Billy Bragg riles a crowd at the Broadway Theatre in the Greater London town of Barking on International Workers Day in 2006.
After England’s summer of unrest, Billy Bragg, folk- and punk-rock icon of the British protesting classes, recalls the musicians who politicized him after London’s 1976 Notting Hill riots and summons a new generation of artists to raise their voices against social and political convention.
Watch Bragg perform on “The Henry Rollins Show” below. —ARK
Punk was galvanised into action by The Clash, whose debut album featured a picture of police charging towards black youth under the Westway on the back cover. Their first single, ‘White Riot’, was an explicit attempt to make a connection between the frustration faced by unemployed white youth and their black counterparts whose employment prospects were blighted by racism.
In the Clash interview from 1976 that was reprinted in the NME ‘riot issue’, Joe Strummer boldly said “We’re hoping to educate any kid who comes to listen us, just to keep them from joining the National Front”. That certainly worked in my case. When Notting Hill went up in smoke, I didn’t get it, yet, a year or so later, the first political activism that I ever took part in was the first Rock Against Racism Carnival in London. I’d been drawn by the fact that the Clash were top of the bill.
... The riots last week were a spark – what is needed now is an alternative commentary. Some of you who are reading this need to produce songs with spirit that tell us something we don’t know about what the fuck happened last week, how we got to such a place and where you think we should be going from here.