Rock Against Racism and the other lot in Melody Maker, 25 August, 1979.
Seeing Red At RAC
What’s white and thinks it’s all right? Yes, the NF’s new rock offshoot. VIVIEN GOLDMAN infiltrates the racist ranks.
There were two, three, sometimes four policemen chatting to each other with walkie-talkies at every corner of the peaceful Holborn square and at the back door of the Conway Hall, where Rock Against Communism were about to start their first gig.
The idea of an organisation called Rock Against Communism has a familiar ring – why, yes, it must have something to do with opposing Rock Against Racism! Yeah, that’s it – anti-racist equals Commie equals red-under-bed equals … in this case, the Young National Front, in the person of their fuehrer, Joe Pierce.
Now, according to my sources, of whom more later, the youth are coming to the forefront of the NF because the older stalwarts have been forced to retire by public pressure from “commies” or “reds” from the Anti-Nazi League. Hence it’s up to young sparks like Joe Pierce to realise that music is the rallying cry for youth, regardless of colour or creed.
And hence this RAC gig – the first, the pass-out says, presumably of many.
Those conversant with London venues may remember the Conway Hall as a home of humanist gatherings, lectures and the like. The posters dotting the Ethical Society Hall draw attention, ironically enough, to the plight of Sri Lankan refugees. Some very odd doublethink going on somewhere in the Conway hall.
That same Saturday night, London offered several events of several natures. There was the Black Prisoners’ Dance at the Acklam Hall, and the pre-Carnival Jump Up at the Commonwealth Institute. This Heat were supposed to have been playing at an Anarchists’ Ball in Wapping – but, being anarchists, they forgot to book a PA, so that was out.
Which partly explains why I was trailing a strange sound in a green square in Holborn. Oddly, it sounded like the Balinese Monkey Dance with heavy reverb, just percussive slashes of sound.
As we turn corner after corner, the sound grows more and more distinct – it’s rock’n’roll! The big Rock Against Racism truck blares through the neighbourhood, a very audible opposition to RAC’s nearby presence, drawing snap-happy American and Japanese tourists to grab a quick Polaroid of what a large phalanx of cute British Bobbies.
In fact, the dark green shadow-windowed Special Patrol Group vans are parked not very discreetly here and there suggest a less cuddly scenario to the locals in the RAR march. A true Seventies blend of styles: genuine-article turquoise-haired punks, hippies who looked straight out of a News Of The World special on Social Security scroungers, Asians in crimplene strides and turbans. Charge were on the van, performing great acts of heroism as leads fell out, amps played up, and so on. Their lead singer, looking like a miniature blond-haired Elvis Costello in a pork-pie hat, serenaded the SPG while the policemen marched alongside trying to maintain the patented police Great Stone Face as much as possible.
“Leave me alone,” the singer warbled, “they won’t just let me be what I want.”
RAR mainman Red Saunders, typically bubbly, yelled: “It’s the first time there’s ever been an electronic picket!” – a cheerful observation that lost some of its impact when the police called a halt two corners on, before the truck reached Conway Hall, and strolled alongside until they’d packed all their charges off safely down the Tube and out of harm’s way.
I’d vaguely assumed that the left-wing element would somehow infiltrate the Rock Against Communism show and express their sentiments, the way the British Movement are fond of doing these days, but it seemed like I was the only one with pinko tendencies walking towards the Conway Hall. The fresh-faced young cop who stopped me seemed to think so.
“Excuse me, which side are you on?” he asked with a charming smile. “If you don’t mind me saying so, you look like you’re on the other side. I wouldn’t like to go in there, Miss, if I were you. There’s a pretty rough lot in there tonight – skinheads and all that.”
Without wanting to damn every skinhead, I agreed with him. But what I’d noticed with alarm about the Conway Hall clientele was a super-abundance of beefy, red-faced, beer-bellied, thuggish types in black leather jackets with NF and swastika armbands giving myself and (black) photographer Vernon St. Hilaire some flame-thrower glances as we got out of the cab.
Inside the Conway Hall, there were about 150 youths – I say youths specifically because there were only about five women, including a couple of skins and a punkette in a Ramones T-shirt.
The lads were mostly skins with steel toe-caps and braces fresh from seeing Chelsea draw 0-0 or burly-looking characters in NF T-shirts looking like mercenaries gone AWOL ‘cos the army life was too soft. The deejay was playing Devo, the Sex Pistols, and – heaven help us – Tom Robinson.
I got talking to a gent in a black leather jacket and jack-boots pulled over his forage trousers. He was wearing a badge of NF supremo John Tyndall, taken from a youthful shot of the NF oberfuehrer in full Nazi regalia.
“Tyndall in his romantic days,” quipped my companion, one Tony Williams, the organiser of the Ipswich branch of the NF.
Williams, 22, looks suspiciously Latin, but assures me he’s of pure Welsh stock. He works in a wine and spirits firm, and informed me that the beer had already run out, and that it was only shandy anyway.
Williams reckoned it was a magnificent event: “The first time British men have ever been able to get together and enjoy themselves like this! It’s different from anything I’ve ever seen!”.
I remark that it looks like all too many (rather unpleasant) skin gigs I’ve been to – chaps bouncing up and down at 45-degree angles and butting one another. The only difference was – no women. Women, Williams explained, are frightened of coming out politically because of social pressures to be feminine.
“We do have some nice girls in the NF, but not enough. I mean, look at that one!” He pointed to a skinhead girl in braces. “Isn’t that the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen?”
What did Williams think of the popular conception of the NF as British Nazi Party?
“Well, of course, you do get all kinds of elements within any political party,” said Williams smoothly, obviously well versed in The Party Line. “I mean, frankly, we’re probably surrounded by Nazis tonight,” he added conspiratorially.
Just then, his friend Simon, an ultra-Aryan tub-like hulk in a forage jacket, came bouncing up to us excitedly. “I say, did you hear those lyrics? ‘We are the Master Race!’ Isn’t that terrific!”
White Boss were on stage, a combo best described as sub-punk. I was only astonished Simon had been able to hear the words. The group were suddenly swamped in wave after wave of shouts of “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!” from the audience. Simon bounded away, overcome. Williams gave me a weak smile.
Williams expressed great admiration for the lads who’d agreed to play. He prophesied: “They’ll probably never be able to get a record contract now. Those Reds can get up to some pretty nasty tricks, you know. What did you vote, by the way? I know it’s a personal matter. I,” he whispered, “voted Tory.”
Yes, well, so did my mother.
During the course of the evening, Williams gave me The Party Line on all number of things.
He expressed some sympathy with Chinese, Rastafarians and Jews – he appreciated the way those ethnic groups liked to stick together, close to their culture. He evoked the world of urban decay and squalor, forgetting that the rest of the planet’s in exactly the same position, and laid it fair and square on the heads of those black youths who terrorise and beat up that favourite NF archetype, “harmless old ladies”.
I say that I wouldn’t necessarily feel all that comfortable alone in a train carriage with some of the NF members in attendance. Williams takes my point, but says, “Don’t you see? They’re all looking for something! If there was a National Front government, all these types would have to be disciplined anyway. You’d be sure to be safe then.”
We adjourn to a pub, after Dentist deliver their “The Nazis are innocent” message from the stage. (“I say!” says Simon happily, “Did you hear that? Great, eh?”)
The pub is full of National Front men, wearing their Anti-Commie League badges with the arrow logo directly ripped off from the Anti-Nazi League design – in fact, this sudden cultural explosion of the NF is remarkable for its total unoriginality.
Williams expounds his theories of the irrelevance of the the concept of equality, based on the highly dubious statistic that all blacks have a 16 per cent lower intelligence rate than Caucasians. “Eight per cent, actually, old chap,” grins Simon.
Williams says that he doesn’t object to foreign travel as such; it’s just that he likes to go to Kuwait or Hong Kong or wherever and see the native culture, and he reckons all expatriates should be back in there contributing; this despite the fact that he numbers the proprietor of one Indian restaurant anong his acquaintances.
It’s not so bad if the “alien culture” works hard, makes money, and keeps themselves to themselves, but nonetheless, he invoked an Eighties world of endless battered crippled old ladies in fetid slums, and a population of “coffee-coloured mongols” – the hideous end result, he claims, of inter-breeding. I later discovered he’d lifted that colourful phrase from Enoch Powell’s recent rant.
About now, my tolerance level was pretty well worn down, amiable and chatty though my companions have certainly been. I say it’s time to head home.
“By the way, what do you do?”
“I’m a journalist from the Melody Maker.”
“Oh. Well, do write nice things about us, won’t you … ”
“By the way, what’s your surname?”
“Oh.” Pause. “Isn’t that a Jewish name?”
“Oh. Well, the NF line is that if you’re not a Zionist, you won’t have to be sent to Israel.”
On the way out, Williams asks if he can come back to my place. I am, as I tell him, genuinely shocked – it would have been more understandable, more worthy of respect, if he’d have walked away in disgust, let alone after telling me about Jewish financiers and the anti-“goy” bias of such reputable Jewish firms as Marks & Spencers.
“Well”, says Williams with a cheerful shrug, “you can’t think about politics all the time.”
The Dentists at the Conway Hall gig.