In Brief

The night Eric wasn’t so wonderful

Today's cover story for The First Post about the birth of Rock Against Racism is likely to come as a shock to many fans of Eric Clapton. Can the man responsible for writing and singing Layla and Wonderful Tonight really be the same one who made comments at a 1976 concert considered so racist that a whole anti-racist movement was born?

The occasion was a concert in Birmingham. Clapton, who had been drinking at the time, told his audience that Britain was on its way to becoming "a black colony" and that the controversial Conservative politician Enoch Powell had been right to make his famous "Rivers of Blood" speech in the same city eight years before. As a result of Clapton's outburst, Rock Against Racism was founded to champion "music that knows who the real enemy is". Enoch Powell had been a member of Edward Heath's Shadow Cabinet in 1968 when he made his doom-laden speech about immigration, foretelling a loss of British national identity. It outraged the political establishment and Heath sacked him immediately from his position as Shadow Defence Secretary. Powell stood by his speech until his death in 1998, always claiming he was not a racist ­ or a "racialist" as he liked to put it ­ but concerned the country could not cope with high levels of immigration. Like Enoch Powell, Clapton has never taken back his comments or compromised his position. As recently as December 2007 he appeared on the South Bank Show and told Melvyn Bragg that he wasn't a racist but still believed Powell's comments were relevant. Unlike Powell, however, Eric Clapton's career has enjoyed a resurgence - he was given a CBE in 2004, reunited with Cream in 2005 and will be headlining this year's Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park. Like David Bowie, who once told an interviewer that Britain would benefit from a Fascist dictator, "Slowhand" Clapton has managed to emerge from the allegations of racism seemingly unharmed.

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