Rock Against Racism

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Rock Against Racism
Rock Against Racism.jpg
GenrePunk rock, reggae, etc.
Years active1976-
Founded byRed 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 racist statements by well-known rock musicians.[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]

Further support for RAR came[citation needed] after David Bowie made statements that expressed support for fascism and perceived admiration for Adolf Hitler in interviews with Playboy, NME and a Swedish publication. Bowie was quoted as saying: "Britain is ready for a fascist leader... I think Britain could benefit from a fascist leader. After all, fascism is really nationalism... I believe very strongly in fascism, people have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership." He was also quoted as saying: "Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars" and "You've got to have an extreme right front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up."[5] Bowie caused further controversy by allegedly making a Nazi salute while riding in a convertible, although Bowie has always strongly denied this, insisting that a photographer simply caught him in the middle of waving.[6]

Bowie later retracted and apologised for his statements, blaming them on a combination of an obsession with occultism, the Thule Society and Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as his excessive drug use at the time. He said: "I have made my two or three glib, theatrical observations on English society and the only thing I can now counter with is to state that I am NOT a fascist."[5]

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. 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.[7][8][9][10] The concert featured The Clash,[9][11][12] Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex, The Ruts, Sham 69, Patrik Fitzgerald, Generation X and the Tom Robinson Band.[13] The Southall-based reggae band Misty In Roots led the march from the back of a lorry during the carnival,[14] 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.[15] In the summer 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, The Smirks, Exodus, China Street and Steel Pulse.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.[16] In 1979, a concert was held at Acklam Hall in Notting Hill, London, featuring Crisis, The Vapors and Beggar.[17]

The group behind the original Rock Against Racism launched a new website on 27 April 2008.[18]

Love Music Hate Racism[edit]

RAR was reborn in 2002 as Love Music Hate Racism, with a concert at The Astoria in London 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.

Further reading[edit]

  • Beating Time by David Widgery (1986)
  • Rock Against Racism by Syd Shelton (2016)
  • Walls Come Tumbling Down: The Music and Politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge by Daniel Rachel (2016)
  • Reminiscences of RAR: Rocking Against Racism 1976-1979. Edited by Roger Huddle and Red Saunders (Redwords, 2016)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vulliamy, Ed (4 March 2007). "Blood and glory". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  2. ^ a b Huddle, Roger. Lee Billingham (June 2004). "Anti-Fascism: That Was Then, This is Now". Socialist Review (286).
  3. ^ "Clapton's shocking rant - When popstars talk politics - Pictures - Music - Virgin Media". 18 February 2009. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  4. ^ Bainbridge, Luke (2007-10-14). "The ten right-wing rockers". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  5. ^ a b "Standing by the Wall: The Quotable David Bowie". 28 June 2001. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  6. ^ 'GOODBYE TO ZIGGY AND ALL THAT', article in Melody Maker, October 1977 Archived 31 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 21 April 2010. Retrieved 21 January 2010.
  8. ^ "TRB - Rock Against Racism". 1 April 2009. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ [1][dead link]
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "The Anti Nazi League/Rock Against Racism Rallies". UK Rock Festivals. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  14. ^ "ANL RAR March to Victoria Park 30th April 1978".
  15. ^ Manzoor, Sarfraz (2008-04-21). "The year rock found the power to unite". The Guardian. London.
  16. ^ Manzoor, Sarfraz (20 April 2008). "The year rock found the power to unite".
  17. ^ "Rock Against Racism benefit with Crisis, Beggar and The Vapors, riot at Acklam Hall, Ladbroke Grove, London, Friday June 29th, 1979". Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  18. ^ "Rock Against Racism". Retrieved 16 September 2018.

External links[edit]