With all the twists and turns in the build-up to the Labour Live event (problems with tickets sales, problems with attracting headliners, rows with the brewery over whether crowd numbers would justify draft beer at the bar etc. etc.) it got me reflecting on Daniel Rachel’s book about the coming together of music and left politics back in the late 70s/early-mid 80s. His book ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ covers the era of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone, Red Wedge etc – which I reviewed last year, saying:
“In terms of how well popular music and political activism can mix the main message I came away with from this book is that it can be a great force for change on particular issues at particular moments in time (Rock Against Racism, Free Nelson Mandela) but it all starts to get a bit complicated and a bit messy when you try and combine it with party politics and a long-term programme (Red Wedge).”
Looking back to these movements in the 1980s though it’s clear from the book how much more the artists were in the driving seat back then, compared to the politicians. If you are announcing a date for a festival and you’ve given far more thought to the speaking slots for the party leader and the shadow chancellor than you have to the headline music acts, it’s reasonable to predict you are likely to run into a fair few problems along the way – even if, one way or another, you manage to get a fairly reasonable crowd in the end.