Launch. First tour

PAUL BOWER The official launch of Red Wedge was held at 11.30 a.m., 21 November 1985 on the terrace of the House of Commons. Anna Healy had been delightful and said, ‘If we have it in Parliament and Robin Cook books it you’ll get it for free. Also we’ll be able to get Neil [Kinnock]’ On the day, he was the first to speak and said, ‘Can I first of all disabuse anyone of the idea that Red Wedge is the name of my hairstyle. Red Wedge is a call. It’s an invitation and we hope that young people in their hundreds of thousands will respond and come and find out what we’ve got to say to them.’ I also remember the line, ‘The system promises young people paradise but gives them hell.’ Then Billy said a few words, ‘Rock ’n’ roll loves a party, and thank God it’s the party I love. We are not asking people to vote Labour. We are asking them to look at what it has to offer, and if it’s not what they expected, to join to try to change it.’ There was also a telegram read out from Sade, who was on tour in America, directed at the Prime Minister: ‘If we shed a tear for all the sorrow she’s caused, we’d drown.’ The next day the Sun did this half-page which slagged off Sade for supporting the miners and claimed we were a Bolshevik organization.

76. Red Wedge launch invitation.

77. Launch of Red Wedge Houses of Commons Parliament, 21 November 1985. (L–R) Kirsty MacColl, Tom Robinson, Ken Livingstone, Neil Kinnock, Jill Bryson (Strawberry Switchblade), Billy Bragg, Paul Weller

ANDY MCSMITH I don’t think the mainstream journalists thought it was very important. They thought it was amusing. I addressed a meeting of MPs and read out something that described Billy Bragg as ‘a big-nosed bastard from Barking’. They roared with laughter. It had never occurred to them this might be how you express yourself. What Pete Jenner found funny was watching rock journalists who would spend a day with Boy George and be totally blasé about it but if they got near Neil Kinnock they were quite overawed.

PAUL BOWER I heard a couple of reporters talking about how they’d been doing a load of charlie the night before. There were loads of photographers shouting over to him, trying to wind him up. It was like the caricature in Spitting Image of the paparazzi being like rodents. I thought, ‘Is this what you have to put up with?’ How he didn’t go mad or turn to drink.

PHILL JUPITUS I took a picture of Billy in his usual Billy-looking camouflage with Peter Saville who was in this unbelievable houndstooth jacket, elegant trousers and pumps. There was a lot of plummy-voiced, ‘Tell me about this Red Wedge thing. What is it? I don’t understand. What is it you are doing?’ I grew up in Barking – I lived round the corner from Billy but we never knew each other – I was lower middle-class and my mum was like Ian Dury used to say: ‘arts and craft; working class’. Mercifully, Red Wedge seemed class free.

TOM SAWYER If you look at the photographs I was slightly embarrassed about being there. I’ve got a suit and tie on. It was a normal working day for me.

SARAH JANE MORRIS Most people turned up in the same clothes that I’d seen them in at the meetings. It felt very exciting and I was a little bit in awe of famous politicians and people like Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson and Kirsty MacColl. I was very impressed by Neil Kinnock.

NEIL KINNOCK It was a great morning and a real lift. Red Wedge was meeting the soul of socialism; be creative, have some bloody fun. It isn’t all about marching up and down and waving bloody banners or going on picket lines or going on strike. Engage with the parts of society conventionally neglected by democratic politics: young people, music. The best way to encapsulate it is a quotation from Professor R. H. Tawney, ‘At no time should socialism be too austere. Human beings need to enjoy themselves, otherwise life is impoverished.’

PAUL BOWER The amount of ego in that room, you could have powered a nuclear power station with it. But it was positive ego.

BILLY BRAGG There was a band called Blue Rondo à la Turk there – can you imagine Spandau Ballet pretentiously: bowler hats and recherché moustaches. I was like, ‘Elms! Did you invite this lot?’ He said, ‘If you can bring the Frank Chickens I can bring them.’

ANNA HEALY Billy was very excited and he introduced me to somebody and the only word I heard was something like ‘commotions’. I thought it was a PR guy who was very big in the industry and I noticed later some teenagers were getting terribly excited about this PR man. I was then informed that he was Lloyd Cole.

JOHN BAINE I was offered a drink by my punk hero Patrik Fitzgerald. He was wearing a bow tie and was serving canapés and champagne to the assorted pop stars and windbags on the terrace. I hadn’t seen him for years. I said, ‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ He thought it was really funny and when he got off we pissed off down to the pub. It summed up something about the nature of organized politics.

PETER JENNER I’d had a lot to do with setting up Red Wedge, but if it was at all seen as a Billy Bragg promotion campaign there would be suspicion and I didn’t want it to become a punch-up between, as it were, the Bragg management division and the Weller, Solid Bond division. So after the launch when we announced the first Red Wedge tour I consciously took a back seat.

PHILL JUPITUS The January ’86 tour was the statement of intent: the curtain raiser; the scale of what we could do. Here we are. We are Red Wedge.’ Weller was very, ‘These gigs have to be big and proper.’ And then we would spread out and do other smaller things.

RHODA DAKAR Paul financed the first tour. If it hadn’t been for him it wouldn’t have happened. It was his road crew, his tour manager, his PA, his lights, his bus. Solid Bond organized everything. Billy didn’t have that kind of financial muscle. Paul was making money. No one else was.

PETER JENNER Paul was very generous. It was like a Style Council tour with a different badge on the top. And it was necessary to have people like Neil Spencer and Annajoy in there so that it was seen as a general manifestation of youth view.

PAUL BOWER Up until two weeks before the tour kicked off we’d not sold all the tickets and John Weller was seriously considering pulling out. Part of the problem was people didn’t actually believe we’d pull it off. ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to have Billy Bragg and the Communards and the Smiths and Paul Weller and Junior Giscombe and Glenn Gregory and, oh yeah, Madness, but without the drummer because he finds it ‘distasteful’. And then we got the front cover of Melody Maker and NME and all the tickets sold out. BANG!

STEVE WHITE Pick-up was at the Hilton in Kensington on a Len Wright Travel bus. The core touring party was Billy, the Style Council, Lorna Gee, Junior and the Communards. And then other people would join for a couple of shows. Madness, Jerry Dammers, Rhoda.

NEIL SPENCER I’d been on rock ’n’ roll tours before but always as a journalist, so it was a very different vibe for me. Jerry Dammers had this big fuck-off beat box. I remember talking to him about house music, which had just come out and I didn’t quite get it. He was going, ‘This tune. That tune.’ Madness were hilarious but quite cruel in some ways. They’d take the piss out of people something wicked. Richard Coles was so droll. He came from the same part of the world as me and we talked on the bus about that and even then his Christian faith. There was great conversation to be had. Tom Robinson was a fantastic conversationalist, as were Billy and Pete.

78. Red Wedge tour ensemble: (L–R) Jerry Dammers, Joolz Denby, Glenn Gregory, Junior Giscombe, Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, Tom Robinson, Richard Coles, Steve White, Billy Chapman (Style Council); (back row, L–R) Jimmy Somerville, Lorna Gee, Mick Talbot (Style Council), Camille Hinds (Style Council); (front row, L–R) Helen Turner (Style Council), Steve Sidelnyk (Style Council).

KAREN WALTER Pete was the soul of Red Wedge and pulled everything together. He was a very quiet presence and very much like a father figure. Billy was like Bob Geldof and Pete was like Midge Ure; the one behind answering the questions and getting all the bits and pieces done.

NEIL SPENCER Paul was proud and wary. It was very brave of him to sign up because he had a lot to lose. It was Paul leaving his rigidly controlled comfort zone. He’d got his team and he’d got his credo. It was fantastic he was there. He was very passionate, a man of conviction, but I don’t think his father was ever a natural-born Labour supporter.

STEVE WHITE John Weller didn’t want a lot to do with Red Wedge. And Paul said to us, ‘If you don’t agree with this you don’t have to do it. It’s not obligatory because you’re working with me. You do it because you want to do it.’

BILLY BRAGG Paul had a great vision. Without him, Red Wedge would have just been a bunch of noisy lefties doing little gigs. His status at the time was so huge. He was a number-one artist. He was absolutely crucial.

His dad didn’t share it. But it was clear he was making what Paul wanted happen. It was like being on the Stax Volt tour – Booker T. and the MGs and Otis Redding – all these bands together on an old-style Magical Mystery Tour bus going from city to city. The atmosphere was really positive.

LORNA GAYLE I had been to a meeting and had a picture taken with Neil Kinnock and they’d explained what this whole thing was going to be about and how they wanted to get young people involved in voting and use music as a tool to make that happen. I was the kind of person they were trying to reach out to. I was like, ‘Really! And going to all these places with all these people?’ The only coach I’d been on was a church trip to Great Yarmouth. It was just like a family. Everybody looked out for each other. At first I was a little bit intimidated, I can’t lie, but these people were so just down to earth.

JUNIOR GISCOMBE We carried on like kids. Paul and Dee were this young love in full bloom. And we’d all sing together and mess about on acoustic guitars making things up and rip one another: Billy’s a this, that and the other. And he would come back in his English accent. It was wicked.

LORNA GAYLE The biggest star for me was bloody Jimmy Somerville, with his potato head, and Richard Coles with his glasses. There was something very honest and genuine about them. Billy was another passionate one. When he talked he didn’t use to take a breath. He was like, ‘We’ve got to vote and this is what’s going on and that’s going on and this is and that is and then we’re going to go down theeeere!’ I was like, ‘This guy’s good, man!’ He was so popular everywhere he went. I was like, ‘How come I’ve never heard of this guy?’ But he speaks the people’s language. That’s why he was so popular. Paul and Dee C. Lee were having a little thing and were always snogging. And Jerry was a right one. He was cool, man, so unassuming. And listening to Suggs! This is someone I’d seen on Top of the Pops every week. And he cared about people. That really touched me.

PAUL BOWER Paul, when he was in the right mood, was very funny. And Jerry was on great form, for all his intensity and seriousness. I remember them all walking around with boxes on their heads.

ANGELA BARTON I had been singing gospel in a church and Paul Johnson rang me and said, ‘Junior’s working on an album and needs some backing vocals. Are you interested?’ ‘Yeah.’ Then it was, ‘Can you get a week off work? You’re going on tour.’ I didn’t know anything about Red Wedge. I was twenty-four, twenty-five and I didn’t know who was going to be on it. I turned up with my bag and there was Billy Bragg and Jimmy Somerville and Dee C. Lee and I’m like, ‘Oh my God!’ I recognized them from Top of the Pops. It was such a buzz. The Style Council had their own van because there was so many of them in the band and they tended to stick together. You’d sit with whomever and have a gossip and a giggle and a laugh. It was like when schoolkids get together: banter and chatting. If there was a spare seat I’d sit next to Jimmy. He was really sweet and cute. I remember him having a crush on Billy.

JIMMY SOMERVILLE One of the best things for me was duetting with Billy on ‘Tracks Of My Tears’ because I had a bit of a crush on him at the time. I think he knew it too. I mean, you can’t help it, can you? He was pretty irresistible. [Richard and I] were very out and proud then, and it was great to be two very loud gay blokes in this bus full of straight men.65

RICHARD COLES We all had a crush on Billy. And Paul was a heart-throb. I was a Jam fan so he was a hero. It was like meeting the Queen, so I was a bit scared of him too. He’s an exceptionally gifted person and really exciting to be around: original and tough.

TOM ROBINSON Whenever we pulled into motorway services fourteen-year-old girls in pink mohair jumpers with notebooks would materialize from nowhere and hassle Paul for his autograph, and he’d sign them and shake their hands.

NEIL SPENCER Jimmy was a handful. He was always last onto the coach because he’d copped off with someone the night before. There would be a ragged jeer when he was eventually located and brought to heel.

TINY FENNIMORE I remember Jimmy skipping around a lot. He had a lot of energy. Richard was more the calm intellectual.

BILLY BRAGG Jimmy was a very straightforward working-class Glaswegian, really funny, really camp and really angry about what was happening to his community. His energy was intense but the wee man had a wicked sense of humour. Richard had a long view of it and would think things; Jimmy would say them. You need someone like that.

RICHARD COLES Jimmy used to surf on the bus by standing on one leg with his arms out to the side and drive Kenny [Wheeler], the tour manager, mad. I used to entertain everybody with card tricks that always went wrong or sit with the crew and play brag. I remember Lorna’s brother had the first mobile phone I had ever seen. It had the handset and a separate battery unit.

STEVE WHITE It was like a brick. Somebody asked him if they could use it: ‘Yeah, no problem.’ Then it was like, ‘Who did you phone? ‘Ah, it was just my friend. Syd.’ ‘Sid?’ ‘Yeah, Syd. Sydney. Sydney Australia.’ That would have cost about £400 in those days.

PETER JENNER Traditionally in the music business it’s, ‘Who’s top of the bill? How big a hit have you had? Who’s had the most gold records?’ Quite clearly that was Paul. He was the key draw. But Billy had the advantage of not being competitive. He wasn’t after your spot on Top of the Pops. It was amazing how it worked in that respect.

BILLY BRAGG I had toured with the Style Council before and Weller did a great thing. He went on first, did three songs, got everybody into the hall, and then put me on. So that was a structure for Red Wedge. I went out at 7.30 and got to kick the whole thing off and set the tone.

TOM ROBINSON Billy used to warm the audience up even though he was one of the biggest names. He would be side-splittingly funny, judging the moment just right and knowing just what to say.

SARAH JANE MORRIS He talked to the audience more than anyone. We were all in awe that he could do that. Billy’s never been an amazing singer but it’s what he sings about. It’s a bit like Dylan. The power is in the balance: if you can seduce someone with a beautiful melody and get them to go away singing it.

BILLY BRAGG In the legend of Billy Bragg, the motivation to do what I do was seeing Spandau Ballet on Top of the Pops singing ‘Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)’ – they were an utter betrayal of everything that I believed in: a bunch of young herberts wearing their mum’s living-room curtains. It was a reversal of the content over style – sitting in front of the TV watching them I suddenly realized nobody was going to write the music I wanted to hear, so I said to myself, ‘It’s going to have to be me.’ I stormed upstairs, picked up my guitar, and everything’s been a blur until you walked in this morning. I was rude about Spandau Ballet everywhere. Then suddenly, ‘Gary Kemp is coming to Manchester.’

79. Paul Weller on the Red Wedge tour, January 1986.

RICHARD COLES I thought, ‘Spandau, mmm, should you be here?’ Gary’s family had all been in the National Graphical Association dispute so he was the genuine article, but I remember thinking, ‘Ideologically doubtful.’

BILLY BRAGG Everyone was like, ‘Don’t let Billy anywhere near him.’ Jenner was saying, ‘Keep him away for his own good . . . poor lad . . . coming to do something for the cause.’ Half an hour before the whole thing there’s a knock on the dressing-room door. It’s Gary! He’s got his guitar. ‘Billy, can I have a word?’ ‘Yeah . . . ?’ ‘To be honest with you I’ve never played solo before and I was wondering if there’s any tips to doing it.’ I thought, ‘Fuck me. And he’s come all this way to do this.’ I said, ‘The trick is the little red sign at the back of the hall that says “Exit”. If you sing at that, generally everyone gets a bit. That’s what I do.’ He said, ‘That makes sense.’ He went out and played ‘Through The Barricades’ for the first time and it was really powerful. I had to respect him for doing it and it changed my view.

80. Gary Kemp at the Manchester Apollo, 25 January 1986.

KAREN WALTER Gary and Martin Kemp used to be post boys when I started at NME. I wasn’t precious about him coming on board. You’re not going to turn somebody down just because you don’t like their music or that they’re quite flash and travel the world and have got lots of money. I liked Gary Numan, who came out on the side of the Tories, so it works both ways. Live Aid got lots of artists who shared a common cause and that was basically what Red Wedge was about. If you felt passionately, that’s where you needed to be. And the audience responded to that.

PAUL BOWER Gary was charming and articulate. I met him at the airport and he told me about his background and said, ‘We were comfortably off working-class and glad to be here.’ So, hats off to Steve Dagger because some managers would have desperately tried to talk him out of it.

TINY FENNIMORE It was always, ‘Who’s going to come today?’ It was exciting that we were creating a groundswell and people were joining in. Every time somebody did it you thought, ‘Fantastic, you’ve made the leap.’

BILLY BRAGG Johnny Marr turned up in Manchester and that meant a lot to me. He understood it 100 per cent. We worked on a couple of songs together: ‘Back To The Old House’, the Stones’ ‘The Last Time’, and on ‘A Lover Sings’ he put the intro from ‘This Charming Man’ on the front.

JOHNNY MARR It was a good opportunity for me to finally get off my butt and try and wield some of this so-called influence that popular musicians are supposed to have over their audience. Not to get involved in any preaching, patronizing political stance, but just to show that I was as disenchanted as the next person with the government. And the Labour Party, who I always thought were about people from my class, maybe try to motivate them to change their ideas and listen to what the Red Wedge audience want and share in this general disillusionment and do something about it.66

RICHARD COLES By the end of the first evening it had become plain that something big and beautiful had just been born. Then, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions joined us in Birmingham.

81. Johnny Marr at the Manchester Apollo, 25 January 1986.

LLOYD COLE Billy asked me to do some dates and it was a way to make our political stance public.67 When I arrived Weller came up to me and demanded to know why I had slagged off his single ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down!’ I told him it was because I thought it was crap and he said: ‘Well, “Forest Fire” ain’t changing nothing,’ to which I had to agree. Then he said: ‘So you really slagged my song off?’ I said, ‘Yes’ again and he looked at me for a minute then said, ‘That’s all right, then. Everybody else tries to deny it.’68

ANNAJOY DAVID Porky, and Cathal and Suggs from Madness, kept everybody laughing. There were a lot of cards being played, a lot of jokes, drinking and some good political discussions. It was a great thing to see. They’d tease me for being quite serious but they worked their craft.

SARAH JANE MORRIS I loved it when Madness were part of the tour. Talk about party animals. Cathal and Suggs were naughty boys and very flirtatious. My friend Claire didn’t shave her legs and they were so rude to her. She was angry and really went for them. I remember thinking, ‘I’m glad I shaved my legs.’

PHILL JUPITUS I desperately wanted to be Suggs, but Madness had already got one. What was interesting about them was that their politics were much more on the down-low. It was really subtly done. You let ‘Michael Caine’ get into the charts and do its magic and then you tell people it’s about IRA informants. ‘Blue Skinned Beast’ was about the Falklands and there was stuff about domestic violence. Madness were getting really interesting and dark and I was enamoured with that. They were doing some of the most interesting stuff on the tour.

82. Cathal Smyth at the Birmingham Odeon, January 1986.

CATHAL SMYTH I was a Labour Party member but I was really only involved under the Greenpeace banner. They were the first thing I’d joined since the Tufty Club. I’d stood on the Archway Road collecting money for them in a fucking jam jar. They were a majority feeling in Madness and we’d recently donated ‘Wings Of A Dove (A Celebratory Song)’ to a Greenpeace album. But Madness was like being in the fucking Liberal Party. The rallying cry was compromise. Our politics were hidden. We wrote songs with a sprightly melody which brought in the message to the subconscious. It was writing music about the everyman and that was who Red Wedge was trying to reach.

NEIL SPENCER The kids were there to see the stars and then suddenly we were confronting them with Lorna Gee, a rapper. ‘Three Weeks Gone Mi Giro’ was fantastic.

LORNA GAYLE I was shocked that all of these places were sold out: ‘OK, you guys did some serious promotion then.’ I thought it would be just a little tour with a couple of hundred people and some of it might be a bit boring because it was politics. I hadn’t even voted before because I didn’t feel that my voice was important. I was completely blown away: just the energy of the audience. It was a big thing to me, man. I was still on the dole living in Brixton.

ANNAJOY DAVID Lorna brought a completely different cultural emphasis to Red Wedge. She could hold her own.

PETER JENNER The atmosphere at the gigs was great. I remember scurrying around backstage and making sure everything was all right and yet not being in the way and meeting and greeting politicians with Annajoy.

RICHARD COLES In Leicester, we made Ken Livingstone play on ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ and he very embarrassingly shuffled on stage in a safari jacket. He ended up signing more autographs than the rest of us put together. I clearly remember Madness trying to get a GLC grant out of him.

SARAH JANE MORRIS Ken Livingstone played tambourine very out of time with us. He was one of the few politicians allowed on the musicians’ coach.

LUCY HOOBERMAN I’d never heard the Communards before. They were amazing. Jimmy was tiny but had a huge presence.

SARAH JANE MORRIS There was no rehearsal. We were learning as we went along. I did a lot of dancing and bending down to Jimmy because I’m five foot eight and he’s five foot.

PAUL BOWER The Communards with Sarah Jane always went down a storm. But we were fairly strict and keen to keep politicians off the stage. Michael Foot turned up at a reception and was cheered to the rafters.

RICHARD COLES My parents came and my dad was mistaken for Dennis Healey, the shadow foreign secretary, and they were asking him questions. In the bar after, two really leery lads came over and I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to get my head kicked in here.’ So rather than get huffy and walk off I talked to them. They said they’d come to see the Style Council but because of the whole atmosphere they’d started thinking about things in a different way.

PAUL BOWER Suggs was on the phone to his wife and I heard this, ‘Yeah, yeah, of course I know. See you tonight.’ He put the phone down and said, ‘Oh fuck, I completely forgot it’s my mother-in-law’s birthday. I’m sorry, guys, I’ve got to go back to London tonight.’ And we all cheered. During their set everyone came on and did the Madness nutty conga dance with Weller at the front and Suggs was laughing his head off. The next night in Bradford we made an announcement: ‘Due to unseen circumstances Madness won’t be playing tonight but we do have Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17.’

RHODA DAKAR Heaven 17 just went in with both feet. It was so refreshing to hear the same thing 2 Tone had been saying put through different music. It was almost like passing the baton.

PAUL BOWER Glenn was going to do something live over backing tapes but on the night he couldn’t find them. Weller said, ‘I know the song,’ so he played guitar and they did a version of ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’.

JERRY DAMMERS The words to ‘Fascist Groove’ were fantastic. It was a semi-ironic black American thing and great to have coming from Sheffield.

83. Suggs at the Birmingham Odeon, 27 January 1986.

ROBERT ELMS ‘Fascist Groove Thang’ showed that you could make a dance record that was politically overt. There would have been people in the seventies who would have told you that going out to have a good time and dance was a bourgeois distraction from the class struggle. This music was a rejection of that kind of left thinking.

PAUL BOWER Glenn was always clear that he supported Labour, which shocked a lot of the tabloid press because they saw Heaven 17 in smart suits doing well. Glenn said, ‘The reason that we’re doing well is because we got support from all the things that the Tories are trying to take away from people.’

JOOLZ DENBY In the soundcheck, Jimmy Somerville sang ‘Summertime’ a cappella in the empty hall. It was riveting. This cleaner stopped and was leaning with her hands on the back of a seat. It was this most beautiful moment of perfect artistry. Later, I bummed a fag off Paul and he chatted to me. I’ve never forgotten it. Not because it was Paul Weller but the fact that he deigned to pay attention to you in a matey, casual kind of way. It was so unusual. It’s difficult to explain the lowly position that women inhabit in the sausage fest that is rock ’n’ roll unless you’re pretty and you’re a singer or do the catering. I thought, ‘Good lad.’ And somebody sent me a bouquet of flowers, which was very unusual for me. I was thrilled because this was a big thing and not my normal scene, but I’d been a socialist all my life and I thought if it brings socialism to even one person of sixteen then it’s a good idea.

PETER JENNER Bradford was a difficult show. The racial issues were tense there. And the venue was ropy. We didn’t do the business. Sales were difficult. It was a difficult local party. We couldn’t find the gig and the weather was foul. It was all a bit uphill.

JOOLZ DENBY Bradford was notoriously corrupt and badly managed. I went out on stage and the Lord Mayor was in the audience. The first thing I said was, ‘How in the name of Christ can you justify spending £60 on ashtrays when there’s kids off school with dysentery?’ There was a deadly hush followed by massive standing applause. I got proper ticked-off afterwards.

PHILL JUPITUS Joolz commanded such respect and silence. It was the fact there was room for poets. I always liked the direct communication. It was very immediate. I’d do ‘Scheme Of Things’, about the Youth Training Scheme and then ‘Noddy’, an anti-nuclear poem. And Joe Norris would stand behind me with a little handheld Casio keyboard. We were in suits waiting to go on and Mick Talbot wandered over and said, ‘What you got there? Let me have a go.’ Then Richard Coles comes over and starts poking at it: ‘What’s that? I’ve seen these.’ At which point, Jerry Dammers comes round the corner: ‘What the fuck are you lot doing?’ So we’ve got the keyboard player from the Specials, the keyboard from the Communards and the keyboard from the Style Council all tapping away at our Casio. Talbot and Richard wander off and Dammers is poking away on a single note and goes, ‘I fucking hate music,’ and walked off too. We were gobsmacked.

84. Phill Jupitus (front) at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, 26 January 1986.

JERRY DAMMERS I was DJ’ing in between the acts and the best record I put on was by mistake, ‘Keep The Pressure On’ by Winston and George. It was the power of randomness. Then I would come on for one song with the Style Council to play a version of Jimmy Smith’s ‘Back At The Chicken Shack’. It was the first time I’d been on stage since the Specials so it was strange and subdued by comparison: fun, but it wasn’t the same energy.

ANGELA BARTON I was interviewed for Channel 4 and I was asked, ‘Why do you think you’ve been picked?’ I said quite innocently, ‘Oh, to add a bit of colour.’ I meant a bit of razzmatazz but when I repeated it to Junior and Paul they both went, ‘Oh, no.’ Then the penny dropped.

LUCY HOOBERMAN We filmed the tour using local film and television workshops in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Newcastle, and a main crew followed the tour bus. Video was like the cheaper, indie version of film. It was innovative and experimental and exciting and slightly under the radar.

I would often be on the stage and around the set-up and interviewing the artists in dressing rooms with mirrors and bad lighting. We filmed Porky in front of a loo and put some plants around it and he did a poem.

PHILL JUPITUS It was guerrilla film-making: ‘Porky, come and do a poem.’ We’d go down the corridor and Don Coutts, the director, would go, ‘Right, you come out the door and we’ll film it.’ BAM! Done.

RICHARD COLES At each venue there appeared two enormous flight cases with the Style Council logo on. At first, I thought they were Steve White’s drum-kit; then I saw Paul open up one to reveal a vast portable wardrobe – it looked like half a street in Milan – and thus the mystery of the Style Council’s sartorial elegance was solved. I remember leaving my favourite pair of brown DMs in the Novotel in Bradford. And the hotel: instead of numbers, all the rooms had women’s names. Billy was staying in ‘Margaret’, which struck me as incongruous. I was in ‘Doreen’.

PAUL BOWER I shared a room with Neil Spencer through the whole tour – he snored. He was really passionate and enormously influential. Although we were always puzzled that he was into astrology. Jerry got him to guess what his star sign was and I think it took seven attempts. Jerry was going, ‘Neil, that’s worse than half!’

JUNIOR GISCOMBE I shared with Billy on tour. I’d never met anybody like him before.

BILLY BRAGG Junior was the king because he really was a soul singer. He took it outside of the post-punk ethic. He had a mainstream career that was not known for its politics so for him to come and join us was a big risk for him.

JUNIOR GISCOMBE I wrote ‘Come On Over’ for the tour, trying to show from a musical standpoint that I didn’t just have to do ‘Mama Used To Say’. And I felt it was right for what we were doing: Come on over to my place / There’s a solution to the problem.

KAREN WALTER I had so much admiration for Junior. His music was very different from anybody else involved in Red Wedge. He was articulate and reasonable. I was used to people not being so reasonable at the NME.

KEITH HARRIS The atmosphere in the dressing rooms before the shows was really good. I particularly remember Tom Robinson playing a lot of acoustic guitar and being impressed by how good he was.

SARAH JANE MORRIS One of the highlights of the tour was Tom doing ‘War Baby’. That was such an emotional song.

TOM ROBINSON ‘War Baby’ was my comeback. I wrote it whilst I was in tax exile in Germany after the Tom Robinson Band collapsed. Peter Jenner had called me up and said, ‘Come on, get out of the studio and come out and rock.’ So I was going on with just an acoustic guitar; strolling on between bands.

TINY FENNIMORE Tom Robinson was important to Red Wedge. He was older than all of us, but one of us, singing about gay people. It was a connection to Rock Against Racism.

85. Junior Giscombe on the Red Wedge tour, January 1986.

LORNA GAYLE When we went to Edinburgh we stayed in this beautiful castle and I remember the bed sheets and the curtains. It was just this amazing print. I was like, ‘I’ve never been in anywhere like this before!’

RICHARD COLES Dalhousie Castle was over 700 years old. It was like staying in someone’s stately home. We were followed back from the gig by some of the fans with whom we’d been expressing our solidarity and they were kept back and left outside while we were inside sipping champagne and having fun. There was a Scots baronial library and Steve White walked in and went, ‘Blimey, what a load of videos!’

STEVE WHITE Richard’s much dined-out-on quote! But I don’t think many of the people on the tour were particularly wealthy. Obviously Paul, but he wasn’t ostentatious about his wealth. Clothes and records is Paul. Billy was starting out. Junior had had one hit. I was on a wage. We had jobs, but nobody was swimming in money. Somebody had a go at Kenny because he liked to drink champagne. He said, ‘Fuck you. The French drink it and they’ve had a revolution.’

PAUL BOWER In Edinburgh, Jimmy said, ‘My mam is coming tonight so no bad language.’ Mrs Somerville was obviously very proud of her son. She had a very heavy Scots accent and was smaller than Jimmy!

BILLY BRAGG I’d been awfully foul-mouthed on stage and Jimmy introduced us to his mum and dad and I thought, ‘Oh fuck, I’ve said all that effing and blinding in front of his parents,’ and unfortunately the ‘Oh fuck . . .’ bit came out as I shook hands with them.

The last night in Newcastle was absolutely fucking incredible. Morrissey turned up. Nobody knew. Johnny had said to him, ‘Come on. Let’s show this Style Council what’s what.’ I’ve subsequently read there was some rivalry between them about who was the best band in the UK. It was the high point of the tour.

STEVE WHITE Newcastle was insane. We had eleven bands on and Kenny said no one in the crowd knew when to go for a piss because they thought they’d miss something.

TOM ROBINSON There was a big excitement backstage about the Smiths turning up. Then, ‘Oh my God!’ There they all were. After the interval, without any pre-announcement, they went out and did four numbers – ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’, ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’, ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’, and ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ – and tore the fucking place up. Within thirty seconds Morrissey’s shirt had come off. It was un-fucking-believable: the power, the energy, the passion. It was just so intense.

JOHNNY MARR The gig at Newcastle City Hall was one of the best things we ever did. Andy and I had done a couple of gigs already in Manchester and Birmingham the week before. I was telling Morrissey about it and he was fairly up for just doing an impromptu show. So we drove up to Newcastle, without telling anyone. We had no instruments, so we borrowed the Style Council’s equipment and just tore the roof off the place. The place went bananas. I was so proud of the band. It was like my mates showed up and shut everybody up. It was great.

86. Show times for Newcastle City Hall, 31 January 1986.

87. Morrissey at Newcastle City Hall, 31 January 1986.

MORRISSEY We made a very brief, but stormy appearance. When we took to the stage the audience reeled back in horror. They took their Walkmans off and threw down their cardigans. Suddenly the place was alight, aflame with passion!69

NEIL SPENCER I’d never encountered them before. They were unbelievable; full-on. You don’t think of the Smiths as ‘they rocked’ but they did.

PAUL WELLER The Smiths were fucking brilliant. When they came on, it was just this BANG! – this wall of energy. Morrissey just exploded; the audience did. I haven’t really seen that level of energy since the Jam, for that kind of hysteria, in a great, positive, electric way. I just thought, ‘Fucking hell, that’s really what’s it about.70

RICHARD COLES I remember thinking, ‘We’re unstoppable now.’ Morrissey was unapproachable and frightening. I wasn’t really sure what he was doing there. It was too explicit for him; too much a statement of who you are.

LUCY HOOBERMAN What I remember most is when they all jammed together at the end. They looked so happy. They were motivating songs.

88. Encore: (L–R) Paul Weller, Jimmy Somerville, Sarah Jane Morris, Billy Bragg, Junior Giscombe, Birmingham Odeon, 27 January 1986

ANGELA BARTON Everybody would pile on at the end for the encore, dancing about and singing.

STEVE WHITE It was very powerful getting a band for twenty minutes and getting all the hits, and then we’d all come on at the end and do Dennis Edwards’ tune, ‘Don’t Look Any Further’. The audiences were incredibly up for it. There was a real buzz.

BILLY BRAGG Whatever people say about the politics, the gigs were just amazing. We all would sing ‘Move On Up’ and Lorna would sing ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ beautifully. I got to do a verse in ‘People Get Ready’ and the Style Council christened me ‘Curtis Mullard’, they said I was like a cross between Curtis Mayfield and Arthur Mullard.

TINY FENNIMORE Junior and Paul singing ‘Move On Up’ every night was very special and uplifting. They had so much fun when they were working out the soul songs.

LORNA GAYLE They got me to sing ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ and everyone came on and sang it with me. That was the biggest accolade they could have given me. I felt like that song was my story. It spoke volumes to my heart and I could sing it with truth.

89. Encore: (L–R) Paul Weller, Cathal Smyth, Billy Bragg, Junior, Sarah-Jane Morris, Jimmy Somerville, Leicester de Montfort Hall, 28 January 1986

PAUL BOWER Everyone just went crazy. They also did It’s been a long time coming but I know a change is gonna come. Weller was like the musical director and his band was used by the other acts.

BILLY BRAGG We were basically a bunch of soul boy wannabes. We should have been selling white socks at the gigs. I’d just written ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and when I played it in the soundcheck Weller came over and said, ‘Is that about Levi Stubbs from the Four Tops?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I thought you were supposed to be a folk singer?’ I said, ‘I am, Paul. It’s soul-folk.’

RHODA DAKAR On the final night in Newcastle, we stayed in Lumley Castle in the middle of nowhere and ended up telling ghost stories and playing Murder in the Dark. Jerry was put into a large box and didn’t get out until the morning.

RICHARD COLES Murder in the Dark was naughty. It started at midnight and ended at six in the morning. Coventry City Football Club were also staying at the hotel and Jimmy took advantage of the circumstances to give the footballers a night they’d never forget. I think everybody got a bit of a grope. And our tour coordinator was found asleep in the coal chest.

PAUL BOWER I was fairly shambolic. I was up in the bar drinking with everybody until about half past four so I rarely got more than three hours’ sleep. Richard said to me, ‘Paul, you like to burn the candle at both ends. Stick it up your arse and give it a good twist.’

Before the gig, some people had been demanding tickets and shouting, ‘You’re all wankers.’ Kenny went out to remonstrate with them. He said, ‘I think Neil Kinnock’s all right but Tony Benn’s a wanker.’

RICHARD COLES Kenny put the ‘edge’ in Red Wedge. It was only his iron discipline that kept the tour on its feet. He fined me £10 for losing my pass.

TINY FENNIMORE He was organizing us all. It was like a little crocodile line of getting on and off the coach. We were terrified the bus would go without us.

PHILL JUPITUS And then he left Mick Talbot on the way back to London. It was proof that he wasn’t fucking about because Mick was one of the Council. Fearsome. I was impressed.

BILLY BRAGG We stopped at the services for a pee and left Mick behind. ‘Where’s Mick!’

RHODA DAKAR I was driving the minibus and I found him at Leicester Forest East service station. At Solid Bond there was a big picture: ‘Have You Seen This Man?’

STEVE WHITE Apparently, Mick had come running after the bus and Kenny was horrified because it was the first time that he had ever left somebody behind.

RICHARD COLES At the end of the tour it was very important to keep our momentum and not let our commitment tail off so we added two extra dates.

BILLY BRAGG We had to do London and Liverpool. The GLC and Liverpool Council made us do it. We had made a conscious decision not to go to those places and then it was, ‘Oh God, if we must.’ Derek Hatton and Ken Livingstone didn’t need us.

RICHARD COLES We did a TV show with Derek Hatton who was the deputy leader of Liverpool Council. I sat down and he gave me a big conspiratorial wink. I thought, ‘I’m not playing. Whatever you think you’re doing, I’m not doing it.’

ROBERT HOWARD Hatton turned up and was more of a diva than any one of the rock stars.

STEVE WHITE There was always somebody turning up saying, ‘Can you do this? Can you do that?’ I could see that Paul was getting pulled from pillar to post. There was the initial peripheral, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ and once it got talked about and the gigs were selling out, that’s when the career politicians started turning up. There was a constant demand for photo opportunities. We were not a political party, we were a band.

ANGELA BARTON We came on with Junior and the audience was being racially abusive: shouting and jeering. At one point I dropped my head and thought, ‘Oh my God, this is awful.’ I was like, ‘Why is this happening? I’m here to sing and entertain. You’re being disrespectful.’ Junior was very calm about it. I came offstage so angry and Julia Roberts, from Working Week, said, ‘Don’t you ever drop your head again. You hold your head high.’

JUNIOR GISCOMBE People in the audience were shouting out, ‘You black cunt.’ I couldn’t believe it. I stopped the show and shouted out, ‘Whoever it is come out and say it here. Let everybody see the racists.’ I was about to jump offstage and Tom and Billy ran on and grabbed me and whispered, ‘Don’t do it. Play it off. Talk it out.’

TOM ROBINSON Billy went out like a head teacher and sorted them out.

NEIL SPENCER I was absolutely appalled. It just showed how backward Britain still was.

JUNIOR GISCOMBE The tour made me understand that there was no way that the message of young black people being involved in politics was going to get across because it was tarnished by the white media. I may not have achieved what I wanted but it was still hugely important that we did what we did. It was the last stand. We spoke out. We talked. We acted.

ROBERT HOWARD The Blow Monkeys didn’t do the first part of the tour and then ‘Digging Your Scene’ was a hit in March ’86 which changed everything for us, so we said, ‘Yeah, we’ll come and do some gigs.’ Cathal introduced us and said, ‘Here we go, ladies and gentlemen. Here’s a new band straight from Top of the Pops – the Blow Monkeys.’ I thought, ‘Oh fuck. Cheers, mate.’ My feeling was, the band was going to have to prove itself here. There was going to be people thinking we’d just jumped on the bandwagon and who weren’t aware of us being political – although ‘Digging Your Scene’ was specifically inspired by a quote by Donna Summer about AIDS being ‘God’s revenge’, which she later denied. But the initial impression was pretty boy singer, pop group, so I was giving it a large one politically.

STEVE WHITE In Liverpool we did a version of ‘Liquidator’ and Jerry started it off so slow I was going, ‘Come on, come on.’ And then they said, ‘Do you know “Madness” by Prince Buster?’ I was like, ‘Yeah!’ Jerry Dammers and Madness and me playing drums. I was like a 2 Tone pig in poo.

ROBERT HOWARD At the end, I got on stage with my guitar to play ‘Move On Up’ and Billy said, ‘Plug it in but don’t turn it up, just let Paul play it.’ I was thinking, ‘I know this song.’ Then Paul goes, ‘You do the solo.’ I thought, ‘I’m fucking having it. I’ll show you,’ because no one knew me as a guitarist. After, Paul said, ‘You played that well.’ I think I’d impressed him by playing the riff to the Jam song ‘A Place I Love’ in the soundcheck. It was a buzz, all doing something together. It was like a throwback to things like George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh where musicians were doing something for a better cause rather than their own betterment.

PETER JENNER: It was a super-heroic and amazing thing. We got it together.

PAUL BOWER If it had been shambolic it would have been, ‘Socialists couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery.’

ANNAJOY DAVID At the end of the tour Neil Kinnock wrote each of us a letter of thanks:

The first tour has been a spectacular success. Everyone – MPs, young people and the Party workers – who attended the concerts has told me that the people they talked to were inspired both by the evening’s event and the day’s activities which went before.

I’m sure you’ve had many ideas on how the Party should respond to Red Wedge. Naturally we should do everything possible to build on your experience.