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Patrick Vernon
'Our elders knew how to rave'

I HAD the chance to watch the stage production of Rudy's Rare Records starring Lenny Henry at Hackney Empire recently.

The comedy is based on the popular BBC Radio 4 sitcom Rudy’s Rare Records, which has been running for four years.

The writer Danny Robins - working with Lenny Henry, director Paulette Randall, musical director Joseph Roberts and designer Libby Watson - powerfully recreated the environment of a reggae record shop in Birmingham which is stuck in a Dr Who-style 'time space continuum' of the 1980s.

The other cast members Natasha Godfrey, Jeffery Kissoon, Joivan Wade, Lorna Gayle, Tendayi Jembere and Larrington Walker were fantastic and authentic.

What was special about the production was not only the quality of the one gags but the live band which played music covering the 1960s to the 1980s from Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, and the Sugarhill Gang.

Rudy's Rare Records is a tiny run-down record shop and recording studio which like many others in real life are becoming an endangered species as a result of the impact of music downloads from the internet, gentrification and issues around entrepreneurship.

The shop is owned by the charismatic, irrepressible, cantankerous Rudy Sharpe (Larrington Walker), reluctantly helped out by his long-suffering son Adam (Lenny Henry), but when the threat of developers looms, father and son must put their differences aside as they face a battle to keep the music alive.

Rudy’s Rare Records shows how desperate times draw families together, even when you can’t stand the sight of each other.

It reminds me of my teenage years in Wolverhampton where the record shop was a social and cultural institution in the community next to the church and market on a Saturday.

However, the play highlights the deeper social issue of the state of the black community around spaces we can express our identity, dynamics of intergenerational dialogue and masculinity.

In the 70s, 80s and 90s there was a thriving clubbing and lifestyle scene as a result of a growing and emerging second and third generation of Black Britons predominantly in London and throughout the UK.

Under Thatcherism there was the early formation of an emerging black middle class, success and entrepreneurism reflected the new 'Buppies' culture.

Cities like London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Nottingham were also creating multicultural identities as part of the history of migration and social change.

Nightclubs, pirate radio stations and record shops created a solace and forms of escapism away from the day-to-day issues of racism, discrimination and economic recession.

People could be themselves and express their opinions and identity through fashion and style and the rhythms and the vibes of great music of the time.

Many clubs in London’s West End (Gulliver’s, Gossips, Crackers, Africa Centre, 100 Club) and areas like Hackney, Haringey, Brent, Ealing and Lambeth, were now creating a new experience of night clubs with high standards and protocol in dress and decorum that reflected the growing aspiration of black people in Britain at the time.

This was further promulgated by the advent of the jungle, garage and house music scenes. London clubs were also a destination point for many ravers and clubbers travelling from the Midlands and the North to be of part of this 'black metropolis'.

However there was still a vibrant scene 'up country' with clubs springing up such as the Hummingbird, Club Lafayette, Rock City, Rising Star, Hacienda, Place Mate 7, Reno and PSV Night Club.

Today all of these historic clubs and record shops once part of the lovers rock, reggae and rare groove scene are now hipster venues or housing developments.

The legacy of these record shops, music artists, clubs and pirate radio must be remembered.

It is this ‘intangible heritage’ that use to bind us and was the meeting point of the different generations and multicultural nature of our society.

It raises the question how we preserve this cultural aspect of our history for future generations.

Rudy’s Record did not give up the fight - the question is, have we?

Patrick Vernon is a Clore Fellow and founder of Every Generation Media

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