It's 1981 and as Britain burned in a series of inner city riots Norwich police swoop into action:
Above is a balanced piece from the Eastern Evening News. To the left is an article from "The Paper" a North Norfolk publication modelled on the Waveney Clarion. It was made by Bernie Phillips, my old school teacher and guru. Below is an account by Rod Earle from his book "Convict Criminology."
Back in England a few weeks later, punk fanzines fizzle and pop with protest against the Thatcher government and everything it represents. Calls to all kinds of action are in the air. A new Irish band, U2, are on tour promoting their first album, Boy. In January 1981 they play Norwich University where I get backstage with the ‘editor’ of a local fanzine that I print. Dubliner Paul Hewson, or Bono as he has decided to let himself be called, is becoming a star, a spokesman for a generation that doesn’t want one.My editor friend tells me that Bono and The Edge – the guitarist David Evans – have agreed to a short interview. I want to know what Bono/Hewson thinks, and will say, about the recent hunger strike in Long Kesh prison. About the war in Ireland. When we meet he mutters evasively and defensively that he can see we are both people who care deeply about our world, and then my friend leads Bono away before I lose him his chance of an interview. The fanzine is called Final Straw, aptly enough as it turns out. Disgusted with Bono’s interview platitudes, his rock pretensions and appetite for stardom, I determine a response, asking the ‘editor’ if I can put a page of graphics in the fanzine. Using a crude collage of lurid text alongside images I have found of the Pentagon grafted onto the head of a boiler-suited worker, I craft my riposte to Bono and everything he represents.I include an anarchist symbol, mention something about death culture, banks that are like vampires. Then that petrol emotion kicks in, and I provide the recipe for a Molotov cocktail, suggesting suitable targets – banks, the unemployment office, McDonald’s. Burn and run, like in Belfast. It’s about six lines of crudely typed, roughly pasted lines of text, over a slightly obscure but striking image of the military–industrial complex’s colonisation of our souls. It probably takes me less than an hour, but will shape my future.In March Bobby Sands begins the second hunger strike in Long Kesh prison to demand the restoration of prisoner’s political status and derail the British government’s criminalisation strategy.In April, the fanzine pages printed, I hand them over to the ‘editor’ to staple together and distribute. I hitch down to London to visit my sisters, one in Brixton, the other in Finsbury Park. It’s an uneventful weekend, or so I think until I turn on the telly. I’m in Finsbury Park, just back from Brixton and Brixton is on the evening news.There’s burning.And looting. Four years after the Sex Pistols mere anarchy is loosed upon the UK.The centre cannot hold. No-one appears to know why.The next day I hitch back to Norwich and drop into the radical bookshop I’ve helped to set up over the last couple of years. My friends there are agitated. They’ve been raided and tell me that the police are looking for me. The local paper got hold of a copy of the fanzine and called the police about my collage. It didn’t go down well with the news on TV. The police have seized all the copies of Final Straw from the local shops, and want to interview me.The next morning at dawn they arrive at my home and arrest me. About nine months later I am charged with Incitement to Commit Criminal Damage by Fire – it’s arson by another name. And slowly the wheels of justice turn until I am convicted and sentenced to three months in prison.I should probably be grateful, the maximum sentence is ‘life’ and until then I thought that mortification was what happened when you said that ‘Take Me to the River’ was Talking Head’s best song, and then someone told you it was Al Green’s. And you didn’t even know who Al Green was.In Ireland Bobby Sands and nine other young men die slow, unimaginably horrible deaths in prison as Margaret Thatcher consolidates her hold over the political imagination in Britain.
GUNS OF BRIXTON, BABYLON’S BURNING!The gun pointing at me is held by a teenager. It is almost as big as he is. The whole thing is faintly ridiculous and terrifying. Although he is younger than me, still distinctly boy-ish, the gun is very real and loaded. I can see his finger on the trigger, his hand steady, his eyes not. He is scared and so am I. A small group of us have marched up to the gates of a large British army fort squatting on Andersonstown Road in West Belfast. We are carrying our banners and shouting ‘troops out!’. The local Irish guys with us cannot believe we have got so close to the fort without being warned off. As we push our luck and advance on the small group of soldiers, including the teenager, they are ordered back into the fort. We carry on shouting, beating on the corrugated iron walls for added effect.The next day I get my second close-up view of a gun. It is a pistol, held up in the air in the middle of a crowd of cheering men, women and children. The speeches have just finished, the rally commemorating the introduction in 1971 of internment without trial is almost over. Just behind me there is a commotion and then there he is – balaclava pulled slightly awry over one eye, a plastic gloved hand waving the gun aloft. The clinical glove surprises me almost as much as the gun. No prints, no forensics. The crowd begin to chant ‘I–I–IRA! I–I–IRA!’ and next to me a man lifts his young son up over his shoulders for a better view. The mood is ecstatic. Nervously, I take a couple of hasty pictures, but no one minds. It’s a show of force, it’s for the cameras as much as the crowd. Later, in the customary riots that gather around the street bonfires, plastic bullets are fired as the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army try to reclaim streets that are clearly not theirs. It’s scary but exciting.