ROCK AGAINST THE RICH! By DARREN RYAN
In about March 1988, the main rabble rouser from London Class War, Ian Bone, was holding court with one of his lieutenants, me, Darren Ryan , in a West London boozer called The Warwick Castle. It was a Saturday afternoon, and both of us were necking as much lager as we could before chucking out time. The Warwick Castle was on Portobello Road, Notting Hill, just down from the frontline – before it got “yuppified”. It was one of the last pubs in Notting Hill left that had any character left in it. It was smoky, dirty and suited us at the time as we discussed the coming local election, in which we were putting up a candidate
John Duignan was to run under the banner of “Carnival yes – Yuppies no”. At the time, the new wealthy invaders in the area didn’t want the carnival anymore as they considered it “inappropriate to their property investment”. Any point of class antagonism was right up Class War’s street, so we got involved to make that antagonism as violent as possible, in any way that we could. Given that these rich tossers were getting mugged let, right and centre, and were about as popular as turds in a swimming pool, we were off to a flying start. Ian Bone’s mind was fuelled by opportunity. Any chance he got to have a go at the rich, he seized. His brain operated on a program of pure class warfare and at a staggering pace. It was he who came up with the successes and failures of Class War’s notorious past – Bash The Rich marches, disrupting the Henley Regatta, campaigns against yuppies and dozens of other hits and misses … and it was Ian who spied Joe Strummer and a couple of liggers stroll into the pub about 1.30 and take up a quiet corner for themselves with a pint. Wasn’t quiet for long…
“Oi Joe, get us a beer in!”
Strummer was about to meet seven pint Ian Bone. For some fuckin’ reason, Strummer got up and went to the bar and got a round in! Since I’d been a punk previously, meeting the geezer that sung “White Riot” and have him get a round in was a proper bonus. Add to this that I was nearly skint, and was already planning my next mission to the Sainsbury’s up the road, to lift 50-60 quid worth of meat, and flog it in the pub for beer money, and you’ve got a much tastier option for the immediate future, not to mention easier. Ian immediately harassed Strummer about doing a benefit for Class War. You had to give the bloke credit for front. I mean Strummer’s arse hadn’t even warmed his chair yet and the pissed geezer he didn’t know from a bar of soap, whom he’d just bought a pint, demanded – not asked – that he live up to the original intentions of the Clash, and do a benefit for one of the most notorious political groups in the country … and he said YES! … I’ve got to be honest, and say that I couldn’t fuckin’ believe my ears…
That was it. For the next two hours, Joe Strummer was subjected the most outlandish plans for a tour he had ever heard. Not to mention the most prevalent usage of the word “fuck” known to mankind! We were like nitro and glycerine, me and Ian. This was us in our element.
The idea had, with the fuel of another half a dozen pints, gone from a one off gig to a full blown fuckin’ tour! And not just a tour – it was gonna be the “White Riot” tour all over again – with the added malevolence of Class War behind it. We presented the idea to Strummer that it was going to make his return to his Clash roots – back to Garage land – back to the streets. I think that he thought he would get some kind of political street cred from associating with us. The reason he thought that was because we concocted an incredible scenario for a tour for him; each gig was to be based around a local issue of class warfare. A gig at the Durham Miners gala. On the same day as the stuck up Edinburgh Festival, an opposing open air concert in the middle of one of the most notorious housing estates in Scotland. With the idea of after the concert inciting the crowd to riot.
A benefit concert in Wales for the people stealing coal from trains, and for those burning down rich bastards holiday homes. The Newcastle show was gonna be a benefit to the supporters fighting the board of directors of Newcastle United Football Club, who were trying to flog the team’s best players, and fuck up the club.
And, of course, the jewel in the crown … a free concert on the Isle of Dogs, right in the East End heartland of the class war between the yuppies and the working class. This was going to be it. There were only two roads in and out of the Isle of Dogs, and we’d barricade them both with burnt out cars and then run riot in the yuppie docks and burn them to the ground. Quite an ambitious plan – but remember, this was summer 1988 – this was going to be the only free concert in London that year. It would be total mayhem. London would indeed be burning!
Throughout this table banging tirade from me and Ian, Strummer became totally animated. He was like a cadaver that got electrocuted back to life and wanted to live it all now – all at once. He fuckin’ loved it!
Obviously, the possibility of his entire career being ruined by a 20 year jail sentence hadn’t yet seeped through the lager to his brain. Anyways, what the fuck were consequences when you’re talking about the most real radical rock tour ever about to be launched. What sort of saps would waste time arguing about something like practicalities in the face of such raucous possibilities… only the other absent members of Class War, that’s who! Before we get to that, the beer soaked afternoon at the Warwick Castle ended with an arranged meeting during the week, and with both parties getting what they wanted: Joe Strummer – the liveliest afternoon drink up he’d had in years with the bonus of a prospective tour that would see him return to his Clash roots. Us – with the possibility of having the biggest drawcard we’d ever had to get people together, to feel their strength in numbers, and to wind ‘em up and set ‘em out into the streets to riot and take on the forces of Maggie Thatcher’s Britain!
The train ride back to the East End was full of wild ideas and outrageous predictions… This was gonna be the long hot summer of ’88!! The biggest immediate problem encountered wasn’t Strummer waking up with a hangover on Sunday morning, realising with a groan what he’d nodded to, and back peddling all the way to Yankee land to avoid any of his lager induced commitments. Quite the opposite. The other members of Class War reacted something akin to being asked for a lend of a fiver. I’ve to this day never heard so many “not possibles” in my fuckin’ life! Whilst some of their objections to the over-the-top plans of the two maniacs both talking at once, with their arms waving around wildly were justified and had to be “streamlined”, such as that little gem of how we’d finance the whole thing (that was shot down by us referring to the sceptic as a “pedantic twat”) it must be stated that a lot of London Class War failed to see the potential of such a tour of organised chaos. The Bristol lot loved it, as did the rest of the groups around the country.
We weren’t gonna lose this debate, so we called ‘em a bunch of short sighted political Neanderthals, and ordered more lager … and somehow pushed the idea through. In reality, we couldn’t have proceeded an inch without their support, and having everyone behind the idea was great. All of a sudden we were caught up in a tidal wave of energy and excitement.
The next meeting with Strummer was like a re-run of the first, except this time word had filtered out amongst the Warwick Castle “faces”, and now all sorts of urchins with and without talent attempted to board ship – most were made to walk the fuckin’ plank though, but we did obtain the services of an MC for the tour: Ray Jones, who at this point in his career existed solely on alcoholic donations from Notting Hill’s female yuppies, threw himself into the tour with wild abandon. It would be his task to introduce each show whilst dressed up in his best penguin suit. The small problem of financing his tour was settle quickly, with Joe Strummer offering to help out where necessary, and with an all telling wink assured us there would be no money problems. The contradiction of Strummer being an ex-public schoolboy with a father who was a diplomat, doing a tour for an organisation that supported amongst other things the shooting of the rich, and the absolute hatred of all things middle class, was justified by the following explanation: “He is a means to an end…” That was good enuf for us!
It was around this time that the first of many mistakes were made. Some of the members of London Class War began steering the pirate ship “Rock Against The Rich” into safer waters. The more radical, free concerts were slated, and replaced with yawnsome “wholemeal” rock venues. Also, it was the original intention to recruit local working class talent for the support slots at each gig, thereby giving the local burning issue of class conflict a bit of extra prominence, and hopefully draw more people into the struggle. It was Ian and my idea to go to each area beforehand, to suss out the local housing estates, and see what talent lied within. Instead, an ad was placed in the Class War paper for demo tapes, and the deluge of irrelevant shite followed. The talents of a Hackney Reggae band “One Style” were recruited by the CW “Tour Manager”, because they happened to be friends of his, for support on the entire tour. They were fine musically, but there was no punch, no passion, no energy in what they did. We would have been much better off getting a Ragga DJ as they were popular at the time with kids on housing estates, and would have attracted the sort of people we wanted to turn up. These were the people we constantly reported on in Class War, who were fighting the cops, looting shops, and who personified perfectly the underclass culture that thrives on Council Estates that we encouraged. Alternatively, we should have just got the anarchist punk band “Conflict” to play – at least they liked a ruck with the cops. Instead, you had an assortment of bands who had one thing in common: They were all toothless tigers vying for talent scout attention. There may have been the odd exception, but I sure-as-fuck don’t remember ‘em! But it was the cancellation of the free concert on the Isle of Dogs, in London’s East End, that was the most crushing blow to all of us who had worked hard to forge a relationship with the Mudshute Farm Committee, and in particular Ted Johns. We had secured the date of the event with him/them, and had promised a donation of £300 to Mudshute Farm. This was to be the biggest event Class War had ever organised. We had Joe Strummer, a local reggae band, and the venue – we had even got down to the point of organising Portaloos. We were literally ready to go. Then, Ted John rolled over on us and withdrew his support, and Mudshute Farm. It was later revealed that the London Docklands Development Corporation, the scumbags that were poshing up the dock for the middle classes to safely live in, offered him a lucrative position, which he took. The price of which was the immediate cancellation of the free concert. Another so-called community leader revealing his true motivation – self interest.
In hindsight, we really could have benefited from the involvement of some local promoter at the time to help us organise this event properly. If we had had contacts like we did a few years later, when local anarchists were successfully organising massive warehouse parties, we could have secured the venue more professionally, and there would have been nothing the likes of Ted Johns could have done about it, except watch the Isle of Dogs go up in flames. It turned out that the summer of ’88 was a scorcher. I have no doubt that had that concert gone ahead there would have been the most destructive force unleashed in the East End, as the kids from the run down estates joined up with thousands of boozed up concert goers to trash the yuppie developments and fight the cops. This was the gig that was to launch the tour. So you could imagine what scene we would have set for the rest of the tour if the first gig resulted in one of the biggest riots London has ever seen. It was gonna be the Anarchy in the UK … for real, tour! This was the gig that Strummer was looking forward to the most. Little did he suspect that he was only gonna be playing the background to a class war riot! But he loved the imagination of us lot, and our ability to seize the burning issue and throw petrol on it. Although it looked like we were using him, it worked both ways: He needed something raw injected into his act that would wipe out the jaded “rock’n’roll rebel” image he’d snagged for himself at the time. Remember, in the late ‘80s, rock had zero street credibility – hip hop and sound system bass ruled the streets of the inner cities. The music may have changed, but the politics of the street remained the same: Class conflict, with a varying intensity of class warfare, raged the length and breadth of Britain. Strummer recognised this, and saw in the Class War people he met, the passionate intensity that he lacked and needed. He tried to use the media’s fixation with Class War to re-launch his career with a radical edge. And to a degree it worked well for him.
For two months the tour was grabbed by a stunned media and thrown around at the absolute outrage of a major rock star doing an entire tour with the likes of Class War! It went to show who really was and wasn’t a threat at the time: Do a benefit for Red or Green Wedge and you were comfortably hip and acceptable. Do it for Class War and you were an outrage. We were very comfortable with this. As far as we were concerned, the left were every bit as bad as the right, politically and culturally.
Anyways, Strummer was devastated at the loss of the launch venue, with its shock potential. He offered his personal assistance both financially and physically to fix it with the Mudshute Committee, but the situation was lost. Though the question remains, should we have proceeded anyway? After all, we had hundreds of squatters in our ranks, why not squat the place and put on an impromptu gig, then riot with the cops when they try and shut it down. As with a lot of Class War ideas, then, and in the future, risks were avoided, not taken… we occasionally played it too safe! The launch gig was then transferred to the Brixton Fridge, where a sold out audience paid a few quid to see the immortal Ray Jones introduce the Class War candidate for the Notting Hill Bi-election, John Duignan, who unleashed his wit upon them with his “the only good Tory is a lavatory” one-liner. He stomped off the stage after screaming “up the workers” and received a round of applause. The support acts got the people moving, with a combination of reggae and rock, and were all juiced up for Joe Strummer and the Latino Rockabilly War to take one step further. Would he play some of the old Clash classics, or stick to the new stuff?
He came out looking like a punk Johnny Cash, and he fucking rocked the Brixton Fridge with what everyone wanted to hear – a combination of old and new material. We were happy with the result – we sold loads of Class War papers and t-shirts, and our name was up in the lights again. But the raw edge was lost. It was now a rock tour not a riot tour. This should have been the beginning of Class War launching “Rock Against The Rich” as a permanent musical wing of its political activities. It should have also been the launch of Class War’s merchandising on a huge scale as a permanent fund raiser to help people in prison, their families and to pay for loads of propaganda stuff such as spray pain, posters etc. In a similar way that was later done very successfully by “Blood and Honour”. It was, and continues to be, a major failing of the organisation – that it has incredible opportunities, but fails to capitalise on them! We had loads of bands, offering their services, and the designs for some great shirts and posters. But, because we never had a thought out strategy of sorts, we fumbled the ball too often.
Ian stayed back in London, and me, Tim (a CW veteran), Matt The Tour manager, and Brixton John the CW roadie, took on the tour. Tim’s job was lugging the gear and selling merch, and mine was to stir up the crowd with a rabble rousing speech just before Strummer came on, and to visit as many housing estates as possible before the gigs, and get people to come along and hand out propaganda to them. Looking back on it now, what a fucking break for a young bloke like myself to be doing something like this with the likes of Joe Strummer – people would have killed to be doing it! But, at the time, he was nowhere near as important as Class War, and what I reckoned we were doing. I loved the Clash, but without the action on the streets, it wasn’t enough … the words to the songs made you want to throw a brick at a cop car, steal stuff from shops, roam around the estates all day and night putting up graffiti and stickers. The music was petrol for the fire.
What follows here isn’t a “gig by gig” summation of the tour, its written just how I remember it, warts an all!
We had a tour bus that Strummer paid for that was fucking huge. We were all drinking and enjoying ourselves. Me and Ray Jones ended up drinking way too much. It wasn’t long before the both of us were pissed every day before 11am, which meant we were out of control most of the time. By the time Strummer came on at night we were fucking steaming. Unfortunately, I had to share a hotel room occasionally with Ray, and I say unfortunately because it was during one of these enchanted evenings that Ray demonstrated his talent as a sleep walker, who would get up and roam around and piss anywhere. Consequently I slept with an eye open when sharing a room with Mr Jones! I met some great people at all the places we went. People who were operating in run-down communities and doing their best to get things happening. Blokes like Jimmi Walker, in Croxteth Liverpool, who was battling smack dealers on streets that weren’t paved with gold. The lads from Scotswood, Newcastle, who were at war with the cops. I’d get these people backstage to meet Strummer. Even though some of these blokes straight off the estates didn’t have a clue who Joe Strummer was, they got into the spirit of things by drinking all the band’s beer backstage and hanging out with the rockers for a while. Strummer dug meeting these sort of people, and he spoke to me a few times about “this is what rock’n’roll is all about”. He was sick of being surrounded by sycophantic wankers that were nothing more than rock’n’roll trainspotters. To him this was real. A shame a few of the people in Class War didn’t share his affinity with members of the underclass. And the others in his band for that matter – what a sorry collection of wankers and would-be superstars he’d assembled there! His band contained a South American bloke who didn’t speak a word of English but who was at least not a tosser. An ex-member of American hardcore band “Circle Jerks” who went by the stage name Zander Slosh, who for some unknown reason thought he was gods gift to women. And a drummer by the name of “Big Willie”, who was a clueless twat with absolutely zero street knowledge and who was completely out of place on a tour like this – he’d been better off as a hairstylist for Bon Jovi, on one of his tours.
It wasn’t long before my antics were rubbing up people the right way. Admittedly, I was drinking way too much, and behaving worse at each gig. Sometimes it was no walk in the park, to land in city or town you’ve never seen before, and stomp around rough areas giving it the Class War to complete strangers. It certainly came with a price tag. I got knocked out cold in a pub in Doncaster, before the gig. I got headbutted by a Liverpool scally, outside the Camden Town gig that sent me back peddling ten yards. To add salt to the wound, that one was right in front of a riot van full of cops who fell over each other laughing as I had a bundle of Class War papers in my hand I was selling at the time. I got “coat-hangered” off the stage right in the middle of a speech at the Newcastle gig, in front of 2000 people, by “Big Willie” cos he thought I was taking too long. A meeting was held by Strummer’s band and Matt the CW Tour Manager, and they decided I couldn’t be tolerated on the tour another step. My marching orders were given. I think a combination of getting too many people in for free, giving away the band’s beer and not doing any gear lugging pissed people off. Too fucking bad. However, the rejection stamp on my RAR passport wasn’t even dry and I was sent straight back to the frontline by the London group, who rightfully acknowledged that I was the only person on the tour who was doing anything political. This wasn’t quite true though. Tim selling merch and papers was important too. Plus he slogged his guts out each night carting gear back to the bus.
Around this time, we ran out of money to finance the tour. We were well and truly fucked. However, Joe Strummer to the rescue, with £11,000 to get our wheels back on the track. Joe saved us – nothing surer. Edinburgh was another stand out, as was Aberdeen. I went and contacted Jimmy Boyle, the notorious ex-prisoner who fought the system at the hard end of the wicket, and came out stronger for it. I invited him to come and say something on stage about prison, the streets and the class war. He would love to he said, but his son had just been charged with armed robbery, and he was busy co-ordinating a defence team for him. In Aberdeen, we made contact with leading faces from the Aberdeen hooligan crew. They had all heard of Class War, and wanted to know more about it, so we bent their ears for a while, had a couple of pints, and taunted each other about our respective teams and the outcome of our next meet, on and off the field. It was all in good humour though, and Tim really enjoyed being part of this wind up session, being a mad Arsenal supporter. Since Brixton John and I were Millwall, we reminded all of ‘em to bring their running shoes and mouth guards next time they came to Cold Blow Lane – cos they were gonna need ‘em! Although Class War didn’t have the same level of influence in football crews as the extreme right wing groups, its anti-police stance and pro-working class violence rhetoric was well known in hooligan circles. We would have had even more effect if we had stuck to working class street issues, rather than submerging ourselves in middle class left wing shit. Strummer was pissed off Jimmy Boyle couldn’t make it, as he wanted to meet him. Although he didn’t have what I would call working class street politics, he showed a lot of interest in what I was getting up to before the gigs, who I had met, and what was happening on the streets at each gig, which was a fuck of a lot more than the rest of his band. I found him to be a pretty reserved character, who let his music do most of the talking for him. An interesting insight into Joe Strummer was that he insisted on getting the rounds in, and could drink like a fish.
Another stop on the Rock Against the Rich tour was at Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. After my performance there I was sent express post back to London, with a “do not return” stamp on the back of my head. This was my favourite gig of the entire tour. Merthyr was like a town stuck in time. Everyone there still wore drainpipe jeans, and the place was awash with skinheads. The tour bus landed there at about 11am and me and Ray just dived straight into the nearest boozer and began knocking ‘em back like there was no tomorrow. No walking around the estates, no meeting local working class personalities, nothing – just booze. It turned out I didn’t have to do anything like that this time anyway – the pub was full of what I was looking for. It must have been giro day or something, cos everyone was already pissed, and they were all going to the gig. This is the pub Strummer should have definitely have come to with us for a drink. Mind you he would have been in some state for the main event. The main bar was circular in shape, with a jukebox blaring from the corner. And, no bullshit, every song on the jukebox was from 1977 to 1981. The Ruts, SLF, Blitz, Pistols, Clash, 4-Skins etc. And the joint was crammed with nutters. Pissed nutters! Ray and I went to thinking that we must have been in a tardis or something, cos it was like we had gone back in time! It was fucking great! We were both rolling drunk by 3pm, with Ray using his MC status as a chat up line on anything in a skirt – to zero effect! I was busy giving it the table-banging class war speech to a load of skins. They’d never heard of us lot before, but said it sounded great to them, and insisted that we start a riot after the gig. “Lets fucking do it” was my reply! What happened next sealed my fate on RAR. At about 6pm Ray and I charged into the gig during sound check. We were both skint by this stage, so we headed backstage for the band’s beer. This was immediately found and confiscated by us. We took the lot, and hid it for ourselves for the coming night. With lager in hand we stormed back to the bar to continue our fully sponsored drink-a-thon. Some time in the next half hour the wheels fell off my trolley!
I vaguely remember making a B-line for the bog, getting as far as the mixing desk, and boffing up a gallon or so of Merthyr’s finest beverage plus a few odds and sods, straight over the mixing desk. Fucking bullseye! If you’ve ever had a complete gut-luggage emptying spew, you’ll know that it either revives you or retires you. The latter worked for me on this occasion. I got thrown out of the venue, but as soon as I snapped back into gear, I knew I had to get my hands on that stash of grog. I blagged my way in the joint, and retrieved the beer. I then headed back to the boozer, and announced to all that I was gonna get everyone without a ticket into the gig. The cans of lager were handed out and a mob of us charged down to the venue. I remember turning around at one point to see who was there, and nearly fell over when I saw the size of the mob behind me. There were some Class War people from Bristol on the door, and I remember Alan Pullen screaming a tirade that “Darren’s just bought 100 nazis in on the guest list”! Alan was one of those paranoid souls who constantly thought that the 2 BNP skins in his town were after him. Squeaky Matt the Tour Manager hunted me down and told me that everyone was getting turned out, because we needed every penny on the door to cover costs. Matt was then told to “Fuck off” very neatly, to which he replied that I was off the tour, like he owned it or something. Although I was making a bit of a menace of myself, he forgot the whole point of what we were doing here. It was to make contact with people such as the ones I got into the gig. Here were the raw working class warriors, and all blokes such as Matt had to say to them was that they didn’t have tickets, or in the case of the Alan Pullen types, that they couldn’t stay cos they looked like they were in the BNP. There was about to be a serious ruck at this point and it was only the weight of numbers that allowed us lot to stay. Needless to say, none of the mob I’d bought along rated Class War much after this little stand off.
Of course, Matt and Alan weren’t the be-all-and-end-all of Class War, thank god! Even Strummer had had enough, after Matt relayed what had happened to him. I think Joe was more upset about the wax and polish I gave the mixing desk than anything else. The remainder of that night was a blur, except the Strummer put in a stellar performance, and the gig was absolutely packed. I was issued with a warning that I’d be shunted back to London the next day. So I gave the half dozen CW members present something to chew their fingernails about instead by telling them that their pathetic corruption of the original intentions of the tour would be sorted out as soon as they got back to London, and that they would be held accountable. At this point I had conveniently forgotten my own out of order behaviour, and it showed in the look of total disbelief on the faces of those I was threatening!
So there you have it – The Rock Against The Rich Tour 1988. Balls and all. It may not have been how we originally intended it, but it was moderately successful in some ways. And it was a lot of fun. But I look back in anger at it, as we had such great ideas for it, and it still gets my blood boiling the way it was turned from potentially dangerous to pleasantly adventurous by people who used it as their ticket into the music industry. And such are the best of working class ideas, watered down for safe consumption for the middle classes. However, the original idea and plan of Rock Against the Rich remains as relevant and as dangerous as it was then.