Flashback: The Clash Rock Against Racism in 1978 - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: The Clash Rock Against Racism in 1978

Watch the punk legends play ‘White Riot’ at Victoria Park

In August 1976 a heavily intoxicated Eric Clapton blurted out some very unfortunate remarks onstage at the Birmingham Odeon in England. “England is overcrowded,” he said. “I think we should send them all back.” He went on to add that England was in danger of becoming a “black colony.” Around the same time, David Bowie caused an even greater uproar when he shared some surprising political beliefs. “I believe very strongly in fascism,” he told Playboy. “The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that’s hanging foul in the air. . .is a right-wing totally dictatorial tyranny. . .Rock stars are fascists, too. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.”

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Bowie’s comments were also chemically induced and at least partially tongue-in-cheek, but they coincided with the rise of the openly racist National Front political party in England and many left-leaning people in the country started to get very concerned, especially when they saw more and more punk rockers walking around with swastikas on their shirts. They decided to fight this disturbing new force in England by forming Rock Against Racism. 

The grassroots political organization held a massive concert April 30th, 1978 at London’s Victoria Park. The Clash — who had only released a single album at this point — were the headliners. They shared the bill with Buzzcocks, Steel Pulse, the Ruts and many others. It was the Clash’s first major outdoor show. Here’s video of their performance of “White Riot.”

“I’m glad we did the anti-Nazi rally because it was important,” said Clash bassist Paul Simonon. “But it was a bit off-putting with all these hippies wandering about with a giant bucket, going, ‘Put your money in here!’ and shaking it all around. We wanted to make the left seem more glamorous because at the time it was all hippies.”


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