Where was everyone? In 1978, closing in on 100,000 people marched six miles from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park in East London to see The Clash headline a benefit concert for Rock Against Racism.
Where was everyone?
In 1978, closing in on 100,000 people marched six miles from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park in East London to see The Clash headline a benefit concert for Rock Against Racism.
Last night, RAR celebrated its 30th anniversary with a show at the Hackney Empire and when the evening started there probably weren’t enough people in the venerable old hall to fill a bus – not that this stopped a parade of veteran RAR activists regaling us at windy length and often at great volume with heroic tales of past battles with the National Front and BNP and their various Nazi allies, the lot of them hoarse and misty-eyed as the din of bygone conflict roared no doubt in their ears and banners flapped before them in an imaginary breeze.
There were also several among last night’s musical cast with longstanding links with the organisation – Carol Grimes, who headlined the very first RAR concert, Tom Robinson (with TV Smith on rhythmn guitar), who with TRB supported The Clash at Victoria Park all those years ago, as well as tonight’s ostensible bill-toppers, the ‘legendary’ Misty In Roots.
You can probably attribute the somewhat less than meaningful turnout to the absence of a more obviously popular headliner, but there’s interest a-plenty from some quarters in the section of tonight’s show curated by Babyshambles bassist Drew McConnell, which includes an appearance by The View who busk breezily through spunky acoustic versions of “Superstar Tradesman” and “Face For Radio”.
The main point of interest here for me, though, is the projected first appearance in what seems like years of Patrick Walden, the guitar genius who fired Babyshambles classics like “Fuck Forever”, “Pipedown”, “Up The Morning” and “Eight Dead Boys”. Pat left the band around 18 months ago for what we’ll call health reasons and has been since recovering.
He was due to appear earlier this year at the Cheltenham Jazz festival with bush-haired drummer Seb Roachford, but at the last minute pulled out. Seb’s here tonight, playing drums with Drew – and here’s Drew at the microphone, with an announcement that causes some considerable excitement where I’m sitting.
“I’ve been waiting to say these words for a long time,” he says. Adding simply, “Pat Walden.”
And out comes Pat, looking a far cry from the skeletal guitar hero of yore, the hollow-eyed spectre I’d last seen when Babyshambles played Shepherd’s Bush Empire in February 2006, after which date Pat dipped out of sight. Pat these days is clearly in thankfully rude health, looks frankly robust in rumpled black shirt and jeans, hair a fashionable mess.
He plugs in for a furious takes on Babyshambles’ favourites “The Man Who Came To Stay” and “8 Dead Boys” – one of my favourite tracks from Down In Albion.
I got a bit of a sniffy reaction from a lot of sceptical readers when in a review of Babyshambles at Brixton Academy, I described Pat as a cross between Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix, many people thinking I was merely taking the piss or possibly trying to wind up Jeff tweedy.
I was doing neither. Walden’s just a fucking genius guitar player. No one I can think of at the moment quite sounds like him and even though tonight he’s low enough in the mix to make me want to hold a gun to someone’s head and tell them to turn every dial in the house up to 11, he still shines, his playing a thing of burnished metallic wonder – the serrated riffs on “The Man. . .” are electrifying and “Dead Boys” just fucking rocks, man.
It’s over too soon, of course, and Pat squats stageside as Drew, looking relieved at last now that Pat has actually appeared, introduces first a buoyant Ed Larrikin who turns in a rousing version of the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” and then Ali Love, who precedes the brief but very welcome appearance of The View.
His name’s not on any of the posters or flyers, but word has gone out that Jerry Dammers is going to appear – either with his new big band or as DJ. In the event, he’s nowhere to be seen tonight and I rather get the impression that his name’s been spread in a last minute attempt to bolster ticket sales.
Which tactic would have worked on me, if I hadn’t already been going to see the very welcome return of Patrick Walden.