Monday, 15 March 2010

The Spirit of Cable Street

"Back in '36 down at Cable Street. State and blackshirts marched but they met their fate. Workers' class hatred drove them off the street. Fascism is class war. Unite in the spirit of Cable Street. From Cable Street through the nazi wars. Workers stood their ground fighting fascism. We should learn from them that there is no passive way ..." Cornelius Cardew's The Spirit of Cable Street which he recorded with People's Liberation Music (available on the Consciously CD) makes explicit the connection between the momentous events of 1936 in Cable Street when the Jewish East End, together with local dockers and others, rose up to fight the fascist threat and the continuing struggle against racism and fascism. It carries on: "Now at Red Lion Square the people fought with bare hands. Like their parents did down at Cable Street. Keep alive the fighting spirit of Kevin Gately ..." referencing an anti-racist demonstration in 1974 to stop the National Front during which a student was killed. This was an interesting song for the pre-punk '70s. The usual career trajectory is to start out with a revolutionary fervour which fizzles out along the way. Cardew came from an academic background, studied with Stockhausen, was closely involved with the improvisers, was featured on Sonic Youth's Goodbye 20th Century,and so on. In the early '70s, however, he disowned his past: "I have discontinued composing music in an avant garde idiom for a number of reasons: the exclusiveness of the avant-garde, its fragmentation, its indifference to the real situation in the world today, its individualistic outlook and not least its class character (the other characteristics are virtually products of this)." He became more involved with Marxist/Communist politics and action until his death in 1981 when he was killed in a hit-and-run incident in east London. One of the quotes often used in relation to Cardew is one from Robert Wyatt: "If the word 'romantic' should be rescued from the whimsical sentimentalists, it is so that we could then apply it, properly, to Cornelius Cardew: a real fountain of breathtakingly adventurous music." It is easy to see similarities between the politics and work of Cardew in the '70s with what Robert Wyatt has been doing since linking up with Rough Trade at the start of the '80s ...


  1. Along similar lines there's also the excellent "The Ghosts of Cable Street" by The Men They Couldn't Hang...

  2. Who killed Cornelius Cardew?