Who Shot the Sheriff?
rocking against racism
A new film charting the history of Rock Against Racism (RAR) premiered on Thursday of last week at an electric gig in London. RAR was part of the movement against the Nazi National Front in the 1970s.
Those involved in RAR spoke to Socialist Worker, along with newcomers who support RARs successor, Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR).
The whole Rock Against Racism movement involved bands at the forefront of their scenes at the time. But if youre 14 years old today, you dont necessarily know who those bands are.
For me that means the current crop of groups and acts has got to take this opportunity to use its voice against racism, to say that this is a current problem and to try and put the other side of the argument.
Some people say theres been a resurgence in racism recently, but Id say its been there all the time its just that some of the time it gets swept under the carpet.
Staines, the town were from, used to have Combat 18 and the National Front active in the area. Recently flyers came round the town from the BNP.
They were full of lies, but there might be people out there who believe them. Nevertheless I hope people are fairly reasonable minded and can be won roundbut its down to the movement to do that.
A lot of the time racism is down to ignorance. If people dont know about other cultures, they can feel scared and angry. No one likes to feel theyre left out.
But you can learn so much more from different areas of life. Weve got to get people together and get them to know each other.
The films great, it really captures what the world was like back then. Its hard to explain what it was like. There was a large disaffected white working class with little hope.
RAR gave them something positive, somewhere to go, something real.
We had all the best bands back then and we need to keep that up this time. Thats why it works out that LMHR are putting together acts from different musicals genres like tonight with Hard-Fi, The Beat and Roll Deep.
Weve got to keep up the support and energy of this movement, get new bands involved, get new blood involved. Well keep working with Love Music Hate Racism to see what we can do.
Musically things were very exciting back then, we were saying something politically. Its good to refresh peoples minds.
A lot of bands nowadays arent really saying anything the record company people have got hold of them. But with the new young bands coming up now, I feel thats what we need a new fresh attitude.
There were four million people unemployed when we released the song Stand Down Margaret in 1980. There were lots of people losing their jobs and houses every week for two or three years. Margaret Thatcher had sold off half the country.
We felt it was time for her to stand down and most of the country felt that way.
When I look at Tony Blair today, I think different party, same bullshit. Hes just as bad as her. Since then weve had the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Im a pacifist, and I thought Labour was there to keep the peace.
So for those reasons weve changed the chorus to Stand Down Tony.
I first became involved in film back in 1985 when I started work in Soho as a runner for a film company. I then worked abroad for a few years, came back and decided to joined the fire brigade in 1996.
A few years ago I started a part time college degree in media production. Half way through doing that the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) strike kicked off.
I took a camera to rallies and marches, and started producing propaganda videos for the FBU along with Greg McDonald. The whole spirit of that strike was brilliantthe coloured flags, the carnival feel, the public support. It was wonderful to film the rallies and picket lines.
Pic © Angela Stapleford
When the dispute really kicked in I went round the meetings up and down the country capturing the same spirit. One of the events we videoed was Joe Strummers last gig, a benefit for striking firefighters.
When Joe died I decided to make a little film of the gig called The Last Night London Burned. I felt it really summed up what Joe was about.
That film got shown at the Glastonbury festival in the Left Field. We also took cameras there and put a film together of some of the bands playing for a Love Music Hate Racism gig Miss Black America, The Buzzcocks, The Libertines.
That experience got me interested in the Rock Against Racism movement in the 1970s. Weve started to forget those times. But we cant forget them, it would be like forgetting the Holocaust. You have to remember and say never again. And the fascists are on the rise again with the BNP, though theyre now in suits and arent on the streets anymore.
So I decided to start researching it, and started by reading Beating Time by David Widgery. Its a very punky book and it really works. I wanted to make sure that imagery was in the film.
I spent some time going through ITN archives, looking through shows and video logbooks. There were some great editions of the London Weekend Show produced by Janet Street Porter covering the British reggae scene and the rise of punk.
One show was devoted to Rock Against Racism. It included some rare footage of the legendary RAR concert in Victoria Park, east London.
The more I researched the movement, the more it amazed me. Theres so much that I couldnt get into the film.
The fascists only need to come third in any ward election to gain a council seat.
Unite Against Fascism is planning to hold three major LMHR carnivals in these areas, alongside a series of smaller benefit gigs, to mobilise young people to vote against the BNP.
Who Shot the Sheriff? will play a key role in building these events.
Alan Miless documentary brings together rare archive footage of RAR events, including the legendary 1978 carnival in Victoria Park, east London, alongside interviews with many of the artists involved in RAR.
RAR played a crucial role in the Anti Nazi League campaign against the National Front in the 1970s.
RAR changed the face of British music, bringing together reggae and punk bands on the same bill and helping to create multiracial two-tone bands.
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