The Crassical Collection: Stations of the Crass – Crass (Southern)

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Anarchive


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

‘Shaved Women’ introduction, March 1979

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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/

Originally posted 2011-04-11 17:22:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Series NavigationThe Crassical Collection: Penis Envy – Crass (Southern)The Crassical Collection: The Feeding of the 5000 – Crass

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