Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Who Shot the Sheriff? - rocking against racism

Last night I watched a screening of the film, Who Shot The Sheriff? accompanied by a fifteen minute, five song performance from Yaz Alexander, at The Drum in Birmingham. The eighty-minute documentary film was excellent and so was Yaz. The film's images brought memories flooding back of the sheer energy of street-level activism that was generated in the 70s and brought so sharply into focus by the musical combinations of black and white that was so succesful at that time. I loved the union of reggae and punk back then as it was the time when I first became aware of my favourite band of all time, Steel Pulse and other bands like Misty In Roots and later Billy Bragg. My love for their music has never diminished. And neither has my support for their goals. Yaz, who will support Lucky Dube in Leicester on Saturday, brought us right up to date by emphasising the need to forget what colour we are and to live together in harmony. Her short set of five songs included Get Up Stand Up, War, This World, I and More Love.

The director of Who Shot The Sheriff? is Alan Miles and this interview in Socialist Worker Online gives a bit more background to this important film:
‘I first became involved in film back in 1985 when I started work in Soho as a runner for a film company. I then worked abroad for a few years, came back and decided to joined the fire brigade in 1996. A few years ago I started a part time college degree in media production. Half way through doing that the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) strike kicked off. I took a camera to rallies and marches, and started producing propaganda videos for the FBU along with Greg McDonald. The whole spirit of that strike was brilliant—the coloured flags, the carnival feel, the public support. It was wonderful to film the rallies and picket lines.
When the dispute really kicked in I went round the meetings up and down the country capturing the same spirit. One of the events we videoed was Joe Strummer’s last gig, a benefit for striking firefighters. When Joe died I decided to make a little film of the gig called The Last Night London Burned. I felt it really summed up what Joe was about. That film got shown at the Glastonbury festival in the Left Field. We also took cameras there and put a film together of some of the bands playing for a Love Music Hate Racism gig — Miss Black America, The Buzzcocks, The Libertines.
That experience got me interested in the Rock Against Racism movement in the 1970s. We’ve started to forget those times. But we can’t forget them, it would be like forgetting the Holocaust. You have to remember and say “never again”. And the fascists are on the rise again with the BNP, though they’re now in suits and aren’t on the streets anymore. So I decided to start researching it, and started by reading Beating Time by David Widgery. It’s a very “punky” book and it really works. I wanted to make sure that imagery was in the film.
I spent some time going through ITN archives, looking through shows and video logbooks. There were some great editions of the London Weekend Show produced by Janet Street Porter covering the British reggae scene and the rise of punk. One show was devoted to Rock Against Racism. It included some rare footage of the legendary RAR concert in Victoria Park, east London. The more I researched the movement, the more it amazed me. There’s so much that I couldn’t get into the film.’

The film features unseen footage of artists from the Rock Against Racism (RAR) movement of the 70s and the Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) movement today, including The Clash, The Libertines, The Specials, Ms Dynamite, Pete Doherty, Steel Pulse, Hard-Fi, Misty in Roots, X-Ray Spex, Sham 69, Estelle and Babyshambles. It film tracks the rise of racism and the National Front in Britain during the 70s - and how a generation, black and white - fought back against the Nazi threat. And there’s lots of rarely seen archive footage from the punk and RAR era - including the infamous 1978 Carnival in east London’s Victoria Park where 100,000 marched to the show headlined by The Clash and Tom Robinson Band. The story uses a wealth of interviews with the leading artists and activists who created RAR - many speaking for the first time about what happened - including David Hinds and Selwyn Brown, Mick Jones, Jerry Dammers, Neville Staples, Jimmy Pursey, Poly Styrene, Don Letts, Billy Bragg, and RAR founders Red Saunders and Roger Huddle. As well as documenting a great political and musical movement, Who Shot The Sheriff? links the struggle to stop the National Front in the 1970s with campaigns like Unite Against Fascism aiming to stop the likes of the fascist British National Party gaining ground in Britain today. Find out more here.

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