Most people who are old enough remember the reggae singer Eddy Grant for his popular radio song in 1983 called Electric Avenue. Fewer know about his earlier seminal London rock combo, the Equals. Eddy Grant is currently involved in a lawsuit against none other than the world’s number one flimflammer, Donald Trump, over copyright infringement issues. The Trump political organization used Electric Avenue in a 2020 promotional campaign video without the creator’s permission. I’ll get back to the lawsuit later because the plaintiff in the case (Eddy Grant) has a much more interesting and productive life tale than the rich buffoon of a defendant, who has one that we all know about. And it is worth telling.
Eddy Grant was born in British Guyana in 1948 and he moved to North London twelve years later to join his parents. Eddy’s dad was a trumpet player in a band called Nello and the Luckies (Nello happened to be C.L.R. James’s nickname). Eddy picked up music after attending a Chuck Berry concert in London, and in 1965 he was a founding member of the Equals. What made the Equals special was that they were the first multi-racial rock group in British history.
I am proud to have some Equals records in my collection. These albums exude energy with a mix of ska, pop, rock and soul. The Equals came along at the right time and shook things up in the music world in England. They opened shows for soul big shots such as Wilson Pickett and the Bishop himself, Solomon Burke. And then they were signed to a label, and their songs like Baby Get Back, I Get So Excited, Viva Bobby Joe and Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys enjoyed success. The band’s heyday was between 1967 and 1970. During that period, most Wurlitzer jukeboxes in London pubs boasted an Equals song as a selection.
The significance of the multi-racial composition of the Equals line-up cannot be underestimated, nor some of the subject matter that they tackled. Enoch Powell, the anti-immigration MP honker and Britain’s own Ian Smith, was already making his stand. The racist National Front formation, mostly street fighters of the thug variety, was just around the corner. The politics of white racial superiority were beginning to dominate British life. Eric Clapton, the famous Cream and blues rock guitarist (his fans referred to him as “God”), made supportive statements towards Powell. Clapton now whines on about vaccines, masks and Covid mandates, and how they interfere with freedom of choice for rich, pampered musicians. He needs to step carefully. The last time Eric Clapton offered a public political opinion, British society had to form Rock Against Racism, a major mass movement that helped to put the Front on the back foot.
Central to the repression of the black community in the U.K. was and still is the role of the police. The Equals addressed this tinderbox situation with the release in 1967 of their own single Police on My Back, written by Eddy Grant. Here’s the video:
Later on, the Clash covered this same song on their 1980 triple album Sandanista. The original Equals video has a Beatlesque Hard Day’s Night/Help quality to it, with madcap high speed dashing going on, but the message is clear…these people in uniform are making our lives miserable. The police are the muggers in blue (this apt description was first coined by the Darcus Howe edited magazine Race Today).
There was something else more promising on the horizon and the Equals played a part in this development too. It can be argued that they were the originators of the two-tone movement, one that bought the Rude Boys and the Skins together. A dozen years later, bands like the Specials, the Selector and the English Beat were owning the music scene over there. Posters of musicians like Saxa and Ranking Roger covered the walls of kids’ rooms. Audiences were a genuine mix of immigrant rude boys and young whites, skins and music fans. This was not a bad thing.
Edward Kassner, the boss of the record label that represented the Equals, was opposed to them touring the United States. He feared that their mixed composition would cause problems here, so the Equals were never afforded the opportunity of American exposure during their most prolific period in Europe. It must be said that one person’s reticence is another person’s full steam ahead, but we will never know the answer, thanks to the duplicity of the music business poohbahs. For most Americans, the Equals have remained a mystery.
Which brings me back to the lawsuit against Trump. Apparently, it is going quite well. According to The Guardian in the April 1, 2022 edition (the Fools’ Day one), Eddy Grant’s lawyers say that the video has been seen more than 13.7 million times, the tweet has been liked more than 350,000 times, and has received more than 50,000 comments. So there is no doubt that the Trump thieves have benefitted from their artistic larceny, which only strengthens Eddy Grant’s argument.
Fortunately, the Trump clowns have failed to have the lawsuit dismissed. The judge is not buying the arguments of Presidential immunity, etc., the usual bushwah. He says that there is no justification for the extensive borrowing that has gone on. What a pisser! If these things don’t get resolved, Trump and Eddy Grant are due to be deposed on June 21 of this year. For all of the Democratic Party led committees that haven’t managed to do anything worthwhile, the older singer might expose their uselessness as well. How can we lose here? And we get a Trump performance too as part of the bargain. Will this happen, probably not, but it will reek of justice if it does, much more so than Senator Whatsisface from the loyal opposition blabbing on about dangers to national security and U.S. imperialism, and the need to corral a character like Trump. So, of course, we can lose. After all, look at the arena it is in.
Eddy Grant says this in The Guardian article about Electric Avenue:
“I’d watched the Brixton riots unfold on television,” Grant said. “I’d seen the Notting Hill riots starting a few years previously.
“I wrote down: ‘Now in the street there is violence,’ and the song just flowed from there. I had been talking to politicians and people at a high level about the lack of opportunity for black people.”
He also managed this:
“My big songs, like Electric Avenue, tend to come quickly. It’s like visiting the bathroom – you’ve really got to go.”
Now this last part is something that Trump could relate to, himself being so full of shit. I don’t have any faith in the courts of this country adjudicating and settling things fairly. That’s a crapshoot and it’s not the point. Give me the Equals any day, a no-brainer. What they brought to the table helped, and we need all the help we can get. Have a listen to the Equals. They will hit the spot. Rock steady, Eddy.