Books - W

WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN: The Music and Politics Of Rock Against Racism, 2-Tone And Red Wedge - Daniel Rachel {600 pages, Picador}
Music and politics have always been the best (if fractious) of bed-fellows. From Woody Guthrie on there are vibrant examples of the two coming together. Rarely however, have they ever had the impact of these three movements in British history. This expansive, in-depth and simply breathtaking tome explores all three in individual segments; each of which could justifiably be a book on its own.
We go back to 1976 and Eric Clapton of all people to discover the genesis of Rock Against Racism. On the stage of the Birmingham Odeon he made a drunken ramble, asking for "Pakis and Wogs" to leave the country and praised Right Wing politician Enoch Powell. It might have passed, but one Red Saunders read of the incident in Sounds and wrote a damning letter that was printed in all of the major music newspapers of the day - and Rock Against Racism was born.
Of the three chapters, this is my personal favourite and the most in-depth. We read of every aspect of the movement and the cultural and political climate in Britain at the time. RAR’s magazine, Temporary Hoarding is discussed along with its working with the Anti-Nazi League and the infamous Victoria Park Carnival. It’s more than that though as this also takes in the Militant Entertainment Tour, the Northern Carnival and examines how it worked alongside the likes of Rock Against Sexism, Rastafari and its battle with the then-popular National Front. Red Saunders certainly comes over as a passionate and direct man and a vital cog in the RAR wheel along with the late David Widgery. All the usual bands are mentioned from Reggae movers like STEEL PULSE and ASWAD through to TOM ROBINSON, THE CLASH, STIFF LITTLE FINGERS and AU PAIRS.
The end of RAR segues perfectly into 2-Tone which, as we know, took RAR’s sentiments to the next level with black and white musicians playing in the same bands. The importance of THE SPECIALS here, and more specifically, Jerry Dammers, cannot be underestimated. We’ll never see a label like 2-Tone again; it created a massive but short-lived unity. The enthusiasm and energy that all participants still have for this era, some 35+ years on, is testament to its power. It’s also a sobering indictment of the UK at the time of its demise as Britain burned in riots with the soundtrack of ‘Ghost Town’ - one of the most powerful records reflecting culture and society ever.
The Red Wedge chapter is the most directly political of all, as it was musicians like Paul Weller and Billy Bragg actively working not strictly to get Labour in power but more specifically to get Thatcher out. It’s laden with barbed comments and opinion about her and her disgusting policies, capitalist priorities and veiled racism. Neil Kinnock plays a big role in this chapter and does himself proud. Like the other chapters, the state of Britain is discussed in-depth, so we read of the Miners’ Strike, CND, Militant, the Well Red publication and Live Aid. Although it obviously failed in getting Thatcher out, it certainly politicised a large number of youth.
Jerry Dammers reappears at the end with Artists Against Apartheid and the iconic ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ song.
The book is filled out with select photos, a timeline of events and an introduction from Rachel.
All of the main players in each movement - including politicians where suitable - provided fresh interviews where possible, although parts of the text were taken from the era being discussed. Paul Weller refrained from providing fresh commentary as he believed it could be tainted with hindsight but gave full permission for use of any of his quotes from the time. It’s presented in the aural biography style and some how, Rachel, who doesn’t provide any connecting or background narrative, makes them incredibly self-explanatory and following the time line of events perfectly. He manages to retain energy throughout and the level of research and information here is second to none.
Whatever ‘failings’ each movement may have had, the overwhelming feeling here is positivity. Skeptics can sit back and say that "whatever" failed, but I disagree. Those fuckers just criticised. These movements inspired and influenced two generations of youth (mine included) to become politically active, to realise there was an alternative, and to think. That alone is celebratory. There are moments of contradiction and dispute - there has to be given the sheer amount of subject matter here - but ultimately, Rachel has put together a document that is respectful, accurate, positive and valedictory to moments in history when music DID change the world. (24.09.17)