Chris Salewicz in NME

6 May 1978

Steel Pulse on stage at Victoria Park, 30 April 1978.

[A report of last Sunday's - 30 April - anti-National Front Rally, March, Carnival and Festival from Trafalgar Square to Hackney's Victoria Park in the East End which, depending whose estimate your prefer, drew an astonishing 50-80,000 people to Victoria Park. Steel Pulse were one of the high profile bands to play the festival.]

...The Anti-Nazi League was formed in May of last year by its National Secretary, Paul Holborow - a Socialist Workers Party member - along with Peter Hain and Ernie Roberts. A direct reaction to the National Front's having gained 119,000 votes in that month's London local elections - which resulted in the Front's threat to put forward 500 candidates at the next local elections - the League is not a direct political platform but consists of individuals of assorted political persuasions. In addition to what appears to be a strong involvement by the SWP, the founding statement of the Anti-Nazi League was signed by 50 Labour MPs.

...For some time now in the East End of London, racial violence particularly by early teenage white youth - which presumably gives Sunday's predominantly youthful gathering an ever greater significance - has been increasing to such an extent that Asian mothers collect their kids from schools half an hour early to prevent them being beaten up. It was for reasons such as these, along with the added factor that it is in Hackney South that Front Chairman John Tyndall is standing as a parliamentary candidate at the next election, that Victoria Park was decided upon by the Anti-Nazi League as an appropriate setting for an anti-racist festival. Accordingly, in the middle of March the League contacted Rock Against Racism to ask that organisation to join them to put on such an event.

Rock Against Racism was formed at the end of the summer of 1976, following the increasing attacks on non-whites during that long hot summer, and (b) Eric Clapton's apparently racist remarks at a Birmingham concert - although there are those who maintain that Clapton was actually making a humourous reference to the vast numbers of rich Arabs to be seen everywhere in London...

Linking themselves with the positive element of punk - hence last Sunday's billing of X-Ray Spex, The Clash, Steel Pulse and the Ton Robinson Band - RAR has put on gigs all over the country since its formation....Rock Against Racism measures its strength from the fact that it has sold 30,000 RAR badges in this country. That indeed was the figure the organisers optimistically estimated would turn up for Sunday's event, and was the crowd estimate offered to the Greater London Council...

The first band to agree to play the event was Tom Robinson's. Robinson being a veteran of numerous RAR gigs. Steel Pulse, who had also played previously for RAR, and X-Ray Spex, who had been booked a couple of times for gigs that fell through, also agreed before the end of March to play the festival for expenses only. Despite the bands appearing for free, however, the event still cost 10,000. Save for a handful of largish donations to the Anti-Nazi league by anti-facist business people, this sum, was raised entirely in individual donations of the 10p variety.

One early boost came when Pink Floyd - who share the management of Steve O'Rourke with TRB - offered the use of their PA as a contribution to the gig. This, though, was nixed by the Floyd's not having a permanent crew capable of swinging their giant rig into place, thus forcing RAR to become involved in their biggest item of expense in hiring a PA from Europa Sound. This late addition to the schedule perhaps explains the at times fairly dire sound with which the 80,000 strong audience had to contend. They didn't really seem to object too much, however. After all, what with the bouncing clowns, stiltmen and street theatre that had been provided by Tower Hamlets Arts Projects, plus the occasional whirling dervish troupes of Turkish Socialists, as well as the punk and reggae still blasting off one of the carnival floats in the distance...well, it did sometimes make the concert proper seem just a little incidental.

X-Ray Spex hit the stage somewhere around 1.30....the Clash followed with the worst sound of any group that afternoon - seemingly an occupational hazard with them....With Ku Klux Klan predictably the best received number, Steel Pulse played their customary enthusiastic set of British rockers. After both the march and the high energy level of the white rock bands who preceded them, the reggae came almost as something of a relief.

The Tom Robinson Band came onstage at 5.30; because the need to comply with the GLC regulations, which ordained that the music should end at six, they played a somewhat truncated set that reminded one, in terms of both subject matter and in-between raps, more than a little of a white Peter Tosh. His set proper ended, Robinson returned to the stage with 90 Degrees Inclusive, Jimmy Pursey, Mick Jones and Steel Pulse to perform 'We Have Got To Get It Together', a number especially written by Tom for the event.

...Even though, despite ITN's having made it its lead story on the ten o'clock news that night, not a single one of Tuesday's popular dailies carried a word about what an RAR spokesman correctly felt to be "one of the most important concerts this country has ever witnessed" - a scandalous reflection of the national press' preoccupation with violence and tragedy. It was a day to remember, and none of those present will ever forget it...

Text copyright New Musical Express 1978, used without permission.

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