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DozenQ – Empire of Gold

This entry is part 15 of 19 in the series DozenQ 4

Born in San Diego, California in 1987 and raised in Tecate, Mexico until the age of 8 when he then moved to the United States – producer/singer/songwriter, Michael Jack Dole, lived somewhat of a nomadic childhood. His vast array of early life experiences laid the foundation for Dole’s lyrical creativity which he vividly captures and illustrates in his somber, yet beautifully raw crafted lyrics.

The name ‘Empire of Gold’ was inspired by a homeless man Dole met on Venice Beach who, after listening to him play a few songs, told him “keep doing what you’re doing kid – it’s like you’re building an empire of gold!” Even though the man seemed to be poking fun at the idea of such a grand dream, Dole found encouragement and challenge in the man’s words and decided to do just that. Some of his many early inspirations include Kurt Cobain, Elliott Smith, Green Day, John Lennon and specifically Conor Oberst – mostly for his lyrics and his ability to ‘make poems come to life!’ Eyeplug shot some Questions his way recently…

01 How did you get started in music?

I got my first guitar as a present when I was 14 and took lessons at a local music store for a year. After a year I felt I wasn’t learning anything worth spending money on, so I stopped and just started playing by ear. I didn’t get serious about writing music until I was a freshman in college. I had moved from Chicago to California all by myself and I would play and write music when I felt depressed or lonely. That is when I really started accumulating a huge catalogue of songs – from summer of 2005 till 2014; when I started recording and taking music much more seriously.

02 Where did your direction come from?

My direction came from a dark, depressing time in my life. I had a rough childhood in which I lost both my parents and moved to America from Mexico at the age of 8. I was then raised by my aunt and uncle until I was emancipated at 18 and made the decision to move to California. This was initially my starting point of all my creative writing.

03 Who were your major influences and inspirations and who do you despise?

At first my major influences ranged from metal (Slipknot, Mudvayne) to punk acts of the 90’s (Green Day, Offspring). But at the heart of it all, it was musicians like John Lennon, Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst that really inspired me to get creative with my writing. I started off completely as an acoustic artist, with 90% of my songs written in this form. The musicians and bands that I would consider my major influences today had completely slipped under my radar when I was growing up; those being Nirvana, Melvins, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains and just the grunge movement in general. When I finally came into contact with these types of acts, they sparked something deep within me and just catapulted me into a whole new level from then on.

I don’t really despise any artist. Even the genres that I don’t enjoy listening to (Pop, Country, anything having a commercial or heavily processed mainstream sound), I still have respect for as artists.

04 What inspires you to make your current type of songs and sound?

It really boils down to the changes we have seen in the music business in recent times. I’m just a guy that feels he was born too late and missed the great explosion of early 90’s rock; that being the musical revolution that took over and made MTV a channel full of greatness instead of the crap is showcases now. If I can just somehow, some way, bring a little piece of that back, I will have succeeded as a musician in my own eyes.

05 What can someone who has never seen you live before expect from your live shows then & possibly even now?

As of right now, I am a one man band. I don’t necessarily like doing acoustic sets, so I don’t perform live. I want to keep Empire of Gold as a solo project so I don’t expect to be doing any live sets until I can acquire some session players. Which costs some pretty Dollars of course!

06 How do you begin your songs? What types of themes and subjects do you deal with?

I grew up listening to melody instead of lyrics. As a kid I didn’t think lyrics were important. It was all about the melody and movement of the song. So when I started writing music, that’s what I would focus on first and still do to this day. When I can get a song to “move” me and make me feel emotion with no lyrics, then I know I have a song and then begin to write lyrics. While I’m in the process of writing the melody, I always get a sense of what type of a story or emotion would fit the song and that is what I base the subject matter on.

I will say it’s usually a depressing tone. I don’t like, or I guess am just not good at, writing happy go-lucky songs.

07 How did your music evolve since you first began playing?

Lyrically and emotionally it hasn’t. What has evolved immensely is the style. It has evolved from acoustic singer-songwriter to a stripped down, raw grunge act.

08 What has been your biggest challenge? Were you able to overcome this? If so, how?

My biggest challenge has by far been producing and engineering my own music. I had to buckle down at my job and save a lot of money to finance my “studio”, which is in a closet… but also learning the skill and art form that music engineers have had to hone in on. It’s been a LONG two-year process of learning how to record the best sound, which microphones, best mic pre amps, which interface, how to EQ, compress, different types of compressors, automate, limit, how to pan instruments, which reverb, how to use reverb, what levels, digital or analogue, summing, blah, blah, blah the list goes on!

There has been many times in my walk with music that I’ve wanted to just give up, but I always told myself that I would be that guy that looked back and could tell others, “It’s hard.. very hard at first, but just keep going and with trial and error, you will learn the craft and be able to look back and smile at all your hard work.” I know I took the road less traveled, instead of just hiring a professional, but in the end I think it’s what sets me apart even more. From concept to production to distribution, it’s all me, and it feels damn good.

09 Do you play covers? If you could pick any song, which would you like to cover most and why?

I don’t know if there is one song in particular, but there is an album. I want, and will, cover Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album raw and straight from the heart just like Kurt wanted to.

10 Where did you envisage being in five years time?

I envisage being backed by a label. I kind of prefer a small label in which we can grow together. But within five years, I see being well-known and being a musician as a full-time job.

11 Who would you most like to record with?

Dead: Kurt Cobain Alive: Paul McCartney (At least meet!)

12 What should we be expecting from you in the near future?

I will be releasing my debut LP “Crass” with a couple of singles with music videos to appear before it’s release.

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Boo Eyeplug acts as webmaster/designer for the Eyeplug site. Not the most social of creatures and with several personality issues, and rather exotic, eccentric tastes for obscure ‘cultish’ stuff which makes his ramblings seem even more sweetly abstract and often annoying.

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August 3, 2015 By : Category : DozenQ Features Front page Interviews Music Post-punk Rock Tags:, ,
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Steve Ignorant announces support for final ‘Last Supper’ gig

In 1977, Steve Ignorant and Penny Rimbaud founded Crass.

In 1984 Crass disbanded.

In 2007, as a personal tribute to Crass, Steve Ignorant performed a show at Shepherds Bush Empire called ‘The Feeding Of The Five Thousand’, a celebration of the Crass album of the same name, which was performed in its entirety.  Answering the calls that have come from around the globe in response to the Shepherd’s Bush gigs Steve Ignorant has been touring ‘The Last Supper’ across the UK, Europe, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to rapturous audiences, celebrating the period of Crass’ work with which he feels most closely aligned – the period when he feels the band were at the strongest, most productive and most hopeful.

In November 2011 Steve Ignorant and his merry band of musicians comprising Gizz Butt (guitar), Pete Wilson (bass), Spike T Smith (drums) and Carol Hodge (vocals) will be performing the Last Supper for the last time, deliberately and significantly to be held once again at the 02 Shepherds Bush Empire.

This will doubtless be the last time any member of Crass will play these songs live again. Ever.

Steve has invited some old friends along to help make this a truly unforgettable event and I am pleased to announce the support acts for the final ever show…

The Cravats

Formed in 1978 near Birmingham, England, these dada fuelled, Jazz-Punk colossals soon became firm John Peel favourites with their unique brand of sax-riddled, bass-laced punk weirdness, doing 4 sessions for the great man and releasing numerous records on Small Wonder, Crass, Corpus Christi and most recently the double CD retrospective, ‘Land of The Giants’ on Overground Records, who, in January, are also re-releasing the band’s first 1978 LP, ‘The Cravats In Toytown’ on CD, as well as a brilliantly crafted new creation culled from the original ‘In Toytown’ master tapes by Penny Rimbaud of Crass, which one described as, “. . . Like an English Stately Home garden landscaped by Jackson Pollock.” The live band features, original founder and voice, The Shend (The Cravats, The Very Things) as well as legendary Cravats sax behemoth, Svor Naan along with Rex Speedway on fuzz club guitar, Rev. J. Noble on bass and Rampton Garstang, the tree-bending sticksman. 

Eccentrically frantic on stage, odd but on the ball and definitely not normal.

Paranoid Visions  

Formed in Dublin in 1981, Paranoid Visions quickly allied themselves to the anarcho punk fraternity of the second wave of punk rock in the early 80’s. Heavily influenced by the Crass ethic of DIY music, the band formed their own F.O.A.D label and licensed their records to All The Madmen, home of the Mob, Thatcher on Acid, Blyth Power and the Astronauts. The band are currently completing their new album, entitled “Dichotomy: White Sands / Black Earth” for release in early 2012. the album features contributions from the Cravats’ The Shend, TV Smith, Goldblades’ John Robb and US punk band the Blame. A single (featuring TV Smith on guest vocals), “Outsider Artist” will be released to coincide with this show with Steve Ignorant, the bands largest London gig to date.

Videos: politician 2011 (cd single), reached number 6 in the IRMA irish physical sales chart 2011, strobelight and torture (7″ and cd single), reached number 4 in the independant download charts 2010 Missing in action (album track from 40 shades of gangreen, 2007) video produced by students from tisch college, NYC, as part of their work experience in Dublin courtesy of hot press.

Andy T

Andy T. began writing poetry/lyrics around the mid 1970’s encouraged by the free festival scene which had a lot of roots and branches in Rochdale. Andy became friends with Crass, attending a lot of their gigs around the country. They were expressing similar feelings that he related to. He had been sending cassette tapes of his poetry and music to friends for quite a while. Crass decided to release a bunch of tapes they had received from all over the country as Bullshit Detector. Andy had something to do with 5 tracks on the first one. Andy T’s music has been described as ‘Joy Division meets Killing Joke at a dub reggae party, with a fat, old bloke shouting over the top’. It probably sounds like nothing you’ve heard before, please feel free to decide for yourself.

Some special secret guests will also be appearing!

‘So here it is then – the final date for the final gig, it’s so weird looking at it knowing it’s going to be the last time I ever perform Crass songs live on stage. I know that was the idea behind this Last Supper tour, but to see it in black and white in front of you like this really makes it final. I know that every gig I do is special and that me and the band put 1000% into every performance, but I have to admit to you all, this one will be special. If you’re thinking of coming, bring some tissues – it’s gonna be emotional’ – Steve Ignorant

The Last Supper
O2 Shepherds Bush Academy
London
Saturday 19th November.  Doors 7pm
Special guests: The Cravats, Paranoid Visions and Andy T

Tickets £20, on sale now from Ticketweb, the Southern web shop, UK tickets.

June 5, 2015 By : Category : News Newsplug Tags:, , , , , ,
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The Crassical Collection: Penis Envy – Crass (Southern)

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Anarchive

WHAT DO LITTLE GIRLS LIKE TO DO?

You don’t want person – You just want woman

Eve Libertine, ‘Dry Weather’ 1981

Throughout 1980, Crass consolidated their position as the pre-eminent forum for genuine dissent within the punk milieu. Although no album was released, the group had become a fully fledged record label, issuing the Poison Girls’ Chappaquiddick Bridge album, the first volume of the Bullshit Detector series (compiled from tapes sent to the group from the likes of the Amebix, Alternative and the Snipers – all of whom would go on to have singles issued on Crass Records), as well as singles by the Poison Girls and Zounds, the latter topping the independent chart. As Margaret Thatcher inflicted the first full year of her increasingly oppressive regime on the British populace, Crass restricted their own output to the split ‘Bloody Revolutions/ Persons Unknown’ seven-inch, which they shared with Vi Subversia and her band.

Despite the paucity of new Crass music emerging from Dial House, the group’s profile continued to grow as their gigging schedule increased exponentially – almost all of these shows being benefits with the band relying upon the kindness of strangers to put them up in spare rooms, or any available floor space. Stations of the Crass continued to sell in significant numbers, as did a re-release of Feeding of the 5000 – which emerged in early 1981, with ‘Asylum’ restored. The group continued to eschew the mainstream music press in favour of granting interviews to fanzines, and grass roots support for the band also continued to grow, with gigs being typified by the sight of scores of black clad followers chanting along, word-for-word, with Steve Ignorant.

The downside of all this is that it could viewed as a bit of a ‘boy’s club’ – like most punk bands, Crass’ audience was predominantly male and the aggressively confrontational nature of the bulk of their set gave rise to what Eve Libertine described as a ‘boot boy image’. To a degree, this had already been offset by the release of ‘Nagasaki Nightmare’ in February 1981. The song was an evocation of the aftermath of a nuclear strike, that at times resembled gamelan far more than anything remotely related to rock’n’roll. Featuring deeply affecting vocals from Eve Libertine, the track (backed by the tour de force rebuttal of church and state, ‘Big A, Little A’, took up residency at the top of the independent charts and stayed there.

Eve’s suggestion of recording an album using only female vocals struck a chord with Penny Rimbaud who felt it would challenge the group’s audience and play a role in reclaiming feminism from ‘a whole generation of women [who] had taken to power-dressing rather than power-thinking.’ The decision to record such a set was wholly indicative of Crass’ aversion toward developing anything resembling a ‘career’ – the group were absolutely aware that the new material was likely to turn off far greater numbers of existing listeners than would be potentially engaged. However, that wasn’t the point of Crass and although it’s fair to say that Steve Ignorant was initially less than overjoyed to be sidelined for an album, the group collectively committed to the project.

In addition to being an apposite response to Thatcher’s aggressive masculinity, an album of songs from a feminine perspective brought technical challenges to set alongside those of an ideological nature. ‘Compared to our previous two albums, the material brought to the studio contained a far greater sense of poetry and lyricism – which, coupled with the softer tones of women’s voices, required a much more open approach than we had hitherto had to make,’ explained Penny.

Titled Penis Envy, in, what Rimbaud describes as, ‘acknowledgement of one of many absurd concepts born of Freud’s barely disguised vagina craving’, there was a certain incongruity in Crass releasing an album of less bombastic material just as inner city rioting erupted across England in response to Thatcher’s ongoing clampdown. In truth, the album represents one half of a collision of radical ideologies – Crass’ libertarian inclusiveness set against the solipsistic capitalism of the incumbent Tory junta.

Whereas Penis Envy’s upfront feminism and often savage lyrics led to parallels being drawn with the largely unlistenable and painfully worthy Raincoats, the album’s subject matter aligns it most closely with the Au Pairs excellent debut, Playing With A Different Sex, which was released around the same time. The main difference being that Crass weren’t concerned with making anyone dance, while the inclusion of final track, ‘Our Wedding’ provides a welcome shot of the humour that Crass’ detractors so often accused the group of lacking. Indeed, Penny Rimbaud’s sleeve notes recount the full story of how the archly saccharine number was conceived as part of an artful hoax perpetrated against the gormless Loving magazine, who were persuaded to include the song as a giveaway flexi disc as part of an issue promoting the concept of matrimonial servitude. Credited to Creative Recording And Sound Services (geddit?) ‘Our Wedding’ is a miasma of cliché and interlocking synth lines, guaranteed to induce a hypoglycaemic episode in anyone bar the most witless listener.

The greater degree of musical subtlety within Penis Envy has certainly allowed it to benefit far more apparently from the remixing process than has been the case with the two earlier albums issued as part of the ongoing Crassical Collection. Although songs such as ‘Bata Motel’, ‘Systematic Death’ and ‘Where Next Columbus’ conform to some extent to the band’s existing martial template, ‘Poison In A Pretty Pill’ and ‘What The Fuck?’ (in particular) couldn’t be much further removed from any type of orthodoxy. These songs contain delicate, sometimes ethereal elements that have been brought to the fore by the remixing. Similarly, the greater clarity afforded the otherworldly ‘Berkertex Bribe’ enables Eve’s expressive vocal and accomplished pacing to be more fully appreciated than was the case on the original LP.

Although the repackaged album follows an identical format to its two predecessors, the additional extras are fairly meagre this time around – just three tracks. The tangential ‘Yorkie Talk’ could arguably be included on any of the remastered series, and bears more relation to Rimbaud’s post-Crass material than anything the band produced collectively. ‘Yes Folks’ is similarly indicative of the drummer/lyricist’s fascination with sound collage, although it is notable for a delightfully cheesy faux advert for the ‘Our Wedding’ flexi. The CD’s final song, ‘The Unelected President’ is an updating of ‘Major General Despair’ that straddles the gap between the original song and Eve/Penny’s more recent works. The track is particularly interesting as it offers a tantalising glimpse of what a contemporary Crass might be like, and we could certainly use something of that ilk in the current climate.

To order the remastered album from Southern Records:        www.southern.net/

June 5, 2015 By : Category : Punk Reviews Tags:, ,
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The Crassical Collection: Stations of the Crass – Crass (Southern)

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Anarchive

FUN GOING ON

The bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 200,000 people – that’s what I call obscene.

‘Shaved Women’ introduction, March 1979

By the time Crass released Stations in late 1979, the mainstream music press had recovered from the initial shock provided by Feeding of the 5000 and adopted extreme polarised positions based on individual reactions to the debut 12” and subsequent single ‘Reality Asylum/Shaved Women’. On one hand, the likes of Tony Parsons and Garry Bushell continued to express their vehement dislike of the band (Parsons in particular penning an alarmingly hysterical piece in which he built himself up to a fine Daily Telegraph style froth before exhaling, ‘Good old Crass, our make believe secret society, our let’s pretend passport to perversity. They’re nothing but a caricature and a joke.’) Similarly, Sounds’ Dave McCullough warmed up for his shot at canonising Ian Curtis by describing what he termed ‘The Crass Phenomenon’ by attacking the group for being in his view, ‘All-Holy’ and ‘witless’. Conversely, the likes of Jon Savage, Paul DuNoyer and Paul Morley were far more positive, while, perhaps surprisingly, Tommy Vance described them as ‘the only true underground band.’

None of which mattered very much to Crass. At the root of Bushell and Parsons’ opposition was their assumption that the group were looking to forge a career in the music business in the same way that they were. Despite consistent and undeniable evidence to the contrary, neither journalist seemed able to believe that Crass did not share their interest in making money or furthering personal agendas. For his part, Penny Rimbaud was keenly aware of divisive media practices, ‘Through “gossip columns” and carefully edited “interviews”, they fabricate differences and animosities between bands that in reality may well not exist. In their capacities as servants to the music business, they separate and divide bands who without their intrusions would probably be able to work together. Bands are often totally unaware of the aggressive and dishonest tactics used to promote sales and hype charts by the record labels to which they have signed. As the labels get richer the bands invariably remain penniless; hyped by the business and lied about in the press, they slowly sink into a helpless position where the honesty with which they might have started their band is lost in the compromises that are forced on them by others.’

Rather than become mired in the national music press’s web of hyperbole and self-aggrandisement, Crass would give the overwhelming bulk of interviews to underground fanzines – trusting the motives of hobbyists far more than those who were subject to commercial pressures. Their most evident response to the pouting from Bushell (who had initially liked Crass, but opted to spit the dummy after receiving a series of corrections from Rimbaud subsequent to an early piece on the group), Parsons and their ilk, was to record ‘Hurry Up Garry (The Parson’s Farted)’. Written by Penny, the vicious-yet-funny rebuttal of their detractors’ standards and morals can be viewed as a rare own goal on the basis that you should never give an egotist publicity. ‘It gives them too much fame, really,’ observed Steve Ignorant.

There were two main reasons why reactions by the music press were largely irrelevant to Crass. Firstly, they had little wish to engage with corporate backed mass media publications – their ethos was all about reaching out to the individual. Furthermore, they had bigger issues to occupy them – the state, the church and the very real threat of nuclear conflict being slightly more pressing than Tony Parsons’ assertion that punk had become a lame duck the minute he lost interest in it, or Garry Bushell’s enthusiasm for Minder.

On 3 May 1979, Margaret Thatcher was elected as prime minister, ushering in a shitstorm of oppression that would gather faecal velocity throughout the remainder of the group’s existence. ‘The New World Order was about to rise like a tsunami to drown us all,’ Rimbaud recalled. ‘Up until then, we’d been riding our own wave.’ For Crass, this was the moment that iconoclastic pot-shotting became a genuine fight. Beginning with ‘Contaminational Power’, much of the band’s future output would be determined by the actions of the incumbent Tory government as Thatcher set about implementing her own particular brand of radical class war. Recorded in August 1979, Stations of the Crass is a soundtrack to battle lines being drawn.

It could be argued that Thatcher’s most effective ploy was the manner in which she redefined the roles of the police, army and media to advance her ambitions. Just as the police were politicised by their role in the miners’ strike, and the armed forces used as tools to keep her apparently moribund government in office through their actions in the Falkland Islands, Thatcher used the press and television as a means of dissemination – often progressing policies that had not been agreed by her cabinet by announcing them on air. Fittingly then, Stations opens with the blistering ‘Mother Earth’ – a devastating assault on the media’s vicarious moralising, with specific reference to the way in which the neophyte Daily Star had run a ‘should Myra Hindley be executed’ feature as a means to help establish the flagging tabloid on newsstands. The song features one of Ignorant’s finest vocal performances, he spits his distaste with palpable venom and provides anguished squeals that emphasize the fact that underneath the press posturing lay dead children.

In this new edition, ‘Mother Earth’ is one of several songs that benefit from the remastering process, which amplifies the subtle layers of sound from their slightly tinny state on the original disc. The enhanced bottom end gives added crunch to rhythm guitar and Pete Wright’s propellant bass is again (as on Feeding) afforded a liquidity, while the maelstrom of fuzz and squall on tracks such as ‘Big Hands’, ‘Chairman of the Bored’, and ‘Darling’ are given added resonance by the production team of Rimbaud and Harvey Birrell. The reissue also serves to bring female voices to the fore, as Joy DeVivre’s ‘Desire’ emerges crystalline, deliquescing from the white noise and radio static to emerge as its own form of twisted disco. ‘Shaved Women’ is among five bonus tracks from a March 1979 Peel Session that are included on the re-issue and this uncluttered version of the song showcases Eve Libertine’s remarkable delivery of Annie Anxiety’s lyrics in an affecting and resonant manner. Almost a companion piece to ‘Asylum’, ‘Demoncrats’ is similarly given extra depth and displays Eve’s striking spoken word skills to great effect. Pete Wright’s bravura vocal performance on ‘Tired’ tops what is possibly the disc’s strongest remix, as his blast furnace delivery strips the covers from the tired circus of vapid rock’n’roll. The only evident fault in the remastering process is the failure to eliminate some vocal bleed on ‘Time Out’, Gee Vaucher’s powerful dissection of family and class.

Despite the gathering gloom spread by Thatcher’s rise to power, there’s enough lyrical wit and vibrancy evident to dispel the media depiction of Crass as lemon sucking puritans. Steve Ignorant’s booklet notes recall the sense of fun that permeated the recording sessions and Penny’s recountment of the group’s encounter with archetypical BBC boffins during their Peel Session recording is laugh-out-loud funny, as are his recollections of the half-assed attempts to prosecute the band on the highly questionable grounds of obscenity. The bonus tracks feature Peel being caught out by the group’s sudden endings and decision to count in at the end of a song, leaving the unfortunate disc jockey ‘covered in confusion and yoghurt’.

This Crassical Collection edition features the Peel Session tracks in place of the live performance included with the original LP, which will be made available as a free download from crassarkive.com. Stations of the Crass can be viewed as the album that established the group as the heralds of a movement that would graft social and political awareness to punk rock in a genuinely significant sense. It is simultaneously a document of its time and a warning for the present.

To order the remastered album from Southern Records:      www.southern.net/

June 5, 2015 By : Category : Punk Reviews Tags:, , ,
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The Crassical Collection: The Feeding of the 5000 – Crass

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Anarchive

International  Anthems

Do they think guitars and microphones are just fucking toys?

In terms of punk rock’s political legacy, it’s difficult to overstate the primacy of Crass. Whereas the class of ’76 adopted a received petit bourgeois version of anarchism as a fashion accessory, the Epping Forest collective and fellow travellers such as the Poison Girls established a far more considered reading of the ideology, in far harsher times, as Thatcher’s clampdown began to coalesce.

What followed has been well documented – tens of thousands bought Crass’ output, read the sleeve notes, and thought about politics in a way that could never have been facilitated by The Clash’s confused mix’n’match dogmatism and the thousand vague calls to rebellion from the reductive copyists that followed in their wake. Many of those were inspired to re-assess their lives, form bands, start their own labels, or fanzines, or take direct action via protest. Crass supported new bands, welcomed hundreds of visitors into their home, contributed to centres where people could meet and exchange ideas, and rattled the establishment to the degree that questions were asked about the band in Parliament, and the collective found itself under constant state surveillance. The eyes of a generation were opened.

Crass engaged, inspired and polarised in equal measure. For every individual who subsequently questioned the way in which their lives were being controlled, there was another – often so affronted by the nerve of being encouraged to think for themselves – who would erupt into a blind rage at the very sound of ‘Reality Asylum’ or ‘Shaved Women’. Likewise, careerist hacks with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo aimed weekly brickbats at the group from the pages of NME or Sounds. The likes of Parsons and Bushell (both soon to be lured by the gaping coffers of The Daily Telegraph and The Sun respectively) sought to caricature the group as humourless, mung bean munching hippies, bent on imposing an ascetic regime of po-faced, counter-intuitive ‘anarchism’ on us all.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. To a large degree, Crass’ use of ‘anarchy’ was simply a means of distancing the group from being tarred with any specific dogma. ‘I don’t think that we were particularly anarchist,’ explains Steve Ignorant. ‘But because we were being courted by the left wing – by the SWP, and by the NF at that time, people were saying, ‘Well, you dress in black and you wear sort of Nazi-looking things’ and we thought that the only way that we could be unpolitical was to be anarchists, and put an ‘A’ in a circle and it sort of built up from there.’ As Penny Rimbaud explained in his sleeve notes recounting Crass’ origins and early development, ‘Having already had a brush with the British establishment, we then got a charming letter from an organisation called the ‘Sicilian Americans’ who thought that they ought to let us know that they were aware of ‘Asylum’ … They continued by stating that “we believe that we should all work together to live in harmony, don’t you?” Adding, “It’s an offer you shouldn’t refuse.” It was the first, and certainly not the last, of missives from organisations left, right, and centre seeking either to silence, or co-opt us.’

The effect of Crass’ determination to distance themselves from the established political and radical orthodoxy quickly ensured that they accrued detractors on all sides. At the same time, the group’s initial burst of releases sold (at less than cost in the case of ‘Reality Asylum’) in such quantities that they quickly found that they had a burgeoning cottage industry on their hands. People were taking notice, considering the lyrical content and informative sleeve notes, and thinking about the issues therein. Of course, there were those who bought into the received idea of what Crass were all about and followed the group on that misguided basis, or those who saw anarchism as a fundamentalist credo with its own set of strictures, but then there’s always someone who gets a Sid Vicious tattoo.

For seven years, Crass relentlessly ploughed their own unique furrow. They were largely ignored by the mainstream media, excluded from the record charts, and seldom heard on the radio. This, in turn, led to a revitalisation of the sagging fanzine culture as hundreds of new DIY publications were produced, each seemingly carrying an interview with Crass. On the rare occasions that the band did receive national coverage, it invariably took the form of hand-wringing outrage at the issues the group were addressing. The series of moral panics that the media set in motion around Crass served to establish the primacy of their message over the band’s music. To a large extent, the Crassical Collection (of which, this represents the first instalment of a comprehensive overhaul of Crass’ studio output) appears to be an attempt at correcting that imbalance.

Aside from a pleasing package that includes a booklet featuring contributions from Ignorant and Rimbaud alongside a fresh presentation of the band’s lyrics, a reproduction of the original Crass Records sleeve, and a selection of demo tracks, the meat of the album is the remastering of the original 18 songs from the 12” disc. This largely takes the form of enhancing the mix’s bottom end. As Steve Ignorant observed, ‘To me, there was always something missing, some bit of “oomph” that I knew we put across live … Just something about it that didn’t quite hit the spot.’ For Steve, Penny and Harvey Birrell’s efforts have been successful, ‘I thought that it was well worth doing – the music needed updating and I think it’s got a bit more oomph in it now and the artwork, I think is just great.’

Mostly, this holds true – certainly Feeding sounds a lot more rounded; ‘Asylum’ has greater texture, the guitars skitter and chug far more noticeably, and Pete Wright’s pumping bass, at times, takes on a more glutinous, liquid quality than had been previously evident. At times, Penny’s drums seem further down in the mix than is usual – this is possibly a result of the enhanced bass, which mitigates against the percussive, rattling nature of the original album. However, once one becomes accustomed to the way in which the album has been remastered, subtler aspects of Rimbaud’s playing become more evident – particularly the overlapping percussive salvos in ‘Sucks’.

This specific emphasis on Crass’ music allows the group to be viewed as exemplifying several aspects of post punk – avant garde influences being particularly evident in the musique concrete of ‘Asylum’, ‘Women’, and ‘Angels’, while the way in which individual instruments drop out of the mix indicates a clear dub influence. Indeed, Crass’ clearly stated desire to move on from the growing orthodoxy of punk, identifies them as being among the post punk vanguard, rather than marginalised in the anarcho sub-category. In this respect, the remastered album wholly fulfils its brief, enabling a new assessment of Crass’ musical depth.

The timing of the re-issue is prescient; Steve Ignorant is currently touring many of these songs for the final time, and is discovering – on a nightly basis – just how much they mean to so many people. ‘I’ve just been overwhelmed by the response from the audiences,’ he reveals. ‘I didn’t think that it was going to be like that, I thought there might be a bit of applause, but people have really travelled from far and wide to come and see it and I haven’t seen a negative response yet on email, or Facebook, or whatever and the whole thing’s just been totally overwhelming.’ Elsewhere, David Cameron and his kangaroo cabinet are attempting to enforce a simpleton’s version of the kind of monetarist policies that Thatcher used to divide and rule thirty years ago. Everything comes around again, especially Crass.

Order the album from Southern Records:      http://www.southern.net/

June 5, 2015 By : Category : Punk Reviews Tags:, , ,
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Steve Ignorant: Between Courses at the Last Supper

For Crass in general, and former frontman Steve Ignorant in particular, it’s been all go just recently. Aside from the re-mastering of the band’s landmark 1978 album Feeding of The Five Thousand, Steve had been on tour across the UK performing Crass’ songs for a final time. Not content with that, he has written a memoir titled The Rest Is Propaganda (published by Southern). I caught up with him to see how he’s bearing up amid this recent maelstrom of activity.

Dick: We should begin by talking about the Last Supper gigs – you’ve just completed the UK leg, from what I’ve read it’s all gone very well – what are your impressions of how they’ve gone over ?
Steve: Absolutely superb. I’ve just been overwhelmed by the response from the audiences. I didn’t think that it was going to be like that, I thought there might be a bit of applause, but people have really travelled from far and wide to come and see it and I haven’t seen a negative response yet on email, or Facebook, or whatever and the whole thing’s just been totally overwhelming.
Have these gigs been a different experience from the Shepherd’s Bush show a couple of years back?
Yeah, for a couple of reasons: When I did that, there was a whole load of controversy that popped up and stuff was being put on the Crass Forum that I made the mistake of reading and there was a bit of dissent from Penny Rimbaud as well, who didn’t want me to use his material because it was a commercial venue, and it really undermined my confidence. So even though Penny came round and said, ‘Of course you can do it with my blessing’, because there’d been such sort of spite and stuff, I was really tense and nervous the whole two days – even though the place was sold out. This time around I decided that people weren’t going to pay all that money just to come along and slag me off, so they must be coming because they want to come and see it and enjoy it, so why don’t I just relax a bit and enjoy it as well – which is what I’ve been doing. Obviously, I still get stage fright, but the whole experience has just been fun.

Which of the Crass material do you enjoy playing live the most these days?
All of it really, but ‘Reality Whitewash’ I like, and ‘How Does It Feel’ is a big favourite of mine, and of course ‘Big A, Little A’.

I always got the sense with Crass that because the message was so strong, it raised the question, ‘Am I supposed to be enjoying this’. Was that the same from a performance point of view?
Yeah, absolutely. When we did Edinburgh the last time, it suddenly hit me that was going to be the last time I performed Crass songs live in Edinburgh and I suddenly realised that all the gigs we’d done; Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, it was the last time we’d ever be performing there. It hadn’t hit me until then. The audience were singing along up there in Edinburgh, and I couldn’t stop smiling. And I thought, ‘Well, why not, why shouldn’t I smile? Why not show the human face, because that’s what it’s meant to be about, and let’s still have the same feeling about the songs – of course the words remain the same and the attitudes behind them – but this is why we’re doing it, so why not?’

On the current tour, what’s the nature of the crowds been like, are you getting many youngsters in?
A few, but on the whole it seems to be people in their 40s up to 50s coming along. I don’t know what it’s going to be like in Europe, it might be different over there.

Do you find that there’s much of an appetite from the young for the kind of deeply political issues that Crass’ songs address?
I’m not so sure anymore, because back in the day when Crass were going, what we always saw ourselves as was like a little information bureau, and the difference now is that because of the internet you can just Google it. I’ve had this conversation with other people; just supposing that Crass started tomorrow, would we be able to exist. The way we did it in Crass was all sort of nailed together and held together with safety pins, but with this new technology it’d be like, ‘We’re going to do this song about nuclear war or CND – aw no, I Googled that last night you don’t need to tell me.’

For me, Crass represented the very epitome of the way in which music can be used to address issues, make people think, and drive protest. These days, there seems to be a complete absence of dissent among the music scene, to the extent that rebellion has been reduced to a series of stylised tropes – what are your thoughts about this?
I absolutely agree with you, because I always read the bloody paper – I think ‘why do I do it’ because I get really angry, I always read the pop pages – and I think the biggest form of rebellion I can see at the moment is wearing outrageous clothes, like Lady Gaga wearing a dress made out of meat. What’s that a statement about? I don’t get it. Maybe it’s because I’m in my 50s now, maybe I don’t understand the youth anymore.

I was talking to my mate’s daughter a couple of weeks ago – she’s 15, and I said to her, ‘Look Alice, I do not understand young music anymore, can you explain it?’ And she said, ‘Well, we just like it because it sounds good.’ So I said, ‘Yeah, but there’s no revolutionary statement behind it, is there?’ And she went, ‘No, it’s just fun’, and I thought, ‘fair enough.’ I said, ‘What I don’t get is that when I was young, if you were into skinhead music, you dressed like a skinhead, if you was into punk, you dressed like a punk.’ So, you could tell what the person was into by looking at them and you don’t get that anymore. Actually wearing the uniform of the music you liked, that in itself was a statement.

I recently spoke to Mick Farren, and he observed that ‘rock’n’roll has run its course and that music has run its course as the major agent for change, the major medium for rebellion’ – is that something you would agree with?
Yeah, I would. But I would also hope that something is going to come along soon.

Could you tell us a little about the makeup of the band that you’ve put together for these dates?
We’ve got Beki Strong, she’s from Sunderland and she’s in a band called Loaded 44 – they’re not very well known. Originally I was hoping to get Sadie, who I used at Shepherd’s Bush, but she was unavailable, so originally we were planning to do the punk festival in Durham and I asked the promoters if they knew anyone local that could do it. They gave me a choice of three people and I watched Beki on YouTube and said, ‘she’s the one – she can do it.’ And not only has she learned all the words but she’s actually able to sound exactly like Eve Libertine.

That’s not easy to do…
It’s really uncanny, sometimes she’ll just pronounce something in a certain way and it’s like ‘ooh…my god!’ Then I’ve got Bob Butler, and I’ll always work with Bob – he’s just a rock steady bass player and he’s so depreciating of himself. I was in Schwarzenegger with him, so he’s an old, old friend. Giz Butt on lead guitar; he’s been in the Prodigy and stuff like that, he’s a demon bloody guitarist – he can be a little bit irritating, I’ll give him that [laughs], but he’s a spot on guitarist and he’s managed to make his one guitar sound like two – which is a pretty good feat.

Does he play guitar in that odd, ‘over the top of the neck’ way?
No… that was Andy Palmer on rhythm guitar just making a chundering noise. What Giz has done is taken aspects of that and weaved it into the actual guitar playing – it’s really clever, the way he’s done it. On drums I’ve got Spikey Smith, who’s been with Morrissey and Killing Joke – he’s mucked about by them and he was recommended to me by Von, who was the original drummer I had and Spike is just a really brilliant drummer. We’re working together really tight as a unit.

I noticed that the gig flier promises a few surprises in the set – what sort of things have you been dropping in?
I think really that the surprises were that nobody expected us to do so many Eve Libertine songs and also the visuals – which I don’t think anyone expected their own face to be flashed up on the wall while the band were playing.

After the European leg of the tour, will you be keeping the group together?
Yeah, we do Europe, we spend about ten days out there, then come back – I think we’ve got about seven days off, then we fly out to Finland for four nights. [Voice from the background sets Steve straight] Oh… I’ve got four weeks rest! Do that, then we come back and I’ve got a couple of weeks off and then we do Belfast and Dublin. And that’s it for this year.

Have you considered the possibility of new material?
No, because next year it looks like we’re going to America and we might be going to Australia, I’m not sure – there’s all this stuff being talked about. But at some point, I’m going to have to put a deadline to all of this, because the Last Supper can’t go on forever. So it’s going to end definitely next year at some point, but the last ever gig will be at Shepherd’s Bush Empire … I’d like to have done Wales, too – there’s so many places I’d like to have done and it was trying to find where people could possibly get to it. It’s always difficult, the thing is that I didn’t want to be doing this for ever and ever.

Apart from Penny, have you had any feedback from the other former members of Crass about the Last Supper?
Yeah, from Gee – she’s sent me a message saying ‘well done’ and ‘I see it’s all going well’ and that sort of stuff, Eve Libertine sent her love, but the others, I’ve not heard anything from.

Which brings us round to the remastering of Feeding of the Five Thousand – Did you have much to do with that?
I wrote a bit for it, and I just gave it my full support, because I thought that it was well worth doing – the music needed updating and I think it’s got a bit more oomph in it now and the artwork, I think is just great.

I was very surprised by the cover…
I’ll let you into a little secret – because all the albums we did are going to be re-released – that’s the plan… so that when you’ve got all of the Crassical Collection as it’s called, you put all the covers together and it forms the Crass symbol that used to be on Penny Rimbaud’s bass drum. Originally it was going to be this shit brown colour, which looked awful – I went, ‘No – It’s got to be black and white.’ I had to compromise and now it’s a dirty grey [laughs].

With Crass, I always felt slightly guilty about enjoying the music as much as I did – given that, by and large, it’s role was as a vehicle to convey the lyrical content. Do you think that the primacy of the lyrics in those songs has served to obscure their impact as pieces of music?
Yeah, I would absolutely agree with that, because I didn’t realise until we started playing them again, just how intricate the music – if I can call it that – was. Certainly in the songs that Beki sings, they are incredible songs, and the band really enjoy playing those – I can see that in their faces. Things like ‘Reality Whitewash’, or even ‘Mother Earth’, it’s such a frightening bit of music that a lot of it got obscured.

Are you doing ‘Nagasaki Nightmare’? I bet that’d be hard to do.
No, we tried that in the studio, but for some reason, it wouldn’t play live.

Parts of it are almost like gamelan in places…
Yeah, and it gets very jazzy and all that sort of stuff, and Beki wasn’t comfortable with doing it, and neither was the band. So I was like, ‘OK then, leave it out, because I don’t want any discomfort or anything.’ But no, for some reason it just wouldn’t have it – very strange – and we tried all different ways of doing it, but we just couldn’t do it.

You have a memoir, The Rest Is Propaganda, due for publication in just over a week, could you tell us a little about how the book came together and what made you decide to write it?
I’d been trying to write it for about twenty years, but I kept getting bogged down. Firstly, I always find it very hard to write about myself, then I got bogged down in things like; is this making too much of this? Or am I bigging myself up too much? And in the end I gave up. Then I met this guy called Steve Pottinger, ‘Spot’ as he’s known, and he gave me a book of prose that he’d written and his writing was very similar to the way that I write. So I just said to him, ‘Would you be interested in ghost writing this book with me?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ The way we did it was that he would basically interview me, and he would ask me questions about childhood and stuff which would then make me go off on a memory. He’d just transcribe it all, email it to me, I’d go through it, he’d pick out the bits that he thought were best – and he was really good, because there were bits that I wanted to put in that would have been too boring – and he’s done a fantastic job on it.

What made you decide to sit down and begin the process?
I think really, I wanted to give the inside story on what I felt – my take on it – because for years, all through Crass and after Crass, I went to do Crass interviews, but I still had to – not tow the Crass party line – but I just wanted to give what my opinion of it all was and to let people know what I was up to before Crass and what I was up to after Crass and again, wanting to show the human side of it. I think that I was always the joker of the pack and I think that the public view was always this austere, serious thing.

Did you find that revisiting your past offered you a fresh perspective?
Yes, it did. In a funny way it was a bit like a therapy session. Now what’s really odd about it is that, obviously I was signing books at the gigs, and every so often the pages would flip open and there’d be a photograph of my Mum, and I was suddenly like, ‘Bloody hell! Everybody’s going to know everything there is to know about me, including those personal family photographs.’ Really, really weird feeling.

I think it might make me feel tremendously vulnerable…
Well, yeah – but I think I’m a bit used to that by now.

What are your thoughts on some of the other books that have been written around the subject of Crass – Penny’s memoir, the George Berger book, Ian Glasper’s overview of the anarcho scene?
The Ian Glasper ones, I flicked through. And I flick thorough them now and again just to sort of read, and I think they’re well written. The George Berger one – I know certain people out of Crass weren’t too impressed by it, but actually I thought that was a pretty good attempt and for anybody who didn’t know who or what Crass were, I thought that gave a pretty good in-depth insight into the whole origins of it. I mean, there were bits that I didn’t know about Penny Rimbaud in there.

Looking at some of the feedback that you have been getting on your Facebook pages, it must be interesting to see just how many people – myself included – have been profoundly influenced by Crass’ ideas. Is this something that you can now look back on with a degree of satisfaction?
It’s something I look back on, not with satisfaction… I’m just knocked out by it. So many people had all these positive things to say _ I don’t get a big head or anything, but it’s really moving. What it brings to me is [to ask] why don’t those members of Crass who have threatened to take us to court and who didn’t want the re-releases to go ahead and still don’t, why can’t they just go out and meet people like I am, or read things that they’re writing and then you’ll see what Crass was about. What it really, really meant to people. Because what annoys me about certain ex-members of Crass is that they all pooh-pooh it, and it’s like ‘oh, well, you know, it was just a thing’. No – it actually did change people’s lives, including mine, and I feel really sort of quite precious about it.

As one of those who visited Dial House back in the day, I was struck by how patient everyone was with us. At times, you must have felt like there was a never ending stream of well-intentioned, but naive people inviting themselves around. How did you cope with this, day in day out?
We used to do it in rotation [laughs], I’d go through and do an hour, or something like that and then someone else would come through and take over, but it certainly was an endless thing and I think when Crass finally finished, I think one of the things that went on for a little while was still that endless stream of people. I mean, I didn’t mind it – that’s why it was an open house and we were going out there putting ourselves out in public and the least you could do is give people time.

You also suffered from a great deal of pernicious attention from the state, phone tapping and so forth –this must have been an ongoing siege for you – how did you deal with that?
We just assumed that’s what it was, we were very careful when we spoke on the phone. When I used to walk home late at night, if a car came up the lane, I’d jump in a hedge – just in case. I dunno why, just maybe being paranoid or whatever, but it did feel like big brother was really watching us.

That would foster a siege mentality…
Yeah, we knew… when the local bobby would come down for his weekly cup of tea, that he was looking under cushions discreetly and things like that. For me, I just thought this is just part of the job – what goes with it.

My reading of much of the content of Crass’ lyrics is that they wholly promoted the idea of the individual thinking for themselves – however, there was often an element at gigs who had assumed the role of fundamentalist followers of the band – was this something that you found problematic?
Yeah, I got really disappointed and disheartened when we got really political and you had all these different anarchist factions and stuff. And I used to get really pissed off with people telling me how I should or shouldn’t portray anarchism, or what I should or shouldn’t say, or what I should or shouldn’t read, or drink, or eat and all this sort of stuff. And there was quite a few times where [it went] ‘Steve – are you a vegetarian?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Do you drink milk?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Bastard.’ ‘Ah right, OK.’ ‘Steve – you wearing leather’ ‘Yeah, I think so.’ ‘Bastard’ – y’know it’s all this sort of stuff.

I sometimes encountered groups of people who appeared to have grasped the wrong end of the stick, in the sense that they had almost codified their own mental counter-intuitive anarcho ‘rulebook’, packed with dos and don’ts
I know… isn’t it funny – you remember that anarchist centre that Crass were involved in down in Wapping? We’d donated a load of money from ‘Bloody Revolutions’, I believe, to go towards it. I think they’d bought a load of plastic chairs, or something like that. I went down there a couple of times and I just fucked off out of it, because again, that bloody ‘rulebook’ came out and they were sort of looking down their noses at me and almost dissing me because I’d actually had the nerve to be in Crass and donate money to the anarchist centre.

It became very cliquey and Balkanized…
I hated it, that’s why I started telling sexist jokes, and all that sort of thing. Sod it. ‘Steve… Coming down the anarchist centre?’ ‘No,’ I used to go down the local pub and look at the barmaid’s arse [laughs].

Was there a feeling that Crass had, to an extent, raised an army that they actually didn’t want?
I remember an enormous feeling of responsibility – we were taken aback by how seriously people took it. What made it difficult for us was that we knew that we were being scrutinized, and so when we wrote songs we had to make bloody sure that every word was defendable. Really, really odd – and it wasn’t because of the press or anything like that, it was because of the fundamentalists, or the lunatic fringe – those anarchist types that would be waiting with baited breath to dive on us.

One of the core concepts that runs through Crass’ lyrics is the idea of non-violent resistance to oppression – which is perhaps easier said than done when you’re confronted by a mob of meatheads. However, right at the very end of Crass’ time, on ‘Don’t Get Caught’ the lyric, ‘if we can’t go round them then we’ll have to go through’ appears – was this indicative of the realisation that such passivity was not always ideal.
Yeah, absolutely. I’d been saying for years, ‘Look – we should just get fucking baseball bats and do their heads in.’ ‘No, no, no…’ you know. And I knew I was right – we should’ve, and I’ll still say that to this day. Pen agrees with me now, that right at the very beginning, we should have bashed those bastards and not one gig should have been ruined by meatheads. But, still, we were trying it [passive resistance] and, bless the audiences that came along, they did stand up to them, but a lot of people got hurt there as well and I’d always remorse for that. But, if people say, ‘Do you have a regret?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, we should have… I dunno… got shotguns or something’ [laughs].

Certainly, I know that Conflict could be inclined to meet violence on its own terms, and you subsequently hooked up with them after Crass split. Was that a strange time for you?
Yeah, very – and I had to leave in the end. Part of the reason I was leaving was because Conflict had a rep and people did go to their gigs to sort of take them on, but also there were a couple of people involved in Conflict who used to use that as like a promotion thing. What used to upset me about it was that a lot of people who went to Conflict gigs and the only fight that they’d seen had been a scrap in the local playground, or the only copper that they’d seen had been the local bobby on a bike, and suddenly being involved in a full scale riot like what happened at Brixton…

Oh, that went on for hours…
I know… and I felt really sorry for those kids – not being funny – who came from Norwich, or from Norfolk, or little country places – they must have been terrified, and I found that Conflict always courted that sort of disaster. In the end, I thought ‘I can’t really deal with this anymore’, because at certain times when I’d have to do an interview after the gig, certain behaviour would go on as I was doing the interview – and then I would have to justify that. I think looking back, it might have been a little bit of a mistake for me, but there you go.

What did you think of the other groups who comprised the scene that sprung up around Crass?
Mostly, I liked ‘em! But by ‘83/84, I was fed up with the whole bloody thing, but still doing it. I actually got tired of bands all dressed in raggerty black and singing about nuclear bombs and stuff.

That was what made Rubella Ballet stand out…
That’s why I used to quite like going to their gigs. Then I found myself – and this is going to sound funny – but I was going out with a girl for a while and she introduced me to Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album, which I sort of got into, and then a band called Imagination. And I really got into that soul/funk stuff.

It must have been rewarding to have helped so many groups get a start?
Yeah, absolutely amazing – I think when you look back at the catalogue that Crass had, love it or hate it, we always tried to put out diverse things and even other labels were doing it as well. When you look back at that, you think ‘bloody hell’ – you go from Annie Anxiety, to the Mob, from Captain Sensible to the Epileptics, or Flux, the Cravats… all that kind of thing. Then, one day this horrible noise from America turned up called ‘skate punk’ and the whole movement took three steps backwards.

How did you feel in 1984 when Crass finally dissolved? Did you have a sense that things had been taken as far as they could?
Yeah, really – really truly – because, I think secretly, every one of us involved in that band were thinking, ‘how long can we do this for?’ And I think if it hadn’t had been Andy Palmer being the first one to say, ‘I want to leave the band now’, a couple of weeks later it would have been either me, or Eve Libertine, or someone would have done it, and that’s why when Andy Palmer said ‘I want to pack it in’, there was the usual chorus of ‘Why’ and ‘What a shame’, but a couple of miles down the road, I think it was me and Eve Libertine that said, ‘Well, actually Andy, if you hadn’t had said it first, I was thinking of jacking it in and all, mate.’ I think we had outstayed our welcome a little bit.

There was a sense of predetermination about the band splitting in 1984 – with the record numbers counting down to 1984 and I think someone stated that the band would dissolve that year.
Yeah, but I don’t remember that you see, and that’s where I disagree with Penny Rimbaud, because he said recently in interviews that there was a definite countdown – I don’t remember it being like that. All we used that 1984 thing for was just as a countdown to 1984. I remember saying to him, ‘What are we going to do if the band’s still going when we go past 1984?’

In terms of punk’s connection to anarchism, my feeling is that the initial wave of 1976 bands used the idea of anarchy as little more than a fashion accessory, but this paved the way for a far more considered reading of the ideology, in harder times, by bands under the Crass umbrella. Do you think this is fair comment?
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. I think that with ‘I am an anti-Christ/I am an anarchist’, I’d never heard the word before and I had to ask Penny Rimbaud what it meant. The funny thing is, I think that Crass could be accused of the same thing, because I don’t think that we were particularly anarchist, but because we were being courted by the left wing – by the SWP, and by the NF at that time, people were saying, ‘Well, you dress in black and you wear sort of Nazi-looking things’ and we thought that the only way that we could be unpolitical was to be anarchists, and put an ‘A’ in a circle and it sort of built up from there, really. It used to get a bit embarrassing at times … well, no, not embarrassing – I used to enjoy it; again, the anarchists down at Wapping at the Anarchy Centre, ‘have you read Bakunin?’ and all that, ‘No, I haven’t.’ ‘What books do you read?’ ‘Oh, you know, The Beano and Tintin’ [laughs]. It’d really do their heads in!

Did I read that you’ve joined a lifeboat rescue team?
Yes.

How are you finding that?
It’s going very well, we’re independent – we’re not part of the RNLI – we depend entirely on donations, actually I’ve got training this evening and it’s pretty calm out there, so we might be out on the sea tonight. Every Thursday and every Sunday, we’re out on the sea training.

So have you always been a good swimmer?
I’ve been a pretty good swimmer, the thing is that we wear a thing called a ‘dry suit’ and we wear a life jacket with that, so it’s pretty impossible to sink – so it’s not really necessary, although it does help.

In a way, I think that’s very much in keeping with the spirit of Crass…
It’s very odd – If you’d have said to me ten years ago, ‘Steve, in ten years time you’ll be out in the middle of the North Sea and that’ll be in the middle of the night on a lifeboat looking for someone’ I wouldn’t have believed you, but here I am doing it and sometimes it is really terrifying.

It’s back in the realm of ‘making a difference’…
Yeah, it’s funny how it leads on, isn’t it? Of all the things I end up doing! I could be working in a bakers, or in a brewery, or something like that, but no.

Steve’s blog/book details:  http://steveignorant.co.uk/
Steve on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=lf#!/ignorant.steve
© Dick Porter, 2010

June 5, 2015 By : Category : Features Interviews Tags:, , ,
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The Crassical Collection: Christ The Album – Crass

 

FLUSHING THE SYSTEM

‘Your life’s reduced to nothing but an empty media game / Big Brother ain’t watching you, mate, you’re fucking watching him.’
Penny Rimbaud


In the immediate wake of Penis Envy’s release, Crass commenced work on what was to become Christ The Album, but by the late summer of 1981 the political stakes had – not for the last time – risen once again. As Margaret Thatcher upped the ‘Law-and-Order’ ante by enforcing a social crackdown predicated upon the application of subjective stop-and-search procedures, urban areas that had already felt the full force of her economic assault erupted in a summer of sporadic rioting. Aside from some minor cynical opportunism, these outbreaks of civil unrest represented a genuine attempt by communities to reclaim their environment, turning the previously academic concepts of ‘us’ and ‘them’ into a practical reality.

The conflict that played out across the desolate streets of places such as Brixton, Toxteth, and Handsworth was political – Thatcher increasingly viewed the police as a means of achieving her objectives (a tactic that would reach its vertex with the Miners’ Strike) and by physically opposing the agents of her ideology, those standing in opposition made clear their rejection of Thatcherism.
In addition to using the police as a political tool, the Prime Minister and her cabinet had become increasingly adept at manipulating a largely sycophantic media. In retrospect, the way in which the 1981 riots, or the H-Block hunger strikes were presented in the mainstream can be viewed as a significant point along a line that began with the media-friendly John F Kennedy overcoming a sweaty and unappealing Richard Nixon, and currently sees us beset by layers of state-sponsored ‘spin’, disinformation and scaremongering.

Back at Dial House, this dynamic did not go unnoticed and several of the tracks that would appear on Christ explored the manner in which the individual is subject to media coercion. Most self-evidently, Penny Rimbaud’s unwittingly prescient ‘Nineteen Eighty-Bore’ conflated advertising with apparent reportage to expose the media’s predilection for obfuscating facts and burying issues under layers of trivia; ‘And wasn’t the Holocaust terrible, good thing it wasn’t for real / Of course I’ve heard of H-Block, it’s the baccy with man appeal’. Similarly, the relentless pounding nature of the backing, not only served to demonstrate how far Crass were removed from the kind of punk orthodoxy that they hadn’t subscribed to in the first place, but also acted as a concrete metaphor for the insistent nature of the media.

‘Beg Your Pardon;’ covers similar territory, aiming disgust squarely at those responsible for peddling lies and false promises, whereas ‘Reality Whitewash’ explores the role played by the media in reinforcing established gender roles. ‘You Can Be Who?’ digs deeper, examining the theme of media influence into the individual and collective psyche and finding it to be an illusion – the track’s final verse being wholly indicative of Crass’ awareness of the increasingly desperate need for opposition and alternatives. Finally, Annie Anxiety’s ‘Buy Now Pay As You Go’ fixes Christ The Album at its historical point along the previously mentioned line by laying down a marker at the instant where state conditioned consumerism really kicked in; ‘Work thirty years with one foot in the grave, possession junkie, consumer slave / If money buys freedom it’s already spent, your object’s the subject of my contempt’.
In addition to addressing the way in which the media in general was manipulated by those on the political new right, Christ dealt with specific instances of the music press being used to further other agendas. The opening track, ‘Have A Nice Day’ opens with an impassioned reading of Tony Parsons’ hysterical attack on the band, taken from the NME. Although Rimbaud’s lyric sets out a rational response to Parsons’ hostility, the strategy of responding so directly to criticism from a journalist who few took seriously and subsequently became the subject of a Viz parody, was questionable as it could easily be interpreted as an unnecessary, reactionary response to subjective criticisms. ‘Of course it got up our noses,’ recalled Penny. ‘Had people like Tony Parsons been a little more concerned with radical ideology and a little less infatuated with themselves, perhaps the scale of protest would have been even larger than it was. Regrettably, in whatever form it comes, the media does play a role in (de)forming social attitudes. Dismissing us as ‘a joke’ was designed to have the same negating effect as claiming that all Greenham women were little more than ‘dangerous dykes’.

Similarly, ‘The Greatest Working Class Rip Off’ and ‘Rival Tribal Revel Rebel (Part Two)’ set their sights on the burgeoning ‘Oi’ and ‘street punk’ subgenres. Entirely predicated upon destructive negativity, these scenes attracted the kind of lagered-up boot boys canonised in Garry Bushell’s weekly Sounds pieces. As became evident in Southall on 4 July 1981, when a concert by three ‘Oi’ bands resulted in a pitched battle between skinheads and local Asian youths, nurturing such negativity quickly kicked open the doors marked ‘aggression’ and ‘violence’. The Exploited may have wanted to fuck the system (as well as ‘A Mod’ and Angela Rippon), but they didn’t have the first idea what they were going to do in the unlikely event that they did happen to somehow fuck it.

Conceived as potentially being the band’s final statement, Christ The Album clearly reinforces Crass’ genuine desire for revolutionary change. Broadsides aimed at the system, war, church, family and state may have been the ‘same old stuff’, but these institutions remained as pernicious as ever. The album serves to underline one of Crass’ core ideals – that there must be something better beyond the high walls and invasive searchlights of the system. What form this better life would take was left to the individual, with the original boxed set included a booklet that provided resources that would potentially assist this process. Although the booklet is not part of the remastered package, it will be made available to downloaded for free from crassarkive.com


Possibly because the group allowed themselves a far longer recording period than had previously been the case, the impact of Rimbaud and Harvey Birrell’s remastering is less noticeable than on the first three instalments of this series. However, the process again serves to highlight Penny’s sonic experimentalism, as subtleties that are buried within the original album’s mix are exposed by modern production methods. Previously unnoticed aspects of songs become evident; the taut, wiry picking on ‘Have A Nice Day’, the sheer depth of instrumental layering and interplay on ‘Nineteen Eighty-Bore’, and the pulsing, compressed fuzz of ‘Bumhooler’. Perhaps because they tend to have a subtler backing, the two tracks sung by Joy de Vivre are exposed as works of genuine poeticism and crystalline beauty. ‘Birth Control ’n’ Rock ’n’ Roll’ deliquesces from the speakers as an evocative slice of contemporary war poetry, made all the more redolent by its subdued vocal, while ‘Sentiment’ stands as a fragile monument signposting the unforgivable cruelties that mankind has wrought upon both animals and their own species.

As with previous Crassical Collection releases, the two disc set (disc two re-presents the mixture of live and early material, intercut with spoken word pieces that came in the original black box) includes some ‘extras’, this time in the form of some studio out-takes, stitched together with archive dialogue, statements from the group and avant-garde sonics. In addition to being indicative of the extended recording process, by revealing something about the development of the seven featured tracks, this material shows Rimbaud’s virtuoso talent for manipulating feedback – a skill he would employ to good effect while developing Flux’s Strive To Survive into something transcendent. The most noteworthy alternate version is that of ‘Birth Control…’ which has the vocal much higher in the mix, giving the track a new directness and immediacy.

By the time of its release, Christ The Album had been superseded by a continuation of the megalomaniac events that were unfolding throughout its conception and recording. In the gap between recording and release, Margaret Thatcher had initiated a war with Argentina over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. Any notion of Christ being a valedictory statement was forgotten as Crass formulated their responses.

Order the album from Southern Records:

southern.net

June 16, 2015 By : Category : Punk Reviews Tags:, ,
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