in a pamphlet I wrote called Race and Music but then I was talking about the reggae DJs and describing what they do as poetry, as dub lyricism’

[click images to enlarge]

Extract from interview:

Do you think it's important for black Britons to have a separate identity?

I think they have to forge their own identity from their own reality. The cultural gap between my generation, when we came to this country, and my children and their contemporary white friends, it's negligible.

What are you saying there? There's been no real change between conditions for blacks in Britain between then and now?

Oh, there's been changes, but we've had to fight for them. We've made a lot of progress, tremendous progress I believe, over the last 25 years, and as the events of '81 show clearly, we've moved from the era of the '50s and '60s and early '70s, which was an era of resistance, to an era of insurrection. And that is progress from my point of view.

Progress in what respect?

We're now accepted as being part of the country, even the repatriation lobby has to recognise and live with that. The state and the political parties, those who have power in this country, recognise that we have something to offer, we can swing an election particularly in marginal constituencies.

When Thatcher was running for election in 1978 she made those racist speeches about Britain being swamped by an alien culture; well, as you can see, by the last election they'd changed their tune and were trying to win the black vote.

The riots of '81 seemed almost like fulfilments of prophecies you'd made on the
first two LPs.

Well, not so much prophecies, anyone with any common sense could see it, I wasn't unique in saying those things. There had been a lot of mini-riots throughout the '70s, Basically I think the seeds were sown by the police in the '70s and things came to a head with a new generation of youth.

They were anti-police riots primarily?

Definitely. Anti-police and anti-establishment. All the foreign press reported them as race riots, and some press here too, but you and I and Joe Public know different, because though the young blacks were primarily in the leadership of those insurrections - in Brixton, Toxteth, Manchester whites were a big part of those riots.

I think a lot of the frustrations of the unemployed came out there, and were no means confined to them because a lot of those arrested and charged with looting were workers, people in jobs.
On the LP, on the title track and the tone you adopt is, not exactly rejoicing but…
Celebration! An event to be celebrated! It's an important event in the history of blacks in Britain. It's part of our making history in Britain.

Do you think it changed anything?

Of course it did.

What exactly?

I think it's given the establishment and the police a measure of what blacks can do if pushed too far. It did away with saturation policing. They've eased up a bit, been more careful how they move. Things have generally cooled down. And the project hatchers have got a bit more monev out of it.

A lot of the anger about the New Cross massacre spilled over into the riots. a lot of people can't see that, it was only a month after the day of action that the Brixton riots started.

Ad for LKJ's Making History LP from same issue of paper

See also


Friday, September 23, 2022

'They call themselves the Gender Benders' (1984)

I saw an online discussion recently about the origins of the term 'gender bender'. Seemingly Jon Savage used it in a 1980 article about David Bowie in The Face, and it seems to have been in use in UK/US in the 1970s if not earlier. But it was with the advent of Boy George and Culture Club that the term became applied in the popular press to a whole fashion scene/subculture. The first example I could find at British Newspaper Archive was from the Sunday Mirror, 22 January 1984, 'Gender Benders' by Linda McKay.

'They are shocking. They are outrageous. They call themselves the Gender Benders, the latest youth cult to follow in the high-heeled footsteps of bizarre pop idols Boy George and Marilyn. These days, far from simply dressing up in the privacy of their own homes, the Gender Benders are coming out of the  wardrobe. They wear their camp clothes in the streets, to the local pub and even shopping in the supermarket… The Sunday Mirror has made an in-depth investigation of the crazy new cult, which will become part of the fashion history of the 80s,

Gender Benders are are easy to spot. These days you can see them on suburban streets from Penzance to Penrith, More and more parents are discovering their children turning to astonishing new fashions that make even Boy George look butch. And It can be a terrible shock to suspect that your son is bisexual or gay. But our research shows that most Gender Benders are anything but gay. In fact, most of their blood is as red as their lipstick. They make-up and dress up entirely out of a sense of fashion. And the girls find it a turn-on and sexually attractive'

Update (27/9/2022):

For a 1970s example of the term see a letter entitled 'gender benders' in Texas Monthly (August 1978), describing a sex reassignment clinic in Houston.  Simon Reynolds (see comment below) has spotted a 1981 book by David Egnar, 'The Gender Benders: a look at the trends distorting the roles of men and women' published by Radio Bible Class, a US Christian publisher - a book bemoaning the undermining of biblical gender norms by feminism and the sexual revolution .

Friday, September 16, 2022

London Anarchist Bookfair

The London Anarchist Bookfair in September 2021 took place in the shadow of Covid. Some of it was held outside in Red Lion Square, while inside Conway Hall everyone was wearing masks.

'come friends don a mask and let's make anarchy' - guess many anarchists aren't shy about wearing masks but at a time of covid hoaxer conspiracy theories it was good to see a clear commitment to wearing Covid masks at this event.

A banner in Red Lion Square remembers Anna Campbell and Josh Schoolar, two people from Britian who fought with Kurdish rebels

The 2022 Bookfair takes place on Saturday 17th September 2022 at Bishopsgate Institute with satellite events at nearby venues


Thursday, September 08, 2022

Monica Sjöö - art of anarcho-feminism, the Goddess and the peace movement

'Monica Sjöö: The time is NOW and it is overdue!' at the Beaconsfield Gallery, London SE11 brings together a large collection of paintings by the Swedish anarcho/ecofeminist artist and activist Monica Sjöö (1938-2005). Some of this work would be familiar in pagan scenes - for instance her paintings have been part of the Goddess Temple in Glastonbury for many years - but less so in the gallery art world which is rushing now to catch up with previously marginalised women artists.

Many of her works feature powerful Goddess figures, standing stones as well as more personal imagery relating to the tragic early deaths of two of her sons. Sjöö was a deeply political figure, going back to her involvement in the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 1960s. An article by Rupert White in the excellent Legion Projects zine 'Monica Sjöö; artist, activist, writer, mother, warrior' notes that in the 1960s 'she became affiliated with Anarchist and Situationist groups' including befriending King Mob in London who 'gave her some contacts in the States, such that in August [1968] 'she was able to travel to New York and stay with pioneering Eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin. Whilst she was there she also met up with Black Mask'.

Becoming more involved in the feminist spirituality movement, Sjöö was very critical of what she termed 'The Patriarchal Occult Thinking of the New Age' which in its focus on the light and spirit she saw as disavowing the dark (including the dark skin), the body (especially the woman's body) and the Earth. She wrote that the 'most frightening aspect of the New Age is its adoption, and perpetration, of a mishmash of reactionary, patriarchal occult traditions and thinking of both East and West, all of which have in common a hatred of the Earth, authoritarianism, racism and misogyny' (Return of the Dark/Light Mother or New Age Armageddon?: Towards a Feminist Vision of the Future, 1999).

She was also critical of Goddess worship separate from political action. In her book with Barbara Mor, 'The Great Cosmic Mother', they argued: 'Nor does the Goddess "live" solely in elite separatist retreats, dancing naked in the piney woods under a white and well-fed moon. The Goddess at this moment is starving to death in refugee camps, with a skeletal child clutched to her dry nipples. The Goddess at this moment is undergoing routine strip-and-squat search inside an American prison. The Goddess is on welfare, raising her children in a ghetto next to a freeway interchange that fills their blood cells and neurons with lead. The Goddess is an eight- year-old girl being used for the special sexual thrills of visiting businessmen in a Brazilian brothel. The Goddess is patrolling with a rifle slung over her shoulder, trying to save a revolution in Nicaragua' (interestingly this is very similar to language of Christian liberation theology).

Women reclaim Salisbury Plain

She became very involved in the 1980s women's peace movement, and in her book 'Return of the Dark/Light Mother' she gives an account of a remarkable 1985 action 'Women reclaim Salisbury Plain' which saw women walking from Avebury to Stonehenge across the military land used for tank exercises:

 'This extremely powerful and empowering pilgrimage was magical and a highly political direct action which as far as I am concerned is a truly spiritual-political women's way... We joined a group of punk women from Greenham sitting within the stones [at Avebury]. Police were also gathering by now, and when we were sitting later at the foot of Silbury having our lunch they approached us and warned us not to entertain any ideas of camping for the night anywhere in the vicinity. We all knew, however that we would sleep on Silbury and by late afternoon we gathered up there.

This was the night of Beltane and we were here to celebrate the Mother. We made a Beltane-fire carefully so as not to damage the mound and then gathered to discuss a possible ritual. By now, we had been joined by the American wise woman/witch, Starhawk' [who] 'suggested that we cast a circle, call in the elements, ground ourselves and dance the spiral dance. We danced and drummed and chanted'

At the end of the procession on 4th May they 'cut holes through the fences and snaked our way into the stones across the field, all the while singing Return to the Mother while police and tourists looked sheepishly on. Our number had by now increased since many women had come from London, Bristol and other nearby places to join us just for the weekend. Once within Stonehenge, we gave the ancient stone-beings loving care and energies and danced for hours amongst them; we meditated, sang, lit candles and dreamed. 

Many pagans and people of the Craft have a love for the land and a reverence for the Earth, but many too do not realise that this is not enough and that one must also take political direct action against those that ill-treat and exploit Her. It was this understanding that fired the women on our walk'.

From the Flames: radical feminism with spirit' (Winter 1998/99). Cover design by Monica
  Sjöö. The contents inside included her poem 'Are there Great Female Beings out there waiting for us to be free?'.  Sjöö certainly thought so and believed she was in some kind of communication with them across time and space.

The exhibition at Beaconsfield gallery, 11 June to 10 September 2022