Sounds, July 30th, 1983
‘Memories of years gone by/Dashed hopes and a dream that died/ Spirit pulled us through…Sad signs of a sad despair/A wildcat here and a wildcat there/Weak in i-so-lay-shurn…Wellll, lean on me and I will pull you thru-ooo-yeah!/It’s not in order to survive, you’ve got to lean on me…but because together we can FIGHT AND WIN! LEAN ON ME AND I WILL PULL YOU THRU-OO-YEAH/WELLLL LEAN ON ME AND I WILL PULL YOU THRU-OOO-YEAH/WELLLL LEAN ON ME AND I WILL PULL YOU, I WILL PULL YOU THROUGH!’
RECENTLY RELEASED, The Redskins’ second single ‘Lean On Me’ is one of the few records out this year worth getting worked up about. It’s a gloriously compulsive, sweat-drenched dance inferno, enriched enormously by juicy joyous horns and a passionate lyrical punch of pride, hope and determination. Better than red hot, it’s positively inspirational!
Flip it over and you’ll find it’s equally stunningly subversive sibling ‘Unionise’. Just as feverishly infectious, it twitches with urgent energy and is even more explicit. Don’t talk! Organise! is the manic punky Motown message, or as singer/guitarist Chris Dean puts it ‘We can talk of riots and petrol bombs and revolution all day long/But if we fail to organise we’ll waste our lives on protest songs.’
The Redskins don’t believe in mincing words, they’re as uncompromising as their music’s flash and forceful. And they challenge everything from the media image of skinheads to ‘The Sun Says’ ‘commonsense’ acceptance of the way our society is organised in the interests of the rich at the expense of the working class.
Better than that,they do it in a way that is sublimely subversive, demonically contagious. As I said in my recent rave review, they draw as much on the Jam and Northern Soul as they do brickwall punkola. They’re definitely more 4-Tops than 4-Skins, more James Brown than James Pursey and, sadly, definitely more Bo Diddley than Bo Derek (Sexist!-Ed).
Certainly they’re contemporaries of JoBoxers and the Style Council rather than Cock Sparrer or even the Newtown Neurotics, and that, if you need more plainly, spells charts. Socialism on Top Of The Pops? We live in hope…
Bowled over by their robustly righteous rhythms I arranged a meet in Willesden Green where they’re currently holed up. It’s an imitation of hell set in North West London and drained of industry. If anyone dropped the bomb here it’d do about a fiver’s worth of damage. Last time I was here was on the Grunwicks picket line in 1977 along with Arthur Scargill and ahem, Shirley Williams, though I doubt if either of them were as heavily inspired by the Clash as I was at the time.
Could the Redskins fill the gap left by the Clash now? Could they meet the challenge of making music that means something and that’s also worth listening to? Listening to Chris Dean motor-mouthing it’s hard not to believe it.
Dean’s a dip-stick in denim, tall and skinny with a red star tattooed on both biceps, and a crop that’s threatening to turn into a quiff. Here the resemblence to Margaret Thatcher ends. He talks like he’s being paid by the word.
“Why is rock’n’roll exciting?” he demands rhetorically over a frothing light and bitter. “Because it’s got all sorts of different elements – uplifting music, rebellious spirit, sex, style, subversion… Political bands are a dirty word since the arse end of RAR, but that’s because they missed the point of what makes great music.
“You think of the Au Pairs going down the pan or Scritti Politti reciting Marxist economics over a disco beat. James Brown meant a million times more than they ever did. If people aren’t listening to the music they certainly aren’t listening to the words. Take the Gang Of Four, ideologically they might have been perfect, but who the fuck was listening? ‘A Town Called Malice’, ‘Ghost Town’, ‘The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum’ – they were all great because they were popular and they had something to say. ‘Course, the easiest way to get a hit is to forget politics all together.”
The Crass alternative ‘new underground’ does not impress him.
“Cult bands are really criminal, a real waste. If a band’s got something to say they should use every platform they can rather than being deliberetely inaccessible. I’d much rather our name be linked with The Jam, or Case, or JoBoxers – all those hard brassy bands. Who want’s to end up in a musical ghetto? What does that achieve?.”
“That’s the big difference between white rock’n’roll rebels and black soul rebels. The black soul rebels are always trying to move on up, keep on pushing. It’s music that says go places rather than music that says how bad everything is. Crass and Discharge just wallow in the shit, whereas something like The Jam’s ‘Town Called Malice’ or ‘Transglobal Express’ were in the tradition of black music, they actually had hope.”
“You can count on the fingers of one mutilated hand the number of bands who’ve talked about industrial action like The Jam did with ‘Transglobal Express’. But it doesn’t have to be that explicit, ‘ Move On Up’ meant just as much to thousands of black kids in the USA.
“One of the few things you’ve said that I entirely agree with was about the Strawbs’ ‘Union Man’ – They might have meant it as a dig but that wasn’t how it was taken – people were singing it on picket lines!”
“Even Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’ can be taken brilliantly because it translates as having pride in yourself. Loads of people have made rebellious music since time immemorial it’s only revolutionary in the hands of the audience …”
Phew! Never has one man talked so much sense in one interview – or done more to damage my writing hand. As Chris pauses momentarily for breath I try and sketch in the whys and wherefores of the band.
To complicate matters they’re a three piece most of the time and a five piece as often as they can be. The basic triumvirate are Dean (ne Moore) who’s 20, 21 year old drummer Nick King and 19 year old bassist Martin Hewes.
On record, on the six times repeated Peel session, and on Channel 4’s Whatever You Didn’t Get (shown after the banning of Dean’s controversial Whatever You Want union special) they’re augmented by the brass section of Steve Nichol and Lloyd Dwyer who do wonders to the over-all sound. Sadly economics prevents the band recruiting them permanently – at the moment.
The Redskins formed in York eighteen months ago from the smouldering remnants of No Swastikas, a hardcore anti-racist band fired by such formidable influences as The Clash, ATV, and Crisis, who spent three years flying the (red) flag for RAR and the Right To Work Campaign, particularly appropriate as neither Nick or Martin has ever had a job.
They moved to London last year after Chris blagged a freelance pen-pushing post on the NME in the guise of X Moore.
“I always used to read Sounds,” Chris blushes, adding begrudgingly, “You and McCullough were alright when you started. I sent Sounds about three live reviews and got a letter back from Pete Silverton telling me to fuck off. I sent one to the NME as a joke and they printed it.”
X’s first major work was a block-buster rabble-rouser account of the October 1981 Right To Work March, with copious refrences to Redskins and No Swastikas’ lyrics thrown in for good measure.
“Martin was on the March,” Chris shrugs, “Anyone else writing it wouldn’t have thought twice about mentioning the band. I Never wanted to be a fucking music journalist”, he adds suprisingly, “It’s only ever held us back as a band.”
Were you skinheads before you were socialists or the other way round?
“Martin was a skinhead before he was a socialist. I was a socialist first.” Chris explains. “Y’know there’s so much shit written about skinheads. It probably started with Richard Allen’s Skinhead book… Skinhead history has been distorted, Stalinised.
“Like that play the other night Made In England, people like Neil Spencer, the middle class liberals, were saying how good it was, me and Martin saw it separately and we both hated it. It just wasn’t a true picture of skinheads.”
Or, at least it was only a partial truth. That’s just one of the many strands that exists in the skinhead subculture but it’s the only one the mass media picks on and that media concentration has in turn tended to gumbisise the cult.
The Oi Conference a week before Southall was discussing benefits for strikers, not how to smash Joe Daki’s windows. Media lies fuelled the bad side and blacklists stopped the good side developing.
“There’s a lot of truth in that,” Chris agrees, “but I always thought the worst thing was that loads of Oi! bands said they weren’t nazis, but only Infa-Riot went far enough the other way and did RAR gigs”.
This was because a lot of the bands saw RAR as a Socialist Workers Party front, and didn’t want to associate with the extreme left either. This causes no dilemma for The Redskins – they’re all active SWP members. Unbelievably the band have only had one run in with nazis, when NF non-skins tried to smash up their Wood Green gig last month and were seen off by baseball bat-wielding Labour councillors.
“The BM aren’t strong,” says Martin. “A lot of the kids who say they’re BM or NF don’t do anything, to a certain extent it’s just a pose, they think they have to say it. The papers are responsible. But it’s only in London – in Sheffield for example a lot of skins are political to the left, and they’re organised.”
“There’s a lot of potential for changing skinhead revolt into socialism instead of something mindless,” says Chris.
But what sort of socialism? We waste much good drinking time arguing about the SWP, which would all be duller than a Dennis Thatcher think piece if I reproduced it here. Suffice to say I don’t reckon the SWP could lead your average working man to a boozer with free ale on draught, that it’s run by a bureaucratic wedge of humourless middle class authoritarians, and that it oversees a sweat-shop any self-respecting union man wouldn’t be seen dead in … all very much in line with that well known Kraut ponce Marx, whose servant girls and academic life were funded by Engels’ ruthless exploitation of English workers.
Not that Leon Trotsky wasn’t a remarkable man – a magnificent military leader, a fantastic theorist and a brilliantly persuasive polemist – though given the Redskins’ avowed intentions to communicate he was a rather strange choice of subject for their first single – last year’s iffy ‘Lev Bronstien’.
“It was a disaster really,” Chris admits, “not accessible, not a good production. It was just the best song we had at the time”.
“We’ve proved how it should be done with this single, I think. It’s saying people are isolated and demoralised but we have got the strength to win. People have got enormous muscle and they’re not even flexing it, of people like Gil Scott-Heron even though he’s seen as being more radical. When we played with him in Sheffield he was saying ‘oh I’m a poet not a politician’ – disowning his own work like Curtis Mayfield did in his last interviews. It was real showbiz”.
At the moment the Redskins’ plans are hazy – nothing much beyond getting the radical CNT label they go through distributed by a major – but their perspectives are spot on. Like Rotten they would be the poison IN the machine, accepting nothing less than chart success as a platform for their ideals.
“The Jam were fantastic” says Chris in summation,”because not only did they have hope,they also had ananswer to some extent. You can do more than just do benefits – music can uplift working class kids and it can change attitudes. A band can act as a catalyst.
A record is a weapon with a worker at both ends. Working class kids are buying it. No-one would be interested in Paul Weller if he wasn’t in a band. Being a pop star gives you access to millions of people.
From the moment you’re born you’re told what to do. But rock’n’roll gave kids a voice. Working class kids were suddenly being listened to – by other working class kids. If ‘Lean On Me’ charted it’d be fucking brilliant. If it actually gets through then it’s been worthwhile. Then we’ll decide what to do next”.