Friday, June 26, 2009

Rock Against Racism: The Clash

Punk was progressive and reactionary.
On the one hand, staunchly conservative, railing against the modernity of pop charts and calling for a return to basics, then on the other hand, fiercely revolutionary, calling for sweeping changes in the established order.

A by-product of this dichotomy was bands who defined themselves as much by what they were against as what they were for, from the Clash ("We're anti-fascist, we're anti-violence, we're anti-racist and we're pro-creative") to Propagandhi ("Anti-fascist, Gay-positive, Pro-feminist, Animal-friendly").

Part and parcel of these divergent ideas is the call to put money-to-mouth and play for free to raise money to fight against bad causes. A prime example of this call-to-arms was the British Anti-Nazi League's Rock Against Racism concert series (not to forget the racist response headed by Skrewdriver, which was not called Rock Against Tolerance, sadly, but rather Rock Against Communism).

The Clash, the ostensible subject of this post, played the first Rock Against Racism event in London's Victoria Park in early 1978. The success of that show (which was filmed for use in the movie Rude Boy) not only broke the band to a wider audience it was considered a crucial brake on the rise of the far-right in Britain, a battle unfortunately not yet won.

Rock Against Racism
suffered the same problems as those American wars against, poverty, drugs, terrorism; how do you know when you've beaten an idea? (The worst of this sort of pro-negative campaigning, came in the late eighties with Rock Against Drugs, which the departed Sam Kinison disparaged as being about as sensible as "Christians Against Christ".) That said, standing up against belligerent, divisive factions is, and always will be the duty of a free people.

{MRML Readers: Leave us a comment telling us your views, memories or reactions to this Rock Against Racism business.}

Download The Clash Rude Boys in the Park* CD

*This a field recording with very dodgy sound quality.


  1. Hi, I was there that day. I love all these blogs, I keep uncovering recordings I didn't know existed of gigs I was at all those years ago.

    Actually, all I can really remember about that day was being on the march before it, and going down Fleet Street booing and hissing as we passed all the different newspaper offices. They were still in the actual Fleet Street back then. They still haven't got any better have they?

    Anyway, cheers, I enjoy your blog.


  2. For a clip that's a minute seventeen, that anti-nazi rally video gives a pretty good idea of the intensity of a clash show.

    joe at some point said 'you gotta be pro-something, or you might as well be the anti-chair league'. something like that.

    another great post, thanks.

  3. Richard.

    Thanks for the memories!

    Sad to say I always thought the newspapers were still on Fleet Street (after all the name is as synonymous with media as Wall street is with business.)


    Yeah it's annoying (if understandable) how only bits and pieces of the early Clash performances are on film.

    Thanks for the good words.

  4. jeffen:

    i thought this was a good enough video that i wasn't frustrated, but yeah, tracking down clash footage in general... thing is, there's a lot of british tv footage that doesn't seem to be available to the public, not even for purchase. who has the rights to this stuff? and the sound quality is out there on a few gigs, there are some good early bootlegs, but did anyone film any of that? it's not like i have a good memory.


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