18th August 2016 – Rock Against Racism ‘Feed Your Mind’ with Paul Furness

It seems evident that Rock Against Racism was and still remains to be a crucial movement within the UK that aims to stand up against racism. From 1976 to 1981, the movement was gaining more popularity by the second and punk/reggae music was becoming widespread across the UK. But what was interesting to note is how Rock Against Racism had a strong northern following, and the Leeds RAR club was one of the most important and long-lasting. Now this is where Feed Your Mind comes in as Paul Furness, who was significant in running Rock Against Racism in Leeds, talks more about his experience within the movement and also what Rock Against Racism was like in Leeds.

Many people attended the event and for some of the visitors, it was almost as if they were reliving their experience of Rock Against Racism in Leeds as some of them told us how they remember going to the gigs and clubs in Leeds.

What made this event even more special was that the talk was being broadcast live on BCB radio, so that all the local listeners could tune in and listen to Paul’s talk. I was amazed to hear Paul speak about the movement in Leeds as I almost couldn’t believe that this movement had such a big impact on Yorkshire. It was reassuring to know that the Yorkshire people got into the spirit of Rock Against Racism and stood up against racism. But from what Paul had told us, it wasn’t an easy journey. He recalled how Leeds Rock Against Racism were in a constant battle against the National Front and racists and how some of their gigs and clubs would be trashed by members of the National Front. He also spoke about how people who wore the Rock Against Racism badges were in danger from Nazi groups as they would be hassled or even beaten up for wearing the badges – most of them had to take them off for their own safety. It shocked me how Leeds was quite hostile during the 70s and how it was a bit of a scary place to be in. (That’s the complete opposite now.) But despite their struggle against racism, it is impressive that they remained strong and carried on with the gigs and clubs.

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Taking a closer look at some of the memorabilia that Paul has lent, he explained how some of the posters were made by professional graphic designers such as Syd Shelton and others were made by hand by the members. Looking at the posters that were made professionally, graphic designer David King was responsible for the creation of some of the iconic posters for the Anti Nazi League. I know it shouldn’t baffle me when I learn that well-known artists were involved with Rock Against Racism, but it still does. Just to drop in a few more names that might sound familiar, Paul remembered how some of the teenagers who came to the RAR events grew up to do remarkable things. These were individuals such as Damien Hirst and Marc Almond. I can imagine that it must be strange to say that you met these artists when they were younger and were involved in a grassroots movement.

If you’re reading this and you’re wondering what the gigs at Leeds Rock Against Racism looked like, then fear not for Syd came to Leeds and took some photos of the concerts, which can be seen in the exhibition. It is definitely a sight to see such a diverse group of people coming together and Paul explained how there were so many fans pouring out of the countless buses. I suppose one of the many reasons that the eager fans flocked together in Leeds was due to the fact that bands such as Skully Roots, The Specials, The Au Pairs and Piranhas would be there. I still think that it’s amazing but strange that this was happening in Yorkshire.

The talk was concluded with a Q&A and there were some interesting questions being asked. For instance, someone asked Paul what he thought about punk/reggae music and why he got into Rock Against Racism. His answer to the first question was that punk is like a breath of fresh air, wiping away all the stale and pompous music that dominated everything. (I thought that was a great answer!) For the second question, he answered that he joined the movement because he wanted to fight back against racism and to this day he can’t understand who benefits from racism, and I thought this was a really good because racism is just another aggressive form of bullying, and nothing is really gained from it.

One question, which I thought was really interesting was when someone asked Paul if we are seeing a similar rise of racism like the UK did during the 1970s and this individual also commented on how young people nowadays aren’t as passionate as they were during Rock Against Racism, that they’re not as willing to stand up against racism. This is a question that is almost asked frequently at the gallery from passing visitors as they comment on the situation with the EU and how it is uncanny that Rock Against Racism almost mimics what has happened now. (Hopefully we’re not seeing a repeat of the 1970s.) Paul’s response to this was that racism hasn’t really vanished, it’s just morphed into something different. But despite that, he explains how he feels that Rock Against Racism is such a colourful movement in a monochrome society of racism.

And from a personal point of view, I would argue that us young people are still passionate and would definitely stand up against racism. If they don’t believe me, then they should take a look at the students up at the university.

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