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.

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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/

Originally posted 2011-04-11 16:58:13. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Series NavigationThe Crassical Collection: Stations of the Crass – Crass (Southern)God Save The Queen: Kunst, Kraak, Punk – 1977-84

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