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The Socialist Skinhead Soul of The Redskins
01.16.2014
12:48 pm
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The Socialist Skinhead Soul of The Redskins


 
This is a guest post from Jason Toon

Socialist skinhead soul outfit The Redskins were so conceptually perfect, that they seemed like something someone made up. And they sort of were. Head ‘skin Chris Dean wasn’t some snaggletoothed bootboy urchin from a cement skyscraper. Dean wrote for the NME, he was a member of the Socialist Workers Party, and he had a head full of ideas about youth culture, Trotskyism, and the power of the proper trousers. It was from those ideas, not from the “streets,” that The Redskins sprang.

But The Redskins were a real band, they did inspire a real (if small) left-wing skinhead movement, and most importantly, they did make real (and really great) records. Their 1982 debut single, “Lev Bronstein” b/w “Peasant Army”, paired a post-punk-soul A-side with a chugging Oi! B-side, all produced by Jon Langford of The Mekons and released on his CNT Records. Intriguing enough, especially considering the strident left-wing poetry of the lyrics, but The Redskins really caught fire with their second single, “Lean On Me,” a hyperfast take on ‘60s soul analogous to what the 2-Tone bands did with ‘60s ska. It hit #3 on the UK indie chart, and made The Redskins an electric presence in the ‘80s left-wing pop ferment. When the miner’s strike heated up in 1984, The Redskins’ socialist stance resonated like a brass section.
 

 
If you found Crass too tuneless, if Billy Bragg was too quiet, if The Style Council was too slick, The Redskins were your band. And Dean wasn’t afraid to call the others out for insufficient ideological rigour: “If there’s a tour organized by the Labour Party, one thing you can be sure of is that it’ll sell out,” he said about Red Wedge, Labour’s attempt to mount a travelling anti-Thatcher pop circus. And Dean called Bragg “Neil Kinnock’s publicity officer.”

Touche! But the people in those acts are still around, still doing something. Where’s Chris Dean now? It didn’t take long for his revolutionary fire to burn itself out. After a stack of classic singles and one great LP (Neither Washington nor Moscow), The Redskins fizzled out by the end of 1986. Dean was great at writing stirring anthems like “Keep On Keepin’ On!” and “It Can Be Done!”, but alas, failed to walk the walk. He reportedly retreated to a reclusive life in Paris, leaving the rest of us with a totally unique example of how to weave a handful of diverse cultural and political threads into a thrilling band. Whatever you think of The Redskins’ Trotskyist politics, music could use this kind of commitment, imagination, and style today.

The Redskins perform “Lean On Me” live:

 
Chris Dean and Martin Hewes talk about the band and show the video for “Keep On Keepin’ On!”:

 
During a performance on the UK TV show The Tube, the band are joined onstage by striking miner Norman Strike, but his mic is cut by the producers of the show:

 
A live clip of their cover of Billy Bragg’s “Levi Stubbs’ Tears”, from the last Redskins show, in Munich on September 15, 1986:

 
This is a guest post from Jason Toon

Posted by Richard Metzger
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01.16.2014
12:48 pm
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