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Jun
2016
Thursday 30th
posted by Morning Star in Features

January 29 1931 - June 21 2016


KARL FREDERICK DALLAS, who died on June 21 at the age of 85, will go down in history as the father of British folk-rock journalism.

But for those who worked with him at the Morning Star or assisted him organising gigs to raise awareness and funds for numerous movements and for those who stood next to him as human shields in Iraq, joined his hunger strikes or even watched him don donkey ears to keep our community swimming baths open, he’ll be remembered for his solidarity wherever human injustices and inequalities prevailed. He was one with us, the people.

Dallas was brought up in a socialist family and was named after Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. From the age of seven, he was a peace activist. It was then that he accompanied his mother, a single parent, on a demonstration against Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.

From an early age he set his heart on a career as a poet and lyricist. He understood the value of the arts, specifically the protest song, as a cultural unifier.

Describing his most political songs as “love songs with a universal message,” Dallas summed this up in an encouraging declaration of hope: “People survive despite everything.”

Via a stint as a publicist for Billy Smart’s Circus, he came to journalism and his work was informed by his own considerable skill as a musician. Dallas had a knack of scouting out the best talent around.

At first using the name Fred Dallas, it would be the mid-’60s before he became widely know as Karl Dallas, having established himself as the most influential music journalist in Britain.

He was a contributor to Melody Maker from the 1950s to the 1970s and continued his political interests by writing for the Daily Worker — later the Morning Star — and self-published the magazines Folk News, Acoustic Music and Jazz Music News among others.

Dallas was a popular figure, gaining interviews from even the most elusive of all artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Davey Graham and he was known to gain access to Pink Floyd when no other journalist could.

Throughout his career, he kept his professional integrity by writing what he thought was important and never allowed friendship to influence what he would write.

At some point, he came to the conclusion that “music was a murderous business,” having seen too many creative sensibilities destroyed by a capitalist industry and those controlling it.

Dallas was a rock and folk survivor. A recovering alcoholic and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous since the early 1980s, he never forgot October 9 1979, the day he had his last drink. It was this personal struggle with his own demons that, perhaps, made Dallas so akin to those whom he affectionately called “the walking wounded” who “soldiered on.” Having considering himself an atheist with an inclination towards paganism, Dallas converted to Christianity in 1983.

He retired from full-time journalism in 1999. Even so, he continued to work ceaselessly, celebrating the multicultural richness and diversity of Bradford where he made his home — he had left London and moved there with his wife in 1989.

Speaking out against the EDL, he assembled crowds in peaceful, multifaith opposition to racism and fascism. Having had his songs recorded by the likes of Ewan MacColl and The Spinners, Dallas ran songwriting workshops and he was a regular at Bradford’s Topic venue, where his composition Hamba Khalie, Sala Khalie, with its lyrics: “Go well, stay well, safe journey home” became the folk club’s signature finale.

He wrote plays, novels and poetry like there was no tomorrow, along with online music reviews and he remained a loyal contributor to the Morning Star. His work for Bradford Radio included weekly debates, a jazz show and film reviews and he was at times a quirky broadcaster. His marathon eight-hour Midsummer Night’s Radio Madness Show — at Midnight is remembered with particular fondness.

He was a regular guest at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention and set up his tent there for the last time in 2013, meeting briefly with old friends and enthusing over the raw energy of the Yorkshire band The Dunwells. The most poignant moment of that weekend for me had to be sitting next to him when Fairport sang Who Knows Where the Time Goes. He had seen so many bright lights cut down in their prime but it was the loss of Sandy Denny that seemed to haunt him most.

Back in 1981, on the occasion of Dallas’s 50th birthday, folk-rock musician Roy Harper predicted: “Karl Dallas will outlive us all.” With a massive backlog of writing, published and unpublished, he leaves enough of a mark to ensure his voice will live on.

He lives on also in the most vulnerable and would-be silenced of society to whom he gave his support, at times risking his own safety and even his life. A man of words, a maker of songs and verse and a teller of tales, he embraced new technologies and was an eager advocate of the selfie-broadcast.

Shortly before his death Dallas announced on Facebook: “I’m living one day at a time and planning a fun-filled funeral. Try and be there.”

A lifelong activist and comrade, he will be sorely missed. But it is a small comfort to know he remained with us for the summer solstice, when the tilt of the earth was most inclined towards the sun.

Our kind thoughts and condolences are with his wife Gloria, his children Molly and Steven and their families.

Carol Ballard

  •  Karl Dallas’s funeral takes place at St Paul’s Church, Manningham, Bradford today (June 30) at 12.30pm. A New Orleans jazz band will follow the procession into the church and there’ll be a collection for Marie Curie and the Morning Star.

 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Karl Dallas was a key figure in helping the anarchist Black Cross organise concerts in support of Franco’s political prisoners, usually at Conway Hall in London. 

This had consequences when I found myself in the dock, in May 1972, with seven others in the so-called Angry Brigade case at the Old Bailey.

Other than planted detonators, perhaps the most difficult part of the case against me was a letter I’d written in Spanish and signed “Edy” which was found at the London house where the four main defendants had been arrested.

The prosecution was anxious to know why I would use a pseudonym and what the other acronyms, abbreviations and coded references in the letter referred to. 

I explained that it dealt with matters relating to the anti-Francoist resistance and, were I to give this information in court, Scotland Yard’s Special Branch would have passed them on within hours to their gestapo-trained colleagues in the Brigada Politico-Social in Madrid.

Those concerned would have been arrested, tortured and possibly even executed or murdered. I stressed that the letter solely concerned the anti-Francoist resistance and had nothing to do with bombing campaigns.

Karl, an old friend and, at the time, a well-known concert promoter and manager of musicians, spoke as a witness in my defence to confirm that I was indeed involved with him in ongoing discussions to organise Europe-wide concerts in support of the victims of Francoism. 

Despite the judge’s raised eyebrows and prosecutor John Matthew pouring scorn on the possibility or likelihood of pop concerts and concerted propaganda actions in Franco’s Barcelona and Madrid, the jury were impressed by Karl’s gravitas in the witness box and his corroborating testimony as to my explanation of the contents of the letter. 

Had they not, the outcome of the trial might have been very different and I could have gone down for 20 years.May the earth lie lightly on you Karl. You made a difference.

Stuart Christie


 

THE LAST time I performed in England in 2010, I did a gig up north, where I got to see my old friend Karl Dallas again.

It was a joyous reunion and, although much had changed, nothing had really changed at all. Karl remained as feisty and opinionated as ever — a great thing — and seemed to have unlimited energy which he used to promote his ideas and his heart.

He was a scholar, an educator and my dear friend. I learned so much from our conversations over the decades and they began during the summer of 1965, when I travelled to London for no particular reason except to be there.

I knew no-one and for the first few days I camped out on park benches, which quickly got cold. I was running out of options and money and decided to look up a friend of the family who published my father’s songs. He consequently introduced me to Karl and his wife Gloria who immediately invited me to stay in their London flat. I took the opportunity to sleep on their couch for the next month — and for many years intermittently thereafter.

During that time, Karl took me to the places in London where folk music reigned. The Troubadour, and The Scots House were my favorites and I got to meet and play music with everyone from Ewan MacColl to Alex Campbell and Derroll Adams.

Karl arranged for me to do a solo tour of England, which I did that summer when I was just 18. They became my family whenever I could get across the pond.

Through them I became dear friends with everyone who had anything to do with traditional music and many who had gone beyond it. Some, like Donovan, have remained life-long friends. And some like Peter Bellamy of The Young Tradition were heroes and inspirational.

I met them all through my friendship with Karl and have remained ever grateful to him and Gloria, beyond any means to reciprocate. 

Arlo Guthrie


 

ALTHOUGH an avid reader of Karl’s column in the Daily Worker, sharing mutual friends with musician Davey Graham from 1965 and involvement in the “Soho scene,” our first collaboration was for Camden Communist Party in 1973 and later organising artists for the Morning Star festival at Alexandra Palace.

When the Morning Star invited me to become arts editor in 1987, Karl offered his extensive experience and his contacts proved invaluable in launching the arts page.

Karl supported the resistance to the Marxism Today faction inside the Communist Party when it attempted to take over the paper and we travelled around to encourage support for the then editor Tony Chater and other party loyalists when those comrades who supported the paper were expelled.

He continued to contribute to the paper and never compromised. Staunchly supported by Ewan McColl, he had many disagreements over the years, not least with traditional folkies over the “electrification” of music, especially when Bob Dylan plugged his guitar into an amp and let rip, loudly.

It was a surprise when Karl related that he had found Jesus in 1983. stressing that he was a “carpenter and revolutionary.” Calling himself a Christian-Communist, he wrote a script about Stalin and went on to produce a play about a plot orchestrated by Khrushchev.

As someone who arrived at my politics through rejecting religion, he once gave me a roasting for referring to Christmas as Saturnalia. It all added to the fun and frivolity and we shared the recognition that human beings could choose to change, and express their consciousness in many formats, as long they forwarded the struggle.

Karl’s conversion was a result of his undergoing Alcoholic’s Anonymous 12-stage programme because he had been struggling with the “demon drink” for years. He was always fascinated by those artists and musicians driven by devils and their rough life experiences which were the origin of blues, jazz and folk — the precursor of rock’n’roll rebellion.

There’s no way to do full justice to Karl’s history, including as it does his attempt to travel by bus with his pensioner’s pass from John O’Groat’s to Land’s End, singing songs, telling stories and collecting money for Palestine, being a human shield in Iraq or jumping aboard ship to show solidarity with besieged Palestinians in Gaza.

Attacked for being in Iraq, where he hoped to promote a pop concert that would deter the US from bombing, he was mauled by the British media. His wife Gloria had a TV confrontation with Tony Blair, while Karl wrote and sang Not in Our Name and produced a play entitled Into the War Zone.

Karl was forever rewriting his history as much as he was writing obituaries — something he used to get annoyed about, as it indicated that where he once “walked with giants,” he was now “walking with the wounded.”

He epitomised that spirit of revivalism that began with the Levellers, Diggers and Cromwell’s New Model Army during the English civil war.

No matter the changes in his outlook — which embraced the beatnik and hippy movements and new age paganism along the way to his being reborn — he returned to what he called “always the family of man,” a song he wrote and recorded in 1955 that became his signature tune.

Be well, be loved, Karl.

Jeff Sawtell

 




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