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'London, Dalston, Cafe Oto, 10th May 2012'   

-  Genre: 'Spoken Word'

Our Rating:
Yes I don't often (if ever) review lectures, but then this was more than just a lecture as PAT THOMAS is over to promote his new book and CD 'Listen Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975'.

For those of you who don't know who Pat is or are wondering which Pat Thomas, he started out as the drummer in Paisley Underground acolyte band Absolute Grey and wrote liner notes for albums by The Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate etc. He also ran Normal Records and put out a great solo album ('Fresh') in the mid 90's as well as helping to run Ptolemaic Telescopes magazine and much work helping several labels to put out re-issues of all sorts of music. Quite a CV, basically.

I got into a packed Cafe Oto just as Pat was about to start and on getting a Mort Subite found myself somewhere to stand at the back as Pat began his lecture, taking us through the period covered by his book and CD with a few nods to the other things he's done. so soon we are hearing about Huey Newton and Bobby Seales and how they are running the Black Panthers at the age of only 22 and how while they are being demonised by the mainstream press they are also gaining traction in the local communities by supporting them and beginning outreach programmes. These programmes are to help make sure kids go to school, so that everyone gets fed and help finding work or healthcare in the black ghettoes of America.

Pat goes on to explain the difference between the Black Power/ Nationalist systems and the difference of vision in how to bring about real change. We hear from the first tune on the album (the Shahid Quintet's Invitation to Black Power) that is one of the treasures that Pat has dug up as most of this music of the movement either didn't sell or get the distribution it needed at the time.

Of course, various of the leaders of the moevement were imprisoned which allows us to hear Stokely Carmichael pleading for Huey Newton to be freed. Pat put us back in the middle of those strange times and explained it was his efforts to meet and hang out with the survivors without taping the talks that brought about the book and in particular his chats with David Hillyard.

Pat gave us a lengthy explanation of Black Forum Records who were Berry Gordy's Black Power off-shoot from Motown that the label now disowns and has written out of it's history. The album covers he shows all look great and very interesting and he is reissuing several of the tunes on CD for the first time ever, almost as if they only put them out in the first place for a "quiet" life. Either way they are an interesting window on the times and many of the records subsequently got sampled by all sorts of Hip Hop acts so they found their way into a wider consciousness in a sense at least.

One of the really rare tunes he spoke about that's on the CD is 'George Jackson' by Bob Dylan that is getting its first ever cd release having only ever been out on a 7" single in 1971. It tells the awful story of George's death in custody and the incredible official version of events. Pat also told us of how happy he was to get Bob's permission to re-issue the song: incredible that he was given 1 to Life for stealing $70!

We got some discussion of the Watts Prophets' role in the roots of Hip Hop and Rap and let's face it they had a hell of a message and were not afraid to say it proudly in the same way the Dick Gregory got his point across with some very witty stand up routines wondering if things might have turned out better if the movement was called Brown Strength rather than Black Power.

For me, one of the most interesting bits was the tale of Timothy Leary showing up in Algeria at Eldridge Cleaver's camp and seeking refuge from America and Eldridge's very witty and sardonic take on what was wrong with Tuning in turning on and dropping out when you are part of a dismissed and oppressed minority. It was this flaw that led to Eldridge throwing Tim out.

From there it was a jump to The Lumpen and Free Bobby (Seales) Now, which was a great garage-y freedom song and another sad tale. The lecture ended with a bit about Amiri Baraka's Who Will Survive In America: a tune that has been liberally sampled by all sorts of acts and is still a very sharp critique of where the country is headed.

After the break, Pat joined reknowned Sociologist Paul Gilroy and Film maker John Akomfrah and Book Publisher Margaret Busby for a very interesting discussion and full of depth, but then they are a group of people who all really know the subject. They started off discussing the importance of the Black Power movement in the US had on the Black Population in the UK and what the availability of the music was here. Apparently as the dittribution was so poor if you did know who stocked them you would have got them as they didn't really sell at the time.

Pat was also asked why call it Listen Whitey! Part of the response was the honest answer that a good provocative title will get you more publicity and then how the music - while reaching very few people at the time - has been like the rings of Saturn in it's slow spread through rap and hip hop into mainstream culture. When asked how he came across Black Forum Records, Pat explained it was through Elaine Brown's records as he had some of her non militant music and then found the militant record she put out on Black Forum.

They continued with a very intense discussion of how the Black power movement intersected with the prison movement and Nation of Islam which also asked the question: is Jazz more inclined towards Black Nationalism than Black Power and what is the difference in the two terms and movements?

They then got onto the question of "Is Music the Weapon of the Future?" which was illustrated effectively by Amiri Baraka's Who Will Survive In America's. The discussion veered into how films like The Black Power Mix tape of Swedish film makers take on the US black Power movement might be considered Exotica rather than being relevant to the struggles of today. While they all agreed that it's a good film, they also pointed out from some factual errors in the voice over.

The questions from the audience were of such deep understanding that I felt out of my depth and chose to simply listen to what went on. It was a fascinating evening and I look forward to reviewing the book and CD together once I've read the book which is certainly beautifully put together.

Check out Pat's book at Fanta Graphics

Pat Thomas's CD at Light in The Attic

  author: simonovitch

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