Eric Clapton was embroiled in a scandal in 1976 while performing in Birmingham, which had a long-lasting effect on his career. He publicly expressed his sympathy for the National Front, a far-right racist political organization in the UK, and used derogatory language about foreigners while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. At the time, the incident made news in the UK. Later, it was featured in the 2017 documentary “Life In 12 Bars,” where the guitarist expressed regret for his remarks. During a Q&A session after the documentary’s London premiere, Clapton expressed his thoughts regarding his previous opinions by saying: “Everything I was engaged with, I ruined. I felt really ashamed of the semi-racist that I was, even though it didn’t make sense. I dated a black woman, supported black music, and had half my pals be black.
During that period, Eric Clapton expressed his support for Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration stance, remarking in the middle of the 1976 show that Powell was “right” to want to drive “foreigners” away. Powell was a political candidate at the time, and his message spread throughout the United Kingdom. He said, “Get the foreigners out, get the w**s out, get the c**ns out,” using the National Front’s “Keep Britain White” catchphrase, and he asked the minority audience members to exit the concert in the following ways: “Are there any foreign viewers here tonight? If so, kindly raise your hands. Where are you now? Well, I think it’s best for everyone to just go, wherever you are. Leave the room, but also our nation. You are not welcome in my nation, in this room, or anywhere else. Several well-known followers of Clapton at the time were present, including singer Dave Wakeling and author Caryl Phillips, who at the time was a high school student. Years later, Wakeling confessed her surprise and displeasure with the guitarist. Wakeling actually described those instances in the past by saying:
As it continued, I kept thinking, ‘Is this a joke?’And then it was clear that it wasn’t.There was a sort of murmur going throughout the gathering. The whispers grew louder as he continued to speak, asking, “What did he f**king say again?”After the concert, everyone filed into the foyer and the noise level was exactly the same: “What the f**k is he doing?” What an asshole! The ensuing time saw the emergence of the Rock Against Racism movement as a result of Clapton’s racist remarks. Many others, including the aforementioned individuals, stopped listening to his songs in the interim and voiced their criticism of him. Nevertheless, the guitarist continued his career when ‘Slowhand,’ his fifth studio album, was released in 1977.