Where better to hold anti-racism gigs than an area where the BNP are making ground. Britannia Stadium, Stoke-On-Trent, Saturday May 30
We want rebel music, street music, music that breaks down people’s fear of one another. Crisis music. Now music. Music that knows who the real enemy is. Rock Against Racism. Love Music, Hate Racism.”
When these words were written in 1977 under the Rock Against Racism manifesto it was probably unthinkable they would still resonate more than 30 years later. That, after RAR united around 80,000 people in Victoria Park and destroyed the National Front on the very streets on which they paraded their banners of hate, we’d surely never let these bastards rise again. Yet, judging from modern-day Stoke, with its nine BNP councillors, those words have never seemed more important.
In the face of financial meltdown, high unemployment and a parliament in disgrace over MPs’ expenses, Stoke is but a snapshot of the time and effort the BNP invests to fill a political vacuum of fear, anger and confusion with distortion and bile. Some in Stoke, a city with an ethnic minority population of only 7 per cent, have been brainwashed into thinking they’ve been ‘overrun’ by the same party whose leader last year told a meeting of the KKK that instead of using terms such as ‘racial purity’ they’d speak about ‘identity’. Make no mistake: this is the fascist frontline.
But can a Love Music Hate Racism festival really make an impact in a place as infected by the right-wing as this? To offer something more than a concert and inspire people to vote against the BNP in the European elections? It’s hard not to be cynical in our climate of political apathy, but when MPs preach about benefit fraud while fiddling on second homes and our only choice of leadership is between a walrus-esque political failure and an opportunistic moon-faced idiot, you can see how even the Reverend ain’t going to convince you.
Still, even though the radical days of RAR are long gone, LMHR doesn’t languish in its shadow. They’ve hired the Britannia Stadium and got a huge American star, Kelly Rowland, on board.
As would be expected for an event united under the banner of anti-racism, the line-up is a diverse mix. The kind that sees the New Beautiful South preceding Roll Deep, or Mick Jones following on from grime MC Bashy. Chart-botherers Ironik and Chipmunk pretty much tear the place apart, but then so do headliners Reverend And The Makers, with frontman Jon McClure his usual torrent of relentless enthusiasm. And then there’s Peter Doherty’s ‘Albion’, a fitting love letter to an England drowned in romance, made only the more poignant given the circumstances. It’s the kind of line-up that achieves what it’s designed to do, to unite Stoke, all creeds, colours and classes, in a stand against the cancer that has infected their home.
To some, sure, it may not have such a profound meaning. In the words of one young couple NME spoke to: “It was a cheap day out and we wanted to see Kelly Rowland.” Cynics will groan, but when the crowd could be inside watching Britain’s Got Talent they’re listening to anti-fascist speakers urging them to vote against the BNP. Especially within the banal wasteland that is ‘interesting comment in pop music’, you can never underestimate the influence Peter Doherty has when he changes ‘What A Waster’ to sing “You two-bob racist cunt!” And that is the true power of LMHR: for musicians to utilise the pedestal they have been bestowed with for more than groupies. In Doherty’s own words that day, “In times of crisis, it’s time for heroes.”