Friday, September 12, 2008

Britons never, never, never shall be slaves


Rather than joining in with Rule Britannia at Saturday's Last Night of the BBC Proms I will be listening to Vernon Handley's recording of Malcolm Arnold's Fourth Symphony. There has not been a performance of an Arnold symphony at the Proms since 1994, but his Fourth has a certain relevance to the Last Night 'celebrations'. Here is Sir Malcolm writing in a 1971 article:

The year of my Fourth Symphony, 1960 was also the year of the Notting Hill race riots*, and I was appalled that such a thing could happen in this country. The fact that racial ideas have become increasingly strong in this country dismays me even more. In my Fourth Symphony I have used very obvious West Indian and African percussion instruments and rhythms, in the hope, first, that it sounds well, and second, that it might help to spread the idea of racial integration.
* Sir Malcolm has confused his dates. The Fourth was premiered in 1960, the riots were in 1958.


Notting Hall is more than a slushy film starring Hugh Grant. The race riots took place there almost exactly fifty years ago, from 30th August to 5th September, 1958. Here is the story as told in Andrew Marr's excellent A History of Modern Britain:

Into (Notting Hill) poured a crowd first of tens, and then of hundreds of white men, armed first with sticks, knives, iron railings and bicycle chains, and soon with petrol-bombs too. They were overwhelmingly young, mostly from nearby areas of London, and looking for trouble. They began by picking on small groups of blacks caught out on the streets, beating them and chasing them. They then moved to black-occupied houses and began smashing windows.

The crowds swelled until they were estimated at more than 700 strong, whipped up by the occasional fascist agitator, but much more directed by local whites. Racists songs and chants of 'Niggers Out', the smash of windows - though some local whites protected and even fought for their black neighbours, this was mob violence of a kind Britain thought it had long left behind. It shrunk away again partly as a result of black men making a stand, and fighting back with petrol bombs.

There were 140 arrests, mainly of white youths, and though far-right parties continued to organize in the area, there was no discernible electoral impact, or indeed any more serious trouble. The huge press coverage ensured, however, that Britain when through its first orgy of nation introspection about its liberalism and its immigration policy, while overseas racists regimes such as those of South Africa and Rhodesia mocked the hand-wringing British.



Now read about the Berlin Philharmonic's first black conductor.
Photos are from Crying all the way to the fish shop which also has downloads of related rock music. Note that the photo locations are not identified and may not be of the Notting Hill Riots, they are however of race riots in Britain in the same period. Quotes from The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold by Paul R.W. Jackson (ISBN 189283810) and A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr (ISBN 9780330439831). Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

3 comments:

JW said...

Fascinating. This incident is virtually unknown in the states. Thank you for this wonderfully textured background to Arnold's symphony. I will listen to it with fresh ears.

Pliable said...

Email received:

Hello Bob, What a fascinating connection between Malcolm Arnold's Fourth Symphony and the issue of racial integration in Britain! I am very pleased to alert my readers to your post:

http://africlassical.blogspot.com/2008/09/malcolm-arnold-composed-his-fourth.html

Best wishes,
Bill

Pliable said...

I listened to Malcolm Arnold's Fourth Symphony while writing this post, and I was reminded again of the tremendous power of this virtually unknown work.

Giving the current popularity of Shostakovich's symphonies, with which it can be compared without apology, I am at a loss to explain why Arnold's Fourth is not better known.

The parallel between Arnold and Shostakovich is not a fanciful one. The two great men met when Arnold visited Russia as the representative of the UK Musician's Union. Communist party member Dimitri Kabalevsky also had to be present at these meetings to make sure the two bad-boys of 20th century music didn't misbehave.

http://www.overgrownpath.com/2006/03/shostakovich-and-strictly-come-dancing.html