Few artists did more to support the striking miners during their incredible battle with Thatcher in 84/85 than Billy Bragg and the Redskins with countless benefit gigs. While Bragg still continues to fight for just causes (currently battling against bankers bonuses and the BNP), the Redskins from York felt so dejected by the ultimate defeat of the NUM's efforts that they gave up performing a year or so later. They left as their last testament one of the finest albums of the 80s, Neither Washington Nor Moscow, a full-on mix of hard left politics (they were all members of the SWP) and punked up northern soul. For some of us it has remained a treasured slab of vinyl; an oft-played reminder of a time when we really did think we could change the world.
NWNM was pretty much a gathering of most of their singles and b-sides with studio recordings of a few other live favourites thrown in. This new compilation, Epilogue, meticulously gathered by long-time fan Mark Barrett, aims to fill the gaps with very early CNT singles, live recordings, demos and tracks by the original pre-Redskins band No Swastikas; all captured on CD for the very first time. With its limited release on a Canadian label, it's unlikely to reach too many new listeners but for the long converted like me it's an absolute treat.
I'd long wondered what No Swastikas sounded like and the three tracks here (Strike, Unamed and Stickies) reveal a fairly generic new wave band (albeit a highly politicised one). The debut single as the Redskins, Lev Bronstein and b-side Peasant Army, were both far better but lacked the soulful rhythms and triumphant brass of what was to follow with the second 7" coupling. Lean on Me and Unionize still sound magnificent; frantic, funked up foot-stompers, they could stir the passions and limbs of even the most apathetic couch potato. Likewise, two of the band's finest moments, It Can Be Done and Keep On Keeping On, are here in demo form but even these are sufficiently different to the originals (and well recorded) to deserve hearing all over again.
With the reclusive nature of frontman Chris Dean it's highly unlikely he will ever perform any of these songs live again so capturing these left wing nuggets now is much appreciated and a recommended purchase.