Julia Mason tells us why she loves an album which shows The Left have all the best tunes
I was in a second-hand record store last year in Dunbar, East Lothian and I found a 7” vinyl of Keep on, Keeping On! by The Redskins. It re-ignited my love for a band who were sadly short-lived but who were about so much more than music. Lead singer and guitarist Chris Dean once claimed that his ambition was to have his band “sing like The Supremes and walk like The Clash”. I believe he achieved it.
“Lets get this situation sorted out...”, the opening lyrics of their one and only album Neither Washington Nor Moscow..., still give me goosebumps after all these years. Released in 1986 they created an album which absolutely stands the test of time. Indeed tracks such as Kick Over The Statues! turned out to be prophetic over 30 years later when we saw the tearing down of symbols of colonial power. Interestingly the band wanted to release this track at the same time for an anti-apartheid tour as a benefit single. Their label at the time, Decca refused, so they stole their own master tapes and gave them to independent label Abstract to release with all royalties donated to South African Trade Unionists and The ANC.
The Redskins formed in York in 1982 with Chris Dean (vocals/guitar), Martin Hewes (bass/backing vocals) and Nick King (drums). They were borne out of the stark ideology of Thatcherism which had created a politicised music scene. The first track on the album The Power Is Yours is a look back at the miners' strike. Dean and Hewes were members of the Socialist Workers Party and politics guided the music created by The Redskins.
Go Get Organised! and It Can Be Done demonstrate the combination of activism and collectivism, with a positive view to how this can lead to creativity and faith in the future. The latter track has one of the most soulful openings, and the brass section is captivating. Bring It Down had a more funky vibe, and was their only top forty hit. Remember this is pre-Spotify when the charts meant something to us music lovers and was based only on vinyl sales. Final track Lean On Me is a northern soul ode to workers' solidarity. A joyous end to an album whose themes are as relevant today as they were in the mid 1980s.
Neither Washington Nor Moscow... is an all killer, no filler album. There were six singles from the eleven tracks, and I still play it through from start to finish. What made it stand out from its contemporaries was its soul and funk musical soundscape combined with its political message. They expressed the political issues of the day, which at that time was the confrontation between the government and the working class.
I saw the band live in Aberdeen while I was at university in 1986. None of my usual gig-loving crowd were interested and I went with a classmate who was a member of the Socialist Workers Party. One of those nights when you are so pleased you made the effort. As it turned out it was the only time I saw The Redskins live and I loved it. They were full of soul and passion, the songs brimming with issues they believed in so passionately.
The band's name was derived, unsurprisingly, from their socialist politics ‘Red’ and their skinhead style clothes ‘Skins’. Sadly this attracted an unwanted element with Neo-Nazi Skins lying in wait at some gigs. They finally split in September 1986.
Now all these years later I am on a mission to collect all vinyl by the band. True, with only one album and a few singles this is not the biggest challenge, but with a Record Store Day release in 2019 of Bring It Down and a Rarities compilation released this year on Outsider Records, the band’s story is not finished yet. My love for The Redskins keeps on keeping on...
Julia Mason is an independent writer and a regular contributor to the Play It Loud blog