Red Saunders | Rock Against Racism, 1970s

By Paul Wright | 17 April 2020, 15:20pm

As a founder of the Rock Against Racism movement in the 1970s Red Saunders was a key player behind the gigs and festivals that inspired a generation of musicians and activists.

Rock Against Racism was a grassroots political and cultural movement that emerged as a reaction to the rise of the far right and the increasing number of racist attacks in the UK. It came to life in August, 1976, shortly after Eric Clapton’s infamous drunken rant in support of Enoch Powell at the Birmingham Odeon.

Red, along with a group of likeminded freinds wrote to the NME to express their anger and disgust against Clapton.

“Come on Eric.. Own up, half your music is black… P.S. Who shot the Sheriff, Eric? It sure as hell wasn’t you!”

At the end of the letter, they called for people to help form Rock Against Racism and received hundreds of replies from likeminded fans, who recognised the hypocrisy and wanted to proclaim the black roots of the music they loved.

Music that breaks down people’s fear of one another

Over six years between 1977-1983 RAR organised over five hundred gigs up and down the country, as well as the national carnivals organised in conjunction with the Anti Nazi League. Hundreds of thousands came onto the streets to march and unite against racism and the National Front, with bands such as The Clash, X-Ray Spex, Buzzcocks and Steel Pulse, all appearing at events throughout the country.

Carnival Against The Nazis Poster. 1978.

As well as the large outdoor festivals, many RAR gigs took place at more intimate venues across the UK, attracting many great politically engaged artists and bands. The Members, John Cooper-Clarke, Sham 69 and Misty in Roots all performed to a diverse and fired up audience. It was music that broke down people’s fear of each other, and two fingers up to the institutional rasism that was embedded in British society.

Already a working photographer for the Sunday Times Magazine prior to founding Rock Against Racism – Red was happy to capture the many gigs and events for the RAR fanzine Temporary Hoarding that was sold at the gigs up and down the country.

After an arson attack at the Stoke Newington studio ‘Four Walls’ in 1993 Red unfortunately lost a great body of his work dating back to the 1960s. Red is currently working through what remains of his archive and documenting them on his Instagram page

Red Saunders Gallery

Moss Side, Manchester, 1978. Taken around the time of the Northern Carnival at Alexandra Park. Photo © Red Saunders.
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Moss Side, Manchester, 1978. Taken around the time of the Northern Carnival at Alexandra Park. Photo © Red Saunders.
Moss Side, Manchester, 1978. Taken around the time of the Northern Carnival at Alexandra Park. Photo © Red Saunders.
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Fans get down the front. RAR Cambridge. 1978. Photo © Red Saunders.
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Audience for punk band 999. RAR 1978. Photo © Red Saunders.
Fans Backstage 1977. Photo © Red Saunders.
Fans Backstage, 1977. Photo © Red Saunders.
Punk band 999 on stage. Photo © Red Saunders.
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Stage invasion during a gig as fans surround Members singer Nicky Tesco. Royal College of Art, London, 1977. Photo © Red Saunders.
The Members. Photo © Red Saunders.
Crowd for The Members. Photo © Red Saunders.
Sham 69, 1978. Photo © Red Saunders.
Red’s freind and RAR co founder Pete Bruno selling Temporary Hoarding at The Albany, South London. Photo © Red Saunders.
DMs & Strides. Photo © Red Saunders.

Red Saunders is a professional photographer who combines his photographic practice with cultural,artistic, musical, and political activism.

Find out more about Red’s work on his website.

Follow Red Saunders on Instagram

Listen to our Rock Against Racism Spotify Playlist here

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