Monthly Archives: December 2018

Oh Bondage Up Yours

X-Ray Spex and Black Slate gig in an abortion benefit, as reviewed in Spare Rib, issue 68, March, 1978.

National Abortion Campaign benefit

Girls in pink stilettos with pink plastic specs in their hair; clumps of boys pogo, shooting up and crashing heads together, staking out territory in front of the stage; a smattering of feminists commiserate “I feel about 70 – they all look so young.”
London’s Roundhouse was crammed on January 15 for NACPUNK – a benefit concert for the National Abortion Campaign, an amazing mixture of people and bands, with X-Ray Spex ‘top of the bill’. (New wave and women’s movement may resist stars, but Poly Styrene is quite a name!)
Sadista Sisters, on first, really piss me off – I suppose they’re sending up sexism with charades of musical entrepreneurs fucking queues of young hopefuls, but their anti-sexism is ambiguous, and so clumsy and slow. Between acts they alternate tough liberated songs with sweetening slush. Only the slapstick made me laugh, making grotesque tomato sandwiches to throw at the audience. And that’s been done before.
Dead Fingers Talk I did like, but some people had the same problems about the ambiguity of what they were doing. I’d been told in advance they were a gay men’s band, so I saw their song There’s Something Not Quite Right About Harry as strong satire. People round me seemed clear what it was about; one black leather heavy jeering ‘wankers’ and ‘queens’ at the band knew what he was afraid of. Only later I heard left-wing indignation that NAC had booked a queer-bashing band.
Black Slate played polished but predictable reggae, then X-Ray Spex bounced on – Poly Styrene in fifties suit, silver blue and knee-clinging, with a ribbon in her frizzy hair. “I don’t know about aborrrtions…” she drawled, ripping into her latest single Oh Bondage Up Yours. She’s got fantastic stage presence and witty lyrics:
When I put on my make-up
The pretty little mask, not me
That’s the way a girl should be
In a consumer society

The concert made loads of money – £2350 to get NAC out of the red (the bands all played for nothing) – and it drew a huge crowd. Politically it was a wasted opportunity – a few leaflets and posters would have helped, some badges for sale, a lurex ‘Woman’s Right To Choose’ banner over the stage. There were no clues it was a benefit, let alone what for, until one woman tried to make a speech near the end and got booed off – inevitably: speeches are boring. Only Rock Against Racism were at work outside, selling their paper Temporary Hoarding, complete with Poly Styrene interview.
Many feminists felt the event was out of their control: the Roundhouse ruled, men guarded the doors, put on the records, brought on the bands. I felt that too, but would have been glad that the music wasn’t just ‘ours’, the audience not just ‘us’ – if only we’d made clear who ‘we’ were.

Jill Nicholls

Poem For A Lady Whose Voice I Like

The magnificent Nikki Giovanni has this on her 1975 album The Way I Feel. You can hear it being read without music here.
The poem is also in her 1996 collection The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni.

Poem For A Lady Whose Voice I Like

so he said: you ain’t got no talent
if you didn’t have a face
you wouldn’t be nobody

and she said: god created heaven and earth
and all that’s Black within them

so he said: you ain’t really no hot shit
they tell me plenty sisters
take care better business than you

and she said: on the third day he made chitterlings
and all good things to eat
and said: “that’s good”

so he said: if the white folks hadn’t been under
yo skirt and been giving you the big play
you’d a had to come on uptown like everybody else

and she replied: then he took a big Black greasy rib
from adam and said we will call this woeman and her
name will be sapphire and she will divide into four parts
that simone may sing a song

and he said: you pretty full of yourself ain’t chu

so she replied: show me someone not full of herself
and i’ll show you a hungry person

Nikki Giovanni


The Horace Ové film reviewed in Black Echoes, 18 March, 1978.

Pressure, Horace Ové
Notting Hill Coronet.

Not exactly a film about Black Music, and yet it’s that and much more. And essential viewing for those who want to understand the realities of black oppression, which lie behind the inspiration for much Reggae.
Pressure is set in Ladbroke Grove, and is showing appropriately enough just down the road from that very location. It also strikes close to home in its subject matter, which seems to grow disturbingly more topical week to week.
The film is basically the story of a black kid’s search for work and his journey through frustration and despair to final awakening “black consciousness”. Our hero, Tony, has been out of school for over six months when the film opens, and a job seems as far away as ever. Most of his white ex-class mates are already well settled into their new working status. Inevitably the forces of discrimination begin to separate him from white society. And in turn his naïve schoolboy image transforms into the street sharp character of the final scenes.
The opening sequences are rather hammy and awkward – his white friends for instance are just that bit too clean and pleasant. But pretty soon you stop analysing as you become absorbed in simply wanting to know what happens next. The feel of the film strengthens as one bitter experience after another compound themselves in Tony’s mind. Our involvement grows until we too begin to see the pressures of Babylon all around.
There are some nice touches of irony too, like the preacher in the black peoples’ church who tells them to “drive all black thoughts from your mind”. Religion is just another form of oppression because God is a white man.
Events culminate into the scenes of police terrorisation and brutality which have a powerful and moving effect.
The ending itself might seem indecisive but perhaps that’s the only honest conclusion. Certainly there seems no cause for the optimism that “Black Joy” suggested, and in that sense Pressure is a more satisfactory film.
Herbert Norville’s performance as Tony is commendable, and the kids from the ghetto do their stuff with convincing style. Tony’s mum is good too, with her fits of histrionics that had the audience rolling about.
I would have liked to have seen some use of rhythms in the film score. Horace Ové is no stranger to Reggae (viz. his “Reggae”, presently showing with “Smile Orange” at the Brixton Ace), and yet Pressure restricts itself to a couple of pleasant tunes that add class, but don’t generate much heat. Some compelling sounds come out of the Grove itself which would add much appropriate atmosphere. However Horace Ové succeeds in presenting a provoking picture of city oppression. Pressure drop indeed.

Alex Skorecki

Greatest Hits

Paul Morley sucked the fun out of punk long before he became ‘the cultural commentator Paul Morley’ sucking the fun out of nostalgia TV. He reviewed Killing Joke’s first album along with the Cockney Rejects second in the NME, 25 October, 1980.

Killing Joke
Killing Joke (Malicious Damage/EG Records)
Cockney Rejects
Greatest Hits Vol II (EMI)

Here are some young boys sneezing, wheezing, excreting. Where have they been? Where do they come from? The Cockney Rejects tap the baddest taste of their punk mentors (Sham, the Friggin’ Sex Pistols) and exhaust it with breathtaking short-sightedness. Killing Joke are trapped inside a diseased John Lydon/Hugh Cornwell nightmare, doing their cross-eyed best to affect malevolence and translate the bane and dread of PiL into something scrumptiously decomposed and very much their own.
Neither group engages my sympathy. Early-morning emptiness makes me see a point or two in Killing Joke’s conventionally barren music-scape. Nothing lets me in to the secret of how to teeter into the bog with Cockney Rejects.
Two ways of seeing ‘punk’; as dogma or a sense of adventure, Rejects are strangled by dogma: Killing Joke baffled by the possibilities of experiment. The two LPs give credence to the theory that ‘punk’ was just a moderate bump in the history of American rock music, a soft jab in the music industry’s face.
For the Rejects, punk is a licence to scatologically bare their priceless backsides on their glossy album cover, take soiled chants from the terraces into the expensive recording studios, let loose defective egos on the ‘world’. Killing Joke have sluggishly exploited the opportunities post-punk endeavour has offered them to fiddle about with sound and form, to wallow in horror pools of corruption and degeneration.
Like the next person, I have a certain taste for stupidity, but neither of these records stimulate that in the way I want it stimulated. Cockney Rejects are sprightly loony-teen pop prats, Killing Joke are fusty champions of the new underground – well in with the moderns, this lot, but not me chum – and both go through the motions: they’re well-mannered for all their cover of revolt or subversion.
We live in sick times: Cockney Rejects and Killing Joke seem to be part of the problem rather than sceptics or cynics.
Killing Joke’s peaky, broken-winded, meandering songs would actually form a better Ballardian soundtrack than Numan of Foxx, but ultimately the songs lack fierce introverted intensity or harrowing lust just as much as the synth-kids. They ladenly, sub-statically dribble along sounding more blank than terror-filled, forming a sullen, spasmodically wildish soundtrack for impending catastrophe that lacks a necessary sense of calm or disorientating inner tension.
Killing Joke are parasites sucking all the goodness out of important musics. Graceless. A poor joke.
Killing Joke song titles: ‘Requiem’, ‘War Dance’, ‘Tomorrow’s World’, ‘Complication’ (Foreigner playing Stranglers) ‘Primitive’. To another blotchy mix of comedy and tragedy. Cockney Rejects song titles: ‘War On The Terraces’, ‘Hate Of The City’, ‘Urban Guerilla’, ‘The Greatest Cockney Rip Off’, even ‘The Rocker’.
They even do Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster’ – this group don’t try as hard as Killing Joke not to be nostalgic. In fact they don’t try at all to be anything but vacantly, even cheekily, wild.
They come on like scolded Just Williams and sound like scalded dogs. Fourteen songs are spewed out that will abuse the souls and desires of their listeners with as much hypocritical crudeness and puritanical, jingoistic zeal as the Daily Star abuses its readers. If the Daily Star broke through its ludicrous cover of righteousness and owned up to the exploitative forces that drive it on, it would adopt Cockney Rejects as its pets and use them in its TV adverts along side Arthur Mullard.
These LPs emphasise that rock languages are repressive; they do nothing to indicate that music can also open up.

Paul Morley

Grange Hill

Spare Rib marks Grange Hill’s homework, number 80, March, 1979.

Grange Hill
Tues and Fris – 5.10pm

Since most children go to them, it’s a very good idea to have a TV series about comprehensive schools. Perhaps it should be on later though: we can hardly get home in time to see it, and anyway we don’t want to plonk down and see yet more school the minute we get in.
It deals with everyday situations, like cheeking the teachers, to more difficult ones, like rape. Unfortunately it is these more controversial issues which, although it’s amazing they’re in the series at all, are rather glossed over. Just when you thought they’d caught the rapist, it turned out he was someone’s long lost Dad, and the point about the real rapist, and what girls could do about it, was lost.
We’d like to see much more about lessons, and about teachers teaching them. It’s supposed to be about school, and yet nearly all the action takes place outside lessons – which is where we spend nearly all our time. You don’t get any real sense of teachers’ real work and their relationships with the children. Some of the acting by the children is good, especially the strong radical girl who leads the campaign against uniform. Some of the acting , however, is very unconvincing indeed.
Bullying is a big problem in schools. We didn’t like the way all the bullies were represented as working class boys, and their victims as middle class. Nor is there enough attention paid to the bullying between girls which happens a lot in schools. There are not enough black children, either. Questions of racism and class are lightly skated over in the hope you’ll get the general idea, but as far as class is concerned, it’s very stereotyped: it’s the middle class homes that are presented as happiest.
Maybe we’re critical because we know schools inside out. It doesn’t particularly appeal to us – we would have liked something more realistic and controversial. But every time we thought “This is true to life,” it would always be resolved in a happy ending. And that is not realistic.

Lisa and Ruth

Izik Wittenberg

In June 1943 the Germans arrested two communist activists in Vilna. One of them, Kozlowski, broke under interrogation and admitted to having links to Yitzhak Wittenberg, the Commander of the United Partisan Organisation. These were Jewish partisans fighting the Nazis. On the 8th of July the SiPO (security police force created by the Germans in 1942 in occupied Lithuania) demanded that Jacob Gens, head of the Ghetto, arrest Wittenberg. On the 15th of July Gens summoned the UPO to a conference in his house. The Staff Command, including Wittenberg, arrived at midnight. During the meeting Lithuanian police entered the room and demanded to know which was Wittenberg. Gens pointed at Wittenberg and the Lithuanians handcuffed him and took him away. Members of the FPO attacked the Jewish police and the Lithuanians that were transporting Wittenberg and forcibly freed him. Wittenberg decided on a full mobilisation of the underground, distribution of weapons and manning the positions that had been predetermined for an emergency situation. Wittenberg himself went into hiding on the advice of his friends.
At 3:00 am Gens called the police, the heads of the work groups and the shtarke (“The strong ones” in the ghetto, some of whom were gangsters; they were a supplementary force to the police and were also active in smuggling) to the courtyard of the Judenrat. Rumours about the release of Wittenberg spread through the ghetto and many of the ghetto inhabitants came to the courtyard. Gens informed them that the Germans were threatening to enter the ghetto if Wittenberg was not arrested. Fearing that the ghetto would be liquidated, a hunt for Wittenberg began. A delegation from the ghetto leadership and public figures turned to the underground Command requesting that Wittenberg be turned in to save the rest of the ghetto. The Staff Command faced a difficult decision. On the one hand, they had reached a situation that could lead to an uprising, and on the other, the UPO members found themselves before a united public demanding Wittenberg’s arrest. UPO members were even physically accosted by the public.
The German’s ultimatum was postponed. Gens promised that he would try to free Wittenberg. During the day Wittenberg met with members of the Staff Command. The difficult situation in the ghetto was described to him. He considered suicide but according to Gens the Germans had demanded him alive. Once even the Communists in the ghetto demanded his arrest, Wittenberg accepted the decree. He gave his pistol to Kovner, appointed him leader and went out into the street.

Wittenberg’s prayer ‘Ich gehe’ (Yiddish – I Go) spread like thunder through the ghetto. Cries suddenly became silent. Jews began to swarm outside. Doors and windows were opened again.

Shmerke Kaczerginski, I Was A Partisan

Wittenberg turned himself in to Gens, was taken out of the ghetto by a side gate and delivered to the Germans. In the prison cell, he took poison and was found dead in his cell the following morning.

Following this episode many underground members abandoned the idea of an uprising and decided to leave for the forests. The pursuit of Wittenberg by the ghetto leadership in order to turn him over to the Germans had proven to the underground members that the majority of the Jews in the ghetto were not prepared to fight. Following stormy arguments, the UPO Staff Command decided that although for the most part they would remain in the ghetto, some members would begin leaving for the forests. The first group of UPO members to leave, left on the 24th of July 1943, numbered 21 members and was called “Leon” (Wittenberg’s pseudonym in the underground).

Shmerke Kaczerginski was a poet, communist and member of the UPO. He wrote this poem about Izik Wittenberg

Somewhere the enemy
Lies hidden like a beast
The Mauser is ready in hand,
Watch out – the Gestapo!
They’re leading a captive
At night – our Commander-in-Chief!

Night in the Ghetto
Was torn by lightning
“Beware!” warns a tower, a wall ;
Rescue our comrades
They’re with our Commander-in-Chief!

The night is foreboding
Death is lurking around us
The Ghetto, in fever and dread;
The Ghetto is restless
As Gestapo threatens
“Your commandant, or Death!”

Itzik then spoke up –
Words that struck like lightning
“Don’t take any risks for my sake
Your lives are too precious
To give away lightly.”
Proudly to his death went our Commandant!

Again, somewhere the enemy
Lies hidden like a beast;
My Mauser is ready in hand
My gun is my guardian,
Be you the liberator
Be you my Commandant now.

Izik Wittenberg

S’ligt ergets fartay-et
Der faynt, vi a chaye,
Der Mauzer er vakht in mayn hant;
Nor plutzim – Gestapo!
Es feert a geshmidtn
Durkh fintsternish dem Commandant!

Di nakht hot mit blitsn
Dos geto tseshnitn:
“Gefar!” Shrayt a toyer, a vant
Khaveyrim getraye
Fun keytn bafrayen
Farshvindn mit dem komendant…

Di nakht iz farfloygn
Der toyt- far di oygn
Dos geto es fibert in brand;
In umru dos geto –
Es drot di gestapo:
“Toyt, oder dem komendant”

Gezogt hot dan Itsik
Un durkh, vi a blits iz:
-“Ikh vil nit, ir zolt tsulib mir
Darfn dos lebn
Dem soyne opgebn!”…
Tsum toyt geyt shtolts der komendant

Ligt vider fartayet
Der faynt, vi a khaye
Kh’halt vider mayn mauzer in hant:
“Du bist bay mir tayer,
Zay du mayn bafrayer,
Zay du itster mayn komendant!”

Shmaryahu (Shmerke) Kaczerginski
Photo of Kaczerginski, UPO fighter.

Cockney Echoes

Smiley Culture’s essential Cockney Translation reviewed in Black Echoes, 28 April, 1984, by Pete Johnson.

Smiley Culture: ‘Cockney Translation’/’Slam Bam’ (Arthur Daley)

After years of domination by Yard DJs, the MC scene is starting to get a good shake-up from London’s own supa-powered toasters. First Philip Levi rocked the nation with his superb ‘Mi God Mi King’ and now there’s Smiley Culture, another boss DJ from this city’s Saxon Sound with a further lesson in how to do it right.
‘Cockney Translation’ is not only an extremely clever piece of chat (Smiley, like Levi can do his thing in double-time and spit out lyrics like mango seeds), but also very funny. It might not make a lot of sense north of Watford, but for anyone at all conversant with the way London kids can switch from Yard patois to East End rabbit, this will give rise to a prolonged, knowing laugh.
What Smiley actually does, is to mount the ‘Real Rock’ rhythm and run through just about every term and phrase used in daily city life, rendering each first in cockney and then Jamdown fashion. Great is the word.
‘Slam Bam’ is a very fast double (and at times treble) time chat to the Heptones’ ‘Baby’ rhythm, extolling the virtues of origination over imitation. Good also.
Both produced in fine style by Fashion’s Chris Lane, who has let the vocals control centre-stage until the explosive dub run-outs.

To The North Of This Shit

From Barry MacSweeney’s first collection The Boy from the Green Cabaret Tells of his Mother, New Authors Ltd, 1968.

To Me Mam, Somewhere To The North Of This Shit


Even dark North Sea fish are
caught in the net of the absentee landlord
whose province is not land but total
possession of the soul
(butterflies & princesses
lie deflowered in the snow) I mutter a cold prayer


Women stem their blood flow for love &
cry about their children at night in
the lonely lovers bed
which I taste & you taste & we all taste
which is beyond the holiness of their
position & possessions me mam is a
stooping figure shovelling coal from
the path into the cellar & she
worries, not like a hound worrying a rat, but
like a star worries
the ocean,
who fears no reflection

Barry MacSweeney

Punk And Censorship

There’s a spat between Scouse punk band The Accelerators and Merseyside Women’s Action Group in the letters page of Spare Rib, 65, December, 1977.

Fascist Punk?
Dear Spare Rib,
Our experience of punk has been really bad. A local punk band, The Accelerators, offered to play at a benefit for two people who’d been busted, one of whom was in the women’s movement, so a lot of movement women were there. One of the band was wearing a patch on his clothes saying ‘All women’s libbers are cunts’. The volume of the music was so loud that there was no possibility of talking together. One of us went and tipped a pint of beer over the player’s head. She was attacked by the singer, as a result of which she had to have 20 stitches in her face. The band carried on playing and their music became even more aggressive. The women from the movement left.
Was one of us right in acting on her own initiative in such a situation? Some people saw it as a personal, not a political, act. It has been looked at as a trivial incident magnified out of all proportion by hypersensitive feminists. We don’t think that a band with such an anti-women attitude should be playing at alternative or left-wing events. If the band had displayed equivalent racist sentiments what would the reaction have been?
It seems difficult to discuss the relationship between direct sexism and the way music is performed. Still, we don’t think that the volume at which the music is played, the aggressiveness of the sound and rhythm and the violence in the gestures of the lead singer are separable from a contemptuous and subordinating attitude to women.
Just because something is against established authority doesn’t seem to us to mean that it should be regarded as progressive. For us, the sounds and mannerisms of punk rock are an expression of fascism in music and we want nothing whatever to do with it.
In sisterhood,
Anne Cunningham, Carol Riddell,
Liverpool 8.

… or just noisy rock ‘n’ roll?

Dear Spare Rib,
I play rhythm guitar with The Accelerators. On August 2, we played a benefit gig and several of the Merseyside Women’s Action Group (WAG) were present. Some of them persisted in haranguing the drummer’s girlfriend because of the sexy clothes she was wearing. He reacted by writing a slogan on his overalls, which read ‘All women’s lib. are cunts’.
In the middle of our first number, one of the WAG, Ms Tasker, walked onto the stage and poured a glass of beer over Brian, his drums, and a plugboard. He hit her once, and Chris, the singer, bundled her offstage. Some of her friends rushed forward, one of them wielding a mikestand. In the brief fracas Ms Tasker’s face was cut, either by the glass she was originally holding, or by one held by one of her friends. No-one in the band was holding a glass. We later learned that she had to have 20 stitches.
The WAG has been trying to make things hard for The Accelerators. They influenced the Merseyside Area Students Association to propose a motion to ban us from local colleges. Now a nationwide NUS ban is being requested. Isn’t democracy wonderful?
We were requested to play a benefit gig for Rock Against Racism (RAR) at a local pub. We arrived to find a picket line of feminists outside, urging people not to see the “sexist” Accelerators. All the wrangling delayed us and we didn’t get to play. The WAG may see this as a blow for women’s liberation, I see it as a blow against RAR and as a blow against rock’n’roll.
No-one in the band denies that the slogan Brian wore was offensive to some, but we refuse to let anyone dictate our individual opinions. We defend the right of the band to wear any slogans they want and will always abhor censorship, be it from Mary Whitehouse or extremist feminists. We see Ms Tasker’s act as physical censorship.
It is sad that the WAG’s campaign has totally ignored the music itself. My political stand is to play a dirty, noisy, rock’n’roll guitar. But the WAG wants to silence the band I play in. What a great step for women’s liberation.
Yours sincerely,
Liverpool 8.