On the English Defence League, Priests, and the Johnny Moped film

I spent today on the floor of a squat cutting out photographs, listening to riot vans speeding up Cable Street. It is 2013. I got asked to show some stuff by way of archive material of gigs I had put on, and a zine I put together entitled Space/Punk. Made Possible By Squatting is a week-long exhibition in a squatted space, which sits in area that’s both the bleeding heartland of aggressive gentrification and also important place for radical history, and what is now known as the The battle of Cable Street. In 1936 when the local community created barricades to stop fascists from their planned march and the police from enabling them, there were 250,000 people on the street, rotting vegetable missiles, kidnapped officers.

This act of disobedience has gone down in history, the subject of murals, blue heritage area plaques, somehow a founding act of community solidarity. Yet eighty years on, I am sat on the floor of this huge empty building installing the show watching riot van after riot van go down the very same street, on the day that the modern-day equivalent, the English Defence League, have chosen the same area for their march (protesting the existence of Muslims instead of Jews this time) and have been enabled by the police and the state, who do not see the irony in allowing a march that sees beered up sunburnt men in pig masks singing ‘English Til I Die Muzzies Out’ as less of a threat than the people who live on these streets and their neighbouring ones coming out to say NOPE. Instead, they permit a stationary rally in a park for organised liberal anti-fascists, who are secretly briefed that any deviation will result in mass arrests. These people stand and speak platitudes, distorting the meaning of community by orating from a stage about cohesion while fascists march freely through adjacent streets.

A large group of Antifa and similarly minded young people decide this won’t do and break away from the park to confront the march. No violence, no molotovs, no criminal damage, yet they are pursued and ‘kettled’ by riot police in their hundreds for four hours. This involves being penned into a small area of road, subject to batons and tasers if necessary, until a fleet of pre-booked busses arrived to systematically arrest every single person inside the cordon, including pregnant women, under 18s and people who live on the street that they are now trapped in. 286 Antifa arrestees are bussed to the outer boroughs of the city and held without charge for up to 24 hours, with all posessions seized, fingerprints taken. Then they are released into the night, their bail conditions are simply not to attend any protests held by the English Defence League, British National Party or English Volunteer Force (i.e. the key organised fascist groups in this country.) The message from the state and the police is leave the fascists in peace, the message for young people who had never been on a protest before is that you will be beaten, trapped and bussed to the back of beyond all for standing on your own doorstep not wanting racists to march down your street. Perhaps most horrendous of all is that the message from the liberal anti-fascist groups including the UAF (union of anti-fascists) is that they permit and encourage only ineffectual ‘protest’ i.e. standing in a park and letting fascists march by, but not direct action or confrontation, that despite lauding the Battle of Cable Street as the high point of community resistance, they themselves endorse a police strategy of mass arrest of anti-fascists. What the fuck is going on times infinity.


This month I accidentally went to the ‘friends and family’ screening of a film about Johnny Moped, relatively marginal British (well, Croydonian) punk group. The film, directed by Fred Burns, son of Captain Sensible of The Damned and Rachel Bor of Dolly Mixture no less, is such a great watch.  A band of school boy errors and Johnny, who describes himself as ‘82% disabled’ land haphazardly, freshly shorn, at ground zero: the Roxy. It’s all light trails and colanders affixed to heads, babyfaced major players (oh isn’t that Steve Jones, Shane Macgowan?) pogoing in the back, total new oblivion. The Mopeds never did quite ‘make it big’ by the standards of the day, certainly not compared to their original guitarist Chrissy Hynde, whose interview in the film is pretty sour, a good example of how not to ingraciously discuss the past when you became ultra-famous and your former band mates are still on the dole in Croydon, full-time carers for elderly wives. The best bit of the film is the Super 8 footage of ‘The Generator tour’ where the remaining members of the band that hadn’t thrown themselves under trains or joined the Damned hired a van and parked up outside venues they hadn’t been booked at, and played INSIDE it on a series of dates around the country. Magical. Sonically, Johnny Moped plied an oddball trade in staccato pub-rock power chordisms shot through with solos; that sped up twelve bar blues nicely addled by an equal amount of pints. All this was catapulted into the realms of the bizarre, the ridiculous, the totally sublime by frontman Johnny himself, a splenetic sometimes screeching, sometimes growling avant savant who, as Billy Childish puts it in the film ‘looks like he’d been dressed by his Mum.’  I’d never given this band much time but now I can’t stop listening.


Ben came back from America with spots in his eyes. He’s fallen in love with Lumpy. Part punk, part tumescent cone-headed slime ball with a taste for meat, Lumpy is a freak. Slithering his way out from underneath the hot, wet sewers of Belleville, Illinois, Lumpy has been furiously pumping out agitated, feedback drenched punk for just over a year like a viral bacterium of the freak-punk ecosystem, having found the dump to his lump to complete the one-man band it began as. Tapes upon tapes of dirty, whacked out hit-your-head-on-the-wall hardcore have since emerged from the Spotted Race staple. Sideswipe your dinner, laugh at your dog, Lumpy forever! Shit rules. You can’t spell slime without ME.


So I tried to write about Priests once already in this column but I managed to fuck up somehow and submitted only two names: Lana Del Rey, Lillian Helman, two women that are the subject, in part, of two Priests songs, which is not nearly illuminating enough. This band stood out in a weekend (Ladyfest Philadelphia) where everything felt of impossibly great quality, which is saying something. It may be because in this world of easy access to everything, I had, once again, never heard of Priests and felt totally blindsided by their set. It was evident from the first song that each member seemed to have an almost psychic connection, beaming internal confidence. True fact: I have on principle never had cause to compare a band to Bikini Kill before but I am about to do that right now, NOT because I think its like the highest honour ever, but just because something about Priests honestly speaks to that corporeal buzz and howl of what (I imagine) BK were actually were like when they played live, not as they have been translated since or written into whatever suitable history, lazy comparison etc. There is a lot lot lot more going on here though, and this is total now punk, no rehash, It’s that initial danceable lurch exploding into propulsive possibilities, the open mouthed scream that’s still in perfect tune, the leg-shake as revolutionary praxis, that bass delivery that makes you go a bit woozy. The United States is a cruel lie. All these elements coming together in a way that is borderline transcendental in effect and this is a group you need to fall to your knees and sign your allegiance to pronto stat.

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