England’s Dreaming #6
This week, City of London Police decided that Saturdays Just Jam live show, scheduled to happen at the Barbican, wouldnt be allowed to go ahead. Many disappointed fans have found this decision surprising, but a quick look at UK history shows that, really, its just business as usual.
For those of you that dont know, Just Jam was a mini festival with one of the most innovative line ups London has witnessed for some time. Syrian dance pop pioneer Omar Souleyman was headlining, bass was being provided by the likes of Loefah and Mt Kimbie, RP Boo was bringing some authentic Chicago footwork and- heres the problem grime was liberally represented, with Newham Generals, JME, Big Narstie and more.
Officially, the police cancelled Just Jam, because "alcohol would be on sale at an event which would be allowing entry to anyone aged 16 or over.
"Additionally, there were worries about the lack of adequate measures in place to address potential issues that might arise, including overcrowding if more people decided to attend than the venue could cater for."
Both these objections are mickey mouse claptrap. They can be dismissed in moments the Barbican always sells alcohol at events under-18s can attend, and naturally has had countless shows in its long history where more people decided to attend than the venue could cater for."
To lend the debacle a slightly more bitter taste, City of London Police then suggested that anyone with a problem should direct their ire at the Barbican, implying that, once theyd pointed out these concerns to the venue, it was the Barbican who made the decision to pull the event. This, again, is a ridiculous statement. That an experienced venue, having committed months of time and energy and cash on a flagship event would suddenly decide less than a week before the date hold on lads, weve bitten off more than we can chew here, lets just lose a fortune and pull the thing- that scenario is clearly ridiculous.
Make no bones: The reason Just Jam was cancelled was because it had a line-up featuring black artists from a demonised scene, appearing without the backing of a major label or a multinational corporate sponsor. And there is little the English police and the establishment hate more. That the savage beast should be rearing its head within the square mile, right in the heart of the Empire! Well it was just too much uppity bloody cheek.
I like to write about the power of imagination, but theres a flip side to imagination nightmares hold a potent force. The psyche of Englands ruling classes created a nightmare long ago, a gibbering, wild bogeyman to pull, hood like, over African features- a fantasy born of guilt and fear, given life by knowledge of the horrors of colonialism we committed such atrocities, surely they will be returned to us one day
Its this nightmare that haunts the HG Wells protagonist in the 1895 story Pollock and the Porroh Man, the same nightmare still intact over a century later when David Starkey infamously claimed that the whites are turning black in the wake of the London riots. What he meant was I, David Starkey, think white people are turning into the phantasm of thuggery and disorder we have claimed black people to be for centuries. But, of course, he didnt put it like that.
If you think this seems farfetched, Lets take a look at the recent past.
Back in 1950, the rozzers were shutting down black dance music events in the West End, and dreaming up baloney scenarios to dog whistle Englands worst fears as Richard Davenport-Hines details in his comprehensive history of narcotics, one evening in July 1950, about eighty policemen raided the Paramount Dance Hall on Tottenham Court Rd, and searched its 500 occupants. The men were mainly coloured and the girls white The police felt that with young girls visiting Bebop dance halls in London and consorting with negroes hemp may sap their moral fibre so that they prostitute themselves to pay for the drug"
Skip forward to the mid 50s, and The Daily Mail was working itself into a reliably frothing fit over the arrival of Rock n Roll.
It is deplorable. It is tribal. And it is from America. It follows rag-time, blues, Dixie, jazz, hot cha-cha and the boogie-woogie, which surely originated in the jungle. We sometimes wonder whether this is the negroes revenge.
Revenge for what? The Mail was coy to answer. But damn straight, they knew a bad thing when they saw it.
Moving swiftly on. If youre lucky enough to have watched Winston Whitters excellent Legacy in the Dust documentary (currently unable to get a full release because of record label nonsense), youll have seen the story of Dalstons 4 Aces club the home to live soul and reggae music in London for some 40 years. At one point the film shows former regulars of 4 Aces detailing innumerable police raids, something Whitter talked to Ransom Note about a while back the police barge in with massive dogs. Music stops lights go on and then two officers ran and jumped onto the back of a Dreadlock rasta man, he crashed to the ground with more officers jumping on top of him like a rugby match, so unnecessary!
This is getting too depressing to type much more. I was going to talk about the police raids on the Sheffield club Niche, raids that effectively spelled the death of the Northern bassline scene, raids that were code-named, incredibly, Operation Repatriation. I was going to talk about police banning Pow from being played at Carnival. I was going to talk about carnival in general, a festival to celebrate and strengthen all of Londons communities, started by a hippy and a communist, where until 1987 initial police involvement was aimed at preventing it taking place at all. I was going to talk about Giggs shows being banned, So Solid gigs being pulled and jungle raves being raided. But instead Im going to finish with an excerpt from a truly amazing email I got. A venue I play at (remaining nameless I want to keep playing there, and I like them) was apparently experiencing a gang problem. One night when we played there, the police shut the venue without a single incident taking place, merely because they had intelligence. After the police consulted with the venues owners over this increased gang presence (read black presence) , the old bill encouraged the venue to share with the promoters some essential info on what it is the gangs are attracted by –
All DJs need to be careful what kind of music they are playing and if there seems to be presence of gangs in the bar have a back up CD of more chilled music to pop on…
This also means that we need new flyer text. So could you please email me back with new text without the following words: Dubstep, Bashment, Dancehall, Hip Hop, RnB, Dirty, Bangers, Bumping, Bouncing.
Jesus Christ. How are you meant to even respond to that? Specially when all you play is bouncing bashment bangers
Right now Katy B is on top of the charts, but the musicians who made the sound that got her there cant put on a single show. Unless something is done about the rampant efforts by the English police to strangle a whole, vital element of British culture, we do ourselves a huge disservice. Til then its business as usual.