Saturday, May 31, 2014

History is Made at Night in The Wire

Back in December 2013, The Wire magazine featured this blog in its 'Unofficial Channels' column:

(from The Wire, December 2013 -
 nb John Eden is incorrectly described here as the publisher of Datacide, though he is a contributor to it)

The item was based on a short interview with me by Dan Barrow, which I've reproduced below as it sets out some of my thoughts on 'History is Made at Night' in a bit more detail:

How did you come to start the blog? What kind of interests fed into it?

I stated the blog in early 2007. The name came from a byline on a poster for ‘The Last Days of Disco’ - at the time I was unaware of the 1930s film, History is Made at Night.  The origins of it go back to the mid-1990s, when I first started writing about the history of dance music scenes – for a while I had a column in Mixmag on this called Back in the Day, and I also had stuff published in Eternity and Alien Underground zines. I guess every generation thinks they are the first to discover staying up all night dancing, but I was and am fascinated by how people have been doing this for centuries.

The blog also has its roots in the 1990s free party scene, in particular Dead By Dawn techno/speedcore night at the 121 Centre in Brixton. There was a scene of people around it who were thinking and writing about the political/social implications of electronic dance music, with zines like Technet and Alien Underground. So the blog is very much my expression of an ongoing collective project. I still write for Datacide, which also emerged from that same milieu.

The blog's described as being about "The Politics of Dancing and Musicking" - how do you feel dancing and (radical) politics intersect?

In a negative sense, dancing has always been subject to political regulation. As I said at the beginning of the blog there have been ‘rules about when, where and how they can move, rules about who is allowed to dance with who, rules about what dancers can wear and put inside their bodies…’.  Resistance to this regulation has been politically significant, from the 1969 Stonewall riots to the 1990s movement against the ‘anti-rave’ Criminal Justice Act and beyond.

In a positive/constitutive sense, dancing affirms community and can create new social relations between those involved. I took part in Reclaim the Streets, when the fusing of sound systems and protest was taken to a new level in the UK. In more recent movements, such as the student protests of 2010-11, we’ve also seen how sound systems can help fuse together isolated individuals into a social force.

What are your musical interests? I remember reading quite a lot of stuff on the blog about rave, jazz, UK reggae...

I suppose the focus of the blog is less on the music as such than on what happens when people come together around a music. So although I am not a massive jazz fan, I am very interested in the 1940s/50s London jazz scene as it prefigures later bohemian counter-cultures and indeed as far as I know gave birth to the word ‘ravers’! My personal musical involvements have ranged from anarcho-punk, to house and techno, to playing in pub folk sessions.

How do you keep blogging? I ask partly becuase a lot of the blogs from that era have more or less disappeared - Woebot, Beyond The Implode, Sit Down Man, The Impostume...

In starting HIMAN I was partly prompted by that wave of music blogs such as Blissblog and Uncarved (the latter’s John Eden is somebody else I first met through that Dead by Dawn scene). Obviously people’s focus shift sfor various reasons, some of that first generation of music bloggers used their profile to move on into publishing books and articles etc. It’s obviously true that the time I have spent blogging could have been put to use in writing several books, but maybe that desire to monumentalise your writing in an object that sits on your shelves is anachronistic – though I am not averse to it. Actually I have been talking to somebody about publishing a History is Made at Night book, but we shall see. What I still like about blogging is its immediacy - the ability to respond to things in real time. And the fact that unlike with Twitter, you have the space to do more than just express a quick opinion.

The blog goes up and down in terms of the time I can put into it, what keeps it going is that every so often something comes along that make its concerns seem particularly relevant – such as the Form 696 row about policing grime events. Also when people express an interest in it I feel guilty that I haven’t posted for a while and am stung into a burst of action!

I also wanted to ask about the Transpontine blog. What do you feel distinguishes South London as a place, especially musically?

If you start exploring the history of music scenes you can’t help but be struck how certain locations recur as important over the decades (e.g. Soho). As I live in South East London, I’ve tried to document this in relation to my own area at another blog, Transpontine. Deptford and New Cross for instance have been important at various times for reggae sound systems, punk and other scenes. I don’t think it’s necessary to fall back on a supernatural spirit of place to explain this, as Peter Ackroyd sometimes seems to – there are material processes at work. Partly it’s about the mix of people created by migration, location of colleges etc. Partly it’s about them having space to practice and perform – so you need a combination of plentiful/cheap rehearsal studios and pubs, clubs and other venues. As with art scenes, music is sometimes valorised for its contribution to creating a ‘buzz’ for regeneration, but the same process of rising property values threatens to undermine its infrastructure  as pubs and ex-industrial buildings get converted to flats.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Just Kids - some young people killed by the state 1968-1972

Grew up reading about the late 1960s and early 1970s, all those heroic struggles of resistance and repression.They seemed like ancient history to me as a teenager but actually were only 10-15 years away, a time period that seems like yesterday to me today. Now I'm older but not necessarily wiser I like to think I'm less caught up in the historical romance of great events and when I read about Kent State, or the Panthers, or Bloody Sunday, what I see are just kids, cut down by the state (in this case the US and British states), leaving behind grieving friends and families. 

Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, killed by Chicago police in 1969 - aged 21 (referenced by Jay Z in the line 'I arrived on the day Fred Hampton died' in 'Murder by Excellence' - Jay Z was born on that day, 4 December 1969). 

Jeffrey Glenn Miller (age 20), Allison B. Krause  (age 19), William Knox Schroeder (age 19),Sandra Lee Scheuer (age 20) - killed by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University, May 1970. 

Henry Smith (19), Samuel Hammond (aged 18) Delano Middleton (aged 17) - shot dead by South Carolina Highway Patrol during an anti-racist protest in Orangeburg, February 1968.

Frank Quinn, killed during a British Army operation in Belfast in 1971 ('the Ballymurphy Massacre') - aged 19.

Then of course there's Bloody Sunday 1972, where nine of the 14 people killed by the British Paratroop Regiment in Derry were aged 22 or under:

John (Jackie) Duddy (aged 17)
Patrick Joseph Doherty (31)
Bernard McGuigan (41)
Hugh Pious Gilmour (17)
Kevin McElhinney (17)
Michael Gerald Kelly (17)
John Pius Young (17)
William Noel Nash (19)
Michael M. McDaid (20)
James Joseph Wray (22)
Gerald Donaghy (17)
Gerald (James) McKinney (34)
William Anthony McKinney (27)
John Johnston (59)

I can't even find a picture on line of Kevin Gately, aged 20, killed in an anti-fascist demonstration in Red Lion Square, London in 1972.

Good to see Neil Young is keeping the memory of Kent State alive, still singing 'Ohio' more than forty years after he wrote it in the immediate aftermath of the killings.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

1984 Chronicle of a Year Foretold: January

A chronology of events in the UK

(See also  Welcome to 1984; February 1984)

1984 started with various strikes, including the early rumblings of what would soon become the national miners strike. The armed conflict was continuing in the North of Ireland, with the row continuing about the mass escape of IRA prisoners in the previous September. The movement against nuclear weapons was focused particularly on Greenham Common in Berkshire, where women had established a peace camp...

Tues. 3 January: 110 workers go on strike over pay at Phillips Rubber Ltd, Dantzic street, Manchester [Hansard, 5.7.84]

Tues. 3 January: 21 Greenham women arrested after sit-in at Little Chef restaurant in Newbury. They were protesting about being banned from the premises, the nearest to the peace camp [GH, 4 Jan)

Thurs. 5 January: planned national shipyard strike called off by unions [T.6.1.84]; Land Rover workers vote to strike (but this is also later called off by unions).

Mon. 9 January: Sarah Tisdall, a 23 year old civil servant, charged under the Official Secrets Act  for leaking information to the Guardian last October about the arrival of cruise missiles at Greenham Common.

Mon 9 January: 24 hour strike against new working procedures by 1800 Edinburgh bus drivers, only three of whom turn up to work (GH)

Mon. 9 – Tues. 10 January : Riot at Peterhead prison with prisoners breaking on to the roof  (GH 11.1.84)

Tues. 10 January: policeman shot dead in Newry, County Down.

Tues. 10 Jan: Motherwell District Council vote to ban a planned march by the Troops Out Movement, scheduled to take place in Wishaw on June 21 (GH 11.184)

Wed. 11 January: British Rail Engineering Ltd announces that 3500 engineering jobs are to be axed, on top of a similar number lost in the previous year (GH 12.1.84)

Sat. 14 January – national planning meeting in London for Stop the City 2 at the Ambulance Station  squat, 306 Old Kent Road  (RR)

Mon. 16 January – 31 people appear before High Wycombe magistrates courts charged in relation to sit-down blockade of nearby USAF Daws Hill on Dec. 19 ’83 where cruise missiles are controlled (at least 113 were arrested)

Mon. 16 January – Ford announce the closure of its Thames foundry in Dagenham, with the loss of 2000 jobs. They claim its is cheaper to buy in castings made elsewhere (GH)

Mon. 16 January – miners walk out at High Moor colliery in Derbyshire in protest at visit by National Coal Board chairman, Ian MacGregor.

Mon 16 January – 19,000 workers stage one day strike at Britain’s eleven Royal Ordnance factories, in protest against plans to privatise them.

Tues. 17 January: Parliament passes rate-capping bill, giving Government powers to intervene to control spending by local Councils.

Tues. 17 January: 200 workers walk out at Volvo bus and truck plant in Irvine, Ayrshire in pay dispute.

17 January: a 38 year old man dies in a police cell at Camberwell magistrates court (Insurrection)

Wed. 18 January: the national council of print union National Graphical Association agrees to purge its contempt of court in the Stockport Messenger dispute, effectively ending support for the dispute, which started in July 1983 with the dismissal of the ‘Stockport Six’ for striking at the newspaper owned by Eddie Shah.

Tony Dubbins, NGA General Secretary (centre front) with the 'Stockport Six' in December 1983

Wed. 18 January:  James Prior,  Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced a public inquiry into the child abuse scandal at the Kincora Boy's Home in Belfast.

Thurs. 19 January: British Leyland announces 1000 jobs to go at its truck plants (GH)

Thurs. 19 January: seven journalists who refused to cross printers’ picket lines during the Stockport Messenger dispute are sent dismissal notices (GH)

Thursday 19 January: police clear protestors from Bracknell Town Council meeting after 200 protest against threat to close Easthampstead Adventure Playground and East Lodge Play Centre. The next dday users and staff occupied both places and staged a roof-top demonstration.

Fri. 20 January: nurses and other staff strike against the threatened closure of the Dreadnought Seaman’s Hospital in Greenwich [T.21.1.1984]

20 Jan: Irish National Liberation Army shoot dead UDR soldier in Dunmurry

Sat 21 January  – Stokely Carmichael (now called Kwame Ture) refused entry to Britain when he arrived at Heathrow for a ten day speaking tour as a guest of Hackney Black People’s Association. He had last visited in 1983 and made speeches apparently supportive of riots. The Home Office declared that ‘his presence in the United Kingdom would not be for the public good’ (GH)

Sat 21 January: 500 people take part in die-in at Holy Loch, the US polaris missile base near Dunoon. 27 people are arrested (GH)

Monday 23 January: workers at Scott Lithgow begin a ‘work on’ with laid off workers reporting for work, and their wages being paid for out of a levy collected from other workers (GH)

Monday 23 January: 40 ferry services across the Channel and the Irish Sea are cancelled as 3,000 members of the National Union of Seamen stage an unofficial 12 hour strike against the closure of the Dreadnought Seaman’s Hospital in Greenwich (Times, 24.1.84)

25 January – Thomas Kelly, a shipyard worker and Scottish republican, jailed for ten years  for sending a letter bomb to Conservative government minister Norman Tebbit last year, following evidence from a Special Branch informer Bernard Goodwin (GH)

Wednesday 25 January: Government announces ban on 7000 civil servants at GCHQ in Cheltenham from belonging to unions or going on strike (GH). They claimed the strike action by civil servants there in 1981 had put security at risk – seemingly the decision to ban union had been taken at the time, but was postponed until after the 1983 election (GH 1.2)

Wed. 25 Jan – British Shipbuilders announce closure of Henry Robb shipyard in Leith; unions in other years agree to more flexible working practices (GH)

Thurs. 26 January:   The Hennessy Report, into the mass escape of 38 Republican prisoners from the Maze Prison on 25 September 1983, was published. Most of the responsibility for the escape was placed on prison staff. James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, stated that there would be no ministerial resignations as a result of the report.

Thurs. 26 January: NCB announce closure of Polmaise colliery near Stirling

Thurs 26 January: News International - publishers of the Times - dismiss 750 members of SOGAT 82, for taking part in a two week unofficial sympathy action in support of clerical staff striking over staffing in the library. The Times failed to appear for four days.

Thurs 26 January: tens of thousands of civil servants in DHSS offices and other workplaces walk out in protest at GCHQ ban.  

Thurs 26 January: miners walk out and occupy surface buildngs at Bogside pit in Fife after management downgrade 12 workers for ‘not developing new seam quick enouhg’ (GH 28/1)

Thurs 26 January: students occupy the library at Strathclyde University in protest agains changes to travel allowances for students.

Fri 27 January: workers occupy the Henry Robb shipyard, where 390 jobs have been cut as a result of decision to close: ‘A Royal Navy sub-marine, under repair at the yard, will not released by the men’ (GH 28.1).

Fri 27 Jan – strike stops the Times appearing for second day. Courts unfreeze assets of NGA print union relating to Stockport Messenger dispute

Sat 28 January – 20+ women stage a Reclaim the Night walk in Reading.

Sun 29 January: 1500 -2000 people demonstrate at Cocksparrow fur farm in Warwickshire, surrounding the site and attempting to break through fences and police cordon. Mounted police are deployed and 25 people arrested (Hansard)

Mon. 30 January : The Prison Governors' Association and the Prison Officers Association both claimed that political interference in the running of the Maze Prison resulted in the mass escape on 25 September 1983. Nick Scott, then Minister for Prisons, rejected the allegations.

Mon 30 January: a man is shot dead by the British Army in Springfield Road, Belfast (GH 31.1.1984)

Tues 31 January:  Two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers killed in an Irish Republican Army (IRA) land mine attack on their  police near Forkhill, County Armagh (GH 1.2).

date not confirmed:

30 arctic foxes rescued from Cocksparrow fur farm near Nuneaton, and a similar number from Bould Farm, Oxford, in Animal Liberation Front raids (SO)

1000 demonstrate in the snow at new Hazleton vivisection laboratory in Harrogate; fences are pulled down and police snowballed (SO).

Anarchists open Peoples Squat for Life peace centre in Bradford and, a few weeks later, a similar peace centre in Bristol (SO)

Sources: Glasgow Herald (GH), Times (T), Red Rag (RR - a Reading radical paper), Socialist Opportunist (SO - a chronology published at the time); Insurrection (anarchist paper); Hansard (official record of UK Parliament)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Agit Disco: A benefit shindig for Housmans

A while ago I put together a mix for Stefan Szczelkun's Agit Disco series of political music, which was later included in the book of the same name. Myself and various other Agit Disco selectors are taking part in a benefit for Housmans, the long established radical bookshop at Kings Cross. The event takes place at Surya, 154-156 Pentonville Rd, London N1 on Thursday 10th April, 7pm to Midnight. Full details follow...

'We’d like to invite you to come along to a special fundraising DJ shindig, being put on by Housmans alongside the good people involved with the Agit Disco book (Mute Books 2011). We’ll be taking over both floors of local eco-music venue Surya, and filling it with guest selectors who featured in the Agit Disco book.

The music policy on both floors will be nothing but the best politically-charged tunes ever recorded.

Selectors on the night include:

Sian Addicott
Martin Dixon
John Eden
Marc Garrett
Nik Górecki
Caroline Heron
Stewart Home
Paul Jamrozy
Micheline Mason
Tracey Moberly
Luca Paci
Simon Poulter
Howard Slater
Andy T
Neil Transpontine
Tom Vague
And a big big thank you to Stefan Szczelkun

Entry: £5 – additional donations welcome
Thursday 10th April
7pm to Midnight
Surya, 154-156 Pentonville Rd, London N1 9JL

-Locally brewed beer on tap-

Tickets can be bought in advance here via Eventbrite
Or can be bought on the door


Sian Addicott

Sian is a photographer and photo editor. Whilst researching her MA dissertation Sian looked into the history of the Welsh Not and became further interested in the oppression of Welsh Identity. Sian is a non-Welsh speaking Welsh person from Swansea.

Mel Croucher

An internet wizz kid designer and writer who has worked with Frank Zappa and Ian Drury amongst others. He is a collector of wax discs – which are all one-off recordings. One time member of the Ice Cream Yak Band. Life long inhabitant of Portsmouth.

Martin Dixon

Martin was a Trumpet playing member of the Proles in the Nineties – but I didn’t know him then. I ‘met’ him thru Flickr as part of the Kennington / 56a Infoshop network. I was impressed with his archiving of the Proles old handmade flyers. Then he came to my 60th party where the Agit Disco 1 was played, took photos of the event and was enthusiastic about the project. He made selection 4 and then offered to make a website. Nine months later the website you are looking at was born.

John Eden

John is one of the founders of the reggae, dubstep and grime fanzine Woofah. He lives in Stoke Newington and writes at

Nik Górecki

Co-manager of Housmans bookshop, and weekend producer and deejay.

Stewart Home

Artist, writer, prankster, film maker, occasionally even a musician etc. His many books include ‘Cranked Up Really High: genre theory and Punk Rock’ Codex 1996. Home’s own punk slop can be found on the music CD ’Stewart Home Comes In Your Face’ Sabotage Edition 1998.

Tom Jennings

Writes regularly for the papers Variant and Freedom. Many intriguing analyses of film, television, art, music and writing, with a deep insight into the workings of oppression. e.g. ‘Beautiful Struggles and Gangsta Blues’ [urban music review of the year 2004]. Variant, 22, February 2005.

Micheline Mason

Micheline is an activist and leader of the Inclusion movement in Britain. She started the Alliance for Inclusive Education. She is also a visual artist, poet, author, parent and co-counsellor. Her poems may be sampled on her website

Tracey Moberly

The co-owner of The Foundry, London – Tracey is a socio-political artist, arts lecturer & visiting lecturer in politics & activism. She hosted the Foundry’s Late, Late Breakfast Show on Resonance 104.4fm for 8 years. Her book Text-Me-Up! is published April 2011

Luca Paci

Luca Paci is an Italian poet currently living and working in London.

Stefan Szczelkun

Project originator. According to Clifford Harper I was talking about the idea of a political disco with Street Farmer Bruce Haggart over 30 years ago. Stefan is an artist and author currently working with video organised on DVDs as ‘active archives’. Producing a series about people power and counter cultures of the Nineteen Nineties.

Howard Slater

Sometime writer and trainee counsellor. Self-publishes occasionally as Break/Flow. Wrote regular reviews and articles in the experimental Techno zine, Datacide. Also published in Mute, NoiseGate and was on the Board of Dire Rectors of the Difficult Fun record label. See his new book:

Andy T

Andy T is the inventor of the poloroid dj decks, the only instant decks now not available from ktel. He’s the only son of a king of Prussia and a french sewer cleaner. He was bought up on a diet of cheese and castor oil, spread liberally with right wing politics and gay porn. He escaped this prison in the summer of ‘76 to invent punk. After falling out of love with the punk scene he lived for some years in a barren landscape, before returning to music.

Neil Transpontine

Neil Transpontine has written on music and politics under various guises for publications including Datacide, Alien Underground, Woofah, Mixmag, Eternity, Head, Trangressions, Practical History and Past Tense. He is largely responsible for the blogs ‘History is Made at Night: the politics of musicking and dancing’ and ‘Transpontine’ (South East London eclectica).

Tom Vague

Luminary and producer of Vague magazine at one time the glossiest fanzine in the land. Tom has been working with the pyschogeography of Notting Hill Gate where he lives.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Stuart Hall on the transition from Teds to Mods (1959)

Stuart Hall (1932-2014), who died yesterday, was of course one of the founders of 'cultural studies', and one of the first British-based critical thinkers to take seriously youth sub-cultures. In 1975 he edited, with Tony Jefferson, the influential 'Resistance through rituals: youth sub-cultures in post-war Britain'.

In the 1950s Hall moved from Jamaica to Oxford Universtity and then to London, where he helped edit the Universities and Left Review and then the New Left Review. One of his earlier published articles, Absolute Beginnings: Reflections on the Secondary Modern Generation (ULR 7, 1959), was informed by his experience of teaching in a South London school - Secondary Moderns accommodated the majority of working class pupils who failed the 11+ exams for the more academic and better-resourced Grammar Schools.

One of the things Hall documents in this article is the transition from 'teddy boy' fashions to mod styles, with a close attention to what people were wearing:

'while the superficial changes of style and taste ring out successively, there are some important underlying patterns to observe. In London, at any rate, we are witnessing a "quiet" revolution within the teenage revolution itself.

The outlines of the Secondary Modern generation in the 1960's are beginning to form. The Teddy Boy era is playing itself out. The L-P, Hi-Fi generation is on the way in. The butcher-boy jeans, velvet lapel coats and three-inch crepes are considered coarse and tasteless. They exist- but they no longer set the "tone". "Teds" are almost square. Here are the very smart, sophisticated young men and women of the metropolitan jazz clubs, the Flamingo Club devotees—the other Marquee generation. Suits are dark, sober and casual-formal, severely cut and narrow on the Italian pattern. Hair cuts are "modern"—a brisk, flattopped French version of the now-juvenile American crewcut, modestly called "College style". Shirts are either white-stiff or solid colour close-knit wool in the Continental manner. Jeans are de rigeur, less blue-denim American, striped narrowly or black or khaki. The girls are shortskirted,
sleekly groomed, pin-pointed on stiletto heels, with set hair and Paris-boutique dead-pan make-up and mascara. Italian pointed shoes are absolute and universal.

A fast-talking, smooth-running, hustling generation with an ad-lib gift of the gab, quick sensitivities and responses, and an acquired taste for the Modern Jazz Quartet. They are the "prosperity" boys—not in the sense that they have a fortune stashed away, but in that they are familiar with the in-and-out flow of money. In the age of superinflation, money is a highly volatile thing. They have the spending habit, and the sophisticated tastes to go along with it. They are city birds. They know their way around. They are remarkably self-possessed, though often very inexperienced, and eager beneath the eyes. Their attitudeto adults is less resentful than scornful. Adults are simply "square". Mugs. They are not "with it". They don't know "how the wind blows". School has passed through this generation like a dose of salts—but they are by no means intellectually backward. They are, in fact, sharp and self-inclined. Office-boys—even van-boys—by day, they are record-sleeve boys by night. They relish a spontaneous
giggle, or a sudden midnight trip to Southend: they are capable of a certain cool violence. The "Teds"
are their alter-egos.

They despise "the masses" (the evening-paper lot on the tubes in the evening), "traditionals", "cops", (cowboys), "peasants" and "bohemians". But they know how to talk to journalists and TV "merchants", debs and holiday businessmen. Their experiences are, primarily, personal, urban and sensational: sensational in the sense that the test of beatitude is being able to get so close you feel you are
"part of the act, the scene". They know that the teenage market is a racket, but they are subtly adjusted to it nonetheless.They seem culturally exploited rather than socially deprived. They stand at the end of the Teddy-boy era of the Welfare State. They could be the first generation of the Common Market...

If post-war prosperity have lifted this working class generation up out of poverty, and raised their cultural experiences and their social contacts— that is an unqualified gain. It is the sophisticated advance guard of the teenage revolution who are—at universities and training colleges and art schools and in apprenticeships—the most articulate in their protest about social issues, and who feel most strongly about South Africa or the Bomb. If the cool young men of today were to become the social conscience of tomorrow, it would be because they had seen sights in the Twentieth Century closed to many eyes before. It would not be the first revolution which came out of social deprivation, nor the first Utopia with absolute beginnings.'

(Hall is of course  referencing Colin MacInnes' Absolute Beginners in this closing line, which he reviews favourably in the course of the article).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger: Keep singing, keep making things better

When Pete Seeger (1919-2014) was born the First World had only just finished. I don't feel so much sad that he has died this week almost a century later as amazed that his life, singing and activism has spanned such a long period of historical hopes, tragedies, victories and defeats.

'this machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender'
image of Seeger from 'Carry it on"'
Pete Seeger's biggest direct influence on me was via a book rather than through his singing. 'Carry it On! A history in song and picture of the working men and women of America' was written by Seeger with Bob Reiser and first published in 1985. The book grew out of a 1982 call from Seeger, in the folk magazine 'Sing out' to 'commemorate the Haymarket Affair and celebrate working people and the growth of the unions'. 

The book provides a potted history of U.S. struggles from the late 18th century onwards, with some amazing illustrations and photographs. But what it mostly consists of is songs, with lyrics, chords and music. Work songs, wobbly songs, Woody Guthrie dustbowl ballads, civil rights songs, a couple of Seeger songs of course, and even a Dolly Parton number- '9 to 5' rightly being given it's dues as a great working class anthem. Along the way it makes an argument about the importance of song and music, not just as a soundtrack to social struggles, but as a source of inspiration at their heart.

The introduction by Seeger and Reiser, says it all:

'Beware! This is a book of history. With songs and pictures, we try to tell how the working people of this country - women and men; old and young; people of various skin shades, various religions, languages, and national backgrounds - have tried to better their own lives and work toward a world of peace, freedom, jobs and justice for all...

people have gone on marching in the streets, talking out, striking, singing and working together for a better life. Sometimes it seems that we have to keep fighting the same battles over and over. But every now and then the mist does rise and we can see how far we have come...

Each step forward came as a result of enormous work and courage, some bloodshed, and music like this which kept people's spirits alive... Keep singing. Keep making things better'.

Seeger and Reiser - image from back cover of  'Carry it on!'

When I first came to London in the late 1980s, I learnt guitar at a Lambeth evening class in a school in Stockwell, starting out on Lead Belly songs. But it was through Seeger and Reiser's book that I was initiated into the canon of US radical songs, teaching myself 'Deportee', 'Joe Hill', 'This Land is your Land' and many others.There's still plenty of us to keep on singing.

One of my favourite pictures from the book, or any book - an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)  memorial event on May 1 1917 in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Seattle for victims of the Everett Massacre

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Music is Not a Crime: New Orleans Protest

'New Orleans means music'
So what word comes to mind when you hear the name 'New Orleans'? Other than 'flood' it's probably 'music'. But the city's live music scene is under threat of new restrictions from a proposed new 'Noise Ordinance'. 'The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans' is on the case and last week (17 January), musicians and their supporters converged en masse to protest at a Council meeting at New Orleans City Hall. Hundreds of people protested outside and then inside complete with their musical instruments.

Picture from Louisiana Justice Institute

As summarised by Offbeat the proposal 'maintains the current city noise ordinance (which is decades old) mandate that noise ordinance violations in the City of New Orleans are a criminal, versus civil, offense, and therefore criminalizes musicians who receive a noise violation citation'. It also 'sets the legal limit for public music at 60 decibels, a sonic meter reading equivalent to that of an unamplified human conversation... This means that police officers can issue criminal tickets to musicians for performing at any volume level over 60 decibels in any public space, or if responding to a complaint, even inside a venue'.

'Music is not a crime'

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Welcome to 1984

Well 1984 was thirty years ago, so why not use the arbitrary temporal conventions of decade-based anniversaries as an excuse for a series of posts on that year? First of all, some reflections on the lead up to that year:

'Someday they won't let you, 
so now you must agree
The times they are a-telling, 
and the changing isn't free
You've read it in the tea leaves, 
and the tracks are on TV
Beware the savage jaw 
Of 1984'

(David Bowie)

1984 was no ordinary year. For a start it was a year carrying an ominous weight of dystopian expectations before it even started. Of course George Orwell was to blame, writing in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and, after some hesitation, choosing in 1948 to call his novel 1984. If Orwell had stuck with his original working title, The Last Man in Europe, the sense of foreboding as 1984 approached would not have existed in the same way. As it was, his novel had been continuously in print ever since and millions had read of an English police state in a future envisaged as a 'Boot stamping on a human face, forever'.

Others had seen film and TV versions (a new film, starring John Hurt, was to be released during the year). And even people only vaguely aware of Orwell and his work had imbibed some of its content, with terms like Big Brother and Thought Police entering  into the language as synonyms for state surveillance and terror.

David Bowie had written his '1984' song for an unrealized musical based on the novel. By the time of its release on the 1974 Diamond Dogs album, 1984 was becoming a myth of the near future, rather than the distant horizon it may have seemed to Orwell writing on the Isle of Jura a generation before.

1984 was now a date to count down to, an imminent moment of social explosion or apocalypse. The Clash's Year Zero  anthem '1977' seems to suggest an escalation of class war ('ain't so lucky to be rich, sten guns in Knightsbridge'), with the years chanted at the end: 'it's 1978, it's 1979...' through to an inevitable abrupt stop with 'it's 1984!'. Other punk songs from the same period included 'P.C.' by Crisis and '1984' by The Unwanted ('1984, thought police at the door'). The Dead Kennedys sang 'Now it's 1984, Knock knock at your front door' on 1979's California Uber Alles, and recycled the line on their anti-Reagan anthem 'We've got a bigger problem now' (1981): 'Welcome to 1984,  Are you ready for the third world war?, You too will meet the secret police, They'll draft you and they'll jail your niece'. 

When Crass put out their first album in 1978, kicking off the whole anarcho-punk movement, the sleeve included the cryptic code 621984.  Similar inscriptions on releases in subsequent years made it clear where this was going - 521984 in 1979, 321984 in 1981 and so on.

If there was some sense of foreboding at the approach of 1984 it was not down to just the power of Orwell's imagery. In the 1970s and early 1980s, fears and hopes of impending social crises led many to ponder on the possibilities of revolution, civil war, coups and dictatorship. The period had seen serious economic instability in the aftermath of the 1973 financial crisis, with rising inflation and unemployment. Strike waves from the 1974 miners dispute to the 1978 Winter of Discontent had undermined successive governments, guerrilla warfare was raging in the North of Ireland and there had been widespread rioting across England in 1981.

Right wing factions in the Conservative Party and the secret state had certainly toyed with planning a military coup and suspending civil liberties to 'save' the country from what they saw as the Orwellian nightmare of socialism. In the circles around the National Association for Freedom the talk was of counter-insurgency and contingency planning to counter subversion.  In a 1982 debate on local government, a Conservative MP warned of ' the entrance of municipal socialism' and pledged 'that unless we act now—before 1984—the Orwellian concept of 1984 and the corporate State might just happen'  (John Heddle, Hansard 26 Feb 1982).

On the left, these manoeuvres and a general growth in police powers prompted critiques of an emerging crisis state. Their Orwellian nightmare was of an authoritarian populist regime rallying the masses around the flag while crushing dissent. These ideas were not confined to the columns of radical newspapers. They also infused the dramatic (and sometimes self-dramatising) rhetoric of punk and its aftermath, flavoured with reggae-inspired notions of dread, Babylon and living under heavy manners.

The election of a Conservative government in 1979 heightened this sense of intensifying antagonisms. The racist language of the far right was entering mainstream political discourse with Thatcher talking of 'Alien culture', and flag waving militarism had been revived in the Falklands war. The Cold War too was getting hotter with America and Russia deploying a new generation of nuclear missiles in Europe. As US President Reagan developed his plans for 'Star Wars' missiles in space, Labour leader Michael Foot once again reached for Orwell:   'President Reagan got through Congress his latest proposal for the so-called MX missile system. Such is the Orwellian state that we have reached, even before 1984, that he even managed to describe his proposition as a form of arms control' (1983). 

In the event 1984 in Britain may not have ended with war between Eurasia and Oceania, or outright totalitarian dictatorship, but it was not short of historical drama, with the most bitterly fought strike since the 1920s, the near assassination of the Prime Minister, hundreds of arrests in anti-nuclear protests, Stop the City... all this and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

See also: 

January 1984 Chronology
February 1984 Chronology

Monday, January 06, 2014

Leonard Cohen in London

'I'm your man: the life of Leonard Cohen' (2012) is an excellent biography of everybody's favourite Jewish-Buddhist-Canadian singer/poet. With nearly 80 busy years behind him there's certainly plenty of material for a book like this, and Sylvie Simmons has interviewed the man himself and many of his friends, collaborators and lovers.

One of the revelations to me was Cohen's time in London before his musical career. Cohen stayed at a boarding house in Hampstead from December 1959 to March 1960, working on a novel. With Nancy Bacal, a friend from Montreal, he drank regularly in the King William IV pub in Hampstead. After closing time they would explore the night time city, wandering around Soho and the East End. They went to the legendary All-Nighters at the Flamingo club on Wardour Street, with its mixed black and white crowd dancing to jazz and R&B. Bacal recalled that 'There was so much weed in the air that it felt like walking into a painting of smoke'.

Back in Canada, Cohen came to the aid of Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi when the latter was on the run for heroin offences in 1961. He was smuggled over the Candadian border, where Cohen met him and put him up in his apartment in Montreal until he got on a boat to Scotland. Cohen later wrote the poem 'Alexander Trocchi, Public Junkie, Priez Pour Nous'.

Cohen returned to London for four months in March 1962, and moved back to 'Mrs Pulman's boarding house in Hampstead' for a while. By this point Nancy Bacal had moved in with her boyfriend, Michael de Freitas - better known as Michael X. The Trinidadian had worked as an enforcer for the landlord Peter Rachman before becoming a civil rights activist: 'a bridge between London's black underground and the white proto-hippie community. Together, Michael and Nancy founded the London Black Power Movement'.

'On this and subsequent trips to London, Leonard got to know Michael "very well". He, Nancy, Michael and Robert Hershorn, when he was in London, would spend evenings in Indian restaurants, deep in discussion about art and politics... Michael X had told Leonard - perhaps in jest, perhaps not - that he planned to take over the government of Trinidad. When he did, he said, he would appoint Leonard minister of tourism'.

Bacal and de Freitas split up in 1967, and renaming himself Michael Abdul Malik he founded the Black House centre in London's Holloway Road with support from John Lennon and Yoko Ono among others. He moved to Trinidad in 1971, where he was hanged in 1975 for murder, despite appeals for clemency from Leonard Cohen and other celebrities.

Friday, January 03, 2014

National Archives release documents on Crass Reagan-Thatcher tape hoax

UK Government documents just released by the National Archives include correspondence relating to a 1983 forged recording purporting to be a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan.  The tape, apparently made up of a montage of their real voices, appears to show them discussing plans to fire nuclear missiles at Germany and the controversial sinking of the Argentinian ship the Belgrano by the British navy during the Falkands War.

 Press reports initially blamed the recording on the KGB; according to the Sunday Times, 8 January 1984:

'The tape is heavy with static and puntuated with strange noises, but through it all can be heard the authentic voices of Ronald Reagan on the telephone: "If there is a conflict we shall fire missiles at our allies to see to it that the Soviet Union stays within its borders." At the other end of the telephone is Mrs. Thatcher. "You mean Germany?" she asks increduously. "Mrs. Thatcher, if any country endagers our position we can decide to bomb the problem area and so remove the instability."

 If this is not hair-raising enough, we hear Mrs. Thatcher virtually admitting that she had the Belgrano sunk to end any chance of an agreement with Argentina. "Oh God!" says Reagan. The whole conversation is fake. Both voices are real but the words spoken have been doctored, cut, rearranged and then expanded on the transcript of the tape. Every word from Reagan is extracted from his lengthy presidential address on nuclear strategy. When, for instance, he seems to swear at Mrs. Thatcher, he is in fact coming to the end of his speech and quoting a hymn: "Oh God of love, O king of peace." The tape surfaced in Holland just before last year's British general election, but it never quite overcame the suspicions of Dutch journalists. They declined to publish the juicy exclusive, sent to them anonymously. But other journalists across the world have fallen for an increasing flow of such stories based on "authoritative" cables, memo and tapes. The State Department in Washington says they are all products of an increasingly sophisicated Russian campaign'.

 But a couple of weeks later on 22 January 1984, the Observer revealed that Crass were behind the tape (and mentions their base at Dial House in Epping Forest):

 'A tape recording, purporting to carry details of a secret telephone conversation between Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan, has been revealed as a hoax manufactured deliberately by an anarchist rock group. The recording was taken to newspapers throughout Europe - including The Observer-but, apart from one Italian newspaper, nobody had been taken in by the hoax tape until it appeared in the Sunday Times earlier this month. That newspaper described it as part of a KGB propaganda war. Unfortunately the tape was recorded not in Moscow but in an Essex farmhouse. The quest for the real hand behind the tape led to an isolated farmhouse in north Essex, where the eight members of the band live with their children. Reluctantly the members of the band, who sport names like Joy Be Vivre, G Sus and Sybil Right, admitted faking the tape. They showed how they had put it together over two and a half months, using parts of TV and radio broadcasts made by the two leaders, then overdubbing with telephone noises. 'We wanted to precipitate a debate on those subjects to damage Mrs. Thatcher's position in the election. We also did it because of the appalling way Tam Dalyell was treated over the Belgrano debate,' they said. 'We believe that although the tape is a hoax, what is said in it io in effect true'.

Crass later stated: 'We were overcome with a mixture of fear and elation, should we or should we not expose the hoax? Our indecision was resolved when a journalist from The Observer contacted us in relation to 'a certain tape'. At first we denied knowledge, but eventually decided to admit responsibility. We had been meticulously careful in the production and distribution of the tape to ensure that no one knew about our involvement. How The Observer got hold of information that led to us is a complete mystery. It acted as a substantial warning, if walls did indeed have ears, how much more was known of our activities?" (from 'In Which Crass Voluntarily Blow Their Own', sleeve notes to 'Best Before 1984', 1986)

The National Archives Papers

The newly-released correspondence with the Prime Minister's Office at the time show that there was official confusion about the origins of the tape, with an advisor writing on 11 July 1983 that  'This looks like a rather clumsy operation. We have no evidence so far about who is responsible. SIS [Secret Intelligence Service/MI6] doubt whether this is a Soviet operation. It is possible that one of the Argentine intelligence services might have been behind it; or alternatively it might be the work of left-wing groups in this country.'

A further letter on 21 July 1983 states that 'There is no information to indicate that any subversive group or individual in this country was involved in making this tape'. This letter seems to come from MI5, judging by its 'PO Box 500' address and the instructions that letters to that address 'must be under double cover' (MI5 was, maybe still is, sometimes referred to as 'Box 500' or just 'Box' in Whitehall).

However the final letter on 6 April 1984 was clear that the CIA did not consider it to be the work of the KGB, and repeats the press reports that 'have attributed the production to the anarchist punk band CRASS'

The Belgrano Affair

Earlier, in October 1982, a Conservative MP in Parliament 'asked the Attorney-General if he will prosecute Crass Records under section 2 of the Obscene Publications Act in respect of its record "How does it feel to be the mother of 1,000 dead?".' The record was a direct attack on Thatcher for the Falklands War, with lyrics including:

How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand dead?
Young boys rest now, cold graves in cold earth.
How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand dead?
Sunken eyes, lost now; empty sockets in futile death.

Throughout our history you and your kind
Have stolen the young bodies of the living
To be twisted and torn in filthy war.
What right have you to defile those births?
What right have you to devour that flesh?
What right to spit on hope with the gory madness
That you inflicted, you determines, you created, you ordered -
It was your decision to have those young boys slaughtered'.

Like many others including the Labour MP Tom Dalyell, Crass believed that the Belgrano had been sunk on Thatcher's orders (with the death of more than 323 mainly young Argentinian sailors) while it was sailing away from the conflict, in order to scupper an American brokered peace treaty. Thatcher wanted the war to continue until Argentina unconditionally surrendered. A direct consequence of this was the sinking shortly afterwards of the British ship HMS Sheffield, with the death of 20 British sailors. Crass had their own sources about what happened. According to George Berger's book 'The Story of Crass' (2006), a sailor who served in the Falkands contacted the band on his return, and came to Dial House.

Source: full documents at National Archives; transcript of tape and contemporary newspaper articles at Crasspunker; for more on the Belgrano affair see Belgrano Inquiry

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Queerness as Utopia (José Esteban Muñoz RIP)

'Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’s domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present. The here and now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds. Queerness is a longing that propels us onward, beyond romances of the negative and toiling in the present. Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing. Often we can glimpse the worlds proposed and promised by queerness in the realm of the aesthetic. The aesthetic, especially the queer aesthetic, frequently contains blueprints and schemata of a forward-dawning futurity. Both the ornamental and the quotidian can contain a map of the utopia that is queerness... Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world' ( Cruising Utopia: the Then and There of Queer Futurity, 2009)

Cuban-born American queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz died last month in New York at the age of 46.

See also: Having a Coke With You: For José Esteban Munoz (1966- 2013):

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