Riot 111: 1981! (1981)

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Riot 111: 1981! (1981)

New Zealand has no great popular history of topical, political songs -- and the few that there are tend toward the humorous (My Old Man's An All Black with its reference to no Maori being allowed into South Africa in our representative rugby team during the apartheid era, or Click Go The Toll Gates about tolls on the newly constructed Auckland Harbour Bridge).

Perhaps it is because folk music -- which is often topical -- has been marginalised from popular music in New Zealand, unlike say in the US where Dylan, Springsteen and others drew on Woody Guthrie, or in Britain where Elvis Costello, Robert Wyatt, Billy Bragg and more recently Frank Turner look to their folk predecessors.

In all those years of high unemployment in New Zealand there were few directly political songs -- none currently about the disgraceful and often criminal failure of investment companies and over-paid executives -- and it always seems a bit sad that musicians are seen to be only responding to things which hit them (Don't Give Me Culture by the Knobz).

The 1981 Springbok tour which saw riots in the streets and intense political debate also only threw up a few songs of significance -- but this blazing cry to arms was one of them. It was hardly "popular" though as only 500 copies of the single by Riot 111 were pressed.

Lead singer Void said, "We're not a band, we're a terrorist organisation" -- but if so they were short-lived. Their single was written and recorded between the second and third rugby tests and the band tried to storm radio stations to get it played.

The song itself uses elements that were in the air at the time: an English translation of the Te Kamate haka which the All Blacks perform before a test, the "move move move" which the police chanted at protestors to get them to move along, the Zulu chant of Amandla Ngaweto (Freedom to the People) and "shame shame" which anti-tour marchers chanted . . . and all this over a relentless and increasingly violent guitar and drum pattern.

This was a rare New Zealand single where history, art and politics collided. 

For more on-offs or songs with an interesting back-story see From the Vaults.

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Shaun - Nov 23, 2010

In a sign of how things had changed between 1981 and the proposed 1985 tour of SA by the All Blacks, there was of course the anthemic Chris Knox/Don MCGlashan (and all stars!) singing "Don't Go!" under the name of Right, left and Centre. I love that kiwi politeness . . . "Please don't go!" That song actually got quite a bit of airplay and the video was seen a fair bit on the telly:

The flip side of the single (came out as 7" and 12") has a song called, if I remember correctly, "Move Cecil"-(an obvious echo to the Move! Move! of the riot squads in '81) which was an ode to Cec Blazey, the NZRFU chair of the time. For perhaps the only time in musical history, the word "intransigent" appears in a song . . . "You've got to move, move Cecil. Don't be such an intransigent man . . ." Brilliant.

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