Put on partly to raise awareness of the dangers of racist political parties in the run-up to London‘s elections this week and partly to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original Rock Against Racism festival, the Love Music Hate Racism Carnival has got a lot to live up to.
So it wouldn’t be pessimistic to expect a bit of a shambles – a badly organised excuse for people to pick a fight under overcast skies.
As it turns out you would have been right about only one of those predictions, although the sun did burst through as The Good The Bad And The Queen took to the stage just before six o’clock.
The atmosphere amongst the crowds was heart-warming, to say the least. Any pronouncement from the stage about combating the BNP was met with unanimous applause and cheers from the thousands of people at the main stage, and Tony Benn was, not undeservedly, greeted like a rock star and saviour rolled into one. That the turnout was a pretty equal cross-section of whites, blacks and Asians, surely the point of Love Music Hate Racism, says a lot for the event’s success.
Even more comforting was to see the crowd react as wildly to grime crew Roll Deep as they did to Jimmy Pursey‘s performance of The Clash‘s ‘White Riot’, backed up by Babyshambles‘ Drew McConnell and his Helsinki project.
At normal festivals the press and artist areas are pretty well separated, but luckily the relatively small backstage zone was home to both the musicians and journalists at Victoria Park. Among the stars we saw hide underneath trees as the heavens opened or squeeze into the photo pit to see the bands playing were Don Letts, Ken Livingstone, The Reverend Jon McClure, Sham 69‘s Jimmy Pursey, Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, Tony Benn, Andy Nicholson, Carl Barat, Wiley and Edward Larrikin.
The Good The Bad And The Queen were worthy headliners, and not just because Paul Simonon headlined the original 1978 Rock Against Racism gig in the very same park with The Clash.
Kicking off with Kinks-ian single ‘Kingdom Of Doom’ – which Albarn stopped and restarted a few minutes in after it was plagued by ear-splitting feedback – the group sounded much meatier than on their self-titled album, with Simonon‘s dubby bass punching out over Simon Tong‘s clanging, clattering guitar.
As always though, the star was Albarn, who sent the crowd whooping as he left his piano and came to the front of the stage to sing ‘Three Changes’, one of the labyrinthine highlights of their set. ‘The Good The Bad And The Queen’ and its noisy free-form outro would have been a perfect ending to the set – however, The Specials‘ Jerry Dammers‘ bizarre ten-minute version of ‘Ghost Town’ followed. In anyone’s book, a strange end to the festival, but no matter; from where we were, today seemed like a resounding success.
An uplifting display of human solidarity and some good music – what could be better?