Off to the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham last Monday for the showing of this film. The event was organised by the RMT Union’s Black and Ethnic Minority Members Advisory Committee. The introduction was by General Secretary, Bob Crowe.
So! A righteous trinity of black culture, Bernie “The youths around here believe the police were to blame for what happened on Sunday and what they got was a bloody good hiding” Grant, and Bob Crowe – an unreconstructed old school socialist. The sort of thing to have Daily Mail readers fuming with rage.
Bob referred to us all as “comrades”, which I liked. The ultra-leftist in me writes him off as a highly paid union bureaucrat, but to give him his due he seems solidly unbothered by spin and PR which is quite refreshing these days. Plus he has blatantly got a good deal for RMT members, so fair play. Comrade Bob set the scene about immigration to the UK and the role that black people played in working on the railways, tubes and buses. as well as the part that trade unions have played in combating racism.
The film itself was much better than I expected – it told the history of Ska, but focused mainly on the early soundsystems in London from the 1950s onwards. I’ve touched on some of this in my article for the forthcoming issue of Datacide, but it was great to hear the story first hand for a change. Vin, Suckle and Vego were all in fine voice (especially Vego with his rockstone tones). They told their stories of coming to London and slowly building up their sounds so that people could have somewhere to come and socialise and dance.
The recollections of blues dances and early clubs like the Roaring Twenties in Carnaby Street (first reggae night in the West End, attended by all the celebs of the day!) were a joy. Context was provided by Don (yawn) Letts and Jerry Dammers amongst others. There was even a fleeting cameo appearance from Spirit…
Duke Vin and The Birth of Ska is a nice counterpart to the Story of Lovers Rock – it’s great to see some quality documentation of the hidden recesses of bass culture. Hopefully someone will take them up for distribution so that they get the audiences they deserve.