“We want Rebel music, street music. Music that breaks down people’s fear of one another. Crisis music. Now Music. Music that knows who the real enemy is. Rock Against Racism. Love Music, Hate Racism.” -Temporary Hoarding, 1977
Everything came about as a result of two shocking events happening consecutively in the same year of 1976. Eric Clapton made an infamous remark at a concert in Birmingham supporting the top racist Enoch Powell and calling for ‘foreigners’ to leave the country, keeping ‘Britain white’. Coming from a blues guitarist, whose cover of Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff revived his career and made him a fortune, such a viewpoint came across as offensive and hypocritical. The second controversy surrounded everyone’s favourite Brixton boy David Bowie and his offensive flirtation with Nazism in one of his magazine interviews, where he refers to Hitler as a rock-star, as well as raising his arm in a Nazi salute from a limousine at Victoria Station; all of which was later retracted by the artist, yet greatly exaggerated by the press.
As a reaction to these events, and moved by such tragic events as the murder of the 18-year-old student Gurdip Singh Chaggar by racists in Southall, police attacking participants in the Notting Hill Carnival, violent open street battles in Wood Green, North London and Lewisham, South London, where National Front, who was gaining popularity and electoral ground, whilst intimidating ethnic minorities with marches and violence, a collective of musicians and political activists, figures including Red Saunders and Roger Huddle formed the cultural movement Rock Against Racism (RAR). Actively showcasing reggae and punk bands on the same stage during their gigs, RAR was attracting large multicultural audiences who united to confront neo-fascism.
Achieving national prominence, RAR, often in collaboration with its sister movement, the Anti-Nazi League (ANL), promoted racial harmony through music by organizing large musical carnivals and marches under such slogans as ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’ and ‘Reggae, Soul, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jazz, Funk and Punk: OUR MUSIC’.
Attracting large crowds of more than 80,000 people, the series of live gigs were held at different clubs and parks up and down the UK, which culminated with an impressive grand finale in the Great Hall at Alexandra Palace, called ‘The Militant Entertainment Tour Finale’, on 14th April 1979 with 11 bands including Tom Robinson, Jimmy Pursey with Sham 69 and Alex Harvey. “Who shot the Sheriff, Eric?”, asked the rebels, “It sure as hell wasn't you!”.
Having found such an astonishing part of history in the heritage of Alexandra Palace, we – a group of 6 curating students from Central Saint Martins (Fiona, Bronte, Ziqiao, April, Amber and myself) – would like to revive and re-tell the story once again inside The People’s Palace. We are engaging with the local community, in considering of the important role that the area played in combating racism at the time, we are working with an incredibly talented local theatre and performing arts company, Haringey Shed, to run performing arts and costume-making workshops inspired by the history of the RAR in the context of Ally Pally.
Incorporating drama, dance and music, an inalienable part of both RAR and history of Ally Pally, the workshop participants will prepare an intervention piece, inspired by the protest and rebellious mood of Rock against Racism, which will be performed prior to a live-gig by blues-rock duo Royal Blood at Alexandra Palace’s Palm Court on 21st November.
Functioning as a platform for stories to be transformed and told through creative expression, the People’s Carnival project will bring up the question of still existing social barriers by reviving that powerful piece of history. As Tom Robinson recalls 'What mattered was the fact that we all took part in an astonishing celebration of music, fun, justice and the politics of tolerance. The struggle for a more just and
civilised society is an ongoing fight that each generation has to carry forward.'