I wake up sometimes unable to muster the energy or excitement for work. And fall quickly back into the realms of dole age infinity and endless time on ‘our’ hands. Of guitar tuning and twiddling and recording and listening. And walks through parades of 1970s shops where discoveries happened and moments were had. I don’t miss it. I just remember it.
This is not a longing for that northern town. This is not a call to arms to return to youthful ways – it’s recognition of what shapes you and how you end up here. I was called to jury service at 18 years of age – it was in Grimsby – they do that sort of stuff there. It was all low level violence and malevolence – youth armed with steel poles disputing the honour of someone’s dog or car and sometimes other humans. We’d dissect incidents and altercations in Cleethorpes back seats and pushing and shoving in Grimbsy club hall ways – it wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t fascinating. It was the anger of the underclasses turned on itself – the seeds of destruction under the last throes of the Tory dice and the imminent arrival of a more powerful wrecking system from the Britpop politicians who would descend upon us.
I used to go out for lunch. Through the court halls, past the security guards with a nod and wander around the precinct and high street. I can’t picture it as vividly now – but it was all sallow concrete and shop fronts. There was a small independent record shop – it sold the usual and the unusual. I wasn’t on the lookout for vinyl – my tape player was in the bag for the train ride back and forth to the inns of justice – early starts with the Beach Boys 20/20 or the Paul’s Boutique by the Beasties – it all depended on the mood I awoke.
So it was tape digging – and there on the bottom shelf was a tape by Linton Kwesi Johnston. It looked interesting. Reggae fi Rodni, Fit them back and Bass Culture – title awash with low end theory and history. It had an oil painting cover – all heavy daubs and muted palette. And hearing LKJ for the first time was revelatory – it was chattin’ and bass – about politics and race. It represented Britain then, now and beyond – with its timeless clutch of reggae beats and reverbs.
So sitting in the courts – of Grimbsy with the air permeated with industry and fish – we listened to judges make judgements on youth. And LKJ toasted the ills of da police and the insurrectshun of the masses – as I and I considered the evidence from police officers in da dock. It was good to have LKJ by my side – because it noh funny when you sitting in the jury making decisions that affect lives and you know that the daily mailers want to take charge and you think the kids with iron bars just might have been right.
And so I return to LKJ as the EDL spews its shit on the streets [no rock in the clubs] and I watch the 70s hate seep back into the cracks and crevices of our daily routines and it reminds me about the fighting spirit – the real collective responsibilities that we have. To take on ideologies that need challenging ‘in these difficult times’. The ill informed can make you ill – but it’s the will of the people that matters.
Fit Them Back
It’s as simple as that. We need to fight them back. Living within a stone’s throw of Stephen Lawrence’s bus stop, the New Cross’ burnt house and walking the Welling roads. Things are bubbling and bubbling again – rising right to the top and given credence by the ‘red tops’ that hating will result in a ‘new England’ when I’m just looking for a better world. LKJ takes matters into his own hands – a rolling snare and falling guitar as the bass keeps it all rocksteady – smash their brains in – coz they ain’t got nuthin in ‘em – it’s a simple command. A straightforward ask, as the tempo keeps it uptown and we dance our moonstomp over the heads of the ignorant.
It’s a message for the masses.
It is music.