Friday, June 23, 2017

Datacide at London Radical Bookfair 2017

It's the 2017 London Radical Bookfair tomorrow, Saturday 24 June, at Goldsmiths in New Cross.

Datacide, magazine of noise and politics, has a stall and will be selling the new issue - Number 16. Contents include a critical review article by me on the book 'Angry White People'  about the English Defence Leagure and Luton. 

All the cool cats will be heading to Datacide stall at the London Radical Bookfair

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Two Nights in Hackney: police and free parties 1996

A report on police  raids on two free parties in Hackney in 1996:

'Hackney Police Risk Riot to Kill Joy

Hackney police have twice risked a riot to merely stop people from dancing. In January a Vox Pop party was first busted in south London. As the rig packed up, people loudly arranged to meet at the snooker hall in Hackney, which had just hosted a successful succession of totally havin it! Xmas parties. Soon after people arrived at the snooker hall, police began to descend from all four corners. The building hasn't yet been opened, so around 200 odd party people were milling about outside. As it began to become evident that things were getting seriously on top, people managed to get into the yard, and Kerr drew shut the huge double doors.  The police were now shut outside. This turned out to be a temporary measure though, as the police, hyped up and on one battered the way through, and wielding batons ordered everyone out. More and more police descended, until our bewildered revellers were outnumbered by 3 to 1. 

Truncheon happy and on a seriously aggressive testosterone tip, the Metropolitan police were out for a fight. As an escaping Virus rig backed out of the venue, the police all began to move towards the reversing van. Loyal party goers instantaneously rushed forward to the defence of their sound system. Violent chaos then blew up, and the Virus rig managed to slip away unhindered. Police charged and began to batter all and sundry. On their first charge two thirds of the party people immediately scattered and left. A hard-core of around 100 remained. Police pushed them round the corner into Well Street, aiming swipes to the backs of legs to those who didn't move fast enough. Police control then idiotically herded the remaining crowd into a nearby housing estate, thereby creating 10 times more disturbance than would have ever occurred before.

Hackney police again went in for the overkill on a party put on by Jiba Jake and Virus in an old dole office on Drysdale Road. The place had been happily partied two weeks previously by the Tofus, was away from any residential, but an inspector McCauley saw fit to put an end to the bank holiday merriments. When he arrived on the scene, Jake's tactic of admitting everything and then hoping that they will all disappear didn't work this time. McCauley responding to one telephone complaint, began to moan on about the rigs stealing electricity and demanded that the fuses be taken out. By this time a number of his PCs were in on the edge of the dancefloor (one was definitely spotted moving rhythmically to tunes being dropped by Manic Josh!) along with around 200 party people already inside. In the end Jake went over to the fuse box and shut off the power to the whole building. Pandemonium broke out. McCauley went mad because his men were now trapped inside a dark building with 200 pissed off party people. The leccy was then turned back on. By now the hard moody bastards in flack jackets had turned up and one of the McCauley's right-hand men was heard to say "right, it's stick time lads!" It was decided to tell the people inside (who were still largely unaware of the situation and were still boogying) that the time had come for them to wisely go. Eventually the building was cleared and the rigs allowed to pack up and go.

When asked why he had decided to stop the party McCauley answered "because I can". When asked what powers he had just used to clear the building, he mumbled ummed and ermed but failed to come up with an answer. He was then asked if he used any law at all in his operations and he answered arrogantly "yes the power of persuasion". While 30 odd of her majesties finest were tied up in this fiasco, and assault on two women crackled in over their radios. A distinct look of shame crossed their faces when they knew we heard'.

Written by 'CRS'. Report from Frontline magazine, number 3, Summer 1996 
(this was a zine that covered 'travellers, parties, protests')

Friday, April 28, 2017

London Nightlife 1983 - Colin Faver on Camden Palace and Heaven

From the Face magazine, February 1983, as part of an overview of the soundtrack to London nightlife at that point, an interview with the late Colin Faver 'One of the Camden Palace's four DJs who also plays Cha-Cha, the one nighter that provides a pansexual sideshow to Heaven's straight night each Tuesday'.

"The Palace on Saturdays is definitely the most upfront disco in England. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays educational, 50-50 disco and electro pop;  Thursday sticks to the no-funk groove; so on Saturdays we mix in funk and disco funk.

A lot of bands that have come out of the Palace initially as cult groups are now soft pop, like ABC, Culture Club. George proudly brought his first single to us and a whole new dancestyle developed from the girls in the Culture Club outfits, probably because they're so hard to dance in.

But the reaction has been a return to heavier underground sounds: Iggy,  Theatre of Hate, Lou Reed, Passenger. A lot of people don't like funk and we get asked for Killing Joke now which normally rarely gets played in discos. I reckon it's due to the influence of the Batcave and bands like Sex Gang Children and Bauhaus.

When the Palace opened we were almost totally electronic –  Visage, Soft Cell – but the most noticeable difference has been towards an acceptance of disco which was once a dirty word, particularly since electronic funk like Whodini and Man Parrish. Saturdays are good because people will dance to what's played. We've tried gay disco like Patrick Cowley and Roni Griffith and people to listen. Hard New York disco funk for sure came into its own last year on three labels in particular: Prélude, West End and Salsoul. For me this is the underground music. It's just like the days of punk because it revolves around small labels. D-train and Peach Boys really began the move.

I do get pissed off by NME not giving space to disco. If ever they do get round to reviewing it the records are so old. And then it's only a mention just to sound hip. Yet I'm sure there's a market judging by the numbers of people who ask in clubs.

We can get as ahead as we like at Cha-Cha so long as we include Simple Minds. I made a point of introducing a 50% funk policy over the past year because I get bored with the pompous futurists like Ultravox. A lot of people haven't heard Gil Scott-Heron and there is no way they can't dance to James Brown.

The quintessential Cha-Cha sound sound is Patrick Cowley's 'Mind Warp'. Heaven on a Saturday is basically very very fast 130bpm wild dancing but these days more gays complain that it's too fast. Where gay music once led trends, the interesting crossover has Yazoo's two singles which they now play in Heaven. The gay market wouldn't normally touch them but the German mix of 'The Anvil' and the ABC remix have crossed too.

In fact there's never been more choice than we have now: excellent imports and so many brilliant British bands. Those two Blancmange singles must have been last year's best. And listen for Set The Tone's first single, it's gifted. And small English one-offs like Animal Nightlife and Shriek Back are going to do well"

State of the Dance:

Yello - Heavy Whispers (acetate, electro funk)
Divine - Kick your Butt (gay disco)
Vaughan Mason - You can do it (hard funk)
Members - Go West (English dance music)
Set The Tone - Dance Sucker (Scottish dance music)

The interview was written by David Johnson who now runs the Shapers of the 80s website, which includes a wealth of information about London clubbing in that period, in particular the so-called Blitz Kids/New Romantics scene, which as he notes nobody actually in that scene called themselves! He discusses this article in the context of what else was going on in 1983 here.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Acid House in the National Archives

The National Archives has today released Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet files from 1989 and 1990, including discussions amongst Ministers and officials of how to clamp down on 'Acid House' parties.

A letter from the Home Secretary to Geoffrey Howe from 2 November 1989 reported: 'We understand from the Metropolitan Police that so far this year 223 such parties have taken place in London and the South East, of which 96 were actually stopped after they had begun. A further 95 planned parties have been prevented by pre-emptive action by the police or local authorities' (letter 2 November 1989).

In a hand written comment, Prime Minister Thatcher wrote ‘if this is a new “fashion” we must be prepared for it and preferably prevent such things from lasting’ (6 September 1989).

After reviewing the powers available to the authorities, the Government concluded that the way forward was to increase the fines for existing licensing offences, rather than bring in new powers as such. The result was to be the Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Act 1990 - 'An Act to increase the penalties for certain offences under enactments relating to the licensing of premises or places used for dancing, music or other entertainments of a like kind'. The question was of course to be revisited a few years later when the Government introduced the Criminal Justice Act which gave the police more direct powers to intervene to stop parties.

'Acid House Parties - the Prime Minister has seen the Home Secretary's letter of 2 November to the Lord President. She was content with his proposals to increase the penalites for illegally organising acid house parties and for making the profits from such parties libale to confiscation' (4 November 1989)

In the mean time, the police and local authorities were encouraged to make more assertive use of existing powers. The papers include a press clipping praising Operation Jute, a massive police operation to stop a party in Kent: 'Drug busting police sealed off an entire town twice at the weekend to claim thier first victory over the Acid House cult. Six thousand revellers were turned back from Chatham, Kent in the early hours of yesterday after a specially trained squad of 250 officers outmanoeuvred them across three counties' (Daily Express, 9 October 1989).

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Zadie Smith on jungle and Anokha at the Blue Note

I recently came across an issue of Tate magazine from 2000, a special issue celebrating the opening in that year of Tate Modern. It includes an interesting discussion between Philip Dodd and Zadie Smith, looking back over 1990s London, including the transformation of Shoreditch into Hoxton, the deaths of Stephen Lawrence and Princess Diana, and the fascist bomb attacks on Brixton, Brick Lane and Old Compton Street. One of the things Zadie Smith touches on is the Blue Note Club in Hoxton:

'It was the last of the community clubbing experiences. It was artificial because it was partly to do with fame. You'd have a lot of people in there pretending that they couldn't see Bjork, who was standing right next to them. Yet the whole of the club was in one corner of the room circled around Bjork. It was about fame, but it was these people who did have quite a huge amount of fame who seemed perfectly willing to hang out with you, smoke with you, have a drink. Everybody was having a laugh.

Firstly, I was a Sunday kid, for the jungle, but you went to Anokha, on Monday, to see all that explosion of Asianness. When it first happened it was so exciting. We could see Talvin [Singh] doing so well. Bhangra has been going on in Wembley and Bradford for years. but he just changed it slightly, added a bit more of a western sound to it and everybody loved it. On jungle nights, MCs used to say a lot of cheesy things over the top of it like "black and white unite", but it did feel like that'

(I never went to Anokha at Blue Note, but I did go to the night they put on around that time at The Vibe Bar, called Calcutta Cyber Cafe)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Music & Dance at Kelvingrove Art Gallery

Some musical/dance images from Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which I visited this weekend:

'Melody' by Kellock Brown (1894)

'Music' designed by David Gauld, made by Hugh McCulloch & Co., Glasgown (c.1891)

Angel musician, detail from 'The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin' by Harry Clarke (1923) - a stained glass window originally designed for a convent in Dowanhill, Glasgow

as above
The Dance of Spring by E.A. Hornel (1864-1933)

Monday, March 14, 2016

What did you do in the strike? A miners strike mix

It is now more than 30 years since the 1984-85 miners strike, the last great stand of what had once been seen as the most militant and powerful section of the working class in Britain. The dispute started in South Yorkshire in March 1984 with miners walking out in response to the announcement that Cortonwood pit was threatened with closure. The miners claimed that there was a Government and coal board plan to close down large parts of the industry, and the National Union of Mineworkers called a national strike.

The strike finished a year later in defeat. The miners’ claims that the industry was under threat were soon proved correct – the last deep mine in the UK closed last December. The full forces of the state were mobilised against the strike. New laws were passed, more than 11,000 arrests were made and almost 200 miners were imprisoned.

On the other side there was significant support for the strike, with miners support groups being set up across the country. On the music front there were many benefit gigs involving a wide spectrum from folk singers to punk bands, and as the strike progressed songs were written about it and records released. What follows is a mix I have put together of music related to the miners strike. It includes songs and tracks about the strike, mostly from the time of the dispute but in some cases looking back in its aftermath. The mix also includes some spoken word recollections from the strike, including my own of one particular day in Mansfield. It reflects the diversity of the musical output related to the strike, so does leap from industrial noise to acoustic ballads – and in some cases mixes the two together. The collision of Norma Waterson and Test Dept sounds great!

The mix is based on a set I played in March 2014 at an Agit Disco benefit night for Housmans bookshop, held at Surya, Pentonville Road, London N1. It included a selection of DJs most of whom had contributed to Stefan Szczelkun’s Agit Disco project/book on political music. The full line up included: Sian Addicott, Martin Dixon, John Eden, Marc Garrett, Nik Górecki, Caroline Heron, Stewart Home, Paul Jamrozy (Test Dept), Micheline Mason, Tracey Moberly, Luca Paci, Simon Poulter, Howard Slater, Andy T, Neil Transpontine. Tom Vague and Stefan Szczelkun. I chose to focus on music relating to the miners strike as the event took place in the week of the 30th anniversary of the start of the strike. This is not a recording of the live set, but a mix put together later reflecting what I played that night. If some of the sound quality is not great, hopefully it will stimulate you to search further...

Here's the full playlist with some details of the tracks:

00:00 Keresley Pit Women’s Support Group - You won’t find me on the picket line

From 7” EP ‘Amnesty – reinstate and set them free’ put out by Banner Theatre company in 1985

00: 21 South Wales Striking Miners Choir – Comrades in Arms

From the album Shoulder to Shoulder by Test Dept and South Wales Striking Miners Choir (1985)

01:19 – John Tams - Orgreave

From BBC Radio Ballads: The Ballad of The Miner's Strike (2010), including miners recalling  the Orgreave picket.

03:58 - Test Dept – Fuel to Fight

From the album Shoulder to Shoulder by Test Dept and South Wales Striking Miners Choir (1985)

04:32 – Norma Waterson – Coal not Dole

Song written by Kay Sutcliffe and originally recorded by Eve Bland for the album 'Which Side Are You On: Music For The Miners From The North East' (1985). The song has also been recorded by artists including The Happy End (1987), Chumbawamba (1992), The Oyster Band and Norma Waterson. The song’s popularity perhaps relates to its melancholy anticipation of the actual outcome of the strike – not a heroic victory but the desolation of closed mines and industrial ruins. Sutcliffe asked ‘What will become of this pit-yard, Where men once trampled faces hard?’, imagining a future of ‘tourists gazing round. Asking if men once worked here, Way beneath this pit-head gear’. Now all the pits have closed all that remains is the National Coal Mining Museum


07:46 - Dave Burns – Maerdy, Last Pit in the Rhondda

A song written by Dave Rogers of Birmingham-based Banner Theatre, it was recorded by Dave Burns for his album ‘Last pit in the Rhondda’ (1986), released with the backing of South Wales NUM with proceeds ‘to help miners sacked as a result of the 84/85 strike’. Like ‘Coal Not Dole’, the song’s image of the strike-imposed silence of the mine foreshadows its future: ‘There's mist down in the valley and the snow lies on the hill, No men walk through the empty street the pit lies quiet and still’

11:29 – Bourbonese Qualk – Blackout

From the compilation album Here we go: A celebration of the first year of the U.K Miner's Strike 1984-1985 (Sterile Records 1985), featuring bands associated with the industrial scene.

12:00 – Neil Transpontine – Mansfield Memories

My recollections of the violent end to a miners demonstration in May 1984

13:25 - Dick Gaughan – Ballad of 84
First performed at a benefit for sacked miners at Woodburn Miners Welfare Club in Dalkeith, Midlothian in 1985, this song recalls the strikers who died amidst the massive police operation:

‘Let's pause here to remember the men who gave their lives, Joe Green and David Jones were killed in fighting for their rights / But their courage and their sacrifice we never will forget / And we won't forget the reason, too, they met an early death / For the strikebreakers in uniforms were many thousand strong / And any picket who was in the way was battered to the ground / With police vans driving into them and truncheons on the head’
17:26 – The Enemy Within – Strike

The Enemy Within was John Deguid and Marek Kohn, produced by Adrian Sherwood and Keith LeBlanc with sampled speech from Arthur Scargill. Released on Rough Trade 1984 – insert sleeve included statement – ‘Play this record at six and support the miners' campaign to create a surge of demand for power at six o'clock every evening!’

19:18 Council Collective – Soul Deep

Paul Weller and Mick Talbot’s Style Council with guests including Motown singer Jimmy Ruffin, Dee C. Lee, Junior Giscombe, Dizzy Hites and Vaughan Toulouse: 'Getcha mining soul deep with a lesson in history, There's people fighting for their communities, Don't say their struggle does not involve you, If you're from the working class it's your struggle too'.

19:30 – Ann Scargill

Spoken word reflection on women joining the picket line by one of the founders of Women Against Pit Closures.

22:34 and 24:55 - Alan Sutcliffe

Excerpts from speech by Kent miner, taken from the album Shoulder to Shoulder by Test Dept and South Wales Striking Miners Choir (1985). Last April (2015) I went to a great Test Dept film/book launch at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton. Alan Sutcliffe was there in the audience and said a few words.

25:28 – Nocturnal Emissions - Bring power to its knees

This track was included on the compilation album Here we go: A celebration of the first year of the U.K. Miner's Strike 1984-1985 (Sterile Records 1985).  This version is from the 1985 album 'Songs of Love and Revolution'.

27:33 – Pulp – Last day of the miners strike

‘overhead the sound of horses' hooves, people fighting for their lives’. From the 2002 album ‘Hits’

31:54 - Chumbawamba – Fitzwilliam

From the compilation album ‘Dig This: A Tribute To The Great Strike’ (Forward Sounds International, 1985). 'Smiles for the cameras as the miners return,  They say no one has lost and no one has gained,  But wiser and stronger the people have changed,  And it won't be the same in Fitzwilliam again'.

34:23 – Banner Theatre song group - Amnesty

Includes spoken word by miners from Keresley Pit, Coventry. From 7” EP ‘Amnesty – reinstate and set them free’ put out by Banner Theatre company in 1985

38:50 - The Country Pickets - Daddy (what did you do in the strike)

From the album ‘Which side are you on ?’ (Which Side Records, 1985) – song written by Ewan MacColl, his version was included on a cassette he and Peggy Seeger put out in 1984. ‘Daddy what did you do in the strike’ on their Blackthorn records was 'a musical documentation of the 1984 miners strike' with 'profits to National Union of Mineworkers'.

42:35 - Style Council – A stone’s throw away

An internationalist response linking the miners strike with other struggles across the world at that time: 'For liberty there is a cost, it's broken skull and leather cosh, from the boys in uniform, now you know what side they're on... In Chile, In Poland, Johannesburg, South Yorkshire, A stone's throw away, now we're there'.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Re-appreciating Bob Marley after Marlon James

Reading Marlon James' brilliant 'A Brief History of Seven Killings' has led me into a re-appreciation of Bob Marley. Of course everybody loves Marley, but the very ubiquity of his image, from cans of drinks to posters on student stoners' bedroom walls, is part of the problem. Like The Beatles or The Clash it's hard to simply listen to the songs buried under decades of nostalgia and music industry marketing.

While reading the novel I went back and listened properly to Marley's output for the first time in years, starting with his early material. And yes a lot of it still sounds great! Reading about the political and social conditions of 1970s Jamaica in the novel, you can certainly understand the incendiary impact of songs like 'Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)' or 'Talkin' Blues' ('who's gonna stay at home when the freedom fighters are fighting?').

Bob Marley mural by Dale Grimshaw near to  Brockley station, South London. This was painted this year to replace a previous Marley mural that was demolished. Its painting was contentious locally. Marley had no particular connection to this place, but as with all Marley-related matters it's what he symbolises that many find significant - in this case a visual link to the area's African Caribbean recent history in a period when it is arguably become more white/middle class.

In some ways the novel is only tangentially about Marley, referred to as The Singer throughout. He rarely appears himself as a character, but he is a central focus for many of the other characters whose lives are shaped by their involvement, in various ways, in the shooting of Marley in December 1976. For James this incident is just a moment, albeit a key one, in a bigger geopolitical story that includes the Cold War and its impact on the political situation in Jamaica, polarised between two main parties and their related armed gangs, and subsequently the transformation of local gangsters into major players in the international drugs trade. All this and a lot more than seven killings.

But at one point James does reflect briefly on the wider significance of Marley as a global talisman for 'sufferahs' everywhere:

'Three girls from Kashmir sling on bass, guitar and drums, fresh faces brimming out of burkas, propped up and held together by a backdrop of the Singer streaked in red, green and gold stripes, thick like a pillars. They call themselves First Ray of Light, soul sisters to the Singer smiling with his rising sun. Out of a wrapped face comes a melody so fragile it almost vanishes in the air. But it lands on a drum that kicks the groove back up to where the song lingers, swells and soothes. Now the Singer is a balm to spread over broken countries. Soon, the men who kills girls issue a holy order and boys all over the valley vow to clean their guns, and stiffen their cocks, to hold down and take away. The Singer is support, but he cannot shield, and the band breaks away.

But in another city, another valley, another ghetto, another slum, another favela, another township, another intifada, another war, another birth, somebody is singing Redemption Song, as if the Singer wrote it for no other reason but for this sufferah to sing, shout, whisper, weep, bawl, and scream right here, right now'.

The 'Three girls from Kashmir' referred to here are the band Pragaash (whose name translates as first ray of light), who appeared briefly in December 2012 but gave up a few months later after the Grand Mufti in Kashmir issued a fatwa terming singing as un-Islamic and the band received online threats.

Pragaash perform in front of Marley backdrop

Monday, October 26, 2015

Magic Feet (1990s zine)

'Magic Feet' was a 1990s Nottingham-based dance music zine. Here's the front and back cover of the first issue from November 1994 promising 'hard house, ambient, electronic, acid, trance, techno, whatever you want to call it', and featuring Stefan Robbers, Innersphere and Warp/GTO charts.

The back page includes an article from the Brixton-based Freedom Network about the then ongoing campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill and its 'anti-rave' powers. A demonstration in London's Hyde Park in the previous month- on October 9th 1994 - had ended in clashes with the police and the article calls for witnesses to come forward. Forthcoming events mentioned include more Anti-CJB actions in Guildford, Barnstaple and elsewhere, the launch of the 'Taking Liberties' compilation (an anti-CJB LP featuring Test Dept, The Orb, Loop Guru and others) and a benefit for Squall magazine at Megatripolis - the alternative techno/trance club held in London on Thursday nights. I think I went to that night, anyway I remember seeing a film/talk about the Newbury road protest in the somewhat incongruous setting of a banging Thursday night in Heaven.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Datacide Book Launch at Housmans

This Friday (23 October) I will be saying a few words at the launch of the new Datacide book, Everything Else is Even More Ridiculous, which brings together the first 10 issues of the noise and politics zine published between 1997 and 2008. It takes place at Housmans bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 (round the corner from Kings Cross station).

Full details:

Datacide - the Magazine for Noise & Politics - presents the release of two new books with short talks by Datacide writers Stewart Home, Neil Transpontine and Christoph Fringeli

a decade of noise & politics – datacide issues 1-10

A major project in the works for quite some time, this is a complete reprint of the issues 1-10 of datacide, which originally appeared from 1997-2008. Titled “EVERYTHING ELSE IS EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS”, the 364 page volume collects unique material, most of which has been out of print for many years, charting a one-of-a-kind history of the counter-cultures associated with electronic music and free festivals.

“The free space of the party met the free space of the page and then you got a dynamism that encouraged expression and perversions and tangents because the covers held it together as a nomadic movement and you were convinced that music had catalysed it all and that music was somehow inherently political as it sidestepped rhetoric and dogma, and absented us from control addicts and the free space of the page was a kind of historic party, a kind of invisible college, a launching pad for driftage.” Flint Michigan


Almanac for Noise & Politics 2015

If you’re already familiar with datacide magazine and our related record label for extreme electronic music – Praxis – then you’re familiar with the efforts we’ve made over the last two decades to continually explore the intersections of radical politics and underground rave culture, experimental and extreme electronic music, moments of free spaces and momentary freak-outs and how these can be represented on the page and through the speakers. If not, this may be a good place to start. Either way, the Almanac for noise & politics 2015 contains a selection of articles and excerpts from various issues of datacide, as well as a peek into the activities of the Praxis label and its offshoots. 

This first edition is meant to be a brief introduction to the wide range of topics covered in datacide.
Articles include: Post-Media Operators by Howard Slater/Eddie Miller/Flint Michigan, No Stars here (track -1) by TechNET, A Loop Da Loop Era – Towards an (Anti-)history of Rave by Neil Transpontine, Radical Intersections by Christoph Fringeli, Vinyl Meltdown by Alexis Wolton, Plague in this Town by Matthew Hyland, Just Say Non – Nazism, Narcissism and Boyd Rice by, Interview with Christoph Fringeli/Praxis Records from Objection to Procedure, a new short story by Dan Hekate, as well as a commented catalogue. This is interspersed by new visual work by Matthieu Bourel, Lynx, Sansculotte, Tóng Zhi, and Zombieflesheater!
Full colour cover and 104 inside pages in A6 format!

Starts at 7.30 (till 9-ish) - Entry is £3 (redeemable towards any purchase in the bookshop)

Friday, September 04, 2015

Rico on Railton Road

Rico Rodriguez, the great Jamaican ska trombonist, has died this week at the age of 80. In the UK he's best known for his work with The Specials, including playing on 1981's Ghost Town. The record famously reached number one in the week of the July riots that swept the country  that year, and was actually recorded in the week of the first Brixton riot in April 1981 -  a precursor to the long hot summer that was to come. The song's lyrics seemed to have anticipated the uprisings with its lines 'This place, is coming like a ghost town, No job to be found in this country, Can't go on no more, The people getting angry'. Even the video seemed with hindsight to refer to rioting, with the band throwing stones - though into the Thames at Rotherhithe rather than at the police.

During the Brixton riot, The George - a pub with a racist reputation on the corner of Railton Road and Effra Parade  -was burnt down. A new pub, Mingles, was built to replace it and unlike its predecesor was predominantly an African-Caribbean bar. In the early 1990s, in between his Specials stint and his involvement with Jools Holland's band, Rico used to play down at Mingles. The place was just down the road from the 121 Centre which I frequented, and a few of us went down to Mingles a couple of times to see him play. It was no big deal, just a a band playing in the pub in a low key way, but what a band. To be honest I thought at the time Rico deserved a bigger venue, but there was a sweet irony in this Jamaican musician playing in that place given its history.

In a further ironic twist, a future Jamaican musician might not be able to play in a place like this - not because of racist door policies but because of the loss of venues as a result of more affluent residents moving into the area that was once known as the Front Line. Mingles became the Harmony Bar and then La Pearl, before closing. Antic - who run the Dogstar and various other London pubs - acquired the site (82 Railton Road SE24)  and applied for planning permission to develop it with flats above and a bar below. Local residents campaigned against it with a 2012 petition stating  that 'We strongly feel this site is no longer suitable to be used as a pub or entertainment venue, as the surrounding streets have become more residential and it is too close to these homes'.

Planning permission was refused and BrixtonBuzz reported a press release last year that crowed 'London based construction specialists Sorrel Construction Ltd, partner with Lambeth Council to breathe much needed life into a post-riot area... Sorrel Construction Limited have recently announced their latest project working closely with Lambeth Council to dramatically transform a damaged pub on Railton Road into a series of brand new luxury flats'.

Mingles later became the Harmony Bar before closing

Thursday, June 11, 2015

'Flappers as Anarchists' - sharp dressed radicals in Newcastle, 1914

'Flappers as Anarchists: delegates who do not look as though they used bombs'
'Anarchists are in conference at Newcastle-on-Tyne. The statement sounds very terrible and smacks of bombs and desperate deeds against society, but the delegates are in reality the mildest people imaginable. There are between thirty and forty of them, including three girls in the "flapper" stage. They dress like respectable Unionists or Liberals' (Daily Mirror, 14 April 1914)

(move over Peaky Blinders)

Monday, April 06, 2015

Geoff Dyer on Underground Culture in 1980s London and Now

The novelist Geoff Dyer wrote an article for the Observer this week entitled 'Underground culture isn’t dead – it’s just better hidden than it used to be' (5 April 2015):

'Looking back – and I’ll explain later how I came to be looking back – I realise how much of my social life in the 1980s was spent at “underground” events of one kind or another... In my teens, I’d been a devotee of magazines such as Frendz and Oz with their illegibly swirling psychedelic designs and still blurrier editorial agenda. These publications represented an (open) marriage between insurrectionary politics, prog rock, fashion (loons) and porno graphics. I was interested, mainly, in photographs of Hawkwind.

That may have been the golden age of the underground, but its spikier manifestations or descendants were part of the social landscape of London in the 1980s: the squatted cafe in Bonnington Square, Vauxhall, the Anarchist Centre at 121 Railton Road, Brixton, and, of course, the ubiquitous underground parties that later morphed into raves'.

Dyer's initial take is that all that is in the past - 'Maybe new variations of such things still exist in London and I’m too old and square to know about them but, broadly speaking, the counterculture has given way to an over-the-counter culture of cool cafes and pop-ups that lend a subversive slant to one’s retail experience'.

But attending an event in New York changes his mind -  'my visit... got me thinking about the long and nourishing role the underground has played in my life. It also made me realise how easy it is to fall into elegiac mode and how important it is to resist doing so. In different forms, in spite of everything, places like this will keep popping up, unbeknown to the middle-aged likes of... me. So, as a way of combining the urge to lament and the need to affirm, we’ll close with the final words from Larkin’s Show Saturday in High Windows.. “Let it always be there.”'

I generally agree with Dyer's position, even though I think the notion of 'the underground' itself has always involved a heavy dose of self-mythologisation. Of course I was most interested in him name checking places I used to hang out at too in the late 1980s/early 1990s - Bonnington Square cafe, scene of many Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax benefit nights, and the 121 Centre (which has been mentioned many times on this blog). Dyer lived in Brixton in the 1980s, I think slightly earlier than me, and his first novel - The Colour of Memory (1989) - is a fictionalised account of Brixton dole life in that period.

121 Railton Road, Brixton, in 1984/85
(photo from Kate Sharpley Library)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

'Mobs riot in West End' - 25 years since the London Poll Tax Riot

The big London Poll Tax riot was 25 years ago today -31 March 1990. Here's a few contemporary newspaper reports (click to enlarge).

'Mobs riot in West End' (Independent on Sunday, 1 April 1990)

'Central London experienced its worst riot this century yesterday as the biggest demonstration against the poll tax turned to violence. At least 113 people, including 45 police were injured... There were at least 300 arrests.... In the heart of London's West End, cars were overturned and set on fire, dozens of shop windows were smashed and their contents looted' 

'Tonight the anarchists are celebrating "Our Time"(Evening Standard, 2 April 1990)

One of a number of press reports seeking to blame the riots on 'Left wing activists who march beneath the black banner... For more than a decade a small and disparate grouping of punks, misfits, thugs, hardline politicos and animal liberationists have pledged a violent revolution. Under their black flag banners at the weekend they saw themselves firing the first shot'. 'Class War and its Brixton-based counterpart Black Flag' are mentioned the formed linked to squats in 'Hackney and Clapton' ('London's East End is still Class War's heartland'). Much of this is pure invention, such as the claim that rioters on the day carried 'small, easily concealed "mollies" - firebombs'. I don't recall any petrol bombs being thrown on this day.

'£20 if you join Army of Envy' (Today, April 2 1990)

Another ludicrous piece of misinformation - 'Agitators toured pubs offering £20 to anyone willing to join their army of envy'. Considering hundreds of thousands of people had made the effort to travel from all over the country to be there, it was hardly necessary to pay anybody else to join in!  The report itself says that 60 coaches came from Bristol, 40 from South Wales, 30 from Weymouth etc.

'Battle of Trafalgar: Burning with Hate the Fire Bombers Sabotage Symbols of Wealth' (Today, 2 April 1990)

The angle of this piece is that decent theatre goers were terrorised by the 'howling mob' - no doubt some were frightened by the scenes, but the riot did not include attacks on random members of the public. Tourists wandered around in the middle of it. Again there is the myth here of the 'fire bombers' - it is true that a small number of cars were set on fire, but not I believe with petrol bombs. Still the looting and rage against 'symbols of wealth' was real enough: 'the riot against the poll tax turned into open warfare against the wealthy and all the symbols of affluence... Garrards, the royal jewellers, was a favourite target. Thugs wearing punk clothes uprooted bins and hurled them against the windows. West End fashion shops were next in line. Some grabbed £400 suits from gents clothes shops while women dressed in rags robbed other stores'. 

The story does include the fantastic line 'The great English public is rioting, sir' reported as being said by a policeman in reply to an American tourist asking what was going on.

Note to clarify (3 April 2015): in the image above I have blurred out the faces, they are clearly shown in he original and indeed I believe that they were all subsequently arrested. The guy with the white t-shirt was jailed and the guy leaning in to the porsche was acquitted in a trial that made headlines because the judge dismissed police evidence as lies (I believe a policeman claimed to have witnessed it but couldn't have done because of his location). I decided to blur the faces because they are still recognisable from these photos today and for work or other reasons might not want people to know about what they may or may not have been up to in 1990.

See also:

1990 Trafalgar Square Memories;
Brixton poll tax demo (Transpontine)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Burns the Radical

Burns Night once more, the Scottish poet Robert Burns being born on this day in 1759. I have had my vegetarian haggis and a glass of Laphroaig...

Awa ye selfish, war'ly race,
Wha think that havins, sense, an' grace,
Ev'n love an' friendship should give place
To catch-the-plack!
I dinna like to see your face,
Nor hear your crack.

But ye whom social pleasure charms
Whose hearts the tide of kindness warms,
Who hold your being on the terms,
"Each aid the others,"
Come to my bowl, come to my arms,
My friends, my brothers!

'Friendship, in these poems, has a sacred quality. In one of his prose letters, Burns refers to the 'solemn league and covenant of friendship'... Burns' view of humanity's god-given sociability has political ramifications. It provides the basis for a strongly civic political ideology, an ideology rooted in the principle of duty to one's fellows... Burns and his correspondents (local poets and farmers, freethinkers and freemasons) are presented as an archetypal civic community: a society of equals, whose selfless cultivation of virtue, integrity and public spirit distinguishes them from the 'selfish, warly race' whose sole concern is with 'catch-the-plack'. In the classical republic, of course, it was the landed elite who formed the virtuous citizen class, while the disenfranchised poor took care of domestic 'economy' In Burns's epistolary republic, however, it is the poet's humble correspondents who devote their scanty leisure hours to public pursuits (learning, poetry, political discussion) while their supposed superiors - the 'cits' and 'lairds' - are wholly engrossed with money-grubbing' (Liam McIlvanney, Burns the Radical: Poetry and Politics in Late Eighteenth-century Scotland, Tuckwell, 2002) 

What tho’, like Commoners of air,
We wander out, we know not where,
But either house or hal’?
Yet Nature’s charms, the hills and woods,
The sweeping vales, and foaming floods,
Are free alike to all.

(advert from old book of my dads for '50 selected songs of Burns',
published by Mozart Allan, 84 Carlton Place, Glasgow)

See previously:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Save Denmark Street: 12 Bar Club Occupied

The famous 12 Bar Club in London's Denmark Street closed a couple of weeks ago, having been given notice to quit as part of a plan to 'redevelop' this area that threatens its status as the city's main area of music shops. Denmark Street, off Charing Cross Road, became known as Britain's 'tin pan alley' as the home of many songwriters and music publishers. The Sex Pistols once lived at no. 6, among numerous other musician connections (see history) Today it is famous for its musical instrument shops. 

All is not lost yet though. The 12 Bar Club was squatted on Monday, and those occupying it hope to use the building to help galvanise opposition to the increasingly homogenous corporate gentrification of the West End of London. 

I was down there today, friendly people so pop in and see them. They would welcome donations of sound equipment, furniture, sleeping bags etc (see notice in window). The are also launching an open mic night tomorrow night (Friday), so looks like the last song has not yet rung out in that venue where, among many others, Jeff Buckley, Joanna Newsom and Bert Jansch, have performed.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Anarchy on Eastenders

One of the highlights of Eastenders over Christmas was an episode where soap opera arch-villain Nick Cotton finds his old copy of The Sex Pistols 'Anarchy in the UK' in the attic of his long suffering mum, Dot. Later the bible-quoting Dot comes home to find Nick having sex with his ex in the front room - he quips 'you never did like the Sex Pistols, did you ma', as Johnny Rotten screams 'I wanna be anarchy' in the background. Earlier in the same episode, Cotton eats his breakfast to 'London Calling' by The Clash.

Let the record show that he had the 1977 French reissue of Anarchy in the UK, not the 1976 EMI original.

Nasty Nick Cotton has been in the series on and off since it started.This is him in 1986:

Actor John Altman, who plays Cotton, was previously a young mod in the 1979 movie 'Quadrophenia'

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Datacide 14

I probably should have mentioned by now that the latest issue of Datacide - the magazine for noise and politics - was published last October. Loads of good stuff, including an article by me on the 'Archaeology of the Radical Internet' about the early 1990s European Counter Network. Also material from Howard Slater, John Eden, Stewart Home, Controlled Weirdness, Dan Hekate, Nemeton, David Cecil, Hannah Lammin, Christoph Fringeli and more.

The full contents and some of the texts are online at Datacide, but you should really try and get hold of the 76 page printed version for the full effect.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The noise of history

'All around me there was an incredible rushing noise, which I knew was composed of shouting and screaming and firecrackers and stamping hoofs, but sounded to me like a great wind, like history'
(Hari Kunzru, My Revolutions, 2007)

Grosvenor Square, London, 1968

Kunzru's quote is from his novel of late 60s/early 70s radical politics, in which the narrator describes taking part in the anti-Vietnam War demonstration by the US Embassy in London's Grosvenor Square. But that exhilarating noise of history, the sound of the crowd in motion, has been heard in many times and places.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nine Funerals of the Citizen King - Henry Cow

Henry Cow's 'Nine funerals of the Citizen King' is a track on their 1973 debut album 'Legend' and signalled the radical critique which they carried forward until breaking up five years later. The lyrics reference Lewis Carroll ('the Snark was a Boojum' from his poem 'The Hunting of the Snark'), Gertrude Stein ('a rose is a rose is a rose') and Shakespeare ('O, gentlemen, the time of life is short!...An if we live, we live to tread on kings', Henry IV, Part 1).

The latter was also quoted in Guy Debord's 'The Society of the Spectacle' (1967), and as the song refers to the 'spectacle of free' I wonder whether Henry Cow had been reading Debord. If so they were ahead of their time - the first English translation of 'The Society of the Spectacle' was made by Black & Red (Detroit) in 1970, but it was certainly not widely known. The line 'we'll work to live to buy the things we multiply, until they fill the ordered universe' could have come straight out of Debord, or even an Angry Brigade communique from the same period.

Nine funerals of the Citizen King

Down beneath the spectacle of free
No one ever let you see
The Citizen King
Ruling the fantastic architecture of the burning cities
Where we buy and sell...

That the Snark was a Boojum all can tell
But a rose is a rose is a rose
Said the Mama of Dada as long ago as 1919

You make arrangements with the guard
Halfway round the exercise yard
To sugar the pill
Disguising the enormous double-time the king pays to Wordsworth
More than you or I could reasonably forfeit the while...
Double-time the king pays to Wordsworth
More than you or I could reasonably buy...

If we live, we live to tread on dead kings
Or else we'll work to live to buy the things we multiply
Until they fill the ordered universe

Once upon a time my punky self would have dismissed this as 'prog'. But I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

Oh and they played a benefit for Brixton Socialist Club in 1978.