The Redskins look back on a time when first appearances meant nothing.
If you want to know how hard it is to be a musician with a conscience these days, just ask Sleaford Mods singer Jason Williamson.
When confronted during a gig in Madrid recently with a Palestinian scarf being repeatedly thrown onto the stage, he decided to finish the show early rather than make any proclamations. The (non) act saw the duo widely condemned by a series of social media avatars and a handful of fellow musicians, even after he subsequently explained their perfectly reasonable position.
Williamson’s plight showed that in the twenties there’s little room for nuanced debate, and staying on the good side of interest groups doesn’t mean agreeing with them on just one issue but herd-like, on many.
It’s hard to know how The Redskins might’ve navigated this maze of philosophical and ethical juxtapositions. Formed in 1982, even by the standards of that creatively liberal period they were outliers: Harrington-jacketed, Doc Martin-wearing skinheads in an era where by and large that look almost always meant the wearer was a right leaning nationalist.
Fronted by the motor-mouthed Yorkshireman Chris Dean, the trio were anything but, self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninists unafraid to stoke the fires of what they saw as a much-needed revolution in the face of a hard right, uncaring Tory government (unlike now though, right?).
What made them almost unique was the music they made, not in substance a furious hardcore racket but almost exclusively indebted to soul, Dean famously quipping that the band’s mission was to, ‘sing like The Supremes and walk like The Clash’.
These Furious Flames! captures both him, the band, a brass section and various special guests including The Specials’ Jerry Dammers and Billy Bragg doing what they did best: street politics but with an affection and self-deprecating humour that made a mockery of the supposed need to always preach with earnestness.
This double album is culled from two shows, a full rendition of the of climax to the 1985 ‘Kick Over Apartheid!’ tour and the second part featuring selected tracks from a gig played at London’s Town And Country Club broadcast by the BBC the year after.
The fact that 1986’s Neither Washington Nor Moscow was the only album they released whilst active is no hindrance to the breadth of what’s captured here. Picking fault, there’s a little too much time given over to Dean’s for-veterans-only banter, but the stage suits the incendiary toughness of tracks like Reds Strike The Blues, The Power Is Yours and Bring It Down, pamphlets that sound so much better than they read.
In amongst the joyous polemic Miner’s Strike standards Hold On! and Keep On Keeping On still sound picket line ready, but it’s the cover versions – Wilson Picket’s 99 And A Half Won’t Do, Tracks Of My Tears, Back In The USSR and a riotous Skinhead Moonstomp – which most eloquently underpin their mission to win hearts, feet and minds.
These Furious Flames! is a near forty-year-old aural record of a band whose energy and commitment to their causes could never be doubted. Whilst by their nature the topicality of some of these has lost gravitas over time, the trio’s sincerity is still hugely convincing. Most of all though, it’s proof that both they and the process of fighting injustice could and can still be done in an engaging, exhilarating and musically compelling way.
Who knows what the modern commentariat would make of The Redskins now, but implicitly you know that whatever it was, they wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Actions, not words, are always the spark.