Tag Archives: Linton Kwesi Johnson

LKJ – BBC (not that one, that one)

A documentary from 2008 about LKJ’s 1978 Dread, Beat and Blood album. Benjamin Zephaniah looks at the album, the times and what LKJ’s poetry meant to people.
Joolz is also interviewed as well as Dennis Bovell (obvs), Jerry Dammers and the mighty Darcus Howe.

Listen here


The Big One

The Camden Centre, June 18th, 2015

Now that was a gig! The main gig of our season of events. Though we say it ourselves the best line up of the year… if not longer.

Linton and Clarkey.

Forthright poetry that wasn’t afraid to be saying something.
Mark Thomas more than capably hosted and ensured everyone kept to time – which was no mean feat.
First up was Teething Wells with one of his rants from 1981 and then a current attack on gentrification. Plenty to be angry about.
Little Dave took the stage next, for the first time in decades. It was great to see some of the old ranters, seasoned turns like John Cooper Clarke and LKJ as well as poets at the start of their career such as Emily Harrison all on stage and all on target.

Camden gig

the venue filling up

Ginger John took the stage next and took it like it was a Normandy beach. Charming, funny, and deft as ever… seeing him back on stage has been one of my highlights from Stand Up and Spit.

Attila and Ginger John

Janine Booth did an incendiary set and her the audience were with her, joining in with ‘Mostly Hating Tories’.
Ranting centre-forward Attila the Stockbroker showed just why he’s not stopped gigging. By now everyone knew this was a unique gig. Attila’s performance was as punchy as you’d expect. He even had several of the audience in tears, the atmosphere was that good. He read one of Seething Wells’ poems Roger. That was a lovely moment.

John Hegley took the John Hegley spot and calmed the pace as only he can.
Ending the first half was Linton Kwesi Johnson. Linton read a couple of poems, his second was his reflction on the 1981 riots that swept the country: The Great Insurrection. Like all the poets the relevance of the poetry leapt into the air. Linton’s third poem was a highspot of the night, a highspot of all the live poetry I’ve ever seen come to that. He read Michael Smith’s Mi Cyaan Believe It. The room hushed as those that knew the poem soaked it up and the younger people were carried along with Michael’s words and the power of Linton’s delivery.

Porky the Poet, Janine Booth, Dave Womble – editor of Wake Up ‘zine and Tim Wells.

Next was a short interval for drinks, credit to the Class War contingent whose table at the end of the night had the highest tally of empty beer bottles. Poets old and young mingled, ‘zines did the rounds and people caught their breath. Great to see poets like Clare Pollard in the audience, spoken word is in such a healthy state it’s a good time to look at, and enjoy, it’s history.

Lisa Mckenzie and Professor Matthew Worley.

Emily Harrison, fast building a reputation for one of the best young poets reading at the moment, commenced the first half and showed that the angry and funny style of ranting has been passed on.

Mark Thomas and Emily Harrison.

Joolz took the stage next and as Porky the Poet said “Joolz was her usual spellbinding mix of hilarious and harrowing, (as a poet she’s the closest thing you’ll get to watching ‘Goodfellas’).”

John Cooper Clarke raised the roof. Quite rightly a national treasure and a bloke who’s poetry, and life, is a testament to being original, witty and (mostly) decent.

Emily Harrison, John Cooper Clarke and Rhoda Dakar.

Porky the Poet was last on and was his usual genial and generous self. Like all the poets he took aim at our wretched government, and did so with humour.
“We did all the ranting, to stop things happening, and it’s got worse.”
Stepping out from the gig we moved from a space where people were positive, having fun, fighting back to pavements where people were grey and worried.

We need our ranters.
The gig was all and more that we’d wanted: top drawer poets, an enthusiastic audience, old friends, new friends, great poetry and a valuable look back at ranting poetry that clearly resonated with what’s going on today.
There’s a review at Write Out Loud

Mark Thomas, Porky the Poet, Ginger John, Tim Wells and Bang Said the Gun’s Laurie Bolger.

LKJ and the British Black Panthers

In the Past Tense pamphlet In The Shadow of the S.P.G Racist Policing, Resisitance, and Black Power in 1970s Brixton, 2014, there is quite a bit about the British Black Panthers, who included Farrukh Dhondy and Linton Kwesi Johnson.
The quotes below come from a section looking at how the Panters educated people.
Farrukh Dhondy has an active career in which he has written a biography of CLR James, the comedy series Tandoori Nights, translated Rumi, written children’s stories and the Bollywood film Mangal Pandey and been commissioning editor for Channel Four.

“I had the idea, right at the beginning, that culture was the only way out of this mission to complain. The mission to complain was , you know, ‘we are poor, sad blacks, beaten down, you discriminate against us, racism, racism, racism, complaint, complaint, complaint”, and that wouldn’t end until one said ‘Look, forget about the sadness, here’s what I can do.’ We could have an intellectual culture, and I’ve always thought that was the way forward…” Farrukh Dhondy

Militant as it was, Black Power activities also had a strong cultural element – dances, with sound systems, poetry groups… On the one hand this helped to draw people in, but the participation in the movement also opened people’s eyes to their own cultural heritage, as Linton Kwesi Johnson relates:
“My real interest in poetry began when I joined the Black Panthers. Joining the Black Panthers was a life-changer for me because for the first time I discovered black literature, because going to school here I had absolutely no idea whatsoever that black people wrote books. In the Black Panthers they had a library and all of a sudden I discovered all these wonderful books written by black people. One book in particular was a book called ‘The Souls of Black Folk’ written by an African American scholar by the name of W.E.B DuBois. And this book was not a book of poems, it was prose, but it was a very poetic prose and the language was very moving. And that book just stimulated my interest in poetry, and made me want to discover more poetry, and made me want to try to articulate in verse how I felt, and how the black youth of my generation felt about our experiences growing in this racially hostile environment.
I learnt a lot about my culture and I was able to locate myself in the world, and to understand myself more fully. Who I am, where I am coming from, and why I am where I am now.”


Black Panthers – Right On!

I met with Amah-Rose who is doing some research on the Black Panthers. I’ve posted about them previously.
We had a good discussion on them and I lent a couple of books. We discussed the poetry arrests incident and also some of the writers from the late 60s/early 70s who were writing socially relevant poetry.
Sam Greenlee was mentioned a few times, as were LKJ and Gil Scott-Heron. The Panthers antipathy to Amiri Baraka pleased us both.


New Cross Fire

On Saturday 17th January 1981, a 16th birthday party was held at 439 New Cross Road for Yvonne Ruddock. Early the next morning, the 18th, a fire broke out and 13 young black people, all between the ages of 15 and 20 years old, were killed. Yvonne Ruddock was among the dead. One survivor killed himself a couple of years later, so the death toll is often given as 14. Many people believed that that the fire was a racist attack and the police initially suggested that it may have been caused by a firebomb, they later rejected this theory, claiming that the fire had been started following an argument in the party. Racists sent abusive letters to victim’s families and the police investigation was haphazard.
There had been several racist arson attacks in the area. In November 1977 a newspaper reported that a National Front meeting had included talk of burning down the Moonshot, a New Cross youth club popular with young black people. On December 18th, it was gutted in a firebomb attack and had to be rebuilt. The Albany in Deptford was a centre of local anti-racist activity, including ‘Rock Against Racism’ gigs, a three day ‘All Together Now’ festival, a benefit to scrap the suss laws and a successful anti racist show called ‘Restless natives’. On the 14th July 1978 the Albany (then at 47 Creek Road) was gutted by fire.
The next day a note was pushed through the door of the building saying ‘GOT YOU’. The rebuilt Albany is now home to poetry organisation Apples and Snakes. Throughout the 1970s there had a significant far right presence in south East London. In 1976, the National Front and the National Party achieved a combined vote of 44.5% in a Deptford council by-election. And on 13 August 1977, a National Front March to Lewisham started in New Cross, in Achilles Street by Fordham Park. The clashes between the NF, anti-fascists and the police on that day became known as the Battle of Lewisham. It wasn’t just the possible racist attack that inflamed anger. While local community activists like Sybil Phoenix rallied round to support those affected, there was little or no official support, not even the usual messages of condolence from the Queen or the prime minister.
The police interrogated party goers as if they were criminals rather than victims, and the press reporting was largely unsympathetic. As Linton Kwesi Johnson recalled ‘a lot of people were angry… not just about what happened, but about the way the whole business was handled by the police and the way it was reported in the press and the media’.
On the Sunday following the fire a mass meeting was held at The Moonshot Club, attended by over 1000 people. From that meeting there was a demonstration to the scene of the fire, which blocked New Cross Road for several hours. A New Cross Massacre Action Committee was established and organised weekly mass meetings in New Cross. It also called the Black People’s Day of Action on Monday 2nd March 1981. On a wet working day, at least 15,000 (some say 20,000) marched over a period of eight hours from Fordham Park to Hyde Park with slogans including: ‘Thirteen Dead and Nothing Said’, ‘No Police Cover-Up’, ‘Blood Ah Go Run If Justice No Come’ – the largest single political mobilization of black people ever seen in the UK. LKJ was a steward on the march, and remembers that ‘all along the march we kept on picking up more people… school children were climbing over fences to come and join the demonstration in Peckham’. Other walked out of their workplaces to join in. Although the march was mainly peaceful, The Sun reported it with the headline: ‘The Day the Blacks Ran Riot in London’, with other press reports featuring headlines like ‘Black Day at Blackfriars’ and ‘When the Black Tide Met the Thin Blue Line’, and ‘The Day the Blacks Ran Riot in London’.
Paul Gilroy, who took part, relates that ‘we were deeply disappointed that the justice in our claim and the tragedy itself was still considered to be secondary to the sensation’. Thirty years on the families of those who died still had no answers. A second inquest in 2004 recorded an open verdict, and nobody has ever been charged. Many now query the racist attack hypothesis, but the sense of injustice remains. Playwright Rex Obano, said: “To me, the New Cross fire, the fact that no one in authority seemed to care, forced the black community to unify, to find its voice in a way it hadn’t before. This politicised people from all over the country. They marched in protest: thousands of people on a workday. I was 13 at the time and I always thought the older generation was comparatively passive. New Cross shows it wasn’t like that at all. They dealt with so much. There had been other uprisings. But this was a line in the sand.” It is no coincidence that in the month following the New Cross Fire demonstration, Brixton erupted in the first of what was to be a long hot summer of riots in cities across the country.
Whilst I was far from New Cross, I was a teenager. I was the same age of many of the dead and going to reggae dances and parties most weekends. The anger and sense of injustice was felt by black people across Britain and by many people of all backgrounds across the city. Since then we’ve seen the government, media and police indifference and fabrication in the likes of Hillsborough. I well remember the sense of injustice but also that people came together in the face of it. There were a number of songs and poems about the incident. Ben Zephaniah’s and Linton Kwesi Johnson’s poems can be heard below.

There’s also a record from longstanding record producer Sir Collins who lost a son in the tragedy.