The Wedding Present support the Non-Stop Picket

In July 1988 the Anti-Apartheid Movement held a vast fund-raising concert at Wembley Stadium to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday in the company of George Michael, Whitney Houston and other international stars.

The Gargoyles raising funds for City Group, June 1988 (Source: City Group)

The country’s second-largest anti-apartheid benefit concert of the year took place a month earlier at the Fridge in Brixton.  On 9 June, 1400 people gathered in Brixton to hear The Wedding Present headline a benefit for the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group.  All tickets for the gig sold-out before the doors opened.  The line up also featured The Gargoyles (two former members of The Housemartins).  Tony Smith from Radio London and Chris McHallem (at that time playing ‘Rod’ in Eastenders) D.J.’d.  The bands wore Non-Stop Picket t-shirts and encouraged their fans to join the Picket and, especially, to join the ‘Surround the Embassy’ protest planned for 16 June.  While undoubtedly many fans just turned up for the music, this was a political benefit gig and it was relatively difficult to avoid its political message.

Previously, City Group’s fundraising benefits had been quite modest affairs, mostly consisting of amateur musicians who were already associated with the group in some shape or form.  To line up one of the biggest indie bands of the time in a major music venue (rather than the auditorium of a civic building or the backroom of a pub) was a major coup for the group.  Unlike the AAM’s Wembley extravaganza, the City Group benefit was organised by young volunteers from the group rather than professional event organisers.

While the funds raised on the night were modest compared to what the Mandela birthday concert collected, they were still significant for City Group.  And, significantly, most of the profits were sent directly to South African liberation movements. In line with the group’s non-sectarian approach to solidarity, £1000 was sent to the ANC, £1000 to the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania, and £500 to the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania.  The cheques were sent with the clear indication that there were no conditions placed on what the money could be spent on (a coded consent that the funds could be used for military purposes).

Benefit gigs are strange affairs.  When organised well, they can be an effective means of raising funds for a campaigning organisation or, in the case of solidarity organisations, the groups and individuals they support.  The additional funds sent to the PAC and BCMA as a result of this gig were appreciated and needed (it is less clear whether the ANC actually ever cashed the cheque sent to them…).  I am less convinced about how effective benefits are as a means of spreading a political message to new audiences (or, more importantly, mobilizing that audience to take political action).  The Surround the Embassy protest on 16 June 1988 was large and some new people were attracted to it and the Non-Stop Picket as a result of attending the gig.  How many continued their involvement after that is open to question.  Still, this gig was a major achievement for City Group and demonstrated the reputation that the Non-Stop Picket had gathered over the previous two years.


Part of the banner produced for The Wedding Present benefit (Source: City Group)

Here is photo of part of the large banner Dominic mentions in his comments on this post.  The banner was painted originally as the backdrop for the benefit gig at the Fridge. This part of it was found, with many of the archival papers we have been analyzing for the research, in a cupboard at Larkin Publications that had not been opened for nearly twenty years.  When we discovered it we could not place it at first, as it is far larger than any of the banners produced for display on the Non-Stop Picket.

About Gavin Brown

Professor of Political Geography and Sexualities University of Leicester
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5 Responses to The Wedding Present support the Non-Stop Picket

  1. I have a couple of things to say. First off there’s a clutch of related ephemera here:

  2. One detail that I remember was this. We made a new banner on the roof of Richard’s apartment block for the Brixton show. The painting was of Hector Peterson being carried through Soweto after he had been shot down. My friend Dan did the painting. He’s quite a well-known artist now. Anyway, as part of the materials for that we had some red paint which the bloke at Fads over the road had written “Dominic” on the lid of. I don’t remember why exactly, I think it was because it was his name and there was some question of whether the red would need to be remixed if it wasn’t quite right or something. Whatever it was it wasn’t because my name was also “Dominic”. Anyway we didn’t use that much red paint so the can stayed under the kitchen sink for some months afterwards.

    Fast forward about 8 or 9 months. Me and another city group member were arrested at the time of Viraj Mendis’ deportation and charged with “conspiracy to cause criminal damage to the Sri Lankan High Commission”. It was a quite absurd experience. We were stopped on the way to a party. They were saying over the police radio that they were looking for 6 to 8 people with Manchester accents in a van so it was a bit surprising that they decided to nick two people with London accents on a motorbike. Our clothes were confiscated and so I was led up Camden High Street in a paper suit and handcuffs like it was a Woody Allen film or something and the flat was raided. Among the flyers and books that they decided to confiscate was the tin of red paint with “Dominic” on it.

    We were held for three days at Paddington Green. During one of the interrogations the cops asked me about the tin of paint. I said that it had been used for painting a banner for an anti-apartheid benefit the previous summer. They then asked straight away “Was that the Nelson Mandela birthday concert at Wembley?” I was sort of dumbfounded. The whole thing felt like a sort of Terry Gilliam meets Jim Ballard kind of set-up. I couldn’t begin to compute how they were connecting this innocent tin of paint which apparently had my name on it with both a conspiracy and a bigass AAM event which I had nothing to do with. I said “no comment” which of course I should have said all along but said now mainly because the words to untangle their faulty connectivity quite simply did not exist.

    There’s a picture of the banner here:

  3. What else? Somewhere in the storeroom/attic i have a folder of stuff related to that event. It’s sort of hard to know what’s relevant and what’s not. I don’t think all the tickets were sold out before the night but certainly most of them were. The event made i think £4152 after costs and the tickets were i think £6.50 and £4. I think it was about 1200 people all told, including 100-200 industry freeloaders and shitbag hipsters who just had to be there come what may. The event was pretty much as political as you could make a fundraising music show I think. Like you, I’m not sure what difference it would have made to long-term numbers of activists but it certainly swelled the ranks of the June 16th anniversary of the Soweto uprisings the following week, which proved to be the biggest Soweto Day event during the years we were outside South Africa House. Both happenings, the benefit show and the June 16th Surround the Embassy event were well covered in the music press and on the radio, which was kind of a first really, we were almost kind of mainstream there for a moment.

    The thing really happened because in the summer of 1986 I met Grapper from the Wedding Present when he came down to the picket and expressed interest in doing a benefit. I was kind of quite quiet in those days and relatively new to the NSP so I didn’t do much about it. They were a C86 band of course and I was a bit impressed to be honest. Some time later Helen said to me why not do a benefit with them and so I wrote to them and the whole thing just sort of auto-arranged itself, not least because by then the Wedding Present were kind of quite huge in the twilight demi-monde of indie music. Genesis P-Orridge of Psychic TV was keen to do a benefit too but we went with the Wedding Present first and later GPO had to leave the country in a hurry. I first asked Charine to compere it and later Richard agreed to do it. The Radio London DJ and Rod from Eastenders basically volunteered themselves and Helen got the Gargoyles who were pretty awesome indeed. In fact i think your photo is of the Gargoyles’ singer who’s name temporarily escapes me, not Ted or Hugh, the other one. Eddie maybe. A bit later me and Daniel met up with Grapper again and he was very pleased to hear that the PAC had said that they had put their money towards the armed struggle, Scorpion machine pistols I think.

    The whole thing was pretty exhilarating really, especially as compared with being regularly arrested and assaulted by those asshat cops from Cannon Row and the legions of tedious cab drivers shouting “Get a job!” when in fact I had a job but wasn’t completely certain that that meant it was alright for me to demonstrate but unemployed comrades were maybe chancing it or something.

    The later connection with the Viraj Mendis conspiracy that never happened, and the bigass AAM Mandela concert at Wembley that wasn’t actually connected either, meant new lessons too. The Daily Telegraph decided to report that me and the other City Group member had been arrested because of this conspiracy. My dear auld dad was a bit shocked to be shown this news piece by his boss who had read it in the Telegraph and it sort of coloured things for a while. Of course the Telegraph didn’t publish anything about it when all the charges were dropped but what can you do about that?

  4. Oh and Norma K ran the bookstall at the Fridge that night. She later said to Carol that the music was like “a sophisticated form of torture”.

  5. Pingback: Surrounding the South African Embassy (to remember the Soweto Uprising) | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

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