Category Archives: Outside projects

Hold the Line: Echoes of the Peekskill Riot

Russ Protest has written a new pamphlet – Hold the Line: Echoes of the Peekskill Riots…

Seventy years ago this year an outside concert was scheduled just outside of the little town of Peekskill in upstate New York to raise funds for a civil rights organisation. The concert was to feature Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and others.

The concert never happened.

It was attacked by a racist mob. Welding clubs and brass knuckles and hurling rocks who smashed the venue and brutally assaulted the people there. In the hills overlooking the venue appeared a burning cross – symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. The police stood by and did nothing.

A week later the organisers held the concert again. This time they took security into their own hands. Some 3000 trade unionists formed a barrier right around the concert ground. This kept the concert safe from attack but there were snipers spotted in the surrounding hills so in an act of astonishing courage a handful of working people formed a human shield around Paul Robeson as he took to the stage.

The concert passed off peacefully but as the concert goers left to go home the cops diverted their cars and busses down back roads where they came under a hail of rocks from thousands of right wing thugs. Some pulled people out of the gridlocked cars and beat them to a pulp. People were brutalised, some were maimed.

The story of the Peekskill riots is the story of a flash point between the organised working class and the forces of reaction during a time of political instability. Ordinary people were split and disorientated by a barrage of witch-hunting, manipulation and fake news and turned against each other.

Sound familiar?

I’ve written up the story of the Peekskill riots in a new pamphlet – Hold the Line: Echoes of the Peekskill riots.

It was something to do to drown out Lol’s chatting on a long train journey back from a Protest Family gig.

I tell the story of the riots, introduce the main characters, look at the political background of the US in the mid twentieth century and examine the parallels to the age of Trump, Charlottesville and the rise of the far right across the globe.

It’s been an interesting experience to write. I visited Peekskill and even interviewed one of the last surviving eyewitnesses. It’s not an academic book, I hope it rattles along telling a good yarn about very remarkable and brave people.

The far right are on the march all over the world and there are important lessons to be drawn from what happened at Peekskill and how the ordinary working folk responded to it. We have to hold the line!

The book is available from Bookmarks
https://bookmarksbookshop.co.uk/view/48996/Hold+The+Line+Echoes+of+Peekskill+riots

And is also available for Kindle
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07X9B4Q1L?ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_hw7ADbS6E884N&tag=kp025-21&linkCode=kpe

The book has it’s own website at https://holdthelinepeekskill.com/

Dandelions…

Protest plunker Russ takes some time out from trying to find where his wife has hidden his banjo to write about an extracurricular project he’s been working on…

This summer marks the hundredth anniversary of the battle of the Somme. One of the bloodiest battles in military history it cost more than a million casualties and achieved precisely nothing.

For many years the Somme, and the first world war in general, have been symbols of the waste and pointlessness of war. And especially how it’s the ordinary working folk who bear the brunt of the brutality and deprivations of conflict but never seem get very much out of it at the end. The Kings and Queens, the Generals and the rich folk play their games for high stakes one way or another but life for the ordinary folk just rolls on the same win or lose, just with less limbs and more broken hearts. Lions led by donkeys.

Lol laying down some hot anti war punkolin © ...

Lol in the studio laying down some anti war punkolin© …

Protest Family pal Steve O’Donoghue has written a powerful song recounting how his grandfather would refuse to wear a poppy because he refused to accept that the lions who fought in the trenches should have to stand side by side with the donkeys who sent them. I thought the song was direct and strong enough to make a real contribution so I took it to the No Glory campaigning group and to my delight they picked it up and are including it in their Somme centenary campaign to remember the truth about what happened in the so called Great War.

No Glory gave me a modest budget to turn Steve’s six minute unaccompanied folk song into something with a broader appeal. It was a fascinating process to develop the song. To songwriters every verse is like a child and it was a nerve wracking moment when I showed Steve how I’d edited the song to be half its original length, but he took it quite well!

When the Protest Family record we go into the studio with a pretty well rehearsed set and play more or less “live” in one go. With Dandelions I put together a super rough Garage band demo but didn’t have time to rehearse or work on the arrangements with the musicians I’d recruited. So we recorded the song by getting everyone to play as much as they could in the time available and then assembling the song in the final edit. So for example we got John on the drums to run through the song playing random rolls and fills so we could pick them up as needed at the end. I’ve never worked like that before and I was glad to have PF producer Steve Honest to hold my hand and take care of the studio wizardry.

All the kit!

Folk music..!

If I’d had the time I would have liked to have got my Protest Family comrades involved a lot more, but in the end I had to settle for Lol who put some superb mandolin down with the absolute minimum of fuss as he always does. One day he’s going to realise quite what a good musician he is and we’ll all be buggered.

I was really delighted that the entire ensemble that we did end up using, myself, Lol, John Davis on drums and the wonderful Eleanor Firman who is a respected classical composer and who took care of the orchestration all live within about a mile of each other. What astonishing talent there is behind every front door!

No Glory put a great video together to go with the song and you can see the end results here…

The song will be performed in a cut down acoustic setting at the No Glory commemorative concert in Hampstead on June 19th.

http://noglory.org/index.php/events/557-19-june-london-have-you-forgotten-yet-the-truth-about-the-somme

I wish we could sing it so loudly we wake those fallen lions from a sleep that they have slept too long. Then the donkeys would have something to be frightened of