29 April 2008

Rock against racism

Love Music Hate Racism Carnival
Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets
27 April 2008

Thirty years ago in 1978 a group of musicians including The Clash and the Tom Robinson Band gathered for Rock Against Racism, a massive free festival in East London's Victoria Park to protest against the influence of the far right National Front. Yesterday a collection of contemporary artists collaborated with some veteran punks to put on another free concert for 60 to 100,000 Londoners, to raise awareness of the dangers of the suit-wearing far-right candidates of the BNP. It was a rock festival with a strong dose of union rally on the side, with union representatives speaking between each gig to remind concert-goers about the London elections on Thursday ('okay, we've got two minutes to fill before the next act, so let's do some more chanting...') The organisers also had friends in high places, with Morrissey donating a large sum at the last minute to cover the costs.

I caught a set by The Paddingtons on the smaller of the two stages, and then spent the remainder of the afternoon over at the main stage, fending off the rain showers and enjoying the slightly ramshackle set-list. Rapper Jay Sean wasn't really my cup of tea - I don't respond well to repeated faux-American exhortations to 'make some NOISE!'

Following him there was the slot that should've been occupied by a triumphant and possibly completely shambolic set by Babyshambles. But seeing as Pete Doherty is banged up, the slot was taken by his bandmate Drew McConnell and his side project band Helsinki, with many guests roped in. Poly Styrene, the former lead singer of influential punk outfit X Ray Spex, popped up to belt out her single, Oh Bondage Up Yours! ("Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard / But I think: Oh Bondage, Up Yours!") Back in the 70s Poly proved that daft punk wasn't a solely male preserve, and that gobby girls could get up on stage wearing ripped denim and safety pins to shout stuff too. And another minor legend, Jimmy Pursey of punk bovver boys Sham 69 (check out If The Kids Are United from 1978 if you've not heard it already) popped along to deliver incendiary vocals on a cover of The Clash's White Riot. Shortly before I had to leave the sun finally came out, eliciting cheers and much hand-waving from the crowd. I only had time to catch the very beginning of The Good The Bad & The Queen, featuring Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and Paul Simonon (The Clash), but they sounded in good form.

Here's some pics and a rather jerky video of the crowd during the first GBQ number, which was marred by a poor sound mix. (They performed it again once the sound had been sorted out). Pics are: The Paddingtons, Poly Styrene, Jimmy Pursey, and Damon Albarn with Paul Simonon.

(Warning: audio is quite loud on this one)

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