By Ben Pensant
It may come as a surprise to younger leftists, but there was a time when socialism and fun went hand in hand. Yes, really. Indeed, as anyone lucky enough to have been part of the burgeoning activist scene of early ’90s Newcastle will recall, a commitment to fairness, equality, and mass subordination wasn’t always synonymous with having a face liked a slapped arse.
Of course, these days progressives have no choice but to be as miserable as sin, as the relentless onslaught of right-wing nastiness leaves little room for bonhomie. And it wasn’t a hell of a lot better thirty years ago but at least we had people like Bob Sanderson around, bringing hope, warmth, and unabashed joy to action-packed speeches on the New England Shoemakers’ strike of 1760.
But it wasn’t just Bob’s natural charm and ready wit that brought happiness to the eager young militants who hung in his every word. He also had a deep affinity with youth culture, having been a key figure in the punk movement until he was excommunicated from the scene after an unfortunate tour bus misunderstanding involving Slits vocalist Viv Libertine. Sadly, such false accusations would follow Bob throughout his career, but it would take more than right-wing hawks planting jars of Rohypnol in his dungarees to curb Bob’s passion for music and politics.
Luckily for us, he brought that passion with him when he made the journey north and launched one of his most brilliant creations: the annual NBIS Socialist Jamboree, a mind-bending fusion of pop, culture, pop culture, and politics. And as heard in the seminal speech below, on a balmy summer night in 1992 he unveiled exciting plans for the biggest and most ambitious jamboree yet. It was also my very first one, and if you listen very carefully you can hear audible moans of teenage excitement as Bob announces the line-up.
It was a night few will forget, not least the hundred-odd attendees who demanded refunds after none of the bands they’d paid to see turned up. Indeed, there was inevitable disappointment among music fans who’d arrived expecting to see energetic agit-pop sensations Sensor tear through a set of lively rap-metal bangers but were instead treated to local drone rock trio Cowfuck playing the same bum-note on a variety of broken power tools for two hours straight. (Cowfuck would split up straight after this show following a drug-fuelled argument over creative differences and stolen pillows, which made this seminal set all the more special for the four of us who managed to stay awake long enough to hear the spontaneous key change in the 118th minute.)
Alas, the smattering of no-shows were due to issues beyond Bob’s control, such as weather, transport, and his failure to book any actual bands. But it was also clear that with the hated criminal justice bill looming, sinister forces were attempting to sabotage the jamboree, the same sinister forces that would later blame Bob for pocketing the takings when it was obvious to everyone who read his fifteen page newsletter that the money was eaten up by the administrative costs incurred printing off thousands of flyers for bands who had more chance of playing on Mars than a lentil-stained stage in Byker.
But the jamboree was never just about the music, despite being advertised as exactly that. Indeed, much like the moon landing hoax or that time Zionists in fake beards crashed those jets into the Twin Trade Centre, everyone remembers where they were when they heard that incendiary fraggle-rockers Senseless Thing would not be appearing but local performance artist Sylvia Platt had kindly agreed to fill in with an avant garde interpretation of the collected works of Andrea Dawkins performed in total silence using sign language. On stilts. And no-one will forget what they were doing when Sylvia fell headfirst off the stilts, not least the elderly labrador who broke her fall.
Luckily, such bad luck failed to ruin the night, and it ended on a high note when popular UK hip-hop crew The Credit to the Nations became the first and last of the advertised acts to actually appear. Their set thrilled at least a third of the remaining twenty audience members, though the part-timers who’d left early missed a treat, as The Credits delivered a spellbinding show of experimental new material, none of which had been previously performed. Or, apparently, rehearsed.
Needless to say, despite the open mouthed awe and shock of those who witnessed the gig, it didn’t take long for a scurrilous rumour to spread: The Credits hadn’t actually played, the band providing the industrial beats were two pissed former members of Cowfuck wearing clown trousers, and the hyperactive frontman rapping, body popping, and generally owning the stage like a pro was not Credits MC Little Credits Bloke but Bob himself crudely daubed in makeshift blackface. Vile.
As you’d expect, this depressingly inevitable lie was backed up with ridiculous circumstantial evidence such as his inability to rap, the fact that he was three feet taller than Little Credits Bloke, and the way excessive perspiration caused by some over-exuberant breakdancing had caused boot polish to melt all over his microphone. Such laughably bad faith attempts to smear Bob weren’t worth entertaining, and neither was the cynical claim that the real Credits were playing a packed show in Brixton that night. The ’90s right would do anything to fit up decent men trying to make a difference. Sound familiar?
But those of us who were actually there know the truth, no matter how much the naysayers whined about Little Credits Bloke’s bold artistic choice to infuse every track with lyrics from Hello John Got a New Motor? and My Uncle Billy Had a Ten Foot Willy. And as you’ll hear in the clip below, the palpable sense of excitement generated by Bob’s passion and enthusiasm had little to do with the musical superstars he promised would appear but didn’t. It was Bob’s very essence which made the jamboree so special, not dreadlocked greboes or disc-spinning Islamists. And if you don’t believe me, why not press ‘play’, pour yourself a glass of warm cider, and spend a little time in that long gone era when putting a smile on a young person’s face was just as important as beating them up if they voted Tory.
If Marxism be the food of love, play on…
Recorded and edited by John Egdell.