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Home > Music

Rock Against Racism

16 March, The Astoria

19 March 2004

1976: Eric Clapton is on-stage in Birmingham and takes some time out from playing the music he loves for some banter with the audience, bigging-up the racist MP Enoch Powell. That done, some more black slave music, and home to his solid gold house.

Meanwhile, the National Front is taking time out from racist attacks to run in elections. Whatever happened to the NF? The happy answer is that Rock Against Racism called bullshit on Clapton and convinced voters that a mob of delirious bovva-boys wasn’t necessarily going to make for a great town council, even if they’re stuffed into Mr Byrite suits.

The less happy answer is that the BNP is having one of the best years a racist could wish for, needing only a tiny swell of support to get itself a Euro MP and a seat on the Greater London Authority. It’s like a ’70s revival without the stupid trousers.

And so Rock Against Racism is back too, with this week’s multi-band launch, weekly gigs at the Borderline, and smart new T-shirts. There’s even some of the same music, which is no bad thing. Some of that punky stuff still sounds good today: namely Don Letts, DJ and reggae consultant to The Clash and Buzzcocks.

Never mind the Buzzcocks, though, if you want to get people on Fascist Alert who weren’t there the first time round. So it was a good day for RAR when The Libertines signed up and shunted Buzzcocks down the bill.

Happily, they were also symbolically right to headline the launch: it was good to have a multiracial band, a band with their own vision of Albion and, crucially, a band that delivers the live goodies. You can tell a pop star is charismatic if he can get away with the opening line: “Put your hand up if you’ve ever told a racist joke.” Especially if people then do so. And if his hand is up. It was an amazingly effective piece of rhetoric, especially for those expecting dry speechmaking.

Add to the brew a great performance and a Mick Jones cameo, and you've got yourself a show.

Things look good for RAR, then. The string of weekly gigs at the Borderline is inviting, especially the reggae White Stripes covers band (inevitably called the Red Stripes). The launch got across the “politics not necessarily boring” idea to a more mixed-up crowd than you might expect and gave the Astoria’s rafters as good a ramming as they’ve had in many a year.

You can start on the elections, and once you factor in the Macpherson report, the nationwide attacks on Muslims, and the Panorama tapes of a racist trainee policeman with a Ku Klux Klan hood, you can understand the urgency palpable at the gig.

Hopefully, this will prove to be enough to avoid the daffy lefty schisms that hampered RAR the first time around.

“The current climate is one of unity,” organiser Lee Billingham told TFT. “Everyone’s working together, and that’s never happened before. Why? Three letters. BNP.”

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