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Concert Review by Nick Morgan



Brixton Academy, London
April 30th 2008
It’s the 30th April 2008, and thirty years ago to the day some of us now gathered here in a thinly-attended Brixton Academy marched through the streets of London with around 80,000 others to Victoria Park in Hackney to inaugurate the Rock Against Racism movement.
The famous Victoria Park gig (a Clash classic) was celebrated at the weekend by tens of thousands of people braving the rain to attend a Love Music Hate Racism Carnival, funded by (amongst other people) Morrissey, who generously stepped in at the last minute when a major sponsor pulled out. Good old Mozzer. You may recall RAR was inspired by a letter written to the New Musical Express and other papers complaining of Eric Clapton’s racist remarks made at a concert in Birmingham in 1976, ending with the famous postscript, “Who shot the Sheriff Eric? It sure as hell wasn’t you”. A second march was held in Manchester, with a concert headlined by the Buzzcocks and Graham Parker (sadly our coach dropped us off next to a too-tempting Boddington’s pub next to the now sadly defunct Strangeways Brewery, so we missed the walking but managed to get a cab to the gig). And the rest, as they say, is history. But tomorrow sees a nationwide election for local government in England and Wales, and a vote for the Mayor of London, so this celebration of the past is fused with thoughts for the future.
Tony Benn
Tony Benn
The political bit saw a variety of speakers brought to the microphone by MC Tom Robinson to preach, largely if not exclusively to the already converted (and highly committed) about the dangers of the extreme right. We heard various trades union leaders, and Red Saunders, the man who wrote that now famous letter. But pick of the pack was veteran campaigner, former Labour MP and Cabinet Minister, Tony Benn. He’s getting on a bit, and it’s perhaps not surprising that most of his remarks were framed in the context of his grandchildren and his hopes for their future and the world they would live in. But his eyesight must be failing him. Why else would he have ended his speech “I have faith in you, the younger generation, to make this world a better place to live in” when the average age of the audience was 47? The speeches came as the stage was being reset for each band (“I’m only on between two turns” said Benn) – as some of them went on for slightly longer than planned, the musical element of the evening was somewhat compressed.
It began with Thirst, a Brixton band championed by Robinson on his new music radio show, and signed by Ronnie Wood to his Wooden Records. It’s frenetic guitar-driven stuff, a bit noisy and badly mixed, but with bags of energy (as they used to say back in 1976). And they do sound interesting on disc, or rather digital. They were followed by the Levellers, who if you don’t know are a rather dated and crusty folk-roots punk rock band with a drizzle of political attitude – a bit like the Saw Doctors with a dash of Das Kapital, or an agit-prop Status Quo. And they’ve got the mad bloke with the kilt and didgeridoo. The name of course refers to the Levellers of the English Civil War, largely “the better class of person” who were campaigning for greater property and political rights for the middle-classes, but whose ‘radicalism’ was kidnapped during the twentieth century by a procession of left-wing historians, most notably Christopher Hill. But hang on, you knew all of that stuff, didn’t you? The music, very festival, very bouncy, and sadly a bit lost in a half-empty Brixton.
The Levellers
Walford Tyson
Walford Tyson
Misty in Roots date back to the mid seventies, one of the great pioneers of British reggae, along with ASWAD and Steel Pulse. They were strongly associated with the RAR movement and also closely linked to the Ruts. But whatever the band’s pedigree, reggae can be a bit pedestrian, particularly in a formal theatre setting. Not a bit of it with Misty in Roots, fronted by vocalist Walford Tyson, who managed to fill a very large stage, backed by very tight band and featuring some excellent and imaginative brass arrangements. Their songs were a mixture of African roots, like ‘Musi-O-Tunya’, inspired by an extensive stay the band made in Zimbabwe and Zambia, and pointed political comment, like ‘Cover up’, an indictment of institutional racism. It’s very, very, good stuff indeed. But they were brought to an end abruptly, as the stage was readied for the Alabama 3, political campaigners Non Plus Ultra. They began with ‘Mao Tse Tung’, vocals by D Wayne Love, and then singers Larry Love and Devlin Love took the stage for ‘All night long’ from the recent MOR album. Love (Larry) had problems with his microphone for the first four songs or so (almost half of the set), and the sound was something of a mess throughout. It couldn’t even be fully retrieved by the appearance of Mr Segs on bass. Moreover I have to observe that Mr Love (Larry), what with his new hair cut and all, looked as though he’d been overdoing it somewhat. If I was his mother I might be worried. And the set was clearly rushed as the band played against the clock. So sadly not the A3’s greatest moment. Not really their fault.
Alabama 3
Alabama 3
Nor perhaps was it Hope Not Hate’s. For the record, for all the sermonising, the following day the Labour Party was trounced in the elections, the extreme right British National Party gained a seat at the London Assembly (won in Patriot Billy Bragg’s parish) and Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone was ousted by Tory Boris Johnson. It just goes to show that unlike Moses you can’t always turn the tide. But we enjoyed the music – particularly the wonderful Misty in Roots. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
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The Levellers MySpace page
Alabama 3

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