40 years on and we never had it so good

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WE NEVER had it so good. 1975 was one of the best years ever for black people. No, it really was. Not just because Arthur Ashe won Wimbledon that year, but that victory in London SW19 was one of the crowning glories of what we should look back with relish as The Summer of the Afro.

And we can only hope that the dreadlocked Dustin Brown’s achievement’s at this year’s Wimbledon can go some way in inspiring us the way that Arthur Ashe’s 40 years ago made us proud to be black.

Rarely, if ever, do black people come together in the way we did that year. It was the year of black power stateside and we were all reading Eldrige Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, Bobby Seale’s Seize The Time and George Jackson’s Soledad Brother. Even little old me growing up next to Broadwater Farm, north London was getting militant in my own little way, every minute of the day – a rebel without my claws.

CHALLENGE

Growing my Afro was my biggest challenge though. Who would have thought that trying to be the honorary sixth member of The Jackson 5 would prove so difficult.

You see, that little old Afro style meant so much. It meant you were ‘hip’, ‘groovy’, ‘funky’ and ‘cool’. But it also suggested that you were ‘conscious’, blacker-than-thou and only looking for a black man/woman to date.

And how that Afro propelled black business in London in 1975. It propelled Messrs Dyke and Dryden with their colleague Tony Wade into the first self-made black millionaires in British industry. Their factory could not produce the iconic Afro comb that went with the hair style fast enough.

You see what I mean when I say 1975 brought us together in a way that no other year has?

At the time, we didn’t even know we had never had it so good. We were coming out of a decade of racism – or more precisely, human rights violations, both here and in America. The national tabloids over here were still spewing their prejudice, but at least the national broadcaster – the BBC – had accepted that we were here to stay and had given us our little rice and peas slots on the radio with the legendary Alex Pascall and the late great Syd Burke amongst the on-air talents that would come to benefit.


ICONIC: The Afro comb was the iconic symbol of black power in the 70s

These were crucial programmes that linked us with our one another right across the UK, let alone back-a-yard. But these programmes also allowed us to express ourselves culturally – especially the Caribbean community who, thanks to the Jamaicans, had their own little soundtrack going in the background. Those black people and many whites, who were hip to this were smart enough to get themselves to Pickett’s Lock in Edmonton and Leeds University and the People’s Club in central London to witness those, now mythical, early shows from the hottest band in Jamaica, The Wailers, featuring both Peter Tosh and Bob Marley up front.

CULTURE

Those early shows by The Wailers radicalised black British youth for the next decade and left an indelible mark on black British culture. Yet still, we never had it so good.

The Wailers cry of Get Up Stand Up For Your Rights would have been banned today if it was released for the first time now, for fear that Muslim youth would all head off to Syria chanting the chorus. Till today there are many people who point to The Wailers coming over here in the mid-seventies, to explain the Notting Hill Carnival riots of 1976.

Culturally, the likes of David Hinds of Steel Pulse and Dennis Bovell of Matumbi site those Wailers gigs as being instrumental in their musical education and leading to the emergence of British reggae.

Ironically, it was to be in the field of lovers’ rock reggae that the year of 1975 was going to have its biggest influence. A 15-year-old girl called Louisa Mark walked into a studio to record her debut album and had a bigger impact than Elvis had when he walked into Sam Phillips’s Sun Studio in Memphis Tennessee two decades earlier. Louisa didn’t just trigger a musical revolution, she brought black people together in a sweet embrace that we seem unable to recapture.

Louisa ‘caught us in a lie’ in 1975 and has held us in her grip ever since.

That is why 1975 was one of the greatest years ever.

Do you agree?

Which were the other ‘greatest black years ever’? You tell me.

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