In 1976, in the middle of a rise in moronic nationalism and outright racism led by the National Front, Eric Clapton delivered a horrific, racist rant on stage in Birmingham. Walthamstow lad Roger Huddle and three pals wrote to the NME in disgust. They did far more than that, though – with the same letter, they launched Rock Against Racism.
Within a couple of years it had grown from a few pub gigs to huge events across the country. In 1978, there was a crowd of over 80,000 to see The Clash, Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex, The Ruts, Sham 69, Generation X and the Tom Robinson Band at Victoria Park in Hackney, east London. The crucial point was that vulnerable young people could see their heroes backing anti-racism – this was a serious youth culture response to the boneheads. The National Front shrank and splintered.
Roger Huddle and fellow founder Red Saunders have edited a book about Rock Against Racism to be published on 5th December. It’s not simply their view of what happened, but a mix of memories and ideas from a range of people, famous, little known and maybe even infamous.
Memories of the past? Yes, but here’s the thing: the same ‘blame the wrong people’ ideas are growing today. They’re in small groups of nationalist knuckle-draggers, of course, but now… well, they’re lurking in UKIP. They’re lurking in speeches by the Conservative Prime Minister. They’re given airtime via a French fascist leader on a prestigious BBC political interview programme. And, as if we could forget, racism was a key part of the election strategy of the incoming President of the USA.
Anyone who’s even vaguely progressive has some tough battles ahead – that’s for certain. But we can all learn something from the successes of the past. That’s why we’re looking forward to this book.
In fact, we’re honoured to have been asked to do a few songs at the launch. It’s at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square in central London on 5th December. It’s free, but you’ll need to book a place if you’re coming. Folk punk against racism? You bet.