Chris Dean (vocals/guitar) - who under the name X Moore had a parallel career as a NME journalist - formed his first band (No Swastikas) in York in 1981 alongside Nick King (drums). The pair were later joined by Martin Hewes (bass/vocals) who also went under the names Martin Militant, Martin Leon and Martin Bottomley. Both Chris and Martin were members of the SWP (Socialist Workers Party). The band moved to London in March 1982 and changed their name to Redskins. Although skinheads had at that time become associated with the far right, Chris Dean recognised them as genuinely proletarian youth cult, "I don't think of it as an image, it just happened to be there. But at the same time it does have a political significance because most people probably think all skinheads are morons".
The Redskins look and politics was to prove controversial. Most viciously, in July 1984 a gang of neo-nazi skins wielding bike chains invaded the stage as the Redskins played the GLC's Jobs For A Change Festival in London.
When a proposed deal with Paul Weller's Respond label fell through the band signed with the Leeds indie label CNT. They released their first single "Lev Bronstein" in July 1982. The single was produced by John Mekon (aka John Langford from The Mekons & Three Johns). On the back of the record sleeve the band thanked Joe Strummer as he had been an influence on the band and inspired Chris Dean to learn to play guitar. After John Peel heard the single he booked them for their first Radio One session. The session took place on October 9th 1982 and broadcast on October 20th. The Redskins played 4 songs "Unionize", "Reds Strike The Blues", "Kick Over The Statues" and "Peasant Army". This session was the first time the band had used a brass section. The line up for the brass section was later to settle as Kevin Robinson (trumpet), Trevor Edwards (trombone) and Ray Carless (tenor sax). The session was to prove very popular. In 1987 Strange Fruit Records released the session as a 12 inch single.
Their next single "Lean On Me!" was released in 1983. Attack On Bzag said at the time that Lean On Me! "was to independant singles what A to Z are to street plans. Quite simply the best". While the NME declared the single "A love song to workers solidarity.... A modern soul classic". Sounds journalist Garry Bushell voted "Lean On Me!" the best single of 1983. "Lean On Me!" brought the Redskins a lot of attention and at the beginning of 1984 they signed to Decca Records.
Chris Dean always gave good interviews; "All the talk completes our performance if you like". So much so that he gained the ironic nickname "Tamla Motormouth". When the coal miners strike began in March, the Redskins became a key part of its soundtrack. When they had first started, all the band's talk of strikes and unions and "the crisis of capitalism" had seemed anachronistic to many ears. But Chris was proven to be prophetic. He'd told the NME when the Redskins first started "There's a good chance that in two or three years time, over here an upsurge in workers militancy will bring a crisis. We might come out of it with no arms or legs, completely wrecked and defeated.
Their first single for Decca "Keep On Keepin' On!" was released in October and became an anthem for many. By then the miners strike had reached a crucial stage with miners beginning to be literally starved back to work ("One by one we take the money, ten by ten we face defeat") and it's rousing, soul stirring chorus perfectly embodied the optimism and anger of the time.
The Redskins appearance on Channel 4's The Tube that Autumn achieved much notoriety. I remember watching it at the time as I had heard that the band were on and wanted to know what they sounded like. The Redskins opened up with "Hold On!" and just before the start of the next song ("Keep On Keepin' On") the band took the music down a little while Chris Dean announced "On tamborine additional percusion and on strike for 35 weeks a Durham miner". At that point a miner who was appropriately named Norman Strike came on stage to make a speech about the strike. But no one could hear what he was saying as the microphone was dead leaving him mouthing his words to an unhearing audience both in the studio and at home. Despite Channel 4's assurances to the contary to many this looked distinctly like a conspiracy. The switchboards were jammed with complaints and Right To Reply had a couple of video box backlashes. In the end the miners probably got more publicity out of the confusion. As for me, well after hearing them play "Keep On Keepin' On! I was hooked. The very next day I bought the single and started to attend SWP meetings.
The Redskins next single "Bring It Down! (This Insane Thing)" didn't appear until the miners strike had ended in March 1985. Drummer Nick King had quit the band during the recording of the single so The Style Council's Steve White ended up playing on it, before Paul Hookham from The Woodentops took over on a permanent basis. Paul had also played in The Lemons who released one single, "My Favourite Band" on John Bradbury's (The Specials) Race Records. The Redskins made a promo video for the "Bring It Down!" single which featured an appearance by Alexi Sayle and also played the song live on the Saturday morning kids TV show No.73. In June "Bring It Down!" became the band's first and only top 40 hit.
In November the band organised a 12 date anti-apartheid tour and planned to simultaneously release "Kick Over The Statues!" as a benefit single. When Decca refused, the Redskins stole the master tapes (a trick learned from Dexys) and gave them to the independant label Abstract who rush released the single with all the royalities donated to the ANC and the South African Trade Unionists. To avoid any legal arguments the Redskins name doesn't feature on The Record sleeve. The anti-apartheid tour ended with a bit of party at the Polytechnic with Billy Bragg, Jerry Dammers and Alexei Sayle dancing along on stage to the Redskins version of "Back In The U.S.S.R.".
The Redskins 6th single "The Power Is Yours", a despondent but undefeated look back in anger at the miners strike, was released in Febuary 1986. The single was also the opening track to their one and only album "Neither Washington Nor Moscow" which was released a month later. The album was like a greatest hits of sorts as it contained 5 singles amongst it's 11 tracks.
In May the Redskins final single "It Can Be Done!" was released. This was a remixed version of the one that appeared on the album. The band also made a promo video for this single which featured them busking outside a James Brown gig. The band split up at the end of 1986 after a tour of Eastern Europe playing their last gig in Munich, Germany on September 15th. Their last gig was recorded and the following year their version of Billy Bragg's "Levi Stubbs Tears" appeared on the "Wake Up" (EP). The Redskins did plan to play some benefit gigs in December as part of their farewell gigs. But these failed to materialise because of "organisational fuck- ups". Contrary to rumours, there was no split within the group. Chris Dean stated that - "It became harder and harder to be a member of the Socialist Workers Party and the Redskins. The group was out of time, out of date and out of step with the political reality of Britain in 1986. We were becoming more rock and roll than political". The Redskins left behind a debt of 36,000 pounds and their unfulfilled fantasy of revolution intact.