Rock Against Racism

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Rock Against Racism
Rock Against Racism.jpg
Genre Punk rock, reggae, etc.
Years active 1976-
Founded by Red Saunders, Roger Huddle and others

Rock Against Racism (RAR) was a campaign set up in the United Kingdom in 1976 as a response to an increase in racial conflict and the growth of white nationalist groups such as the National Front. The campaign involved pop, rock, punk and reggae musicians staging concerts with an anti-racist theme, in order to discourage young people from embracing racism. The campaign was founded, in part, as a response to statements and activities by well-known rock musicians that were widely regarded as racist.[1]


Originally conceived as a one-off concert with a message against racism, Rock Against Racism was founded in 1976 by Red Saunders, Roger Huddle and others. According to Huddle, "it remained just an idea until August 1976" when Eric Clapton made a drunken declaration of support for former Conservative minister Enoch Powell (known for his anti-immigration Rivers of Blood speech) at a concert in Birmingham.[2] Clapton told the crowd that England had "become overcrowded" and that they should vote for Powell to stop Britain from becoming "a black colony". He also told the audience that Britain should "get the foreigners out, get the wogs out, get the coons out", and then he repeatedly shouted the National Front slogan "Keep Britain White".[3][4]

Huddle, Saunders and two members of Kartoon Klowns responded by writing a letter to NME expressing their opposition to Clapton's comments, which they claimed were "all the more disgusting because he had his first hit with a cover of reggae star Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" ... Come on Eric... Own up. Half your music is black. Who shot the Sheriff, Eric? It sure as hell wasn't you!" At the end of the letter, they called for people to help form a movement called Rock Against Racism, and they report that they received hundreds of replies.[2]

In a 2007 interview Clapton said he still supports Powell, and that he doesn't view Powell as a racist.[5]

The remarks came at a time when Neo-Nazi and Fascist rhetoric was becoming more common in England, particularly in East London, which houses Victoria Park, where the National Front had its "home base". Clapton's statement was the "last straw", as it was one of the last remarks made by influential Rockers and Rockstars at the time, with David Bowie only a few months earlier, in an interview with Playboy Magazine, asserting not only his pro-Fascist stance (which he later recanted, placing blame on drugs that he had been ingesting at the time), but also named Adolf Hitler as "the first rockstar", along with the newer and highly influential underground punk rock bands who sported swastikas and other 3rd Reich insignias; The Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, and Siouxie Sioux of Siouxie and the Banshees. These Right-wing sympathies had some effect on British (and later American) youth, as notably with emerging new wave bands including as Joy Division who mentioned Nazi and Fascist divisions of the 3rd Reich for lyrical content, band names and individual stage names. The agit-prop of the 1970s and 80s Fascist and Neo-Nazi movements were amplified by Clapton, Bowie, and others, that it reached as far as California, where future frontman of the Glam Rock band The Germs, Darby Crash, was not only listening, but up until his suicide via 1980-81, constantly referenced Clapton, Bowie, Vicious, and others as his inspiration and solidifying his beliefs that he was a God.

Rock Against Racism march in Trafalgar Square, 1978

RAR's first activity was a concert featuring Carol Grimes as lead artist, and it also launched the fanzine Temporary Hoarding.[citation needed] In spring 1978, 100,000 people marched six miles from Trafalgar Square to the East End of London (a National Front hotspot) for an open-air music festival at Victoria Park in Hackney organized by RAR and the Anti-Nazi League, to counteract the growing wave of racist attacks in the UK.[6][7][8][9] The concert featured The Clash,[8][10][11] Buzzcocks, Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex, The Ruts, Sham 69, Generation X and the Tom Robinson Band. The Southall-based reggae band Misty In Roots led the march from the back of a lorry during the carnival,[12] although did not appear on the main stage. A second march and concert at Brockwell Park in south London, featured Stiff Little Fingers, Aswad and Elvis Costello.[13] In autumn of the same year, an audience of 40,000 came to the Northern Carnival in Manchester, for a concert featuring Buzzcocks, Graham Parker and the Rumour, and Misty in Roots.The Manchester event was also tied in with the 1978 Deeply Vale Festival a week later where they held a Rock Against Racism day. The 2014 Deeply Vale Box Set and book contains a section about the 1978 Rock Against Racism events in Manchester with several organisers and workers giving current interviews. [14] In 1979, a concert was held at Acklam Hall in London, featuring Crisis, The Vapors and Beggar.[15]

The group behind the original Rock Against Racism launched a new website on 27 April 2008.[16]

Love Music Hate Racism[edit]

RAR was reborn in 2002 as Love Music Hate Racism, with a concert at The Astoria in London, England featuring Mick Jones, Buzzcocks, and The Libertines.[citation needed] Other acts involved in the campaign include Ms. Dynamite and The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. With a goal of counteracting the activities of organizations such as the National Front and the British National Party, it has held high-profile concerts in Trafalgar Square and Victoria Park as well as some other stadiums and venues.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blood and Glory, The Observer, Sunday 4 March 2007
  2. ^ a b Huddle, Roger. Lee Billingham (June 2004). "Anti-Fascism: That Was Then, This is Now". Socialist Review (286). 
  3. ^ Virgin Media: 'When Pop Stars Talk Politics: Clapton's Shocking Rant'
  4. ^ Bainbridge, Luke (2007-10-14). "The ten right-wing rockers". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  5. ^ "Eric Clapton". The South Bank Show. ITV. 2007-12-02.
  6. ^ Love Music hate Racism Carnival 2008, Victoria Park, London
  7. ^ TRB – Rock Against Racism
  8. ^ a b Hazan, Jack; David Mingay, Ray Gange, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Nicky Headon, Buzzy Enterprises, Epic Music Video (2006). Rude Boy (Documentary, Rockumentary). New York, NY, United States: Epic Music Video. ISBN 0-7389-0082-6. OCLC 70850190. 2nd edition digitally restored and remastered sound. 
  9. ^ Virtual Festivals, news, reviews and listings for Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds, V Festival, T in the Park, Download, Isle of Wight, Bestival and other UK and International festivals
  10. ^ Letts Don; Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon, Terry Chimes, Rick Elgood, The Clash (2001). The Clash, Westway to the World (Documentary). New York, NY: Sony Music Entertainment; Dorismo; Uptown Films. Event occurs at 47:42. ISBN 0-7389-0082-6. OCLC 49798077. 
  11. ^ Green, Johnny; Garry Barker (2003) [1997]. A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with The Clash (3rd ed.). London: Orion. pp. 63–68. ISBN 0-7528-5843-2. OCLC 52990890. 
  12. ^ "ANL RAR March to Victoria Park 30th April 1978". 
  13. ^ Manzoor, Sarfraz (2008-04-21). "The year rock found the power to unite". The Guardian (London). 
  14. ^ Manzoor, Sarfraz (20 April 2008). "The year rock found the power to unite". 
  15. ^ Rock Against Racism benefit with Crisis, Beggar and The Vapors, riot at Acklam Hall, Ladbroke Grove, London, Friday 29 June 1979
  16. ^ Rock Against Racism

External links[edit]