Saturday, April 29, 2023

'It's Ravers' top town': Brighton 1959

'40 coffee bar night spots- some of them dimly lit cellars were teenagers go on unlimited necking parties - have earned for the seaside town of Brighton this new title… It's ravers' top town.

The "ravers" are gangs of young people who travel from London on early morning milk trains to have a rave day and night whooping it up in the coffee bars.

Why ravers? Because they move around in a crowd not caring where, not caring why...

The dingy ill-ventilated coffee bars have one piece of equipment common to all. The juke box. To the canned music the teenage ravers jive themselves into a frenzy. As they jive they kiss. When they tire they lounge around often on the floor because there aren't enough seats.

And the necking goes on continuously. In London coffee bars necking is strictly forbidden. But no such prudery in Brighton. There the ravers can neck from 11:30 am to 11:30 pm and no one will tell them to calm it down.

When they have enough of one bar the rave starts up again and they move to the next spot. Often the ravers carry their own musical instruments and jive in the streets.

They are not popular with the Brighton police who will be keeping a special watch for them on bank holiday trains this weekend. Not long ago a trainload of ravers paraded hrough Brighton streets at dawn, singing, jiving and waking sleeping people [...] Mr Hugh Sanders, Brighton's senior probation officer says 'Some of the coffee bars are unhealthy dungeons where the immature attempt to pass off infantile behaviour as virile. They are dark unhealthy dens that are breeding grounds for juvenile crime'

(Sunday Pictorial, 29 March 1959)


Tuesday, April 25, 2023

'Time for Peace, Time to Go': demonstrations in London, Belfast and Dublin - August 1994

1994 marked the 25th anniversary of British troops being sent on to the streets of the north of Ireland, and there were demonstrations in London, Belfast, and Dublin on the theme of '25 years - time to go, time for peace'.

London, 13 August 1994

In London the Troops Out Movement and other groups including the Irish in Britain Representation Group held a march from the park by the Imperial War Museum. Black balloons were released to mark the dead of the conflict and a coffin taken to Downing Street labelled 'Britain's War: 25 years - 3400 dead'. Around 3,000 people took part.

A sticker for the demo

Black balloons released over Westminster

'Troops Out' magazine, August/September 1994

Belfast, 14 August 1994

In Belfast the next day there was another demonstration, with thousands of people converging on City Hall in parades from all parts of the city. The largest contingent came from West Belfast, where 'The march proceeded to the Whiterock Road where the Ballymurphy section of the march joined them. Several of the visiting delegations were with this section of the march. There were contingents from Noraid, from the Basque country, from Italy as well from the Troops Out Movement and many other solidarity groups' (An Phoblact, 18 August 1994). Speakers at the end of the march included Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

'Falls/Clonard: 25 years of resistance' - mural in Dunville Street off the Falls Road in Belfast

'Free the Ballymurphy Seven' - the campaign in support of seven young men who were arrested following a bomb attack on an army patrol in 1991. They were charged on the basis of 'confessions' obtained under duress in Castlereagh interrogation centre. Eventually all were acquitted but not after spending several years in prison.

'Cheering marchers say Britain Must Go', An Phoblact, 18 August 1994

Dublin, 20 August 1994

The march in Dublin on the following Saturday 20th August was one of the largest pro-republican rallies there since the 1981 hunger strikes.  Over 10,000 people took part in what was billed as a parade and pageant rather than just a traditional demo. There was street theatre and more than 54 floats highlighting current and historic issues.  The Wolfe Tones played to the crowd gathered by the GPO, and of course there were various republican flute bands including the Spirit of Freedom,  Sliabh Dubh, Gleann an Lagain and Tom Smith.


The Angel of Death leads the march

'Get out of my sight!'

A float highlighting Fermanagh/Monaghan border posts

'Guth na mBan' singing 'Something inside so strong'

The Dublin and Monaghan bombs in 1974 killed 33 people and were planted by the Ulster Volunteer Force with the knowledge of British intelligence

At the GPO

'Slán abhaile' (Safe Home)

An Phoblact, 25 August 1994

A summary of other Time to Go events including in Derry, Crossmaglen, Newry and around the world
(An Phoblact, 18 August 1994)

1994 was a key turning point in the conflict. The year before Gerry Adams and John Hume had launched the Irish Peace Initiative, and then on 31 August 1994 the Irish Republican Army announced a ceasefire.  After several years of a stop and start process the Good Friday Agreement was signed in Easter 1998, paving the way for demilitarisation and prisoner release.

Anyway that was a busy week for me, rushing from London to Belfast then travelling around Ireland towards Dublin. Stopping off in Sligo for a banging house club night in a hotel back room full of people celebrating on the day of their Higher exam results. Where was that I wonder? 

[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:

'Time for Peace, Time to Go'
(I did think this photo might have been from Dublin, but seems it's actually Albert Square in Manchester, so this must have been on the Bloody Sunday demo there in January 1995)

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Birdsong, Sonic Diversity and Extinction Rebellion

A large crowd in London yesterday for 'The Big One' Earth Day demonstration called by Extinction Rebellion and others. The organisers estimated that 60,000 people took part, marching around Westminster.

There were the usual demonstration noises of chanting, samba bands, not to mention morris dancers and a guy playing the bagpipes. But throughout people were also playing amplified birdsong, sometimes loud enough for me to look round expecting to see a swift or other bird. This may sound a bit twee(t), but it actually addresses the threat of a fundamental change in our species being. 

The decline in the number of birds is not a hypothetical future catastrophe but something that has been happening for years and this is shaping our lives as well as theirs. I recently read Steven Lovatt's 'Birdsong in a time of silence' (2021) which makes the point that 'we've grown up with birdsong, both individually and as a species. It has always been there, and it's part of our feeling of belonging to the world. And since sounds produce chemical effects within our bodies of stress or pleasure, it's more than figuratively true to say that we have birdsong in the blood'. 

'No system but the ecosystem'

In Donna Harraway's terms we need to nurture our kinship with such 'companion species' and shape the 'conditions for multispecies flourishing' (Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, 2016). But the opposite is happening. David George Haskell highlights birdsong as part of  the ‘world’s acoustic riches’ which are under threat. ‘Habit destruction and human noise are erasing sonic diversity worldwide’ and feeding a 'crisis of sensory extinction'.  As a consequence ‘The vitality of the world depends, in part, on whether we turn our ears back to the living Earth. To listen, then, is a delight, a window into life’s creativity and a political and moral act’ (Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution's Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction, 2022).

'No borders in climate justice'

'Doggedly pursuing climate justice'

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Annotated Archives at 56a Infoshop

56a Infoshop near the Elephant and Castle has been going for more than 30 years now as a small but perfectly formed radical social centre, bookshop and archive tucked in behind Fareshares Food Co-op at 56a Crampton Street, London SE17.

People have been invited to write a series of 'Annotated Archives' to highlight and reflect upon some of the huge amount of material crammed inside. The first series of these was launched in January 2023, but more are on their way.

In his contribution 56a lynchpin xChris highlights a few samples focusing on the labour, pain and love that goes into writing, printing and distributing: 'when you hold something from the archive in your hand, you are touching something that contains a labour of love from those who believed in it, producing it in various contexts and conditions and who, in thinking, in spreading the word virus, in getting it out, they believed it was part of changing the world!'

'Women's Squatting Histories and where to find them in the 56a Archive' does just  what it says on the tin, pleased to see some of the zines produced by friends in the 1990s such as Shocking Pink, Feminaxe and Bad Attitude getting their dues.

With so much to choose from 'R-Z' looks at a 'tiny selection of the zines in the 56a Zine Library' from between those letters

'Here 2 There EP', Adam Denton's contribution, is less a guide to parts of the archive than a reflection on the possibilities and limitations of archive documents to access the past, in the specific context of his interest in the scene around 1990s techno/speedcore club Dead by Dawn held at 56a's sometime Brixton sibling, the 121 Centre on Railton Road. I went there a lot and have written about it here so was of course interested in his take. 

'We can still talk with the living here and the dead. We can read the blogs. We can think about how noise was characterised then and what's the use? what do  you draw using noise now?, in the up-ticking criminalised sphere of just being about and trying to occasionally sleep.

'What we're most engaged with now and what we'll try to retain focus on, is the repercussions of noisey activity like DbD: how it came to be, what traces the tracks, themselves traces… If we take from the papers alone, it's difficult to know anything other than what we want to. There's some detailing of what goes on, we get a sense. But the reality of that lived time cannot be accessed, people may say, say many things, many misremembered, obscured or clarified by drug haze or….

After leaving hours earlier I eventually arrive home, sit for a while at the kitchen table, beginning to read again. Beginning Sadie Plant on Situationism again. […]  I type SP as she gave a lecture at  DbD at the 121 Centre according to the History is Made at Night blog, and I imagine her touching on it, on it somewhere. Dancing together in 93 is seeing me too glassy about other people's pasts’

‘communing at high BPM, pummelling and relentless music. I'm listening to some of that stuff as I write this, on the Praxis imprint. Wonder if it was about the kinds of people who were populating these nights: who was known, who was up for speaking before, what dissonance and breakage that kind of speech act engenders, in that context 1993 – what could happened here tonight? Spoken texts, becoming noise, cracks the buildings of amplified continuum. Was it friendship alone, shared purpose, the re-purposing where you went somewhere’

[my memory may be fallible but yes I saw Sadie Plant speak at Dead by Dawn in July 1995. According to the flyer she spoke on 'girls, music and other dangerous substances' if I recall correctly talking about some of the stuff that went into her book 'writing on drugs'. It was part of a night themed around 'cyber feminisms, grrrl DJs and she-core'. Most people turned up at the club much later, I think there was probably about 20 people max at the talk. I think I went from the talk to Club UK (then back to 121)  so was dressed for a glam clubbing night out in a silver Daniel James top and tartan trousers!]

Post lockdown party at 56a in July 2021 to celebrate its 30th birthday

The next set of Annotated Archives will be launched at 56a on Thursday 27th April, 6-8pm. I've written one of them so come along for a chat, nibble stuff & grab free zines


Monday, April 03, 2023

The Redskins - revolutionary rock'n'roll?

The Redskins were one of the few avowedly revolutionary socialist bands in mid 1980s Britain. They also had some decent tunes as well as a very sharp look. Two members of the band were active in the Socialist Workers Party and their musical output reflected this, indeed their first and only album took its name from the SWP's defining tagline 'Neither Washington nor Moscow' (but International Socialism). The band played numerous benefit gigs, especially during the miners strike. 

We might expect the party hierarchy to have been pleased at having such a band talking up its politics in songs and in the music press. But when the band were covered in Socialist Worker in September 1984 the tone was decidely lukewarm. After acknowledging their use 'to raise funds and fuel the spirit' Ed Warburton's article 'Powerful music, political pitfalls' goes on to warn that 'the dangers are great'.  Some of the arguments are not particularly controversial - yes, the music press builds people up then knocks them down again, and 'the music business turns everything  into a commodity. Rebellion is safely packaged'. The final sentence 'you can have revolutionary rock'n'roll but you can't be a revolutionary rock star' does though read a little bit like a direct warning to the band and a lot less than a glowing endorsement.

The negative tone was certainly picked up by many and there was an outpouring of support in the letters page of the paper. Paul McGinlay from Glasgow described the article as 'cynical, uneducated' and '  that 'The Redskins are the poison in the machine, and if you'd seen them you'd know that they'd go down rather than sell out'.

A Tyneside miner likewise called the article 'insulting and narrow-minded' and said 'I say all power to the Redskins and thank them for their Victory to the Miners gigs'.

'Ed Warburton's friend' came to his defence, claiming that he hadn't been slagging off the Redskins but making a broader point of critiquing those on the left 'who believe that red bands and stars spouting socialism in the NME are the shortcut to getting our message across. All that does is turn socialism into a fashion that the rock business can turn into last year's model and discard at a whim'.

A review of miners strike music in the paper shortly after does highlight the Redskins 'Keep on keeping on' single. Seemingly the band 'aren't to everyone's taste musically, but for sheer hard work, commitment and rock 'ard politics they can't be beat'.

The band split up in 1986. Over at Moving the River I found the story announcing this from the NME with the headline 'A rock and roll socialist fantasy ends'. It reads a little like the kind of state sponsored 'apology' read out by prisoners on Chinese media with the band's Martin Bottomley bemoaning the band's drift away from 'the party and its collective discipline'. He did though make the point that 'socialists should not discount the possibilities that popular culture can present'.

The SWP's ambivalence about the band most associated with it had a number of sources I think. The first stemmed from the top down culture of the party. Essentially a small number of people did the writing and thinking for the party, the job of the thousands of other members was to distribute this by the main activity of selling the paper.  Before social media and the internet, there was very little opportunity for people to put their own political views out there unless they started their own publication. People in the SWP who had their own platform independently of the party, such as a band or a zine, were always viewed with some suspicion.

But in the case of the Redskins there was perhaps a more specific issue. To lay claim to the skinhead identity as a socialist in the early 1980s was a bold move: a  statement of intent to occupy a subcultural space that the far right thought belonged squarely to them. Inevitably this was going to get a violent response, and it did at on June 10 1984 at the Greater London Council's 'Jobs for a Change' festival  in Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank.  An estimated 150,000 went along to see The Smiths, Billy Bragg, Misty in Roots, Gil Scott-Heron and the Redskins. As the latter were playing a group of around 100 bonehead fascists stormed the front and attacked people around the stage. I was in the crowd and there was a lot of panic as most people ran to get away, despite the fascists being massively outnumbered. Later there was more fighting as the fascists regrouped and attacked the crowd at another stage where Hank Wangford was playing. I ended up with a motley crew of Red Action, punks and anarchists chasing nazis around the South Bank. 

By this point the SWP, who had arguably been amongst those at the forefront of militant anti-fascism in the 1970s, were in no position to respond to such attacks even if they wanted to. It had actually recently expelled some of its most militant streetfighters for the offence of 'squadism' by which they meant putting too much focus on physically opposing fascists. Those expelled went on to form Red Action which was to be the backbone of Anti Fascist Action for at least the next 10 years. When The Redskins next played a London gig it was Red Action who provided the security. The experience of The Redskins showed that the SWP's position at the time of more or less ignoring the far right threat was untenable, not that they would ever acknowledge it. The SWP acted like nothing had happened on the South Bank and neither the event or the fascist attack fiasco were mentioned in the following week's Socialist Worker. 

From Red Action no.13, 1984 - their account of the GLC festival in Jubilee Gardens: