Play it again, Rock Against Racism

Thirty years on, a new generation is being recruited to counter growing threat from the far right
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The Independent Online

Thirty years after it politicised a generation of activists, Rock Against Racism is being restaged at its original venue of Victoria Park, in east London, in what will be the biggest anti-racism concert ever held in Britain.

When the Clash took the stage in 1978, joining forces with the Tom Robinson Band and Steel Pulse, they ignited a movement that was to propel protest gigs into the mainstream and lead to cam-paigns such as Live Aid.

But now a new generation of fans is being targeted by campaigners, who expect thousands to march from London's East End to the all-day concert next month, where original headliner Tom Robinson will lead Jerry Dammers from the Specials, Clash collaborator Don Letts, Babyshambles, Kate Nash and others in front of an expected 70,000 people.

Dammers, who is putting together a band featuring former Sham 69 frontman Jimmy Pursey, said: "We can't be complacent and relax the struggle against [the far-right British National Party]."

Babyshambles' Pete Doherty added: "We need to encourage people to fight racism whether with words or actions."

The 30th-anniversary event – the Love Music Hate Racism carnival, on Sunday 27 April – is a response to fears that the BNP could secure its first seats on the Greater London Assembly in elections on 1 May.

Two stars who will not be playing are David Bowie and Eric Clapton. Comments made by the pair in the 1970s were credited with prompting the original Rock Against Racism concert. Bowie was quoted in 1976 saying, "Britain could benefit from a fascist leader"; the same year Clapton told an audience in Birmingham that the politician Enoch Powell – infamous for his "rivers of blood" speech opposing mass immigration – was right and Britain was "overcrowded".

Lee Billingham, national organiser for Love Music Hate Racism, said: "Bowie actually gave £1,000 to the Anti Nazi League in the early 1990s. He's been forgiven, but not Clapton – he's never retracted what he said."

The BNP's vote soared from 3,000 in 2000 to 300,000 in 2007, say anti-racism campaigners, who claim the party missed getting elected to the London Assembly by just 0.1 per cent in 2004.

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