One disnchanted bystander watching the 30,000 anti-fascist marchers leaving Hyde Park was heard to remark cynically: "It's only rock and roll." Since when did rock and roll mobilise a quarter of the whole London police force on a Sunday afternoon? Since when did rock or reggae drag Tony Benn and Arthur Scargill away from their Sunday roast dinners?
Without a shadow of doubt this was a very political rally / march / celebration.
But the Anti Nazi League and Rock Against Racism jointly proved once more that it was the musical payload at the end of the march that gives voice to the optimistic intention of the movement.
Tom Robinson, who so effectively headlined the movement's first carnival in April was rapturously received at the rally at Hyde Park. He told the predominantly youthful audience that the real work against racism had to be done by the young at school and at work.
"But don't come on like Joan of Arc and bore people shitless," he implored. Much better, he said, to persuade people through reason and entertainment.
More than 2.000 National Front supporters marched through the capital to a meeting in the East End managing to avoid a waiting demonstration of about 3.000 anti-fascists: 25 of the latter were arrested while trying to break through a police line round the NF's new headquarters in Great Eastern Street. The police acted as the buffer between both factions and diverted the NF marchers away from a direct confrontation.
About 40,000 people turned up at Brockwell Park in Brixton. Organisers put the figure at an astounding 100,000; the police a mean 25.000.
In contrast to the crush at Victoria Park things seemed almost unfashionably "spaced out" on Sunday.
The SWP propaganda machine was In full swing providing the cheapest refreshments and best displayed literature stalls. Elsewhere health food merchants did a roaring trade while some "gangsters" sold small cans of lager for 50p a can. Far from the main musical attraction small groups of dancers and singers gave performances in ethnic costume.
Meanwhile it was all happening on the sun-drenched stage as Sham 69 replacements Stiff Little Fingers provided a crowd pleasing warm-up set. Though the foursome from Belfast began severely out of tune they quickly got into stride with the reggae number "Johnny Was." Their new single "Alternative Ulster" was even better in spite of a too trebly sound balance (something which affected every group except Misty). "Barbed Wire Love" could have done with a second hearing to catch the lyrics but this didn't stop SLF from earning a warm reception. Currently touring with the Tom Robinson Band, the group rushed off to play Cardiff the same evening. Now that's what I call a hard working band.
Misty, the band I followed most of the march at the April carnival, again showed themselves to great advantage. The MC reminded the crowd that Misty had done more ANL/RAR gigs than any other band; a record they can be proud of. Great reggae for a warm autumn day with the odd whiff of weed teasing the nostrils. This was the set I enjoyed the most, but titles... sorry, I can't remember one of them. Justice will be done In future... Misty is a great band.
Up front by the stage a girl fainted. The skins sent out the alarm. "Thank you skins," said the MC. The Sham army, looking well scrubbed and shorn, were behaving like little angels... well most of them anyway.
In a flash Elvis and the Attractions burst onto the stage to deliver "Night Rally" but something was seriously wrong with the sound. Wot, no lead guitar? Well as good as none. And throughout the set it remained subdued, robbing the act of a vital ingredient. The strong breeze, which proved such a blessing in the fierce sunlight, produced very un-Elvis phasing effect.
But as he rattled through "Red Shoes" and "Lipstick" the crowd settled into the weird sound and warmed to the unlikely star. A couple of new songs "Oliver's Army" and "Radio Radio" received polite applause but only when the magazine of hits were fired at the end did things approach the ecstatic level.
Whether Elvis approved of the carnival was left in doubt. He referred to the "Nazis against everyone carnival" at one point but made no direct political comment at all, save his presence.
Aswad continued the evening's entertainment. At this point I left, not In response to a call for 2,000 people to help ensure that the NF would not reach Brick Lane, but in a bid to get home before the crowd tangled up the public transport.
In all, a highly successful day for the anti-fascist movement and great climax for the organisers' summer programme.