Mark Perryman

Mark Perryman

Mark Perryman is a writer and the co-founder of Philosophy Football.

Celebrating the politics of punk
Tuesday, 04 April 2017 20:44

Celebrating the politics of punk

Published in Music

8th April is the 40th Anniversary of The Clash's debut album. Mark Perryman reminds us what the 1977 punk and politics mix was all about.

The birth of punk for most is dated on or round 1976, with the November release that year of the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK. Music and movement were catapuoted into the ‘filth and fury’ headlines via the band’s expletive-strewn Bill Grundy TV interview.

More Situationist than Anarchist, Rotten and the rest were of course key to the detonation of a youthful mood of revolt alongside the not entirely dissimilar The Damned, Manchester’s Buzzcocks and the more trad rock Stranglers. Giving the boy bands a run for their money, The Slits pushed perhaps hardest at punk’s musical boundaries, their Typical Girls track quite unlike what the others were recording.

But it was The Clash who more than anyone symbolised the punk and politics mix, showcased on their debut album The Clash, released 40 years ago on 8th April 1977. From being bored with the USA and angrily demanding a riot of their own, via hate and war to non-existent career opportunities, fourteen tracks, played at furious speed to produce two-minute classics. The one exception was their inspired cover version of Junior Marvin and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Police and Thieves, played slow, the lyrics almost spoken rather than sung, backed by a pitch-perfect reggae beat.

The album cover shows the youthful threesome of Strummer, Jones and Simonon in their artfully stencilled shirts and jackets that was to become their signature stagewear, completed by the obligatory skinny jeans, white socks, and black DMs. The print quality is purposely poor to add a degree of authenticity that this band more than most hardly needed. But it was the back cover that is the more telling. A scene from the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival Riots with the Met’s boys in blue, these were the days before RoboCop style body armour, riot shields, helmets with visors, in hot pursuit of black youth retreating and regrouping under the Westway flyover.

MP police 2

It was that experience in ’76 that inspired The Clash’s anthemic White Riot and the lines ‘ WHITE RIOT! I WANNA RIOT. WHITE RIOT! A RIOT OF MY OWN.’ At the time the National Front’s streetfighting racist army was laying waste wherever they marched, their leaders John Tyndall and Martin Webster were household names, and the NF was getting enough votes to suggest an electoral breakthrough might be a possibility. The potential for ‘White Riot’ to be misinterpreted then, and now too, is obvious. But the band’s intent couldn’t be clearer. Living and recording in and around the Westway, they embraced the changes this West London community had undergone since the 1950s. Caribbean music, food and fashions were as much a part of The Clash as rock and roll, Sunday roast and safety pins. They sought to share the spirit of Black defiance, not oppose it.

All the power is in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it,
While we walk the streets
Too chicken to even try it.
And everybody does what they’re told to
And everybody eats supermarket soul food!

A year after the album’s release, The Clash headlined the first Rock against Racism carnival in London’s Victoria Park. The dayglo politics of this musical culture of resistance fitted perfectly with the agitprop look and lyrics of the band, as it did with Polly Styrene of X-Ray Spex’s punk feminism, Tom Robinson’s liberatory Sing If You’re Glad to be Gay, and Birmingham’s Steel Pulse with tales of a Handsworth Revolution. This wasn’t just a line up that commercial promoters in ’78 would die for, it was a platform to challenge prejudice both without and within that we could dance to. In her book 1988 The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion, Caroline Coon predicted of The Clash that "their acute awareness, and ability to articulate the essence of the era which inspires their music, will make their contribution to the history of rock of lasting significance. Happy times are here again."

The Clash inspired, and continue to inspire, a wave of bands who play music we can dance to and march to in equal measure. Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers, Southall’s Ruts, and the Au Pairs stand out from back then. Poets too, who often styled themselves as ranters, like  Seething Wells, and of course Attila the Stockbroker. Then came the unforgettable and much-missed Redskins and the hardy perennial favourite, Billy Bragg. Today? A new wave (sic) of bands whose influences, musically and politically, can be traced back to ’77 era Clash would certainly include The Wakes, The Hurriers, Thee Faction, Joe Solo, Louise Distras, Captain Ska, Séan McGowan and more. Off the musical beaten track yet holding out for a better tomorrow with tunes to match!

Like all successful musicians The Clash did become celebrities, their appeal went mainstream, and the venues became bigger and bigger. But through force of circumstance the band bailed out before they reached U2’s overblown proportions, or outstayed their musical welcome to play into their dotage Rolling Stones style. 1977 is a year to remember but not to fossilise - that would be the antithesis of everything they represented. As the final track from the album put it :

I don't want to hear about what the rich are doing, I don't want to go to where, where the rich are going.

Garageland. That’s where they came from and never entirely left either. Its why more than anything else ‘77 Clash in 2017 matter still.

MP Clash ad for Tweet

‘77Clash Night is presented by Philosophy Football in association with the RMT and supported by the FBU, Brigadista Ale and R2 Magazine. Saturday 8th April, the 40th anniversary of the release of The Clash Debut Album side one played live ‘as was’, side two ‘played now’ by artists of today remixing and rewriting the originals. At Rich Mix, Shoreditch, East London. Tickets just £9.99 from here.

’77 Clash T-shirt range available now from Philosophy Football. This is an extended version of an article first published in the Morning Star.

Books (Please)! In All Branches of Knowledge by Alexander Rodchenko, 1924
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 10:52

All Power to the Ideals!

Published in Visual Arts

What kind of cultural celebration, Mark Perryman asks, do the art and the politics of the Russian Revolution deserve?

A century ago, on 23rd February 1917, Russian women workers marched out in protest from the St Petersburg factories to defy Cossacks armed with swords, and took control of the city’s streets. In less than a week they had been joined by hundreds of thousands of other workers. The St Petersburg Military Garrison mutinied in their support. A rebellion led by women for people’s power had begun.

MP Petrograd Soviet for tweet

The 1917 centenary will be one of the publishing events of the year, with writers from Left and Right battling in words over the legacy. The Royal Academy, the Design Museum, British Library and Tate Modern will all host major exhibitions of Revolutionary-era art. In October Philosophy Football, in association with the RMT, will present a night out at London’s Rich Mix Arts Centre ‘To Shake the World’ celebrating the culture of the Revolution. On the same day, Michael Rosen and friends will host an event for families featuring the children’s books of the revolution. And there will even be a guided history walk to visit the hidden history of connections between London’s East End and 1917.

Not all agree that 1917 deserves any kind of celebration at all. Art critic Jonathan Jones writing in the Guardian rages against the spectacle of the Royal Academy ‘Revolution : Russian Art 1917-1932’ exhibition because “The way we glibly admire Russian art from the age of Lenin sentimentalises one of the most murderous chapters in human history.” Unless the Royal Academy (the clue might be in the title, Jonathan) has reinvented itself as a bastion of Marxism-Leninism it is most unlikely they will be sentimentalising communism. Nor, given their reputation, is glibness likely to characterise how they showcase the art via context.

It is undeniable the Russian Revolution cost lives, millions of lives. It took place in the era of World War One when millions of lives were being lost on the fields of France too. And this was the age of Empire with millions more lives sacrificed in the cause of imperial plunder and subjugation across the world. All three events, 1917, WWI, Empire were bloody. None should be sentimentalised. Each needs to be understood – anything else is the denial of history.

In ’89 the fall of the Berlin Wall was famously claimed to mark ‘the end of history’. Yet a generation later the cause of radical change in an era of #dumptrump and #chaoticbrexit remains .The strength of the connections between these 2017 social movements and 1917 are there to be argued over, the history contested but to dismiss the revolution of a century ago as either wholly irrelevant or entirely the model for change now would be both arrogant nd unwise.

The crucial point of the October Revolution was reached some seven months after those women workers first marched when the Russian Royal Family’s Winter Palace was successfully stormed. The signal for the assault to begin was he firing of a blank from the bow gun of the Russian warship, Aurora. The ship’s crew, inspired by the protesting women had mutinied back in February to side with the Bolsheviks.

MP Aurora for tweet

And what followed 1917 was a movement, in Russia but beyond too, that unleashed an unprecedented wave of creative imagination. It was a cultural revolution. Today the art of the period has become chic, fit to hang on the most respected gallery walls, treated as historic artefact and not a tool of revolutionary change. Of course nobody would decry the simplistic beauty of Lissitzky’s Red Wedge - which of course inspires this website's banner - but to divorce the aesthetic of this, and hundreds and thousands of other pieces from a period when art, poetry, music, film, theatre and more went into production with a revolutionary impulse, would be a travesty.

Perhaps the most famous cultural movement out of 1917 was constructivism. But these weren’t shapes artfully assembled without purpose. This was construction with designs on everlasting change, permanent revolution. Too often this is represented by both the establishment, and reproduced too by those who fail to learn the lessons of 1917’s failings, as a top down, didactic project. Rather at its best, politically and artistically the Russian Revolution was a movement from below, inspired by the human capacity to shake the world in which we live.

MP Soviet Construction for tweet

This is the point those who decry the 1917 Celebrations miss, and some who join with the commemorations miss it too. This wasn’t a revolution made by Lenin, Trotsky, or Stalin. Though all three played their part of course in what it was, and what it became. But most of all this was a revolution made by ordinary people - women factory workers began it, rank and file sailors fired the starting signal. And with their actions and achievements they inspired a vision for a better world. This is what we should celebrate about 1917, and this is what the art of the Russian Revoltuion shows us - the potential that we the people have, together, to effect political change.

This is an amended version of an article which first appeared in the Morning Star. Philosophy Football's 1917 T-shirt range is available here.

Don't Burn the Books
Thursday, 14 July 2016 12:13

Don't Burn the Books

Published in Round-up

A scorching hot list of summer political reading selected by Mark Perryman.

A year ago as Labour sought to recover from the May General Election defeat, halls were starting to fill up for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign rallies. But even as the halls got bigger and the queues round the block longer, few would ever imagined that this would result in the Left for once being on the winning side. The overwhelming majority of Labour MPs never accepted the vote. They bided their time, and chose the moment for their coup in a way to cause maximum damage. Richard Seymour’s Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics is to date both the best, and the definitive, account of what Corbyn’s victory the first time round meant. One year on, it is the essential summer 2016 read.

But as Corbyn would be the first to admit, his victory will never amount to much unless he can refashion what Labour also means. A Better Politics by Danny Dorling is a neat combination of catchy ideas and practical policies towards a more equal society that benefits all. Of course the principal barrier to equality remains class. In her new book Respectable, Lynsey Hanley provides an explanation of modern class relations that effortlessly mixes the personal and the political. If this sounds easier written than done, then George Monbiot’s epic How Did We Get Into This Mess? serves to remind us of the scale of the economic and environmental crisis we are up against.

Labour’s existential crisis is rooted in competing models of party democracy, and how this should shape a party as a social movement for change. An exploration of what a left populist mass party might look like and the problems it will encounter is provided in Podemos: In the Name of the People, a highly original set of conversations between theorist Chantal Mouffe and Íñigo Errejón, political secretary of Podemos. And it's introduced by Owen Jones - what a line-up!

MP Podemos

One of the more positive aspects of Labour’s crisis should be pluralism, and a rejecion of simplistic binary oppositions such as Corbynista vs Blairite. To begin with, all engaged in the Labour debate should read the free-to-download book Labour’s Identity Crisis: England and the Politics of Patriotism, edited by Tristram Hunt. There is much here on an issue vital post-Brexit, yet scarcely acknowledged as important by most on both ‘sides’. One criticism though - why no contributors from the Left side, such as Billy Bragg, Gary Younge, or the young black Labour MP Kate Osamor?

Taking a tour round Britain to portray the state of the nation(s) is fairly familiar territory for writers on Britishness but Island Story by JD Taylor stands out, thanks to a the author’s sense purpose, tenacious imagination - and a bicycle. It also avoids the common tendency in attempts to produce a settled national narrative of  producing a bastardised version of English nationalism, combining the isolationist and the racist to produce a toxic mix. As a shortish polemic The Ministry of Nostalgia from Owen Hatherley is also more of a demolition than a deconstruction of the rewriting of our history that flows from this naionalism, and all the better for it.

Anglo-populism is mired in the issue of immigration as a mask for its racism. Angry White People by Hsiao-Hung Pai encounters the extremities of this - the far Right, whose politics of hate have a nasty habit of not being as far away as many of us would like. In the USA, the brutal institutionalised racism of its police force has sparked a mass movement which is reported with much insight by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s in her From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, another essential read if a similar popular anti-racism is going to emerge on this side of the Atlantic sometime soon. Of course #BlackLivesMatter didn’t emerge in a political vacuum, it connected movements that date back to the 1950s and 1960s. These connections are expertly made by one of the key Black political figures of both then and now, Angela Davis, whose new book Freedom is a Constant Struggle is an absolutely inspiring read.

MP black lives

Do the deepening fractures around race spell a new era of uprisings? Quite possibly, though their political trajectory and outcomes remain uncertain. Joshua Clover comes down firmly on the side of the optimistic reading in his new book Riot.Strike.Riot, while most wouldn’t be so sure. A handy companion volume would be Strike Art by Yates McKee which helpfully explains the protest culture created via the Occupy movement. However, doubt remains whether such moments, direct action or insurrection, can generate a positive impact beyond their own milieu or locality. Shooting Hipsters is a much-needed up-to-date account of, and practical guide to, how acts of dissent can break through into and beyond the mainstream media. And for the dark side? Mara Einstein’s Black Ops Advertising, which details the many ways in which corporate PR operations have sought to colonise social media.

MP shootinghipstersthumb

We can be inspired by history to carve out a better future from the present. A Full Life by Tom Keough and Paul Buhle uses a comic strip to illustrate the life, times and ideals of Irish rebel James Connolly. Alternatively, enjoy the extraordinary range of writing from the Spanish Civil War compiled by Pete Ayrton in No Pasaran! And Owen Hatherley’s carefully crafted The Chaplin Machine provides an insight into the aesthetic of revolution that was abroad at the time in the immediate aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, on a scale never seen before or since.

It is also a period that is recorded with considerable skill by the twice-yearly journal Twentieth Century Communism - the latest edition providing the usual thematic range, including Trotsky’s bid to live in 1930s Britain, and an outline of the basis for a cosmopolitan anti-imperialism. Of course there are plenty who would seek to bury all of this. David Aaronovitch comes to the last rites with his brilliantly written if flawed Party Animals. An entirely different perspective is provided by the hugely impressive Jodi Dean and her latest book Crowds and Party, an impassioned account of modern protest movements as the enduring case for a mass party of social and political change. Sounds familiar, trite even? Not the way Jodi argues it, mixing an acute sense of history with a vision of the future.

MP Crowds and party cover

But enjoying the here and now of a super soaraway summer perhaps demands more than the promise of a better tomorrow. My starting point for a today to look forward to usually revolves around finding a recipe for a decent supper. Plenty of these can be found in The Good Life Eatery Cookbook with a mix of good-for-you, or more importantly in this instance good-for-me recipes, temptingly delicious-looking photography, and a philosophy behind it all that reminds me of that useful maxim ‘small is beautiful.’

Of course no summer should be complete without a visit to the beach. Highly recommended reading for the sun-lounger searching for a dash of a thriller for a mental getaway is Chris Brookmyre’s latest Black Widow which, as always with Brookmyre, is dark, twisted and entertaining. And for the children? Pushkin Press do the hard work for parents, tracking down the best in European kids’ books, translating, repackaging and producing such gems as Tow-Truck Pluck from the Netherlands. The perfect holiday read for families needing to be cheered up post-Brexit.

MP Chris Brookmyre

And my book of the quarter? Food is never far from most of our minds. Summertime picnics are for the fortunate, worrying about what we eat and the impact it has on our health. For others, the spread of food banks is testament to the failure of austerity politics. Few writers could appeal to both the modern obsession with food as well as to consciences concerned with those who don’t have enough of it to get by, never mind baking off. But Josh Sutton does with his pioneering account Food Worth Fighting For. This is social history that packs a punch, while written in a style and with a focus to transform readers into fighting foodies. Brilliant, and incredibly original.

 Food rev2

 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, aka Philosophy Football. No links in this review to Amazon, if you can avoid purchasing from offshore tax dodgers please do.

Don't Tell Him Pike!
Friday, 19 February 2016 21:56

Don't Tell Him Pike!

Published in Films

Mark Perryman describes Dad’s Army as the most popular front of them all.

1968 was a tumultuous year. The Tet Offensive, the civil rights movement, the May events of ‘Paris, London, Rome, Berlin/We shall fight, we will win’ and the Prague Spring. This was also the year, 15th April to be precise, that Dad’s Army, Britain’s most loved TV comedy series, was broadcast for the very first time.

Quite remarkably almost fifty years on, never-ending repeats from the nine original series are still being broadcast as primetime Saturday night TV. Over Christmas a drama-documentary closely based on fact, We’re Doomed: The Dad’s Army Story appeared on BBC, again in primetime. And perhaps most amazing of all, Dad’s Army has been remade into a new feature film, not reinvented for a 2016 audience but recreated to be as close as possible to the original version.

That very first appearance of the Walmington-on-Sea volunteers featured Jones the butcher sabotaging any threat of a Nazi invasion by reversing the road signs ‘To the town’ and ‘To the sea’. Of course the result was obvious, a local motorcyclist stops, takes the wrong turning and off camera there is a loud splash. A comedy classic has begun.

It is easy to mock but a decisive connection is made via Dad’s Army with the Popular Front against Nazism which is ever-present amongst all the English slapstick humour. Look at the characters: the bank manager, his hard-pressed chief cashier and the most junior of junior cashiers, the butcher, the miserabilist undertaker who is an English coastline economic migrant from Scotland, the pensioner, the local ducker and diver, the vicar and verger and their precious church hall, the busybody greengrocer. What brought them all together? The defence of Britain and all it meant to them, from all that they feared Nazi rule would do in the name of hate.

Only a few years previously Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists were being cheered on by the Daily Mail ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’. Despite the best efforts of the stalwarts of Cable Street, even in the autumn of 1939 after the declaration of war, Mosley was still able to attract crowds to his ‘peace rallies’ numbering in their thousands. The mood of appeasement remained ever-present, spearheaded by the Tories’ Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax.

The middle-class, and very English, pomposity of Captain Mainwaring of 1940 is too easily confused with the nasty populism of UKIP 2016 but this is to seriously misunderstand and misrepresent what Walmington-on-Sea’s finest were all about. These were ordinary men (women, apart from Mrs Pike and Mrs Fox are almost entirely absent) doing extraordinary things and in the course of this reinventing what Britain could become. The selfless sacrifice of Mainwaring’s volunteers in the face of a Nazi Blitzkrieg that to date had laid waste to all resistance in its path is remarkable. In 1941 Hitler would launch Operation Barbarossa and do the same to any resistance in his way on the Eastern Front, until Stalingrad started the turning of the tide of course.

The sacrifice is obvious in every episode, the heroism perhaps less so, although when a washed up U-Boat Commander tries to take over their seaside town Mainwaring’s epic instruction when the Nazi demand his young private’s name ‘Don’t tell him Pike!’ creates perhaps the show’s funniest moment of all. But as well as the humour there is fierce and heroic resistance in Mainwaring’s voice and puffed-up chest: no fascist was going to push old Blighty around.

Of course class divisions remain within the platoon, as they did right across the war effort. Although it is the public-school educated Sergeant Wilson who invariably loses out in the battle of will and leadership with the grammar-school educated Captain Mainwaring. It is however on the ideological front that in the fictionalised Walmington-on-Sea and the real Britain of 1939-45 that a battle was being fought, and won. A popular mood of co-operation, the common anti-fascist cause and a wide recognition that a society led by and benefiting solely those most used to being in charge was no way to win either the war, or the peace.

All of this created the basis for Labour’s 1945 landslide including the election of two Communist Party MPs, and the electoral defeat of Churchill’s Tory Party. We’ll never know whether the Walmington-on-Sea constituency went Labour, countless similar seats certainly did, but we can be sure that for at least a time the town wasn’t the place it was pre-1939.

There is a danger in dismissing the cult of nostalgia that Dad’s Army represented both in 1968 and in today’s version that we lose the meaning of that moment. Mainwaring, Wilson, Jones, Frazer, Godfrey, Pike and Walker were in their own way the most popular Popular Front of them all.

Harking back to World War Two has created a peculiar version of English patriotism. The politics of anti-fascism are airbrushed out. The Labour victory in ‘45, despite Churchill’s wartime leadership, is scarcely mentioned. The Battle of Britain reduced to a football chant, ‘Ten German Bombers and the RAF from England shot them down’, what kind of tribute is that?

World War Two memorialising becomes translated into a petty anti-Europeanism framed by a resentment at France or most particularly Germany, being the dominant forces in European politics. Dad’s Army gives us an alternative model. Unlike that other long-running BBC comedy set in World War Two, Allo Allo, the Germans rarely make an appearance and thus their hateful fascism is never trivialised or turned into a misjudged excuse for a laugh. Mainwaring’s platoon are hopelessly funny but never a joke. The opening credits spelt out what was at stake in 1940, Britain versus the swastika making its mark across Europe. This was an anti-nazi war not England vs Germany of ’66 vintage and since.

Dad’s Army was broadcast for 9 years, 1968-1977. Its ending pre-dates the rise and triumph of Thatcherism. It was under Maggie that Europhobia, or more accurately Germanophobia, came to define the Tory Right and would eventually create the basis for Ukip’s growth too. Given Ukip’s heartland support lies in England’s left-behind coastal towns it is too easy to rewrite Walmington-on-Sea’s Mainwaring as Thatcher, or Farage, incarnate. But no, rather this was a platoon of community, common cause and if called-upon no little courage. You have been watching? The people vs. fascism.

This is an amended version of a piece first published in the Morning Star. Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football, www.philosophyfootball.com,  who have produced a range of Dad's Army tee shirts.

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