Neil Young, that ageless and eternal figure of musical protest, has rarely attracted more controversy than in 1970, when he released “Southern Man”. Nearly six minutes long, it expressed Young’s contempt for slavery and slaverholders in his trademark hard rock style, and left no one with ears to hear in any doubt as to where he stood on the issue of race in America.
Never released as a single (the song appeared as the fourth track of Young’s 1970 album “After the Gold Rush”), its uncompromising lyrics made it one of the best known songs on the album – a notoriety that only grew after Lynyrd Skynyrd prominently criticised the song in their best known song “Sweet Home Alabama”.
Reportedly, there was no particular animosity between Young and the members of Skynyrd regarding the songs, just an honest disagreement of opinions. Indeed, at the time of the plane crash that killed Skynyrd, Young and the band were trying to sync up their schedules so that Young could perform “Sweet Home Alabama” with them sometime.
The Star Hotel in Newcastle wasn’t what you would have expected from a town like Newcastle in the late Seventies. The front bar might have catered to sailors and dockers like most other Newcastle pubs, but the back bar had bands playing every night of the week – and completely free. (There was also a middle bar, which hosted drag shows.)
The pun was a byword in Newcastle for the rebelliousness and rowdiness of the crowds. The crackdown was a while in coming, but it was inevitable that the authorities would respond. In Septmber of 1979, the response came with brutal swiftness. It was announced that the Star Hotel was to close – and only a single week’s notice was given. Protests and petitions were organised, but to no avail.
On the final night of trading, September 19, 1979, a crowd of 4000 people gathered to drink and dance at The Star Hotel for the last time ever. As the police showed up to quell the ‘disturbance’, the night descended into violence and chaos. The Star Hotel is best remembered today for this final riot.