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West Runton Pavilion 1979

By Syd Shelton, Photographer

In 1976 in the midst of the first great recession since the Second World War racism in Britain was becoming 'normalised' with the Black and White Minstrel show on prime time Saturday night TV. Black, Asian and Irish people regularly used as the butt of dumb jokes from a stream of comedians, racist attacks and murders were on the increase and the Fascist National Front was gaining an electoral foothold.

Young people dancing at Southall Carnival1979
Southall Carnival1979 © Syd Shelton

Red Saunders and the start of  Rock Against Racism

Eric Clapton's racist tirade at his Birmingham concert was too much for photographer Red Saunders (one of the founders of RAR) he wrote to the music press calling for "a rank and file movement called Rock Against Racism to fight the racist poison". He ended the letter "Who shot the Sheriff, Eric? Cos it sure as hell wasn't you" The response was phenomenal and hundreds of people replied in the first week. I met Red in these early days and got involved firstly as an activist and secondly as a photographer and graphic designer.

Punks and Rock Against Racism co-founder Red Saunders at West Runton Pavilion, Cromer 1979.
Red Saunders (right) Rock Against Racism co-founder and Militant Entertainment Tour Master of Ceremonies © Syd Shelton

The Militant Entertainment Tour

After the success of the big RAR carnivals in London and Manchester in 1978 we'd decided we wanted to do a sort of RAR road show called 'The Militant Entertainment Tour' taking bands all around the country to different venues.

Specials Fans. Rock Against Racism/Anti Nazi League Carnival Against the Nazis, Potternewton Park Leeds 1981.
Specials Fans. Rock Against Racism/Anti Nazi League Carnival Against the Nazis, Potternewton Park Leeds 1981 © Syd Shelton

The end of the earth

The West Renton Pavilion was the third gig on the tour with The Ruts, The Gang of Four and Misty in Roots.

I had no idea where Cromer was, but I'd volunteered to drive one of the vans from London. It was an old VW Kombi filled with copies of our magazine, Temporary Hoarding, camera gear, lights and a load of other equipment. When we arrived all we could see was a massive shed near the beach - no people, no queue for tickets. We thought we'd arrived at the end of the earth and that this was going to be the party, which no one turned up to. The bands started to arrive, we set up the PA and they did their sound checks but still there were still no punters. Then suddenly it was like the cavalry had arrived - a fleet of double-decker buses came round the headland with the entire audience.

Members of the bands Dambala and Misty in Roots with Tom Robinson perform in the finale Jam of the Militant Entertainment Tour, Alexandra Palace London 1979.
Members of the bands Dambala and Misty in Roots with Tom Robinson perform in the finale Jam of the Militant Entertainment Tour, Alexandra Palace London 1979. © Syd Shelton

Getting the shot

I was near the front when I saw the girl in fishnets climb up on to the stage and take up that reclining pose between two monitors. It was one of those adrenaline-driven moments when nothing matters apart from getting the shot. So I climbed over everyone's heads and dragged myself on to the stage in front of the Ruts lead singer, Malcolm Owen. I had my two Nikons around my neck and a big old Norman flash and it just went pop. A second later I was in the air and then on my back in the middle of the audience. The bouncer had thrown me off the stage. I still have those cameras and one of them has a big dent from that night.

Photographer Syd Shelton standing next to a wall mounted print of a photo of punk fans at the front of the stage at Rock Against Racism gig in Cromer in 1979
Photographer Syd Shelton © Syd Shelton

I remember the long drive back to London through the night thinking about that shot and I went straight to the darkroom to process the film.

Punk fans at West Runton Pavilion, Cromer, Norfolk 1979. Militant Entertainment Tour.
Fans were bussed in from Norwich to the West Runton Pavilion gig, Cromer, Norfolk, 1979. © Syd Shelton

Recently the New York Times ran a review of the Autograph ABP touring exhibition, 'Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism' and one of the images they used was the West Runton shot. A New Yorker saw the review and was convinced that the only black person in the image was his sister so he contacted her and she confirmed that it is her - she is Aissandra Cummings and is director of the National Museum of Barbados.

Black and white photo of bass player of The Clash performing to a large outdoor crowd. Photo taken from behind with the bass player mostly in silhouette.
The Clash performing in Victoria Park, April 30 1978 © Syd Shelton
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