Love Music Hate Racism, Britannia Stadium, Stoke
Rock against racism – the comeback
Monday 01 June 2009
Imagine Donna Summer turning out for a "Rock Against Racism" gig in the late Seventies. That is essentially what we had in Saturday's line-up in Stoke-on Trent, which brought in former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland standing up against the British National Party.
The "Love Music Hate Racism" campaign claims descent from those Seventies pioneers who brought together reggae and punk. In the Nineties, the flame was passed to the Manic Street Preachers and The Levellers, while recent carnivals have featured Belle & Sebastian and indie-friendly rapper Lethal Bizzle.
Now, though, LMHR feels more like a Radio One roadshow, with a younger, more exuberant crowd.
Stoke City football club was certainly showing its more welcoming side, at a ground that earned a fierce reputation as the Premier League's most intimidating. Some 20,000 kids had the run of the stands and even the dugouts from where managers harangue their teams.
Pete Doherty brought with him a couple of dancers once he sauntered on late, insouciance personified. At least he managed to show; for two previous anti-racist gigs he was either arrested or imprisoned. Now two winsome girls in tutus performed ballet moves to "Last Of The English Roses", a highlight from solo album Grace/Wastelands.
This is an acoustic diversion for the ex-Libertine, and while on record he sounds more focused than in a long time, live he undermines his often beguiling lyrics with vague, slack delivery. He lost concentration for "Down In Albion", just about managing to shout out to Hanley and Newcastle (presumably the nearby Under Lyme), yet still maintained the ability to charm, closing his abbreviated set with the number that any fan would want to hear today: "Time For Heroes".
There were sops to festival veterans. The Beat's ska punk remained as spikey as ever, though in the New Beautiful South the acerbic wit of Paul Heaton was sorely missed. Alison Wheeler was in vibrant form on "Don't Marry Her", but Dave Hemingway sounded bashful showing off the hits under the beating sun. The Clash's Mick Jones, brought his latest project The Rotten Hill Gang, a pseudo-Victoriana gang in waistcoats and top hats that meld rap, soul and, from Mick, some primitive Keith Richards riffs, with a distinct lack of tunes.
Beverley Knight cemented her reputation as one of our best soul singers. The most memorable part of her set was not her own material, but a lung-bursting take on "Piece Of My Heart", felt and heard throughout the stadium.
Then Rowland showed immaculate vocal control, introducing her numbers with acapellas before the heavy R&B backing tracks kicked in. While Beyonce gets the O2 and Barack Obama, her former band-mate exuded pleasure at a Saturday afternoon in the Potteries.
Accompanied only by her two dancers and a DJ, Rowland's sound is less intense than Beyonce's booty-shaking thrills. Better than the simpering "Dilemma" is a full-blooded house number devised by David Guetta.
We were left as headliners with Reverend & The Makers. This also-ran outfit are led by gobby Sheffield chancer John McClure, who came to fame on the back of the Arctic Monkeys' recommendation. Supposedly inspired by poet John Cooper Clarke, live he instead relies on generic punk-funk rhythms, successfully at least on the rousing "Heavyweight Champion Of The World". He did, though, suggest: "You should be proud of where you're from" – which seems a reasonable grounding for grassroots activism, and Stoke certainly did its bit this weekend.
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