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40 years ago, Leeds came together for the final Rock Against Racism concert

RAR’s ‘Love Music, Hate Racism,’ mantra still lives on today

This Sunday marks 40 years since the curtain came down on Leeds’ ‘Rock Against Racism’ gig series.

Held in 1981, the series followed a year of rioting on Britain’s streets and subsequently toured the country to mirror the general public desire for improved racial equality.

The penultimate concert was held in the Chapeltown area of Leeds and continues to be remembered fondly today by residents who were there (and those who’ve merely heard their tales).

The event saw The Specials headline, debuting their single Ghost Town – now an iconic song and piece of British cultural history.

Reggae bands Misty In Roots and Aswad, Rhoda Dakar, Leeds locals The Mekons, Delta5, Gang of Four and ska bands The Beat and the Selecter joined them on stage as part of the historic Leeds Carnival Against Racism.

Prior to the event, Chapeltown had been the epicentre for the Leeds riots- seeing a series of riots take place in the spring.

Prior to the concert, racially motivated attacks had frequently seen white youths clashing with black and Asian communities – so organisers were keen to flip the script by hosting something positive in the area.

This final Leeds show followed a slew of concerts across the country, all designed to quash a rising tide of nationalism that was being seen in the country during the late 80s.

Through it, the shows supported a wider ‘Rock Against Racism’ and ‘Anti-Nazi League movement’ – intended stamp out inequality and divisions by educating Britain’s music-loving youth.

Remembering the show, renowned photographer Syd Shelton said: “Before Rock Against Racism, black bands mainly played to black audiences and white mostly white; RAR helped get rid of that.”

“It was an amazing day, the weather was good and the audience was a mixture of dreads, mods, rude boys and punks.”

The shows paved the way for greater racial and women’s equality, and RAR’s ‘Love Music, Hate Racism,’ mantra still lives on today.

Feature image – Syd Shelton.

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