The Clash at the Anti-Nazi League carnival in 1978

Aged fourteen, I went on the huge Anti-Nazi carnival in east London in 1978. I got split up from my mates and ended up on my own – bit of a daunting experience. Got out at Embankment tube and watched loads of punks vaulting over the barriers while I politely inserted by ticket stub – as you did in those pre-Oyster days.

Then walked up towards Trafalgar Square glancing nervously at the big police vans nearby. I’d never seen anything like this and they were clearly looking for some aggro. The noise in the square was something else. A band was playing and the cheering was deafening.

At some point, we began the very long march to Victoria park in Mile End. I mean seriously, could you get people to go that far these days? Recall passing under the railway bridge near St Paul’s that was taken down in the 80s and then arriving at the park to hear more bands on a big stage including….The Clash!

But a small confession to make. I just don’t remember The Clash on stage at all. What my memories feature are X Ray Spex and the Tom Robinson Band. But….here’s The Clash and for some reason, Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 got up on stage with them.

Build up to the Anti-Nazi League carnival 1978

I was at school with the son of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) boss Len Murray and together with a mate of mine, Mark, and some other kids, we all went down to the Anti-Nazi League carnival in 1978. It now seems like an epoch ago but was an incredibly exciting day.

The extreme-Right National Front had been gaining ground on the streets and in terms of votes in London. Since the mid-70s, the economy had been on a downward slide, the mainstream parties were failing to inspire young people and racism was being fuelled by sections of the media. It was a perfect storm for the neo-Nazis.

Even in my school in the east London suburbs, there were individuals who felt empowered to be openly racist. One pupil, who had been a mate of mine a year or two earlier, joined the British Movement. The target of their hate, where we lived, were Jewish and Asian people.

This documentary from the time gives a real flavour of how a movement arose through the Labour Party, trade unions and pressure groups to push back against the NF and the purveyors of race hate.

NWOBHM – the new wave of British heavy metal

IMG_6907Heavy metal is a genre that refuses to die – like the walking dead, it can never rest in the grave. In the early 70s, the rock scene was dominated by giants like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. But then along came punk and traditional rock banks looked a bit lost.

But rock was not dead. It was merely slumbering. Punk rubbed some of its aggressiveness and thrashiness off on to a new generation of rockers and so emerged the NWOBHM. Faster beats, a frenetic pace and audiences that no longer politely sat through gigs.

By 1979, punk had seriously run out of steam. There were some laughable punk-style acts that Sounds magazine tried to convince us were ‘working class’ but in reality were truly awful. I mean, how many times can you say the F-word and shock anybody? Let alone screaming ‘anarchy’. Punk was becoming a parody of itself. New Wave filled the void but didn’t capture the anger and frustration many young people felt as the country tanked into economic meltdown from 1979 to 1981.

IMG_6909So, along came the metal monsters. Rock had returned re-energised. Def Leppard, Motorhead, Saxon and Iron Maiden. Ozzy Osbourne, lead singer of Black Sabbath, resurrected with the comedic Blizzard of Ozz and the hilarious single Crazy Train. Black Sabbath replaced Ozzie with Ronnie James Dio and released Heaven and Hell.

Ian Gillan, formerly of Deep Purple, clawed his way back with his own eponymous band. Other Deep Purple ex-members re-surfacing included Richie Blackmore with a band called Rainbow and David Coverdale fronting Whitesnake. All these bands popped up in the late 70s coming to prominence at the end of the decade.

So you had new faces and new bands plus the old guard in different guises. AC/DC topped the charts with their album Back in Black while Canada’s Rush brought out Permanent Waves and toured the UK in 1980. Rush were a sort of prog rock band with rock sensibilities.

IMG_6908After 1976, I never thought I’d grow my hair long again but somehow I succumbed for about a year to NWOBHM. Then I lost my virginity and recovered my senses and scuttled as fast as I could away from it.

But for that year, there was a denim jacket adorned with Rush patches and badges. And I will confess to a continuing soft spot for Rush and Motorhead – who both put on amazing gigs back in the day.

In 1980, the Reading Festival was nicknamed the Can Festival – because of the amount of tinnies that hit the stage and spectators. Some were stamped on and thrown like frisbees. These were often violent times at all kinds of gigs. There was a crackle in the air and a lot of discontent. This would all boil over in riots during the summer of 1981. One interesting band at Reading was Girl – a rather camp metal combo with more than a hint of the New York Dolls about them.

NWOBHM was one safety valve for pissed off teenagers to head bang and play air guitars. DJ Tommy Vance on Radio 1 was one of the few outlets that would play the music. Top of the Pops, needless to say, was too busy with Shakatak to notice. After 1981, it all went very mainstream and most of us moved on a little embarrassed to admit we had indulged NWOBHM.

Anti Nazi League carnivals in 1978 – even one in Walthamstow

For years, I remembered the 1978 Anti-Nazi League carnival in Victoria Park, Mile End with a big warm glow – The Clash, Tom Robinson Band and X-Ray Spex and many others played. I was fifteen years old and it was amazingly excited.

The demonstration started in Trafalgar Square and when I arrived at Embankment tube station, loads of punks leaped over the barriers while tube employees tried to hold them back. Round every street corner were big police vans full of coppers waiting to pounce.

And then Trafalgar Square. In those days, Nelson’s column was covered in soot and the buildings seemed darker and greyer – they all got a clean up in the 1980s. But it was the noise that gripped my attention.

Somebody yelling on a megaphone and then X-Ray Spex belting out a number. The whole mass of people moved off and we marched for what seemed like an eternity to Mile End.

There wasn’t just the one carnival that year. Another carnival rocked south London and – I’d quite forgotten – there was a Walthamstow carnival. This followed a racial attack in the area, one of several acts of thuggery by racists against the local Asian community. Here was the poster from that Walthamstow event – some bands on it I really can’t recall.

NWOBHM – or heavy metal circa 1981 if you prefer…

Heavy metal – the beast that will not be slain. Many obituaries have been written for this primordial brand of music yet it resurfaces in different guises over and over again. The start of the 80s saw the emergence of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and a slew of new bands that would dominate the rock scene for years. Here’s a festival poster from 1981.

Robert Calvert interview in 1982

LockheedThe late, the great Robert Calvert – formerly of Hawkwind and planet Earth – being interviewed here in 1982. I saw him do a solo gig around that time in a small theatre off St Martin’s Lane. He was playing the songs from a concept album¬† he’d released called Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters.

One of his songs involved Calvert being dressed as a Viking in front of a pic of a longboat with a stars and stripes sail singing Bar-Bar-Barbarian to the tune of Barbara Ann by the Beach Boys. You had to be there. The cops raided the concert half way through to cart off a load of dope smokers – a typical occurrence of the time.

Calvert was lead sing of Hawkwind, a band that has defied age and fashion to keep going for decades.

The 80s rockabilly scene – how the 50s invaded the decade

You talk to people about 1981 and they’ll remember 2Tone and New Romantics but Rockabilly gets a bit swept under the carpet.¬† Wasn’t that Shakin’ Stevens?

Well, he was around but more importantly – there was a whole underground scene with lots of clubs across London and bands to match. Clubs included the Orange Tree in Barnet and the White Heart in Tottenham…or the Royalty in Southgate. The bands tended to have the word “cats” in their name – Pole Cats, Stray Cats, you get the drift…

I remember a lot of the sports jocks at school adopted the rockabilly style at the turn of the decade because it was neat, cool, got the girls and had that pseudo-James Dean thing about it. Variations on classic 50s fashion continued to be popular throughout the 80s. HERE is a good blog post on “80s does 50s” fashion.

The late 70s/early 80s rockabilly revival seemed to emerge alongside the Mod revival – though neither side will thank me for saying that. It seemed to me at the time that the music faded from the charts but the look endured well into the decade. But rockabilly die-hards will of course deny that.