Rock Against Racism at the Limelight

Bands from across Northern Ireland unite in aid of the Northern Ireland Council For Ethnic Minorities

The recent spate of racist attacks in Northern Ireland has appalled all right-thinking people, but there have been glimmers of hope.

It was heartening to see the mass rejection of hate by the citizens of Belfast in the recent protests at City Hall and in the March Against Racism through Belfast city centre. And this Friday night, the local music fraternity will do their bit at a benefit gig at the Limelight.

The line-up for Rock Against Racism features some of Northern Ireland's most exciting acts: And So I Watch You From Afar, The Answer (acoustic), Mojo Fury, General Fiasco (acoustic), Kasper Rosa and Empty Lungs, with 'many more' yet to be announced.

The event, which will raise money for the Northern Ireland Council For Ethnic Minorities (NICEM), was organised by Joe Dougan of Shine Productions, who own the Limelight venue. 'I think all of us at the Limelight were pretty concerned by the growing frequency of racist attacks in and around Belfast, whether verbal or physical,' Dougan explains.

'It feels like things have got quite bad, and it felt like there was no voice saying, "This isn't us. We don't agree with it". We hope that we can bring direct financial support to those put out of their homes by these recent attacks, and we hope that it acts as a gesture of solidarity, to show that for a lot of people in Northern Ireland, racism in any form is not acceptable.'

The gig will be headlined by instrumental rockers And So I Watch You From Afar, who have had a hectic 2014 so far. The Portrush band have toured Europe and south-east Asia to promote their latest album, the aptly-named All Hail Bright Futures.

Rock Against Racism will be their first Belfast show since December 2013, when they packed out the same venue for a celebratory Christmas gig. Guitarist Rory Friers describes the Rock Against Racism as 'the right thing at the right time'.

'If I was from another country, living here, raising a family and trying to integrate into a community, there's a strong chance I would feel very alone, intimidated and scared at how Northern Ireland was starting to feel,' comments Friers.

'If this show can make anyone feel a bit of comfort knowing there are open-minded and good-hearted people around them, and that the recent racially motivated attacks and attitudes exist within a small minority of idiots, then I think that would be enough. On top of that, it will also raise money for an excellent cause and hopefully raise awareness of the situation and the support for change.'

Friers also reveals that the And So I Watch You Afar set for the concert will 'absolutely' feature some surprises – and look out for an exclusive acoustic performance by Owen Strathern of the now defunct but much loved indie-pop acts, General Fiasco.

NICEM spokesperson Helena Macormac reveals that the funds raised will help the charity with a variety of aspects of their work – direct assistance to victims of racist attacks, lobbying politicians on behalf of ethnic minorities, and education and outreach. 'Such a high profile event with such well known bands sends out a clear message that racist attitudes are not welcome in Northern Ireland,' Macormac adds.

'We were overwhelmed and delighted that the March Against Racism held in Belfast on June 7 attracted 8,000 people despite dismal weather and we are delighted to see more and more of the public in Northern Ireland standing with minorities to challenge racism. The gig is an excellent way of creating awareness in a very positive way whilst having a great night out.'

Pop-punk band Empty Lungs are one of the most politically engaged bands on the bill, and their frontman Kevin Jones believes that music still has the power to affect hearts and minds. 'My love for music has shaped my entire life,' he says.

'When I was a kid my dad got me into the protest folk of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. Then as a teen I became immersed in the punk rock world, which has shaped my personal politics greatly. Of course, music, art and literature will never be responsible for direct change – that has to come through the actions of people – but it certainly provides a catalyst, a backbone for cohesive ideas.'

Many of the acts on the bill rarely play their home city any more, while acoustic performances from General Fiasco and The Answer are something of a collector's item. Add passionate support for a great cause, and Rock Against Racism looks like an unmissable event.

'Everyone playing puts on hugely energetic and sincere shows, so there's going to be some serious energy in the room,' Jones observes. 'I think there's always a special atmosphere at shows like this too, when everyone onstage and off knows that they're there for a reason, not just a social event or weekend entertainment. We're all there to make a stand and send a message.'

Rock Against Racism takes place at The Limelight, Belfast on June 20, over 18s only.