By Peter Elman - Copyright Tribute Inspirations Limited

The Greater London Council, the city’s local authority from 1964 to 1986, ran two major popular-music festivals to highlight what it was doing to fight unemployment under Margaret Thatcher’s government, boost the London economy and help create and fund new jobs.  The key person in setting up and producing the events was Tony Hollingsworth.

The first GLC Jobs for a Change festival took place in June 1984 and drew 150,000 people to the South Bank.  The second, a year later in Battersea Park further along the Thames, attracted about 250,000.  Most people came for the music – to hear, among others, The Smiths, Billy Bragg, Hank Wangford, Aswad, The Redskins and The Pogues – but they were presented also with theatrical groups, cabaret, films and exhibitions as well as talks, debates and stalls set up by community organisations.

Tony Hollingsworthhad already been a manager of the first three Glastonbury CND festivals and was to become an important figure in creating live events with worldwide television distribution and in using popular culture as a campaigning tool for a range of causes.  These skills came together in several well-known events, including the landmark Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute.

In his two years at the GLC, Tony Hollingsworth also ran several concerts for the unemployed – at various town halls across London, at a big-top Christmas Party in Finsbury Park and at the Royal Albert Hall for an evening of jazz and African music.  He also put on ethnic-minority concerts featuring African and Asian music.

The festivals and concerts took place against a background of massive unemployment, a miners’ strike lasting a year and Thatcher’s developing plans for the abolition of the GLC itself.

The Conservative government had issued a White Paper, Streamlining the Cities, in 1983, arguing that the GLC and the six metropolitan county councils were profligate and inefficient and should be abolished.  In 1985, a local government Act was narrowly passed by Parliament, cancelling the scheduled elections of that year and setting the abolition date for March 31 1986.  Thatcher objected to the anti-government nature of Ken Livingstone’s GLC and of other metropolitan councils; her critics claimed she was politically motivated.

First jobs festival (June 10 1984)

The first Jobs for a Change festival – named after the title of a GLC newspaper – was devised because the GLC’s Industry and Employment committee was worried that its initiatives to combat unemployment and help create and fund jobs were not getting across to a wider public (according to John Hoyland in Reggae On The Rates: The Jobs for a Change Festivals, part of the book, A Taste of Power, ed Mackintosh M, Wainwright H).  A day-long festival, it was thought, would provide a platform to show the public what the GLC was doing and that there were ways for local government and, by implication, national government to help create jobs.  At the same time, the GLC would be meeting its brief to put on cultural events for a part of its diverse population.

The GLC had already run several smaller concerts in its parks.  More generally, it believed in formulating cultural policies, of which popular music was an important part, as a means of popularising “leftist sentiments” (according to Martin Cloonan in Popular Music and the State in the UK).  In this context, the first Jobs for a Change festival was a notable event – though one in which Tony Hollingsworth took an unusual line.  Although some of the music would be political, the music stages would not be used for political debate or anti-Thatcher slogans.  To be effective, campaigning must be in the positive and must show what the GLC was doing about unemployment – rather than attack Thatcher.  This kind of thinking was to be crucial in the success of the 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute. 

The GLC had intended to organise the jobs festival itself but it became obvious in late 1983 that the officers of the industry and employment branch could not produce a large festival on top of their normal jobs.  So, late in the day, it brought in four consultants to do the job: Ken Hulme, Sue Beardon, David Bradford and Hollingsworth.

Hulme had run trade-union campaign activities, was experienced at managing people and was to become, in effect, site manager; Beardon and Bradford had been involved in left-wing theatre and Hollingsworth had helped run the Glastonbury CND festivals for the previous three years.  His time at Glastonbury, as manager to director Michael Eavis, had given him a broad hands-on experience of most facets of producing large-scale concerts and festivals and it led naturally to him becoming the key organiser and producer of the Jobs festival.

The event took place over 12 hours on a Sunday on a long stretch of the South Bank, taking in County Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the National Film Theatre, the National Theatre, the GLC car park and Jubilee Gardens.

The music was presented from two stages.  There were also theatrical groups, films and talks on film by director Ken Loach and others, and interviews with the actors from Alan Bleasedale’s tough black comedy Boys from the Blackstuff.  There were also a large number of stalls manned by community groups and other external organisations; an exhibition of the GLC’s work; speeches and a five-hour rolling debate about jobs and employment in the council chamber of County Hall.

The atmosphere of County Hall must have been a shock for those who knew the place.  Throughout the day, it “swarmed with young punks, skinheads, Rastafarians and a host of other Londoners.  They camped on the grand staircase (in the past reserved for VIPs only) and in the wood-panelled corridors of the Principal Floor”, according to John Hoyland. At one point during the rolling debate, the council chamber was given over to speeches by miners’ wives, including Anne Scargill, wife of miners’ leader Arthur Scargill.

The festival’s music was provided by artists including The Smiths, Billy Bragg, Hank Wangford, The Redskins, Aswad, Mari Wilson, Misty in Roots and Ivor Cutler.  They were chosen because they were known to be supportive of the cause, either through their songs or in comments to the press, or because they were simply willing to appear under the Jobs for a Change banner.  A few wrote political music.  With the aim of creating a culturally diverse mix, Hollingsworth brought in black artists from the US and Africa, including the American poet, singer and writer Gil Scott-Heron and several who had never appeared in London before and few in the crowd knew about.

One of the bands was the socialist a cappella group, The Flying Pickets, whose debut single Only You was the 1983 Christmas No.1 and, oddly enough, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite record.  A few weeks earlier, Hollingsworth got the band to write a song called Give us Jobs, Jobs, Jobs for a Change, sung like a barber-shop quartet and with the speaking voice of GLC leader Ken Livingstone.  A vinyl disc of the piece was distributed inside Time Out magazine the week before to promote the festival.

Hollingsworth booked The Smiths to headline the event “before they had had a hit, but I was sure they would have one.  By the time of the festival they were No.3 in the charts and rising.  It was a gamble that paid off handsomely.  We were right on it in terms of the music.”

The Smiths were due to be introduced by Livingstone as the last act of the day and, according to Hollingsworth, “he asked me just before he went on: ‘So what do I do?’

“‘Introduce the Smiths’

“‘But what do I say?’

“‘Flatter the audience and then say The Smiths’.

“He went on stage and did it perfectly.  He said ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I have walked through this car park every day for the last five years and it’s never looked as good as it does now.  The Smiths’.  The audience, perhaps 50,000 people, some climbing up the walls, erupted.  In terms of using entertainment and culture to create an atmosphere under a title of Jobs for a Change, it was a perfect end-point.”

Livingstone’s memory was that he spoke for rather longer, though far shorter than normal: “I was expected to go on [stage] and make one of my fascinating political speeches just before the Smiths were due to perform, by which time the gathered crowds had been waiting for hours for them to appear.  It was at this point that I learnt the importance of keeping the politics brief when you’re standing in front of a huge festival audience that, however politically sympathetic, really isn’t there for the rhetoric.  I risked five quick minutes of viciously denouncing Margaret Thatcher before introducing the band to plenty of applause.  Any more and it might have been a different story…” (Observer newspaper, June 19 2005).

The day was mostly trouble-free, with one notable exception.  The Redskins were on stage when a large number of National Front supporters arrived after being turned away by the police from a march on Trafalgar Square.  The Redskins, who were known for their far-left politics, were an ideal target.  A fight broke out in the crowd and several NF skinheads stormed the stage, injuring one of the guitarists who was taken to hospital accompanied by the compere, Hank Wangford.  The NF supporters were chased off by the festival security people – Yorkshire miners who were on strike and had been employed by Hollingsworth as a way of providing support for the miners’ strike fund.

Their employment was unusual for the GLC.  One of the difficulties in organising the festival, according to Hollingsworth, was that the GLC and its trade unions wanted everything in the festival to be run by people who worked within the GLC.  “I certainly didn’t set my mind against using them.  But it just wouldn’t have worked.  They did not have the specialists needed for a large-scale event with different types of entertainment and exhibitions.  They wanted the festival to be run by the parks department, all the photographers to be from the photography department, the posters to be designed by the same people doing the posters for brass band concerts.

“I was unofficially given the blessing to subcontract as much as I needed to make the event cutting edge and culturally different – not by confronting the bureaucracy but by just getting on and doing it.  We knew the GLC workers would have their hands absolutely full even if we gave them five per cent of the work.  We knew they would not have the know-how of dealing with the big numbers of people we hoped would come.  We broke the mould in lots of ways, blowing the lid off how a metropolitan authority might campaign on issues and developing what is now called ‘cause-related entertainment marketing.’”

Second jobs festival (July 7 1985)

The GLC considered the 1984 Jobs for a Change festival a big success and decided to stage another the following July in Battersea Park, south-west London.  The event was organised on a bigger scale, attracting 250,000 people – a more likely number than the 500,000 claimed by the London Evening Standard.  It was part of what the GLC had designated as Jobs Year, as 1984 had been Anti-Racist Year and 1983 had been Peace Year.

Five stages were set up in the park for about 30 music acts.  There were also two theatre tents in which six theatrical groups performed – other actors performed as they roamed the park and a poetry and cabaret tent for 16 acts, including a group of miners’ wives reading their own poetry.  There were also an art exhibition of miners’ work, a sports area and a children’s area which offered pony rides, theatre, story-telling, face-painting and a fairground.  There were about 250 or so stalls run by community and other groups.

The musicians included Billy Bragg, Hank Wangford, Aswad, The Blues Band, The Pogues, The Opposition, The Communards and Frank Chickens.  The five stages had different music policies..  The acts on the main stage were representative of the festival’s broad cast list and included Ravi Shankar from India, Thomas Mapfumo from Africa, Aswad from Britain, the pop OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) and the more political Billy Bragg.

The second stage was for the “up-and-coming, raunchy end of the pop market,” which took in The Pogues who were so popular that “people were literally hanging out of trees to catch the act that was bringing the house down”, according to the  Spank the Monkey website.  A third was ear-marked for African and Latin music and a fourth for DJs and rapping.  Between them, the third and fourth stages attracted more than 10,000 people, many of whom stayed all day there.  A fifth stage was titled “Cowboys for Jobs” and was for musicians to fool around on.

When the GLC came to book Battersea Park for the festival it found that a part of the site had already been booked by the Battersea and Wandsworth trades union council for an event of its own.  According to Steve Pryle, one of the union people involved in the talks, the council said that it would give up its part of the site if (1) its name were put on the GLC posters and (2) it was given the job of organising and running the beer tent.  Hollingsworth says that the GLC was under no obligation to accept the demands and that he agreed to give the beer provision to the council only after a lot of negotiation and he was certain that they could do a good job.

“I knew about the running of beer tents from Glastonbury and how big an operation it was.  I asked them what experience they had and they said none.  I said that it was an income stream for us and that we intended to sell the rights for a guarantee.  But I felt sympathetic towards them as they were a trades union council, and I asked them to come back with a detailed plan.  They came back a few weeks later and the more we talked the clearer a plan became.  So I gave them the job.”

The council provided the beer for an event in the run-up to the festival, then the festival itself.  Later that year, it formed the Workers Beer Company, which was given further contracts by Hollingsworth for a GLC Christmas Party for the Unemployed (see below) and the Glastonbury CND festival in 1986 and 1987.  It has run festival or concert bars ever since and ran bars in 2008 at Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds and Latitude as well as trade union events.

Steve Pryle is now chair of the trading company running the Workers Beer Company as well as press officer of the GMB union.  According to his brother Eamon, the executive vice-chairman, writing in the TSSA e-Journal, June 2008, the company “was set up to help raise money when we were dealing with a very hostile council, Wandsworth.”  It has also helped set up organisations such as Ethical Threads, a fair-trade company sourcing T-shirts; Left Field, which runs a marquee for political debate and music at Glastonbury; and Clause IV, set up by former miners to organise campaigns for trade unions and infrastructure for events.

Campaigning in the positive

Hollingsworth, who has a long career in producing “cause-related” entertainment, argues that if campaigning is to work, it has to be carried out in a positive rather than negative way.  “People don’t want to be angry about negative things.  They prefer to be supportive and happy about positive action.

“Our campaigning at the GLC festivals was not anti-Thatcher, nor was it trying to drum home the seriousness of unemployment.  It was only too clear that there was unemployment.  What was not clear was that there was a positive alternative.  We were campaigning in the positive.  We were showing people what could be done.  The stalls and exhibitions at the festivals, as well as the talks, showed how a large local authority was creating jobs, funding small businesses and supporting work-sharing schemes.”

According to Hoyland, who helped on the two festivals as well as the two later Mandela concerts produced by Hollingsworth, “Hollingsworth is very clear about how these events can help big causes, without one being submerged by the other”.

Positive campaigning was to be the key to Hollingsworth’s later concerts – or what he terms “global media campaigns”.  Perhaps the most instructive example was the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute at Wembley Stadium in June 1988.  He determined that the event should be a celebratory musical tribute to Mandela with a single positive demand that he be released – rather than a wide denouncement of apartheid and a demand for the release of all apartheid prisoners, as wanted by the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Such a “negative” approach would not work for a show being broadcast around the world, he argues.  The worldwide success of the event raised consciousness of Mandela’s plight and is generally thought to have played a part in winning his release 20 months later, after 27 years in prison. 

Making the media

Within a few months of the second GLC Jobs for Change festival, Hollingsworth had come to believe that he had gone about them the wrong way.  Instead of simply putting on festivals, hoping that the press and television would pick them up, he should have sought to make television the main product, with the live event providing perhaps only part of the television programme. A televised campaign might have reached 10 million people, not just 250,000.  “We should have made a television show about the festival and even given it to Channel Four.  Perhaps we should also have made a video about the work of the GLC, maybe a mini-series covering jobs, transport and other areas.

“The live event is not everything and it certainly should not be the end-product.  It’s the starting point, providing a programme that will reach thousands or millions of people through television.”

He began to form this view when television director Neville Bolt approached him about filming parts of the Battersea Park festival for a party political broadcast he was making for the Labour Party.  He agreed to allow the filming so long as Bolt taught him the techniques of making programmes. He later formed a production company, Elephant House Productions, with Bolt.

A week after Battersea, he was struck by the huge worldwide television success of the Live Aid concert at Wembley.  The breadth of the television coverage had not originally been planned, but grew as a result of the BBC offering the show to European public-service broadcasters through the European Broadcasting Union and of a simultaneous Live Aid concert being run in Philadelphia.  He picked up the television baton like nobody else in the business of producing pop-music concerts.

Concerts for the Unemployed

Hollingsworth led a slightly different GLC team to produce two major concerts for the unemployed – a jazz and African concert at the Albert Hall and a large Christmas Party under a big top in Finsbury Park, north London.  The team also produced weekly concerts for the unemployed in several town halls across London, bringing “some of the best acts in the world to London for a mere £2 entry fee” for people with an unemployment card, according to Hoyland.

The Albert Hall concert featured as the main act the iconic South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand), whose music reflected a mix of traditional African, gospel and western jazz.  There were two other acts: the African band Xalam and the top flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia.  For Hollingsworth, the concert showed that the GLC was prepared, first, to put on classical rather than folk or pop culture for the unemployed; and, second, to take an international perspective on music.

The music for the Christmas Party, on December 21, was provided by Madness, Ian Dury, Imagination, Gregory Isaacs, Marc Almond and Billy Bragg.  Tony Hollingsworth and Neville Bolt produced a video of the show, Burning The Boats, which also included back-stage interviews with artists attacking the use of heroin.  The GLC, concerned about the level of drug addiction, distributed the video to schools, but not commercially.

Ethnic concerts: Miriam Makeba and Bollywood

Tony Hollingsworth produced two other major concerts for ethnic-minority groups at the GLC: the first based around African singer Miriam Makeba, at the Royal Festival Hall; the second a full-blown Bollywood show of musicians, singers and dancers at the Albert Hall (see box).  Both played to packed houses and, says Hollingsworth, demonstrated that the GLC could provide culture for the capital’s disparate communities.

The Miriam Makeba concert, on September 28 1985, was organised in a hurried three weeks after the Royal Festival Hall told the GLC that a free date had become available.  The GLC had had a long-running war with the RFH management over the events it booked.  The management wanted to put on only high culture.  The GLC wanted a far greater range of culture for the London population as a whole. The RFH said that it was booked up three years in advance, it couldn’t cancel bookings but would let the GLC, its funders, know if there was a cancellation.

When the cancellation came, Ken Livingstone’s office told Hollingsworth that it wanted something “very different, something that represents our view of the world”.  That night, Hollingsworth phoned Willie Leiser, one of Switzerland’s most experienced blues and jazz agents who looked after a number of African artists, including Miriam Makeba.  Leiser phoned Makeba at her home in Conakry, Guinea, and she said she would like to appear – but, not having performed for a while, she needed to find her musicians.  That was done over the next few days.

Hollingsworth asked producer Rikky Stein, to fly to Conakry that day to deal with the on-ground practicalities of getting Makeba and a number of her local musicians to the UK.  Hollingsworth, meanwhile, wasadvertising the event and pushing the Department of Employment to provide work permits.  The DoE acted fast, getting the permits to Heathrow just as Makeba was arriving.

By the morning of the concert, only 250 tickets for the 2,700-seat hall had been sold.  “The rehearsals were going well for Miriam, her band and the dancers, but they were going to play to an empty auditorium.  It was going to be a disaster.

“After afternoon rehearsals, I drove home to Brixton to get into a suit because Makeba had insisted – it was a condition of her contract – that she and her band be taken to Veeraswamy [the oldest Indian restaurant in London].  The traffic got slower and slower as I approached Brixton.  There was a police car near my turning off Acre Lane and I was told I couldn’t drive down the road.  So I got out and walked.  Six black guys ran out of nowhere and mugged me.  I was bruised and battered and very shaky.  I clearly couldn’t continue home, so I got back to the car and drove to the Festival Hall.”

“I was greeted at the artists’ entrance by the head of the all-black security crew I had employed, most of whom lived in Brixton like me, with a kindly hug.

“I went to the Box Office to learn the worst.  But they’d been run off their feet all afternoon and had nearly sold out, which they did soon afterwards.

With the concert due to start, “Miriam insisted I walk her to the edge of the stage.  I took her by the arm and started walking her there.  As we approached the stage, “there was a strange sound coming from the auditorium.  I thought it must be feedback from the sound system, it was so powerful and so loud, and shrill.  Then I realised it was the women in the audience with their African wails.  Miriam walks on to the stage and she wails back at them.  Then she starts to sing.”

About half the audience was black, Hollingsworth says, “mostly women dressed up to the nines”.  Most, it was thought, came from the embassies.  A good number came after hearing an interview with Makeba on BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour the previous day.

Hollingsworth had booked African artists for other concerts, bringing over Gil Scott-Heron, King Sunny Ade, Xalam and Les Amazons de Guinea (which was the band of Guinea’s traffic police) – something he had been able to do by working with the Paris-based Martin Meissonier, a key world music producer, sharing the cost of bringing artists to Europe.  But the Makeba concert, according to Hollingsworth, “proved we could put on a complete concert of African music, fill the Festival Hall and sell out in three weeks.  That was something the orchestral world could never do.”

How successful were the GLC concerts?

Tony Hollingsworthagues that the first jobs festival “broke the mould of how the GLC could campaign.  The second did it bigger, creating probably the largest one-day festival London has ever seen.”  Perhaps, because of this, one view within the GLC was that the second event was not as political as the first, but more popular or commercial.  But should the festivals be regarded as a success?

Critics argue that the GLC was profligate with its money and that public money should not have been spent on such popular culture..  However, the GLC saw as part of its brief the provision of  culture and entertainment to all parts of the diverse London population, including young people, and it thought that most of those who went to the festival enjoyed the day.  According to Hoyland, who was co-editor of the GLC newspaper Jobs for a Change, “the festivals were a great success, both politically and as festivals.  They showed very well what a local authority could do.  A legitimate part of that is giving people a good time.”

The Battersea festival cost the authority about £200,000, according to Dick Muskett, the GLC’s co-ordinator for Jobs Year, quoted by Hoyland in Reggae On The Rates: The Jobs for a Change Festivals.  According to Hollingsworth, that made the event “very cost-effective”.  With an attendance of 250,000, the subsidy was under £1 per head.  By comparison, seats at Covent Garden were subsidised by taxpayers and the rates at £20 per person.

But what of the political aims, those concerning what the GLC was doing on the jobs front?  Few people would have gone to the festivals for the politics or the jobs strategies that were being propagated.  Most clearly went for the music.  Some of the music was politically motivated, but was clearly not a main message-giver.  However, there were plenty of ways through which the thousands who went to the festivals could have picked up the GLC message.

There were no major speeches from the music stages.  Hollingsworth had ruled that out on the grounds that they would be counter-productive, turning off fans and changing the whole atmosphere of the festivals.  There were, however, brief speeches between some of the acts, with speakers generally following the rule that they had to be positive and to contribute to the overall atmosphere of the festival.  A number of people would have heard speeches or debates elsewhere on the festival site.  Others would have seen the theatrical pieces, the films, the poetry and the art exhibitions, which were generally political if not necessarily positive.  Very few would have missed the messages on posters or on the many stalls, and quite a few would have taken the literature offered by stall-holders.

According to Hoyland, many people thought that the “politics” of the festivals were contained as much in the general image that the festivals created as in any overt statements made from the stage or elsewhere.  That image contained implicit statements, one of the most important of which was the image of cultural and political diversity.  It may well be that, as he suggests, the image had more effect on changing people’s political awareness than any of the information put over about the issue of jobs.”  Yet such information – or at least the broad political message of it – would have been difficult to ignore

Hollingsworth himself says that “the overall feeling of the festivals was positive and celebratory” and that there was an awareness by the thousands who attended them that they were there “under the banner of an alternative economic policy that would create jobs”.  The GLC hierarchy certainly regarded the festivals as a success, even if there were different views on exactly what message people took away.

Bollywood farewell

The Bollywood show, advertised as An Evening of Asian Music, on March 25 1986, was one of a number of farewell concerts put on by the GLC to mark its abolition at the end of the month – and which reignited claims that Livingstone was throwing away ratepayers’ money.  The authority had asked staff and consultants what they wanted to do and Tony Hollingsworth suggested putting on a concert for London’s large Indian population for whom little to nothing had been done by the GLC.  He had used Ravi Shankar in earlier GLC events, but now wanted musicians appealing to a less up-market audience.

He booked the Albert Hall and brought over 12 acts, including an orchestra, singers and dancers, from Mumbai.  So far, so normal.  “But I had to learn how to sell the tickets.  You can’t sell them through ticket agencies, you have to go to the corner shops and newsagents of the communities.  You give them a book of tickets, then go back the following week to replace the book.  You don’t pay commission, you give them free tickets.

“We put the first artists on stage and most of the 6,000 crowd stood up and screamed, and they stood and sang and screamed for all three hours of the show.  Afterwards, I joined the artists backstage and then, when they had taken off their make-up and had a drink, I walked them to the exit door to see them to their cars.  We opened the doors and the first artists went out.  There was a huge scream and hundreds of fans rushed forward.  They ran over the top of the cars, which were crushed.  There are normally a hundred or so fans waiting at the stage door after a concert, this time there were hundreds and hundreds.  We retreated inside and ordered new cars and they left by a different exit.”

GLC Festivals and Concerts - Wikipedia link