Vague 11

Vague #7
 
January 1982 Crass – CND – Charles and Diana Wedding – Viz Comics – Punk Retro
Velvet Underground – Iggy Pop – The Cramps – Futurama 3 – Wasted Youth
Silent Guests – A-Heads – Vagrants – Paragon
 

‘Anarcho-punk based itself on the most literal interpretation of the Sex Pistols’ anthem – the irresponsibility and narcissism of ‘Anarchy in the UK’ transmogrified into a neutered marriage of prosaic laissez-faire individuality and ascetic abnegation… But for all this, fanzine ideology is strangely close to the dreaded mainstream, to common sense… Fanzines advocate ‘being yourself’ – the expunging of conditioning, even of all influences. Tom, editor of Vague: ‘If someone else learns an answer from you/me, it is always a false answer. You can’t tell anyone anything – except maybe, don’t let anyone else tell you anything.’ Simon Reynolds Monitor ‘Do they owe us a living? Of course they fucking do.’ Crass

Crass: Anarchy, Peace and Chips

After the anarcho-punk Altamont at Stonehenge in 1980, one day out of the blue Andy NA Palmer calls to inquire if we would like to promote a Crass gig. At first I thought someone’s winding me up after my less than favourable coverage of the group but, having established it is him, I thought, why not? Crass can’t rip me off, it would ruin their image – The previous Vague gig, Martian Dance in Bournemouth had been a financial disaster. We eventually found a seemingly ideal venue, the Salisbury Grange (originally it was going to be Sherborne Digby Hall), got it advertised and everything, and then I hitched down to Plymouth to see Crass at the Fiesta: September 29 On my arrival, the scene looks not that dissimilar to an early Adam and the Ants gig. Members of Crass and Dirt are standing around the tacky nightclub chatting with the few of their following that have made it down this far.

The one obvious difference to the Ants, or any other band for that matter, is there are no roadies. All the organising, lighting and everything is done by Crass themselves and followers who would sooner hump amps about than pay a quid. That’s another difference, they strictly stick to only charging a £1 for 2 bands, a poet and a filmshow. The Crass show begins as the first few punters congregate at the bar, with the video monitors depicting scenes from TV soap operas interspersed with footage of Vietnam, Hiroshima, etc, to the backing of JFK, Churchill and Hitler speeches. Very effective and striking, if not very humorous or colourful. At the same time Crass are giving out flyers. One reads: ‘The money required to provide adequate food, water, education, health and housing for everyone in the world has been estimated at $17 billion a year. It is a huge sum of money… about as much as the world spends on arms every 2 weeks… 30 million people die of hunger each year, a figure which could double by 1990. 10 days’ world armament expenditure would buy enough grain to feed them for a year…’ And so on.

Annie Anxiety hits the stage and seems to entertain, if that’s the right word, with her highly emotional and individual poetry. Then it’s Dirt’s turn; their very basic punk thrash gets the very basic punk thrashers going. But as I was finding with the whole package, the presentation is of little importance, it’s what they’re saying that counts. After Dirt it’s Annie Anxiety again, more videos then, without pomp or ceremony, various members of Crass climb up on stage and charge straight into ‘Punk is Dead’. The hapless punky Exploited fans lap it up and I start to muse again that perhaps Crass’s well meaning statements are falling on barren ground. What they are saying is great; ‘Do they owe us a living? Of course they fucking do’, ‘Fight war not wars’, ‘Jesus died for his sins not mine’; and they really do mean it, maan, but I’m still not entirely converted to their approach.

October 1 1981 Vague Promotions presents Crass, Annie Anxiety and Dirt at the Grange Hotel Salisbury: The day of the Salisbury gig arrived and Vagrants from far and wide joined the Crass faithful in the tranquil setting of the Fawlty Towers-style Grange Hotel. The kids duly swarm into the sound of the Crass newsreel; trouble is they don’t stop swarming in. We are just getting near to breaking even and they’re still coming in, when the ‘Sybil Fawlty’-esque manageress informs us that she isn’t allowing any more in due to fire regulations. No amount of begging and pleading by us and Crass will persuade her to let the remaining 20 or so in. In all the excitement, I miss Dirt, Annie Anxiety and most of Crass but, by means of fire exit, backstage door and bar windows, with assistance from Bournemouth skinheads and Salisbury bikers, we manage to get most of the kids in; leaving about half a dozen shivering outside. In the end, Perry, Iggy, Chris and me go out and let the remaining kids in. Due to some anarcho-capitalist ticket forging, we’re still £50 short of the £250 Crass charge for the package but they say don’t worry about it.

In the Salisbury rock history book Endless Beat by Richard Nash and Frogg Moody, another member of the Grange management team, Mike Robins, recalls being suitably impressed/bewildered by the turn out for the Vague Crass gig and the early hedge-punk pioneer Crass fans, which I think might have become embellished a bit in rural myth punk folklore: “We were unsure about punk. When they advertised I thought nobody’s going to come. (The gig received top billing in the music press.) On the afternoon before these people started arriving. We had a lot of woods and trees and banks around us and they came in and pitched tents up. All amongst the trees there were two or three hundred people pitched up overnight ready to come to the punk do the next day – absolutely amazing!” Unfortunately, the historic Vague landmark Grange Hotel; the site of our most successful gig and of the last local punky reggae party Talisman gig; no longer exists; a housing development now occupies the site on St Mark’s Avenue.

December 8 Highlights of the Vague Crass interview (also in Zigzag) at Epping by Tom and Skunk from Bath: Like PIL, the question of Crass – were they the only sincere punk band or dire retro ranters? – featured in virtually every Vague interview through the 80s. On the day of the worse snow in living memory, the Crass guitarist/singer Andy NA Palmer picks us up at the station and thaws us out with cups of tea at their Epping Forest commune. After I try to talk my way out of previously slagging them off, and don’t entirely succeed, Crass respond to the question of identikit black uniform followers: P: “If it hadn’t been us it would have been someone else.” Pete Wright the bassist: “Those things need promotion and support which they don’t get from us. That is why a lot of other bands will put a lot of effort into securing identity with their fans.” Andy: “There are obviously people out there who want to identify with the people on stage. We don’t go through that superstar in the dressing room routine. We go out and talk to people in the audience, we have as much personal contact as we can. We do the opposite to most bands.”

Pete: “Any performer tries to provoke intensity. The star context doesn’t provoke change, thought or sensitivity, it just provokes a sort of mundane intensity.” Andy on the subject of Honey Bane (who had a single released on the Crass label but was more associated with the traditional, Garry Bushell-promoted Oi punk scene): “What she wants to do is really genuine and honest, I think. She did one single with us, like all the other bands have done and nobody shat on anyone. I don’t think she likes what she’s doing. I think she realises that all that scene is shit.” Pete: “I personally think what she is doing is a waste, but that’s just my opinion, because I’m not interested in that area. I don’t care what Adam Ant is doing but to some people it is a loss.” Andy: “I think the general definition of entertainment is escapism. I think we are promoting other ways of doing things. We’re not saying you should go out and live like we do though.” At this point a little kid sticks his head round the door and shouts, “Anarchy, peace and chips please, mate!”

After stifled giggling and shushing, Andy continues: “I wouldn’t term what we’re doing as entertainment on the night out at the Odeon level. People can enjoy what we’re doing, but it’s not frivolous and it’s not escapism. If you’ve got something to say to people then obviously you’ve got to put it over in a way that is powerful and attractive in some way, not in a facile way but in a way that will make people sit up and take notice.” The Crass elder statesman drummer/main spokesperson Penny Rimbaud joins the discussion: “Anyone we do a single with, we try to agree with on basic issues. For example we did a single with Captain Sensible, with whom you could find a million and one faults. It’s not up to us to make qualifications, within reason. I know that Flux have had a hell of a time of it because of their leather jackets.” Andy on the Crass wedding flexi-disc in Loving magazine (Crass hoaxed the teenage girls’ mag into offering tracks by Joy de Vivre as a free flexi-disc – due a remix re-release): “Obviously if you think funny thoughts you have to put humour in to what you’re doing. I don’t think you can work that way unless you’re a comedian like Tony Hancock or someone.”

Penny: “The reason that was funny is because it was us. It’s the same with the Christmas single we’ve just done (‘Merry Crassmass’), it’s a sort of medley of our songs. It’s diabolical, it’s just a cheap laugh. It doesn’t make the same sort of points as the Loving thing did… I think our music is really complex. ‘Stations (of the Crass)’ wasn’t but ‘Feeding (of the 5,000)’ certainly was. Graham Lock from NME said ‘Stations’ was a parody of ourselves and I think that’s right to some extent. The album we are working on at the moment (‘Christ: The Album’) and ‘Penis Envy’ have had an enormous amount of care put into them. People do get something off what we’re doing and it’s not just in the words, it’s in the power and thought behind it… There isn’t an end result as such. We’re learning as well. One of the reasons why we gig is to see and learn what it is we’re doing. At the point when we can no longer contribute then we’ll cease to bother. The message has been made. We do old songs at gigs but if we did not develop them there wouldn’t be much point in doing them. It’s through the response from other people that we enlarge…

“Like the CND peace sign, when we first used that 3 or 4 years ago, nobody knew what it bloody meant. Now in a way we’ve exhausted our use in that area. That’s not to say it’s not still important. The important thing is that now we should be coming up with stuff that is as unacceptable as that was at first. When we put ‘Feeding’ out for a couple of quid it was the most diabolical row anyone had ever heard, because people like the Pistols and Clash played rock’n’roll, they didn’t make a nasty row like we did. We put out the first awful punk record, but now it’s become listenable.” Penny on original punk rock: “It was terrific, but one can see now its context in rock’n’roll as opposed to something outside of rock’n’roll. It sounds positively American now. It’s up to us now to come up with ideas that in 5 years time everyone will be talking about… We’ve done a lot for No Nukes Music but not under their banner. 4 years ago we offered to do gigs for CND and it was a totally novel idea to them. They were really nervy at first. No Nukes took over where they really did not want to get involved. Now there’s lots of bands prepared to do it, I don’t think there’s any need for us and we can concentrate on wider issues.”

Andy: “We’ve never had a specific objective. Things have always turned up which we’ve expanded into. When we first started we were not going to put a record out but then Small Wonder wanted to do one, then we put our own records out and were honest to ourselves and other people. As well as practical things like that, we’ve exhausted our use for CND but that’s not going to stop us saying things against war or doing benefits.” Penny: “A nice-ish example of that is when the peace march was on, we were touring up north and we did a gig for about 200 really young kids near Manchester. It wasn’t watered down or anything and they really enjoyed it. Meanwhile there were bands appearing at the Rainbow doing a CND/No Nukes star-turn thing and losing £1,000 for No Nukes Music.” Andy: “We’re not into playing places like the Rainbow but if somebody wants to play there for CND all well and good. We’re more effective working in areas that don’t have as much mass appeal but can actually get the point across more effectively.” Pete: “To all those bands appearing at the Rainbow, Weller or anyone, it’s all in a day’s work.”

Penny: “No, I disagree, the Jam weren’t billed to appear there, they turned up and I’m sure they turned up because of Weller’s commitment and I do really think they’re one of the few commercial bands with a real degree of commitment. All the other bands seem to be doing it for their own gratification. I really think that guy is genuine. It seems to me that they are proof that within the system it is possible to do something constructive.” Penny on Rock Against Racism: “That’s another good reason for us to go our own way, because if it was ever uncovered as a Trotskyite plot or something, we’d still be independent and could carry on what they were doing. That was particularly the case with RAR. We were very involved with RAR when it started, we did a lot of gigs for them. At that stage it wasn’t apparent that there was a lot of political interest. As it became increasingly obvious that there was, we got out and started criticising RAR but we never criticised the basic philosophy. If CND did collapse under some political coup like that, as such organisations are prone to do, it would be a great shame but it would be up to people like us to continue their objectives. It’s the same with the Anarchy Centre, us and the Poison Girls put the money into it, but we won’t have anything to do with running it. We have to remain free and independent of organisations…”

Penny: “I don’t see the riots as revolution, they were more like anger. They weren’t radical, they were reactionary as all anger is. That’s not putting them down at all. They were reactions to really bad conditions. You can’t parallel that with Paris in ’68, which was a genuine radical event. There’s an active revolution going on in Brixton, that’s been going on long before the riots, in Rastafari. That’s a black revolution that I personally don’t understand and I don’t like many of its manifestations, but that’s a true form of cultural revolution. The blacks decided they didn’t want to be puppets of white people and they’re making their stand. The riots probably put that revolution back. They achieved nothing in that respect, they were just dirty water off people’s backs, and they just strengthened the modes of oppression. I don’t believe anything can be gained through organised violence.” Andy: “I can see why people want to blow up Number 10, because that is an institution that does limit people’s freedom. All that would achieve is they would build a bigger and stronger one.”

Penny: “They did it in Cuba 20 years ago but it’s all too well organised now. Look at El Salvador, revolution doesn’t change anything. Nothing changes until the people change.” Andy: “Most militants just want to put themselves in the same position as the leaders of the time and impose their own restrictions. They’re not offering freedom just another form of oppression. It’s up to each individual person to decide how they want to live. If everybody started treating each other as human beings there’d be no need for governments. The argument against that is then who would empty the dustbins? But if people treated each other with respect, people would realise we create garbage and it’s got to be got rid of. There would be no need to tell someone to fucking do it… Maybe it’s not wanting to take responsibility because it doesn’t go that far in most people’s heads. But nobody wants to work 9 to 5 in a factory and be shat on by the boss and then go home and shit on the wife who kicks the cat.”

Enter the singer Steve Ignorant, Crass’s politically correct answer to Sid Vicious: “It’s a load of shit innit, I don’t think that most people even think about it. To some people I know it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference what government was in power. Even if it was the Nazis they would still carry on doing what they’ve always done…” Penny: “I don’t think any individual should be forced to do anything. I would like everyone to stand in opposition to war, but I wouldn’t go round grabbing hold of people and arguing with them. I do agree with the sort of constructive dialogue that us and thousands of others are putting out, that is creating ripples in the society that we live, that are spreading out and giving people an option.” Andy: “I don’t think people should be forced but if through the information you’ve received you decide that you don’t want anything to do with war, you have a responsibility to offer alternatives and try to do something about it.” P: “The aim is to educate.”

Penny: “It’s like the peace march. 50,000 people march through London. I don’t think that has any effect on what Mrs Thatcher might think. What would have effect is when people in her street start protesting. She’s not going to change her mind till the people around her are effected. At first it comes from the outside and is criticised and derided, then it becomes accepted by the so called intellectuals, then it spreads out to the educated, then the ones who didn’t have the opportunities to be educated, then it becomes culture. It’s a long process. Like Lord Shaftesbury who said child labour was awful, at first he was derided but eventually it filters through into the higher reaches. The debates in the House of Commons are a farce. There’s these incredibly important issues and these silly old doddering fools talking about them so lightly or with privileged passion. They’re dealing with beliefs that radicals created 30, 40 or 100 years ago. That’s how it will always be. The radical is the most important member of society.”

Pete: “My optimism about a nuclear free Europe is that people will encapture it into themselves. They will be removed relatively quickly, which will mean the introduction of other more up to date methods of destroying people.” Penny: “I sort of mildly disagree with you there, because I don’t think there’s a drive towards destruction. That’s why there will be a nuclear free zone in Europe, because there’s thousands and millions of people objecting to nuclear arms. We’re still being governed by a generation who were involved in a war. America is different because it had Vietnam and they’re still trying to come to terms with the guilt of it. None of us have experienced war. It’s a totally alien concept. I think that our views, that are extreme now, will come through…”

Penny on religion: “I think there is a valid criticism in that someone who sets themselves up as an individual authority in the way that Christ may have done and in the way that John Lennon set himself up, stand to be criticised on that effect. Him rejecting the existing Jewish church, quite rightly in my view, did directly result in the split between Christians and Jews, and that single act that he made did lead to the concentration camps. That’s unavoidable logic. Whether or not it’s totally reasonable to criticise Christ for digging the pits of Auschwitz as ‘(Reality) Asylum’ says is debateable, because Christ as you say did say some beautiful things, but nonetheless he did set himself up as an authority. How can you resolve his goodness if that’s the net result of what he said. The behaviour and the pattern he set was just not good enough…”

So I inevitably concluded with: Have Crass set themselves up for more than they can handle? And are they good enough?… I think the other main members, the singers Eve Libertine and Joy de Vivre, guitarist Phil Free and flautist G, were present as well or some of them at any rate. After my Crass article appeared in Zigzag magazine, Crass squatted the mag off-shoot Zigzag Club on Great Western Road. The following year I ended up squatting in London with Centro Iberico Anarchy Centre veterans and briefly lived in the Roseberry Avenue Anarchy Centre. In recent years I’ve become the local history archivist of the A Centre on Harrow Road. The longstanding Crass support poet Annie Anxiety defected to the Rastafarian revolution, switching to Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sounds dub reggae label at Southern Studios.

Charles and Di Wedding: Mere Anarchy

This true and dirty tale has been continuing throughout 200 years of teenage anarchy and so in 1982 there remains Vague… July 29 1981 The good people of this fair isle got a day long national holiday to celebrate the public mating of 2 of its more noble citizens. And I bet you’re just dying to know how the Vagrants celebrated the event… I’m slumbering at Vague mansions when Skin the biker calls at the ungodly hour of 10am. As we saunter down the empty street from each house the ritual ceremony is broadcast. In the Ship there are no old colonels making loyal toasts and no Lady Di clones. In fact the place is deserted. From the public bar TV comes the final part of the mating ritual. I see an old football mate at the bar and say: “Celebrating the happy day, Rich.” “Fucking royal wedding – bring back Oliver Cromwell, that’s what I say.” Next thing we know the barman comes bounding in wearing a red, white and blue grass skirt and a silly hat…

We’re just going through the traditional “One more before you chuck us out” routine, when Puddle of the Silent Guests appears… There then follows a standard Vague how drunk we got report paying specific attention to throwing up – I was first, then Skin, Puddle, and finally Brett… After Puddle’s thrown up, we decide the time is right for a royal wedding gig by the Vagrants, ’16 Tons’ is put on the jukebox several times and a striking set is performed using improvised instruments; glasses, tables, chairs, etc. After getting chucked out we try to make Castle Street a no go area with a hay bale… The next day we found the green had been set alight but nobody can remember that bit and nobody made wild oat picking… There were accompanying photos of the Ship in its post-punk heyday and a ‘Bloody Revolutions’ ’81 riots tribute Molotov cocktail collage copied from the Seditionaries T-shirt by Chris… The royal wedding piss up marked the end of the Mere punk scene as we moved Vague operations to the Paragon in Bath.

The A-Heads: No Peace in Warminster by Puddle

Warminster Community Centre, hardly the centre of the universe, true, but on a Saturday afternoon the games room (usually reserved for table tennis and other such activities) is transformed into a mass of leather jackets with plenty of naughty language and naughtier smells. For here, from about 11am, you can witness about 2 or 3 new punk bands practising, among other things, in a rather loud and uncompromising manner. To be perfectly honest the experience is not a particularly pleasant one, because most of these bands seem to have stagnated between early UK Subs and Motörhead on a bad day. However, one band who frequent the place in the afternoon have something more to offer. The A-Heads have taken up-tempo Penetration-like riffs and added harmonious and well attuned vocals. They are very much like early Penetration, although it would be unfair to say they have simply adopted this sound without adding or putting some of their own imaginative ideas into it.

The A-Heads are Mel – vocals, Andy ‘Jock’ McCurdy – guitar, Nigel Johnson – bass and Andy Gale – drums. If you go on first appearances you would probably think they are just another Oi band. But if you take the time to listen to them you’ll find a more solid form of music which leaves their counterparts standing… Mel on the Penetration comparison: “I think maybe we sound more like them vocally than musically, but either way it’s not intentional.” Jock: “It’s better than sounding like Vice Squad I suppose, but we are aiming at a sound of our own.” Puddle: “Your appearance and your name does suggest something along the lines of Crass?” Jock: “We got the name off a defunct German band.” Nigel: “Politics doesn’t really come into it, although a couple of our songs are that way inclined. ‘No Rule’ is constructive criticism of government policies and we’ve got another one about Northern Ireland…” Mel dislikes glue sniffing, trendies and trendy music… Jock does not like the Exploited… Nigel doesn’t like much…

Anarcho-Punk: Let the Tribe Increase

Vague thoughts on anarcho-punk: Although I was won over to Crass, to a certain extent after the Salisbury gig and the interview, I still didn’t think much of their music apart from ‘Bloody Revolutions’ and held most of the sub-Crass anarcho-punk groups in contempt. I’ve ended up accepting the description of anarcho-punk with some pride but back in the day I would sooner have been called a new romantic. We particularly had it in for the Subhumans, Warminster’s premier anarcho-punk band, and didn’t hold the Mob from Yeovil way in very high esteem either. I came round to the Mob after seeing them at Meanwhile Gardens in London and in Kill Your Pet Puppy fanzine; musically they were more influenced by ATV and the Fall than Crass; and their hairstyle owed more to Bob Marley and the Wailers; we ended up next door neighbours to some of them (who had become the radical trainspotters Blyth Power) on Freston Road. I sided with the bikers at Stonehenge against the Epileptics, who became Flux of Pink Indians, but got on alright with Dirt, the Crass support band who did a fanzine that was pro-Ants.

Let the Tribe Increase anarcho-punk interview with Tom Vague: Initially I thought Crass were interesting but they sounded like basic punk thrash when I was into post-punk – Public Image, the Banshees, Joy Division, the Pop Group, and politically I developed a problem with Crass’s pop anarchism similar to the one I had with Class War. But I was pretty much won over to the cause by the Crass gig experience. Or at least I felt more at home in the anarcho-punk scene than I did in the mainstream early 80s music business. They were the only group who tried to put the punk ethic into practise… But by then there were hordes of copycat Crass anarcho-punk bands swarming all over the west country and I wanted to go back to the music biz, which I did via the anarcho-glam crossover positive-punk/goth Southern Death Cult. The point was to avoid being classified in a sub-cult.

Some of the anarcho-punk bands were my mates, like the Apostles, John and Dan, the Eratics/Look Mummy Clowns and Flowers in the Dustbin. The leading London Vagrants, John Apostle/Travis and Stringy of the Clowns were recruited from the anarcho-punk ranks. With others like the Mob, the Subhumans, Dirt, Hagar the Womb and Rubella Ballet, we had an uneasy alliance with some of them but we didn’t really get on… The only anarcho-punk fanzine I could relate to was Kill Your Pet Puppy, and I had some sort of respect for Toxic Graffiti. Like the bands, there were loads of identikit anarcho fanzines that got a bit boring…I think Vague and Kill Your Pet Puppy were appreciated because they didn’t follow the party line, we were anarchist punk rather than anarcho-punk and tried not to be boring… I was very much in the Ants camp when it was a matter of who are you for? Art punk or anarcho-punk? But in retrospect I’m with Crass… I ended up in the Hackney anarcho-punk squatting scene… In the mid-80s when the crusties with dogs on bits of string started arriving on the scene I moved west…

Vagrants update: The split with Iggy came about from the Cramps centre-spread photos in this issue, which I said Next Big Thing fanzine could use without his agreement. By issue 11 the Vague office had a new address, 34 The Paragon, Bath – After we were kicked out of our Bournemouth flat, Chris Johnson had ended up in Bath pictured in the local press squatting a house on the Royal Crescent, of Oliver fame. He subsequently got a room in a short-life co-op house on the Paragon and in a post-punk/new romantic purge of hippies got me and Puddle from Warminster in. Dave Somerville from Salisbury art college was also briefly in residence, but I literally drove him mad (or contributed to his avant-garde art) by typing into the night. The Paragon basement practise group featured Puddle, Chris, Paul Smith and Richard who ended up in Hawkwind. Iggy and Perry both moved to Bath after we split.

1982 January Unemployment went over 3 million. February Vague 11 came out and Crass interview in Zigzag. March Theatre of Hate and the Meteors tour. March 10 B-movie at Bath University CND/Vague Promotions. March 31 UK Decay interview at the Marquee. April Falklands war. April 2 A Flock of Seagulls interview at Bath Moles. Classix Nouveaux and Cuddly Toys tour merchandising. May 23 The Sound at Bath Tiffany’s. May 28 23 Skidoo and Play Dead at Bristol Trinity. June 4 Cuddly Toys interview at Bath Moles. June 5 Lords of the New Church and Hanoi Rox at the Zigzag Club. June 6 CND rally in Hyde Park. June 11 Subhumans and A-Heads at Trowbridge. June 18 Glastonbury. June 21 Stonehenge. Burundi Drummers at Walcot Village Hall Bath. ‘Goody Two Shoes’ by Adam and the Ants was number 1.

 

Tom Vague
(Vague Publishing, 1981)
 
now out of print