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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mining local history.

Coal mine near Dalmellington 1937

For nearly 20 years now I have been mining the history of Galloway for hidden gems which can illuminate the past and reflect the present. Of all the treasures discovered, two short seventeenth century documents are the most dazzling.

The full texts are pasted below, but to understand their importance requires a we bit of interpretation and explanation.

My starting part was a question- was the uprising of the Galloway Levellers in 1724 a response to the Union of 1707 as local historian John Roberston had suggested in his book ‘The Story of Galloway’ in 1963?

I soon found out that the answer was ‘No’, since the export of cattle from Galloway to England had begun 40 years before 1707, after the English parliament banned the import of Irish cattle in 1666. Before 1666, up to 10 000 Irish cattle from the north of Ireland had travelled through Galloway to English markets. Most probably came from the 60 000 acres of Donegal owned by the Murray family of Broughton on in Wigtownshire. The Murrays had acquired the land in Donegal after the Plantation of Ulster in 1606. Another Galloway family, the Maxwells of Orchardton also had lands in Ulster, inherited by marriage from the McLellans of Kirkcudbright. (Confusingly, the Maxwells of Orchardton were Roman Catholics, while the McLellans were strongly Presbyterian Protestants.)

I then wondered how important cattle had been in the local economy before 1666. This involved going through the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds 1623-1700. The deds were found in several sacks in the loft of Kirkcudbright Court House in 1933, transcribed and then published in 1939 and 1950. There are over 6000 entries in the Deeds, of which about 500 mention the crops and livestock kept on farms during the period. Most only mention arable crops grown on farms in lowland parishes, but a very few refer to upland farms and mention sheep and cattle.

The two tacks (leases of farms) I found most fascinating were for Drumbuie near New Galloway in Kells parish.  These make it clear that cattle were being grazed on the Rhins of Kells during the summer, on Staverron Hill on the west side of Miekle Millyea, which 2457 feet high. Drumbuie is on the east side of the hill.

Here are the two tacks, from 1678 and 1686 respectively. Staverron is variously spelled in the tacks.

Entry 1052 TACK (15 July 1686) by Adam Newal of Barskeoch, heritable proprietor of the lands under-written, to William and Andrew McClamrochs, lawful Sons to John McClamroch of Craginbay, of the 4 merkland of Drumbuy, with the pertinents, presently possessed by William Calwel and Andrew Irland, for 9 years from Whitsunday 1679, (with the option to both parties of ending this Tack after 5 years) for the payment of £120, the usual teind, prebendar and feu duties, public burdens, work and casualties for the first year, and after Whitsunday 1680 they are to pay 200 merks yearly with the foresaid duties, 2 stone of good butter or 10 merks, 1 dozen poultry fowls and 2 "fasterinevine henns;" and " to pay and lay in the work and service" of 40 loads of peats, providing sacks for carrying them, and 2 barrows with bearers to peat casting, 4 "naigs" one day yearly to harrowing, 2 men and 2 horses one day to the hay-stack making, and 4 shearers yearly, paying £3 in satisfaction of other work and service of men and horses paid by the present possessors ; the said Adam is to give timber, great and small, for the upkeep of the houses which the said William and Andrew are to keep wind and water tight; should any of the said Adam’s cattle pasturing in Staiverran the summer half year come home through the said "rowme," the tenants promise not to molest them but either to put them back to the "heft" or allow them to pass peaceably homeward ; they are to pay all public burdens, maintenance taxations and levies of foot or horse and will be allowed the half of all discharges for such which they produce. At Clauchen of Dalry 2 December 1678 witnesses Robert Greirsone of Mylmark, John McNaght in Overtoune, James Chalmer of Wattersyd, and William Hunter in Midtowne of Clauchen.

Entry 1420 TACK (2 December 1689) by Adam Newall of Barskeoch, heritable proprietor of the lands under-written, to James McCutchine, lawful son to the deceased Alexander McCutchine in Drumbuy, of the half of the 4 merkland of Drumbuy and the piece called the Lumpe between the burns, with the pertinents, presently possessed by the said James, for five years from Whitsunday 1686, for the yearly payment of 160 merks, 1 stone of good salt butter in the summer time or 5 merks as the price thereof, 6 poultry fowls, and a fasteneven hen, with the work of 25 loads of peats, providing good sacks to carry them, with a man and a horse, a man and a spade and 2 bearers a day to the casting of them, a man and a horse to hay-stacking, "with a man and sheirs to the cliping off Straveran," and a man and a horse to fetch a load of lime or free stone; the said Adam promises to give timber, great and small, for upholding the houses and the said James is to keep them wind and water tight and leave them in good condition, and he is to leave " ryll trees and soil trees and staiks and doors and the lyk" which Andrew McClemeroch, present tenant, leaves in the houses ; should any of the said Adam’s cattle pasturing in Strauveran the summer and harvest half year come to the Braidside or through his ground, the said James promises to put them back to the "heff" again; he is to pay all public burdens and be allowed for the same in his rent. At the Watersid 26 May 1686 ; witnesses Thomas Macaw in Garroch, Robert Macaw, his son, John Paisla, schoolmaster in Barskeoch. and John Makill there.

Points of Interest

1. Drumbuie and Barskeoch are  first recorded in 1456 among a list of lands (farms) which had belonged to the Black Douglas lords of Galloway since 1369, but now belonged to king James II of Scotland. This was because William Douglas, the 9th earl of Douglas had rebelled against the Crown. In the summer of 1455, James II had laid siege to Threave castle in Galloway. Threave had been built for Archibald the Grim in 1369. Archibald was the first Douglas lord of Galloway and became the 3rd earl of Douglas in 1388.

Archibald the Grim became lord of Galloway after the death of Edward Balliol in 1365. Edward Balliol was the son of King John Balliol, Robert the Bruce’s rival for the Scottish throne. After Robert died in 1329, Edward Balliol tried to seize the Scottish Crown in 1332, when Robert’s son David was still an infant.

Edward’s attempt ultimately failed and he gave up his claim to the throne in 1356.  While Edward Balliol had little support in most of Scotland, he did have strong support in Galloway. This was not because of his title as king, but because he was the great-grandson of Alan of Galloway (died 1234). Alan’s great grandfather was Fergus of Galloway (died 1161) who had ruled Galloway as an independent kingdom.

In November 1352, at Buittle castle (built for his grandfather) Edward Balliol granted the barony of Kells in the Glenken to his valet, William de Aldeburgh.

If, and it is a speculative if, the lands held by the Douglas lords of Galloway and documented in 1456 were those lands previously held directly by Edward Balliol, then Drumbuie and its neighbouring farms may have begun life under Galloway’s Gaelic speaking lords or even king.

2.Summer pastures
Drumbuie is a Gaelic farm name- Druim buidhe, the yellow ridge. Between Drumbuie and the Rhinns of Kells is Clenrie, which was recorded as ‘Clunaree’ in 1456. This is another Gaelic farm name, ‘Claon airigh’ which means the sloping pasture, or more accurately, the sloping summer pasture, since airigh means the sheiling or summer pasture- the upland pasture were livestock were grazed in the summer. From the present cottage of Clenrie, the Rig of Clenrie slopes up to the Clints of Clenrie and the summit of Miekle Millyea.

So it is probable that the tradition of pasturing cattle during the summer on the Rhinns of Kells was 500 years old  by the time Adam Newall’s cattle were summer- pastured on Staverron Hill in the 1670s and 80s.

Further evidence of this traditional form of farming is found immediately to the south-west of Drumbuie and Clenrie where the farms of Craigenbay and ‘Garwere’ were also listed in 1456. ‘Garwere’ is now Garrary -which is either ‘garbh airigh’ - rough summer pasture land or ‘gar airigh’ -near summer pasture land.

There is an Airie farm near New Galloway and between this farm and Craignebay/ Garrary is Airie Bennan Hill. There is another Airie farm to the south, on the Balmaghie side of Loch Stroan.

Taken altogether, it seems likely that about 1000 years ago, gaelic speaking farmers were using the better quality land along the Ken and Dee as winter pasture for cattle they pastured in the summer on the ‘airigh’ lands on the hills above.

3.Sheep farming

Describing the Galloway hills in his book ‘Merrick and the Neighbouring Hills’ (Ayr, 1929), James McBain explained that within the 250 square mile region -

The whole of this domain is given over to the breeding and rearing of sheep, and in all there are about 40 farms within its borders, and to each farm is attached a shepherd’s cottage. Beyond the shepherds’ potato patches there is no cultivation; all is as nature has made it, a labyrinth of steep hills, peat moss, bogs, lochs and streams. [p. 14]

But as seventeenth and early eighteenth century tacks show, the upland farms of Galloway kept cattle as well as sheep and every farm had an area of arable ground where oats and barley (bere) were grown.

As discussed in my previous post, we can date the shift from mixed  upland farming to sheep farming to the late eighteenth century. As I explained, the Newall family of Barskeoch, who had owned Drumbuie and the neighbouring farms from the mid -seventeenth century, tried to improve their lands using lime around 1770 and also doubled the rent on their farms.

In 1741, Samuel McConnell and his son were tenants of the Newall farms of Hannaston and Drumbuie. By 1760, Samuel’s grandson James McConnel was the tenant of Hannaston. In 1779 he renewed the tenancy, but the rent had doubled so in 1782 he gave up Hannaston. In 1787, William Forbes of Callendar bought Barnskeoch and its farms from the Newall family.

Meanwhile the tenancy of Drumbuie had been taken by Thomas Cannan, born in 1736. We don’t know when he became tenant of Drumbuie, but from the records of William Forbes of Callendar, we know that he gave up the tenancy in December 1796. Possibly, like James McConnell he was struggling to pay the rent.

Was Drumbuie a sheep farm by 1796? We don’t know. However, a McConnell family history written in 1861 says that the old thatched farm house of Hannaston was demolished and a new farm house  built ‘about 40 years ago’, so around 1820. In 1818, the Forbes papers show that a new house was built at Garrary. The first Ordnance Survey map of Galloway was surveyed in the 1840s and shows two Drumbuies- an old one ‘in ruins’ and a new one about a mile away.

This evidence suggests that it was roughly between 1790 and 1820 that the last vestiges of the medieval pattern of upland farming gave way to sheep farming. William Forbes senior died in 1815, when his son William Forbes junior was only 9. His mother, two uncles and a cousin acted as Trustees of the Forbes estates until 1831. It is possible that the decision to focus on sheep farming was taken by the Trustees as a way to maximise William junior’s income.

4. Cotton and iron.
In 1760, while he was still tenant of Hannaston, James McConnell married Thomas Cannan’s sister Mary. Thomas Cannan may already have been the tenant of Drumbuie by then. Meanwhile Thomas and Mary’s brother William Cannan left the Glenkens in the 1760s and- as recounted in my previous blog, became a textile machine maker at Chowbent near Bolton in Lancashire. Thomas, Mary and William were all born at Sheil farm between New Galloway and Dalry.

Here he was joined in 1781 by his nephew James McConnell, Adam and gorge Murray from New Galloway and in 1784, John Kennedy from Knocknalling. And, as also previously recounted this group of young men completed their apprenticeships just as Manchester’s cotton industry was about to explode with the power of steam.

While James McConnell married Margret Houldsworth (her brothers Tom and Henry were also cotton manufactures) George Murray married William Cannan’s daughter Mary. George and Mary had two sons, Benjamin and James. Benjamin became the owner of Parton estate in Galloway. Meanwhile James Murray married Henry Houldsworth’s daughter Anne in Glasgow in 1830.

In 1850 James became an investor in the Dalmellington Iron Company which his father-in-law had established in 1846. James became the ‘driving force’ behind the company and increased his shareholdings to become the largest investor of the company and its director.

James Murray’s  drive almost brought the iron industry to the Glenkens. In the 1850s, the Dalmellington Iron Company made some trial diggings on the Loch Doon side of Coran of Portmark and Black Craig, which overlook the lead mines of Garryhorn to the east. Here they found some rich veins of ironstone and dug out several hundred tons. To transport the ironstone to their furnaces would have required a building seven or eight miles of mountain railway. James Murray decided that the cost would be too great, so the railway was never built and most of the iron still lies deep beneath the Rhinns of Kells.

Since there is still coal around Dalmellington, some time in the distant future the iron and the coal might again be combined to forge a second industrial revolution.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Levellers and Clearances in the Glenkens

1. Highland Clearances and Galloway Levellers
On 15 October 2002 the Herald newspaper  published an article by Neal Ascherson. Ascherson’s article was in response to an announcement that Michael Fry was to write a book on the Highland Clearances. Since Fry had already been accused of being a ‘Clearance denier’ having stated that he did not believe that the Highland Clearances had happened except occasionally and on a very small scale, Ascherson was expecting a ’major stushie’ to erupt.

I responded with a ‘Letter to the Editor’ which was published a couple of days later. In the letter I mentioned the Galloway Levellers resistance to the construction of cattle parks in 1724and hoped that Michael Fry would extend his history of the Highland Clearances to include the continuing de-population of rural Scotland.

Herald 15 October 2002

I was then contacted by a researcher for Lesley Riddoch’s  BBC Radio Scotland show to ask if I would like to take part in a discussion of Fry’s new book by telephone. This I was very happy to do, but on the day a previous item over-ran so my contribution was dropped. However, I was told that the producer of Lesley’s show was working on a new radio series about the Lowland Clearances. This was Peter Aitchison. I contacted Peter and sent him some background material on the Galloway Levellers.

As a result, in early 2003, Peter and Andrew Cassell came down to Castle Douglas and recorded and interview with me at the back of Threave Gardens where the local laird  had managed to save a dyke from being levelled. In the book ‘The Lowland Clearances which followed the radio series, Peter and Andrew dedicated a whole chapter to the Galloway Levellers.

I continued researching the Levellers and after meeting with Professor Ted Cowan, an eminent Scottish historian and Director of Glasgow University’s Dumfries campus, I was able to turn the research into a 50 000 word thesis for which I was awarded the title ’Master of Philosophy’ in 2009.

2. The Galloway Levellers  and the Glenkens
Geographical note: Galloway is in the  deep south-west of Scotland, facing the north of Ireland on the west and Cumbria/ the far north-west of England to the south. The Glenkens is the northern most district of Galloway and takes in part of the Southern Uplands of Scotland.

Although most of the Galloway Levellers actions took place in the south and central Stewartry, there was one outbreak of levelling in the Glenkens when dykes at Airds of Kells were levelled on 2 June 1724.

Although the Gordons of Earlston owned the farms of High, Upper, Middle and Nether Airds, in September 1718, Alexander Gordon and his son Thomas leased the farms to Patrick Murdoch of Cumloden in Minnigaff for 25 years for £785-12-4  Scots. Murdoch then enclosed the lands as a cattle park with dykes, which were levelled in 1724.

What is interesting is that both Patrick Murdoch and the Gordons were attempting to rebuild their family fortunes after the disruption of the Covenanting period in the late seventeenth century.  Patrick Murdoch’s grandfather had been involved in the battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679 and as a result his lands of Cumloden were forfeited to Colonel James Douglas.

Airds of Kells, Boat of Rhone and Duchrae: Roy's map, 1755

Although the Murdoch  family regained their lands after 1689, by the time Patrick inherited in 1697 they were burdened with debt. Murdoch’s neighbours in Minnigaff were the Heron family of Kirroughtrie. The Heron family had been involved in the cattle trade since 1682 when Patrick Heron I had taken up a lease of David Dunbar’s cattle parks at Baldoon in Wigtownshire. By 1689, Patrick Dunbar I was sending 1000 cattle per year to England. The Heron’s used their income from the cattle trade to buy or rent farms in Minnigaff which they used to raise more cattle for export.

Patrick Murdoch would therefore have seen the cattle trade as a way to restore his family’s fortunes. However, the venture was not successful and Patrick Murdoch’s son Thomas was forced to sell Cumloden and its lands to the earl of Galloway in 1737.

The Gordons of  Earlston faced similar problems. William Gordon and his son Alexander had also fought on the Covenanter side at the battle of Bothwell bridge in 1679 where William was killed. Alexander escaped but was tried in his absence, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. His estates were also forfeit. He was captured in 1683, tortured and then imprisoned until June 1689. In 1708 Alexander assigned his lands, worth £300 sterling/ year and his debts, £1687 sterling, to his son Thomas. Although Thomas married an heiress, he was unable to clear the debts he had inherited and was declared bankrupt in 1737.

To understand the uprising of  Galloway Levellers then, it is necessary to bear in mind that the traumatic events of the seventeenth century were still within living memory in 1724 and that the impact of fines and forfeitures imposed  then continued to have an economic impact on the region.

In the even more recent past, the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 had revived memories of the Killing Times and created another set of land owners struggling with fines and forfeitures. In the Glenkens, William Gordon of Kenmure was executed in 1716 for his role as leader of the local Jacobite forces. Basil Hamilton who had lands around Kirkcudbright had also joined the Jacobites in 1715. However, thanks to his grandmother Anne, duchess  of Hamilton and his youth- he was only 18 at the time- his life was spared.

So although the first outbreak of levelling occurred in March 1724, against dykes around a cattle park at Netherlaw which had been built before 1688, the largest Leveller action took place in May against a cattle enclosure built for Basil Hamilton in 1723. Over 1000 Levellers took part and 2 miles of dyke were demolished between the 12 and 16 May.

As a former Jacobite, his fellow land-owners had little sympathy for Hamilton personally. However, perhaps anticipating the course of events,  Hamilton was able to persuade Thomas Gordon of Earlston to ride with him to Edinburgh on 2 May to ask John Dalrymple, the 2nd earl of Stair for assistance. Stair was commander of a regiment of dragoons and was also a Wigtownshire landowner with an interest in the cattle trade. That Thomas Gordon and Basil Hamilton were able to work together against the Levellers is interesting since in October 1715 Gordon had led a group of 300 volunteers from Kirkcudbright to Dumfries to help defend the town against Hamilton and his fellow Jacobites.

By 29 May, the whole of Stair’s regiment - two troops of horse and four troops of  foot-soldiers had arrived in Kirkcudbright. On 31 May, the Levellers asked their supporters to assemble at the Boat of Rhone on 2 June. In response, Stair’s regiment set off from Kirkcudbright at 3 am, arriving at the Boat of Rhone  by 8 am. However no Levellers appeared. The troops then set off back to Kirkcudbright but as soon as they had gone, the Levellers, who must have been lurking nearby, emerged to level the dykes at Airds of  Kells. They then moved on to Kilquhanity and McCartney (now Milton Park) in Kirkpatrick Durham to level more of Murdoch’s dykes. Murdoch had bought these farm in 1723 and as landowner rather than tenant, had then evicted 16 families to create another cattle park.

On 20 June, Patrick Murdoch pursued a claim for damages against some of those involved in Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court. One of the Levellers is named as John Charters who was a tenant or cottar in Drumglass farm in Balmaghie. In January 1725, Basil Hamilton took 23 named Levellers to court and was awarded damages against them for the destruction of his dykes in may 1724.

The presence of  Stair’s regiment in the Stewartry made levelling more difficult, but the fear of further outbreaks combined with an expression for the evicted tenants plight from king George 1 himself -probably influenced  by the Levellers anti-Jacobite rhetoric persuaded the duke of Roxburghe as Secretary of State for Scotland to call for a public enquiry into the Levellers grievances. This was held in August by John McDowall, Stewart-Depute of Kirkcudbright. Basil Hamilton then complained that McDowall  was too sympathetic to the Levellers…

Although there is no record to confirm it, Hamilton can hardly have been pleased when major James Gardiner took control of Stair’s regiment in July 1724. Gardiner’s military career began when he was 14 in 1702, fighting under the duke of Malborough against the French in Holland. In 1715 he was aide-de-camp to the 2nd earl of Stair who was then involved in anti-Jacobite diplomacy at the French court. Later that year, Gardiner took part in the battle of Preston where northern English and southern Scottish Jacobites -including Basil Hamilton - were defeated. In 1719, Gardiner had a religious experience which transformed him into a committed Christian soldier. During 1724 he seems to have spent more time conversing with local ministers than pursuing the Levellers.

As a deeply religious soldier, Gardiner would have found a soul mate in lieutenant-colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness. Maxwell’s father had been the Covenant supporting minister of Minnigaff parish from the 1630s until his death shortly before his son’s birth in 1663. William’s mother was  Elizabeth Murdoch of Cumloden. In June 1685, Maxwell made a rather public expression of his politics by embracing Archibald Campbell, earl of Argyll shortly before his execution for treason against James VII and II in Edinburgh. Maxwell then became a medical student but was arrested and imprisoned for attending a conventicle in 1687. After his release from prison in early 1688 he wisely decided to continue his studies at Leyden in Holland.

However, instead of becoming a doctor, Maxwell joined William of Orange’s army and  sailed with William’s invasion fleet to England in November 1688. He fought for William at the battles of Killiecrankie and the Boyne and then in Europe. While still on active service in 1697, he married Nicolas Stewart, a niece of the earl of Galloway and heiress to Cardoness estate. In 1702, while still a commissioned officer he was elected to represent the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in the Scottish parliament. In 1706 he was decommissioned for voting against several of the Articles of Union.

Then, in 1715, he was called back to the army and given command of the militia in the south of Scotland. In October 1715 he was made Governor of Glasgow to help defend the city against the Jacobites. From his diaries  which have been published, it is clear that Maxwell was a deeply religious man. Unfortunately the diaries only cover the period 1685-1697. However it is known that he negotiated with the Levellers in 1724.

It is therefore likely that  bloodless conclusion to the Levellers uprising in the Stewartry was negotiated with the Levellers by Maxwell and major Gardiner. In late October a group of over 200 Levellers assembled at Duchrae in Balmaghie close to the Boat of Rhone and Airds of Kells. Unlike the similar assembly in June, this time  the Levellers waited for Gardiner and his troops to arrive. Gardiner had ordered his troops to use minimal force against the Levellers and the Levellers put up minimal resistance. Two hundred Levellers were captured but nearly all were allowed to escape before they reached Kirkcudbright.

As an aside, it can be noted that major Gardiner, by then a colonel, died fighting the Jacobites at Prestonpans in 1745 and is mentioned in Walter Scott’s novel ‘Waverley’.

In January 1725, when Basil Hamilton had his day in court against the Levellers, William Maxwell was the presiding magistrate. Although damages were awarded against the Levellers, since most were poor cottars it is unlikely that Basil Hamilton received much in the way of compensation from them.

One of the Levellers brought to court by Basil Hamilton was John Martin. In 1724 he was only 14 but John went on to become a clock maker, living to the ripe old age of 91. He is buried in Kirkcudbright and sometime before his death in 1801, John Nicholson, a Kirkcudbright printer and publisher, interviewed him. Nicholson’s interview, along with a wealth of other details about the events of 1724 is contained in a hand written book in the Hornel Library at Broughton House in Kirkcudbright.

Nicholson ‘s book also contains the original account of a story which made its way into Peter Aitchison and Andrew Cassell’s radio series and book on the Lowland Clearance. Nicholson got the story from Samuel Geddes of Keltonhill farm who had heard it from his grandfather. According to Geddes, in the summer of 1724, probably around the time of the Kelton Hill fair in June, a group of Levellers threatened to demolish dykes on Robert Johnston’s Kelton (now Threave) estate. Johnston, along with William Falconer, minister of Kelton managed to persuade the Levellers- with the aid of a wagon load of bread and beer -not to demolish the dykes. As recounted by Malcolm Harper in his ‘Rambles in Galloway’, while waiting for the bread and beer to arrive, one of the Levellers carved the date ‘1724’ a stone in the wall of the dyke and that this stone was still visible 140 years later.

Unfortunately, although there are at least two stones with dates carved on them in the vicinity, the dates are not 1724.

On the other hand, William Falconer was the minister of Kelton in 1724 and Robert Johnston was laird of Kelton. Falconer is commemorated by a :Latin inscription carved into a stone on the wall of the remains of the old kirk in Kelton graveyard. Johnston is commemorated in an even more imposing Latin inscription on his grave in St Michael’s kirk in Dumfries.

Robert Johnston's gravestone, St Michael's, Dumfries

Johnston was buried in Dumfries because  had had been a provost of the burgh and represented the burgh in the Scottish parliament of 1702-7. Roughly translated, the Latin inscription on Johnston’s grave claims that he defended Scotland’s liberty by strongly opposing the Union, although, as with William Maxwell, the records of the Scottish parliament show that Johnston voted against some but not all of the Articles of Union. Again, like William Maxwell, when the local Jacobites threatened Dumfries in 1715, Johnston helped to raise a volunteer militia to defend the town.

Another opponent of the 1707 Union  was John Hepburn, minister of Urr. In November 1706, Hepburn and a group of his armed supporters burnt the Articles of Union at the Mercat Cross in Dumfries. In 1715, Hepburn and around 300 of his armed followers marched to Dumfries to offer their support against the Jacobites. Hepburn was a veteran of the seventeenth century struggle against the Stuarts. Although he died in 1723, contemporary accounts suggest that the hardcore of armed Levellers in 1724 were Hebronites, as Hepburn’s followers were called. The Hebronites were probably responsible for several acts of ‘unauthorised levelling’  directed against Roman Catholic landowners including the Jacobite Maxwells of Munches near Dalbeattie  and Robert Neilson of Barncailzie near Crocketford.

On the other hand, a good Presbyterian, Scottish patriot and anti-Jacobite like  Robert Johnston of Kelton would have been viewed positively by the Hebronite levellers. It would therefore not have been very difficult for him to save his march dyke. It may also be significant that Johnston’s brother in law, William Craik II, was the laird of Duchrae. William Craik I has been provost of Dumfries in the 1670s but was removed from office for his Covenanting sympathies. In December 1688, when news reached Dumfries that James VII and II had fled London rather face William of Orange’s army, William Craik  I was re-elected provost and in January Dumfries was the first town in Britain to accept William of Orange as their new king.

To conclude, although the Galloway Levellers uprising of 1724 was primarily a reaction against the clearance of tenant farmers and cottars to make way for cattle parks, a whole range of other factors were involved. In particular, although short-lived, the local Jacobite rebellion in 1715 revived bitter memories of not just of the Killing Times, but also the fifty years of struggle which began with the  National Covenant in 1638 and only ended with Glorious Revolution of 1688. It could even be argued that it was only with the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746 that the fear of a second Stuart restoration was ended.

3.The Upland and Lowland Clearances
In one of their printed tracts justifying their actions, the Galloway Levellers  made it clear that they were not opposed to enclosures. This is rather confusing, since their uprising is often seen as being part of a wider movement of futile resistance to the process of enclosure which drove ‘peasants’ from the and into the first factories of the capitalist industrial revolution.

For example, Tom Johnston in his ‘History of the Working Classes in Scotland’ published in 1920, claimed that the 'the ruthless clearances and ejectments of the peasantry which began in Galloway soon became a general feature in Lowland agricultural economies.’ As a result ‘From the Lowland hamlets came to the industrial towns a steady stream of destitutes owning no capital but their muscles, destined to the miserable half-starved drudgery from which an unregulated capitalism wrung fabulous profits'.

In the Glenkens however, the situation was, to put it mildly, more complicated.

To go back to 1724, the Levellers advice to land-owners was that

the Gentlemen should enclose their grounds in such parcels that each may be sufficient for a good tenant and that the Heritors lay as much rent on each of these enclosures as will give him double the interest of the money laid out on the enclosures. If he cannot get this enclosure set to a tenant whom he may judge sufficient, he may then lawfully keep that ground in his own hand till he finds a sufficient tenant, taking care that the tenant’s house be kept up and that it may be let with the first opportunity and that a lease of twenty-one years be offered. This will considerably augment the yearly rent of the lands and the tenant will hereby be capable and encouraged to improve the breed of sheep and black cattle and the ground, which without enclosures is impossible.

However, even twenty years later, when William Roy extended his Military Survey of  Scotland from the Highlands to the Lowlands, there are very few signs of enclosure in Galloway. On Roy’s map, enclosures are shown as thin red lines, usually rectangular or square,  concentrated around the houses of larger landowners owners and  larger settlements. More widely distributed are patches of cross-hatching which represent the rig and furrow of areas where oats and barley (bere) were cultivated.

One of these patches of arable land is shown on Roy’s map beside Kilnair above Lochinvar loch in Dalry parish. Although Roy does not show this as being enclosed, the surviving area  (now grassland) of arable land at Kilnair is surrounded and divided by the remains of rough dykes. These seem to have been built from stones turned up by ploughing which were then used to construct an irregular enclosure.

Kilnair above Lochinvar today

That there was arable land at Kilnair is confirmed by a tack or lease from 25 May 1669 which details the livestock permitted to be kept -16 cattle with calves, 16 score of sheep and two horses ‘for labouring on the arable ground’. The cows and the sheep were to be milked to make cheese as part of the rent. Kilnair is a Gaelic farm name which Herbert Maxwell suggested could either mean ‘the corner of the battle‘ or, more likely, ‘the corner of the ploughing’, which fits its location as area of better quality land still standing out from the rough grazing land around it.

Tack (lease ) of Kilnair from 1669

In his Victorian study ‘The Lands and their Owners in Galloway’ Peter McKerlie includes Kilnair within the estate of Lochinvar or Gordonstoun. The Gordons acquired the estate in the early fifteenth century during the Douglas lordship of Galloway (1369-1455). Control passed to the Maxwell family during the sixteenth century but passed back to the Gordons in the seventeenth century. However sometime before his death in 1784, Richard Oswald of Auchincruive in Ayrshire had possession. The Oswald family still owned the 10 000 acre estate in 1871.

Unfortunately, although David Hancock in ‘Citizens of the World’ (Cambridge, 1995) discusses Richard Oswald’s role as an improving landowner in Kirkbean parish, where he bought Cavens estate in 1759, he makes no mention of Oswald’s lands in Dalry parish. Hancock does provide a link to the Galloway Levellers however, via John Maxwell who was Oswald’s factor. As child, Maxwell had seen the Levellers in action at Munches near Dalbeattie. Hancock noted that in his dealings with Oswald’s tenants, Maxwell adopted a cautious policy which avoided wholesale clearance.

Oswald’s neighbour in Kirkbean was William Craik III of Arbigland. Craik had in inherited Arbigland in 1739 and set about improving it. The fertile soil no doubt facilitated the process and Craik, through his friendship with Henry Home, Lord Kames became well known as an improver.

In contrast, the soil of the Craik family’s other estate, Duchrae in Balmaghie, was of poorer quality and was still in need of improvement when it was bought by William Cuninghame, a wealthy Glasgow tobacco merchant, in 1786. In his book ‘Raiderland’ published in 1904, S R Crockett included extracts from Cunninghame’s diary which provide a fascinating glimpse of the Stewartry in the age of improvement.

In the seventeenth century, there were 15 farms on Duchrae estate, but by 1786 these had been combined into three large and one small farm. As Crockett noted, what the Leveller movement had feared had come to pass with the smallholdings swept away and the cottars and crofters either  forced to emigrate or reduced to the status of hired labourers on larger farms.

One of the local landowners Cuninghame mentions in his diary is Alexander Gordon of Greenlaw. In 1765, Gordon had had  a short canal cut through marshland on his estate to the river Dee. This canal to allowed barges to carry marl from Carlingwark loch up the Ken/Dee river system. In the absence of local source of limestone, marl was used as a substitute fertiliser. Writing for the Statistical Account of Scotland in the early 1790s, John Gillespie, minister of Kells parish praised Gordon for his exertions and notes that some of the barges can carry up to 400 cubic feet of marl, carrying timber from the parish on their return trips.

One sign of the improvement of the parish was the construction of new houses. However Gillespie cautioned that were  no proof of an increase in population since ‘farmers are encouraged by landlords to combine several farms into one so that more houses in the parish have gone to ruin than have been built or rebuilt’. Gillespie calculated that one tenant in the parish now rented 5 farms which previously had supported 14 families but now supported only ten.

In 1765, the English ban on the import of Irish cattle which had been imposed in 1666 was lifted. By 1790, over 17 000 Irish cattle were passing through Portpatrick harbour annually. By 1800 this had risen to over 20 000. Since Galloway’s cattle trade had developed in response to the English ban on the import of Irish cattle and in the absence of major competition from the Highlands and the north of Scotland, by the beginning of the nineteenth century rearing cattle for the English market was declining in importance.

The cattle trade was still important, but as William Cuninghame’s 1786 diary reveals, cattle had become a commodity which the tenantry speculated on, with cattle at times remaining ‘for no more than two weeks upon the Estate’ before being sold on again. Cuninghame also noted that his tenants kept very few sheep.

In the mainly upland parish of Minnigaff, the Heron family had made their fortune through rearing cattle for export to England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. However, by the 1790, when the Old Statistical Account for Minnigaff was written, the 30 000 sheep kept on the hills had become as important as the black cattle. By 1842, The New Statistical Account gives a figure of 33 500 sheep, with only 2000 black cattle kept. In Carsphairn parish, the Old Statistical Account gives a figure of 30 000 sheep and 1200 black cattle, with similar numbers given in the New Statistical Account. The Old Statistical Account for Dalry gives 13 000 and 1650 cattle. The New Statistical Account does not give any figures for livestock. For Kells, the Old Account gives 17 400 sheep and 1550 black cattle. The New Account gives 17 040 sheep and 1300 cattle. For Balmaclellan the Old Account gives 8200 sheep and 1340 black cattle, but the New Account does not provide any figures.

Altogether, by the 1790s, the upland parishes of the Glenkens plus Minngaff carried over 98 000 sheep but only 6000 black cattle. From the 1790s through until the 1960s, sheep farming was the main land use of the uplands. Since the 1960s, trees have replaced sheep in the Galloway hills.

In their book ‘The Lowland Clearances’, Peter Aitchison and Andrew Cassell draw attention to the way that the same process of agricultural rationalisation in the Lowlands is called ‘improvement’ but in the Highlands  ‘clearance’. The underlying difference was one of geology. Across the Lowlands there were extensive areas of traditional arable farming which could be ‘improved’ to increase crop yields. In the Highlands, most of the land was rough grazing land which could not be improved in the same way. Instead, landowners wanting to increase the economic return on their lands turned their estates over to sheep farming.

Across Galloway and the south of Scotland, the Southern Uplands proved a similar obstacle to the extension of arable improvement. As a result, with the indigenous cattle trade now facing increased competition from Ireland, improving landowners adopted sheep farming as the best way to increase the value of their upland estates.

In the Glenkens, William Forbes of Callendar bought up traditional farms in Kells and Dalry parish to create sheep farms. Born in Aberdeen in 1743, in the 1770s Forbes began amassing a huge fortune by supplying and fitting Royal Navy and East India Company ships with copper plates which protected them from damage by marine worms. His main landholding was the Callendar estate near Falkirk which he bought in 1783. It was probably through his first wife, Margaret McAdam of Craigengillan near Dalmellington, that Forbes became interested in buying lands in Galloway as well.  In Dalry parish he acquired Earlston estate from the Gordon family and in Kells he bought Barskeoch estate in 1787.

4. The Glenkens and the Industrial Revolution
In 1456, Barskeoch and its farms, including Drumbuie, was among the lands forfeited to the Crown by William Douglas, 9th earl of Douglas and the last Douglas lord of Galloway. After passing to the Gordons, by 1660, the Newall family had possession of Barskeoch and its lands, remaining in possession until 1787. In the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds there are two tacks for Drumbuie from the 1670s which give an insight into farming practice of the time since they both require the tenants of Drumbuie to return any cattle pasturing on the west side of Miekle Millyea ‘in the summer half of the year’ to the heft. In other words, before sheep farming came to dominate the hills, cattle were grazed on the Rhinns of Kells.

By 1741, when Samuel McConnell and his son John were the Newalls’ tenants in Drumbuie and nearby Hannaston, this requirement had been dropped. Samuel and John’s tack was for 19 years, paying £33 sterling rent annually. In 1760, John’s James took over the tenancy for another 19 years, paying £26 sterling annually. However, when the next renewal came in 1779, the annual rent had risen to £52. James struggled with this increase and gave up his tenancy in 1782.

Tack of Hannaston, 1741

In early 1781, James McConnell’s 19 year old son also called James decided to leave Hannaston and the Stewartry to take up an apprenticeship with his uncle, William Canaan (or Cannon) now Lancashire but originally from Knocknairling in Kells. William Canaan, after serving his apprenticeship as a carpenter had left the Stewartry in the 1760s, first for Whitehaven, then Liverpool before finally settling in Chowbent near Bolton where he began making textile manufacturing equipment.

Between 1780 and 1786, Adam and George Murray, sons of a New Galloway shopkeeper and John Kennedy from Knocknalling in Kells also moved  south to take up apprenticeships with Canaan. After serving their time with Canaan, they moved on to Manchester where their skills as machine makers were in demand.

None of these young men fit Tom Johnstone’s description of destitute peasants driven by clearance and enclosure from the land into industrial cities. On the other hand, if they had stayed in a Glenkens about to be transformed by incoming landowners like William Forbes and Richard Oswald into a vast sheep walk, they could never have achieved the wealth and status they were to gain in Manchester.

Writing in 1844, based on his experience of Manchester in 1842/3, Friedrich Engels claimed that

The history of the proletariat in England begins with the second half of the last century, with the invention of the steam-engine and of machinery for working cotton. These inventions gave rise, as is well known, to an industrial revolution, a revolution which altered the whole civil society; one, the historical importance of which is only now beginning to be recognised. England is the classic soil of this transformation, which was all the mightier, the more silently it proceeded; and England is, therefore, the classic land of its chief product also, the proletariat. Only in England can the proletariat be studied in all its relations and from all sides.

In the early 1790s, when James McConnell and John Kennedy along with Adam and George Murray first arrived in Manchester, the problem of how to apply steam power to the spinning of cotton had not yet been solved. Steam power was used, but indirectly to pump water back into reservoirs which fed water-powered cotton mills. Of the four from the Glenkens, it was John Kennedy who had the best mechanical skills and so made the vital breakthrough, directly connecting a steam engine to the spinning machines.

By 1815, the two firms of McConnell and Kennedy and A and G Murray were the largest in Manchester, each employing over 1000 workers on their adjacent factory sites at Ancoats. With the average Manchester cotton spinning factory employing only 250 workers, the Glenkens cotton spinners works powered by steam and lit by gas were the archetype of the industrial revolution’s ‘dark Satanic mills’.

While John Kennedy went on to promote a transport revolution as one of the judges at the 1829 Rainhill locomotive trials won by his friend George Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’, his business partner James McConnell’s brother in law Henry Houldsworth took their revolution to Scotland.

In 1799, Henry  Houldsworth became manager of a cotton spinning factory in Glasgow. In 1801, using machinery supplied by McConnell and Kennedy he established his own steam powered cotton factory in the city. As McConnell and Kennedy’s cotton spinning enterprise prospered, they gave up their machine making business. This led Houldsworth set up his own foundry and machine works at Anderston in Glasgow in 1823.

Henry Houdsworth’s brother Thomas  had stayed in Manchester and built up his own successful cotton spinning business. By the 1830s, Henry realised that the Scottish cotton industry was losing out to competition from Manchester and Lancashire. Henry was also aware, through his Anderston foundry, that the iron industry in Scotland was booming. As a result and with his brother Thomas’ backing, he set up the Coltness Iron Works in Lanarkshire in 1836. This venture proved to be highly profitable..

Looking to repeat the success of the Coltness works, in 1846, Henry Houldsworth decided that the combination of ironstone and coal around Dalmellington in Ayrshire made it a suitable location for a new iron works.

Unfortunately, although an ambitious plan to build a railway from Ayr up to Damellington and the down through the Glenkens to the coast at Balcary Bay existed in 1846, the line was never built. It was not until 1856 that a less ambitious railway was constructed from Ayr to Dalmellington. Until the railway was completed, all the pig iron from the Dalmellington works had to be transported by road down to Ayr. The additional cost of road transport along toll-roads threatened the new iron company with bankruptcy.

Luckily, Henry’s son in law James Murray stepped in with a loan of £50 000 which kept the iron company solvent until the railway was completed. James Murray went on to become the Dalmellington company’s largest investor and a Director.

Dalmellington Iron Company works, 1858

James Murray was able to make his investment in the Dalmellington company as heir to his father George Murray’s share of the prosperous Manchester cotton spinning firm of A and G Murray…

James Murray’s brother Benjamin used his share of A and G Murray to buy Parton estate where he lived after leaving Manchester. The row of attractive ‘Arts and Crafts’ style houses in Parton and the village hall were built by Benjamin Murray.

John Kennedy’s Manchester residence was the imposing Ardwick Hall, but after his brother David died in 1836, he also became owner of the family farm which he improved  with erection of Knocknalling House. In 1906, John Kennedy’s granddaughter Violet, who had inherited Knocknalling,  married Archibald St Clair, later lord Sinclair. The Sinclair family still own Knocknalling.

In 1827, John Kennedy wrote a short account of his early life for his children. In this he explains that although a Kennedy family had owned Knocknalling for about 300 years, his branch of the family were only distantly related to them. Instead, his great-grandfather had moved to New Galloway in the 1650s where he became a shop-keeper. John Kennedy’s grandfather was also a shop-keeper and Baillie in New Galloway. Kennedy’s describes his grandfather as a careful man who managed to save enough from his business to buy Knocknalling in 1740. After his marriage in 1763, Kennedy’s father took over the running of Knocknalling. John Kennedy was born at Knocknalling in July 1769. John had an elder brother David, three younger brothers and two sisters. His father died young, leaving his mother to bring up the family. Since David would inherit the farm, John knew from an early age he would have to find some other way to make his living, perhaps as a travelling carpenter. He says

I used to long to see something beyond the still valley and blue mountains of the place of my birth…These natural objects used to produce in me sometimes the deepest melancholy; and a singular lonely feeling would be excited by the external silence all around us…

Significantly, John also describes ‘seeing the wooden plough arrested in the furrow from the inclemency of the weather…exposed to the splashing showers. And then after all this toil and turmoil, to see such poor, scanty, miserable crops.’

From the mention of the wooden plough ‘arrested in the furrow’ above as well as a reference to black oats, it is clear that Knocknalling was a farm which had not been improved. The earliest reference to Knocknalling (as Knockallen) is from 1481 when it belonged to James Campbell of Corswell in Wigtownshire who had inherited it from his father Alexander. So 300 years before John Kennedy’s time, the ‘old Scots’ or wooden plough would have been familiar to James Campbell and the arable land would have been growing black oats.

If John Kennedy’s father had been wealthy enough to improve Knocknalling, would this have made John more enthusiastic for farming as a career? Possibly not. He mentions the Newalls of Barskeoch and the Griersons of Garroch as neighbouring farmers. In the Old Statistical Account for Kells, ‘Mr Newall of Barskeoch’ is described as the first landowner in the parish to improve his lands with lime and that 20 years later the effect was still remarkable.

However, as we know from Kennedy’s future business partner James McConnell, the improvement of Barskeoch and its farms went along with a doubling of the rent which forced McConnell’s father to give up Hannaston in 1782  and persuaded James McConnell to leave for Lancashire in 1781. By 1787, despite the remarkable effect of his improvements on land his family had owned for 130 years, William Newall decided to sell Barskeoch and its farms to William Forbes.

5. Conclusion- history as irony.
Looking back over the history of the Glenkens and the Stewartry in the era of the Lowland Clearances, it is difficult not to do so without recognising an almost tragic irony in so much of  what happened.

While the Galloway Levellers tried to distinguish between the depopulating enclosures which they opposed and the improving enclosures which they supported, the rational approach to agricultural improvement promoted by the Scottish Enlightenment made no similar distinction. Across Galloway, scarcely a trace remains of the medieval farmed landscape that had been familiar to the Levellers.

In 1670, James McKnaught was recorded as a cottar living in the Meadow Isle croft on Airieland farm near Gelston. In 1725, John McKnaught in Meadow Isle on Airieland  was one of the Levellers pursued for damages by Basil Hamilton. Meadow Isle croft is still shown on Roy‘s Military Survey of 1755. According to the Wright family of Airieland, Meadow Isle was last occupied by a group of dykers around 1800. The dykers last act was to demolish Meadow Isle and use its stones to complete the dyke around the field which before they left. The field is still called Meadow Isle.

Slightly later, around 1820 according to McConnell family history, the thatched farmhouse of Hannastoun where James McConnell had been born was demolished and replaced by the present farm higher up the hill. Nearby the original Drumbuie was abandoned about the same time and replaced by present day Drumbuie. The site of old Drumbuie, dating back to at least 1456, is shown on the first Ordnance Survey map of Kells which was survey in the 1840s. Modern satellite maps show that traces of old Drumbuie, its fields and patches of rig and furrow still survive.

The modernisation of Galloway and Dumfriesshire which gathered pace through the eighteenth century saw the construction of 81 planned towns and villages. One of the most successful of these new towns was Gatehouse   of Fleet, planned by James Murray complete with water-powered cotton mills designed to provide employment for agricultural workers displaced by his improvement of Girthon parish. In 1724, the dykes of his father at Cally had been levelled and James did not want a repeat performance. But within 30 years of their construction, Gatehouse’s  cotton mills had been superseded by an industrial revolution pioneered by a small group of economic migrants from the Glenkens.

There is an important point here. The physical landscape of the Stewartry even today still reflects the philosophical landscape of the Scottish Enlightenment. It is an actualisation of the Age of Reason as envisaged by Adam Smith, Henry Home and their contemporaries. It is also an example of what Tony Wrigley has described as ‘an advanced organic economy’.

Over the past 40 years in numerous articles and books, Wrigley has argued that the industrial revolution marked a step-change from economies based on sustainable and renewable energy sources- human and animal labour, wind and water power, wood for construction and fuel- to mineral economies which rely on coal, natural gas and oil as energy sources.

As an example, while Manchester had developed as a textile trading centre through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, its phenomenal growth in the first half of the nineteenth century was only made possible by the use of coal as an energy source in its cotton factories. A development facilitated by John Kennedy, James McConnell, Adam and George Murray.

In Galloway, if not Dumfriesshire, there is no coal. Before losing most of his money when the Douglas and Heron / Ayr Bank failed in 1772, Alexander Gordon of Greenlaw had proposed a canal which would have connected  Loch Ken to Loch Doon and the Dalmellington coal fields. In 1803, when a canal to link the Glenkens with the sea at Kirkcudbright was proposed, Gordon revived the idea. The Ayrshire and Galloway railway of 1845 would also have given the Glenkens and the Stewartry access to the Dalmellington coal field.

If either the canal or the railway had been built, the Glenkens and the Stewartry might have made the transition to Wrigley’s mineral economy.

On the other hand, although the Glenkens today struggles with the problem of rural depopulation and lack of employment opportunities, the Doon Valley provides a salutary reminder of the cost of industrialisation. From 1848 to 1921, the Dalmellington Iron Company’s furnaces provided employment for thousands of  workers. Even after iron production ended, the deep coal mines built to fuel the iron furnaces survived until  1978. These were then replaced by open cast coal mines, although they provided only a fraction of the employment the iron works and deep coal mines had supported.

So while a nineteenth industrial revolution might have boosted the population and economy of the Glenkens and the Stewartry, the long term impact would have been an intractable legacy of environmental degradation, social deprivation and economic desperation.

6. And finally… a new town for the Glenkens? 
An unintended consequence of the shift from the type of advanced organic and sustainable  economy represented by the Glenkens to the type of mineral and unsustainable economy represented by the Doon Valley is the advent of global climate change. Climate change is driven by global warming which is the result of burning billions of tons of coal and oil which has released carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere.

In 2010, the UK Government Office For Science produced a report ‘Land use Futures: Making the Most of Land in the 21st Century’. This report included a series of scenarios for the future which took the impact of climate change into account. Tucked away on page 284 of the 325 page long report is the following scenario for the year 2030.

London and the South East of England is under significant water stress. A new 1800 acre reservoir built to the west of the city has improved the short term situation, but continuing population growth means that this may be a short lived solution. Accordingly, the government is considering plans to disperse citizens to three new towns in Dumfries and Galloway, Northumberland and Powys – now engines of innovation and growth at the centre of the UK’s land based industries.

Back in 1851, the population Dumfries and Galloway reached  a peak of  just over 150 000. In 1851, this was 5.5 % of Scotland’s population. Today, Dumfries and Galloway has only 2.8 %  of Scotland’s population. If the region still had 5.5 % of Scotland’s population, instead of having only        24 000 inhabitants, there would be around 70 000 people living here.

Since one of the most damaging effects of climate change is going to be the loss of productive farmland, it would be foolish to build a new town on high or medium quality farm land. It would be more sensible to look for locations on poorer quality land.  An area like the Glenkens, on the boundary between better and poorer quality farm land would therefore be a possible option if a new town is to be located in Dumfries and Galloway.

If, thanks to rural de-population, about 50 000 people are missing from the Stewartry, why not think big and go for a new town of about that size, located in the Glenkens?  Or even two new towns, one in the Doon Valley and one in the Glenkens, linked by railway to Ayr and Dumfries?

While some of  today‘s inhabitants of the Glenkens might not agree, I am sure Alexander Gordon, John Kennedy and their compatriots would have approved  of such a bold plan…

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Black Flame, Silver Star EOE 3 1985

Encyclopaedia of Ecstasy Volume Three:  Black Flame, Silver Star.

"One must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star" [F. Nietzsch]

1985. In February the Molesworth Peace Camp was evicted. At the beginning of March the 1984/5 Miners Strike ended. In March/April myself and Pinki (as she still was) went on 120 mile anti-nuclear protest march from Sizewell to Molesworth. In Aptril/May Pinki went on a women's walk from Avebury to Stonehenge with eco-feminist pagans Starhawk and Monica Sjoo.

On 1 June there was the Battle of the Beanfield. Later in June we started on a 'People's Walk' to Stonehenge before ending up on Solstice eve in a storm on top of Bratton/ Westbury white horse hill. Pinki got involved in the Stonehenge Campaign as Tanith Ma'at , Priestess of the Black Flame and Silver Star so she could argue for access to Stonehenge for a lunar month each summer on a religious grounds.

In late August/ September we went to Greenlands farm b Glastonbury where travellers who had survived the eviction of Molesworth and the Beanfield for a meeting to discuss the future of the festival and stayed until October. Ozric Tentacles played a free gig there. I found a facsimile edition of William Blake's 'Milton' in  Glastonbury and read it sitting in a field with Arthur Mix.

Back in London, no longer involved in All the Madmen, EOE 3 was written. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Personal is Historical; the Historical is Personal

Guardian Obituary of my partner 

A few days ago this question was posed on my Facebook page. 

If it's not too philosophical, just which train was it you caught to transport you from radical punk to researcher and preserver of 19th and 20th century railway and industrial history? It's a fascinating journey. Although the outward journey from rural CD to radical punk in London in the 70's is perhaps even more so. 

These are the pics which inspired the question.

Model of coal mine I am making.

Inspiration for model- coal mine in Cumbria 1971

At just over 2000 words my response is a bit long for Facebook, so I am posting it here instead.

1.Castle Douglas to London and back again: 1976-1997.

1. 1 In 1976 I left Kirkcudbright Academy for Stirling University. Unfortunately my main subject was English Literature because English was my best subject at school and my career guidance at school had suggested I should aim to become an English teacher. On reflection History would have been the better choice with Politics rather than Philosophy as my second subject. Also a university in a city would have been amore interesting place to study rather than Stirling’s rural campus. However, Through a student society I did discover what was then called the radical or alternative technology movement which was a proto-Green movement.

1.2 The outcome of the career misguidance was that instead of returning to Stirling in autumn 1977, I moved down to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire to help my uncle and aunt reconstruct a cottage on a smallholding there. I then looked for work locally and on my first try got a job in nearby Lydney as a Clerical Assistant in the Engineering Depart of  the J Allen Rubber Company for the duration  of a project to build a complete rubber glove plant for export to Malaysia. 

1.3.  When that job ended in late 1978 I was offered the post of Trainee Draughtsman in the Engineering depart of the main (London Rubber) factory in London. I started there on 2 January 1979. After many adventures, including running a punk record label, graduating in Social Anthropology from the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies, getting married to an ex-punk Greenham Woman and having three children I moved back to Castle Douglas in July 1997. This move was prompted by my wife’s death in 1996. I found it very difficult to be a single parent with young children (one with severe disabilities) in inner city  London. 

2. Discovering Galloway’s History 1997-2012

2.1 Before I moved back to Castle Douglas, on a visit home in spring 1997 I discovered that Dumfries and Galloway Council were drafting a Structure Plan which would guide economic development in the region over the next five years. I read the draft of the Structure Plan and responded to the consultation by suggesting turning the middle (Castle Douglas to Creetown) section of the Dumfries-Stranraer railway into a long distance cycle path. The idea was too ambitious for the time, but did get me thinking about the Dumfries and Galloway and its potential future.

2.2 Following on from this, after I had moved back I started digging into local history and the influence of the past on the present/ future. These investigations led on (eventually) to my Master of Philosophy thesis on the Galloway Levellers Uprising of 1724 at Glasgow University Dumfries campus 2006-9 under the supervision of Professor Ted Cowan (campus Director).

2.3 An unexpected by-product of the Galloway Levellers research was the discovery of a dense network of connections between the later (after 1760) era of ‘Improvement’/ economic development in the region and leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. These included Adam Smith who after acting as the 3rd duke of Buccleuch’s tutor influenced the duke’s improvement of his Dumfriesshire and Scottish Border’s estates. Another leading Enlightenment figure was Henry Home/lord Kames who had close  and influential -via marriage and friendship- links with local agricultural improvers William Craik of Arbigland, Richard Oswald of Cavens/Southerness and Patrick Heron IV of Kirauchrie -Kame’s brother in law.

2.4 Beyond the region, a group of economic migrants from Galloway moved to Lancashire in the 1780s and became leading figures in the Manchester cotton industry 1790-1850.A different group, including William Ewart from Troqueeer and John Gladstone (born in Edinburgh but from a Biggar based family) moved to Liverpool. William Ewart was god father to John Gladstone’s son the Victorian prime minister William Ewart Gladstone.  

3. Scottish History and Politics 2013-15

3.1 In 2005 I started writing a blog called ‘greengalloway’. As the title suggests, it was meant to about Galloway from a Green perspective. However, for the first post I didn’t have anything Green about Galloway to hand so I recycled an article I had written about radical punk in London. To my surprise several of my old friends from London commented enthusiastically on the post so I wrote some more as a way to document an otherwise forgotten part of recent history. I then started adding pieces of ‘work in progress’ from my Galloway Levellers research to create a rather confusing mixture of 18th and 20th century radical histories- with some contemporary events thrown in eg the campaign to keep Glasgow University’s Dumfries campus open in 2006. 

3.2 In March 2013, Lucy Brown who had returned home to Dalry to work on her PhD thesis [ Lucy now works for Joan McAlpine MSP contacted me. She had read my greengalloway blog and wondered if I would be interested in helping set up a regional branch of the Radical Independence Campaign which had been launched in November 2012. I agreed and became active in Dumfries and Galloway Radical Independence, giving several talks to meetings and writing for our blog- 64 posts to date.

3.3 While there were over 20 RIC branches from Inverness in the north to ourselves in the south during the Referendum campaign, RIC’s main focus was in what used to be Labour’s industrial heartlands. Perhaps significantly, areas like Glasgow, Dundee and North Lanarkshire which showed strong Yes support were also the areas where RIC was most active, campaigning strongly in the most deprived (social/ council housing) areas. 

3.4 Reflecting on the strength of the Yes vote n thee areas and the dramatic decline in support for the Labour part, over the past year I have been researching and writing on Scotland’s industrial history. My starting point was a local connection- James Beaumont Neilson (1792-1865) who invented the ‘hot blast’ technique of iron smelting. From my parent’s house Neilson’s ’Hot Blast’ monument near Ringford is clearly visible, but although familiar since childhood, I had not realised quite how important Neilson’s discovery was. Essentially it laid the foundations for the growth of Scotland’s heavy engineering industries. The growth of these industries and the expansion of coal mining which supported them transformed Scotland in the nineteenth century. Neilson’s son Walter played his part in this development as a builder of railway locomotives in Glasgow. 

4 Summary and (not yet) Conclusion

4.1 Punk originally emerged in the 1970s as a reflection of the narrative of ‘crisis’ in that decade as the certainties of the post-war social democratic consensus gave way to social and economic confusion. The cultural revolution of the 1960s had made the personal political- eg the women’s rights and gay rights movements. But the optimism of the 1960s social revolution gave way to pessimism as the economic impact of a sudden rise in oil prices in 1973/4  sent ripples through the UK and global economies. 

4.2 The election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 heralded what at the time seemed like a temporary rightward shift in the economic, social and political spheres. Radical punk emerged as part of a ‘culture of resistance’ to this shift. In particular the heightening of Cold War tensions and the revived threat of nuclear war made imaginative young people face the prospect of their own mortality- similar to the effect of the Cuba missile crisis in the 1960s described in Jeff Nutall’s 1968 book on that era’s counterculture ‘Bomb Culture’.

4.3 At the same time the economic policies of the Thatcher government had a direct effect on my career prospects. The factory I where I had started working in 1977 was closed in 1982 and (although I had left by then) the main London factory closed in 1992. The Project Engineering department of the London factory I had joined in 1979 was wound up in 1983. I had been taken on there in the expectation that the London Rubber Company would continue to expand, but by 1983 contraction rather than expansion was the reality. If I had not left to run radical punk record company I would probably have been made redundant anyway. 

4.4 The Thatcher/Reagan years turned out to mark a permanent (so far) shift to the right, to what is now called neoliberalism. The 2008 global financial crisis did not mark the end of the neoliberal project. Instead it has  continued as a new age of  ‘austerity’. Significantly, a key theme of RIC during the independence referendum campaign was the argument that an independent Scotland could  reject neoliberal austerity in favour of a more socialised economy.  

4.5 Although some RIC branches are still active, after the referendum several key players in RIC set up the Scottish Left Project which has very recently become a Scottish left alliance called RISE [Respect Indpendence Socialism Environmentalism] which will be putting up regional list candidates in next year’ Scottish parliament elections. Although I have been a Scottish Green party member for nearly ten years I am willing to support RISE so long as they take the ‘Environmentalism’ part of their name seriously. In the past socialists have tended to dismiss green issues as middle class issues.

4.6 My current ‘work in progress’ therefore involves linking the economic and social history of urban/ industrial Scotland with environmental concerns- in particular climate change. This research has, however, thrown up a political complication. There is a popular perception n Scotland that it was Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies which saw the destruction of Scotland’s traditional mining and heavy engineering industries. But I have found that the eclipse of Scotland as traditional industrial nation has its origins many decades earlier. 

4.7 As an example, the closure of the Ravenscraig steel works in 1992 (by John Major’s Tory government) has come to symbolise the ‘industrial clearances’. Yet back in 1929, a report on the future of the Scottish iron and steel industry recommended shifting production from the Motherwell area of North Lanarkshire to a new integrated steel production centre near Erskine Ferry on the Clyde. But this would have meant closing existing plants in Lanarkshire which was too big a step for the companies involved. These plants were built before Lanarkshire’s iron ore reserves had been exhausted (which they were by 1929) and when only relatively shallow  (so cheaper) pits were needed to mine Lanarkshire’s coal.  Instead of relocating to a coastal site, the main steel company (Colvilles) planned to buikd a new steel works near Motherwell. The war and then nationalisation delayed these plans until 1967 when Colvilles built Ravenscraig. It was never very successful, leading to its eventual closure in 1992. If a different decision had been made in 1929 Scotland might still have a steel industry.

4.8 Despite the result a year ago today, the independence question remains open and there could well be another referendum. This is partly because ‘independence’ has become for a significant number of people an answer to every political, economic and social question. It isn’t. the Scotland of today and tomorrow is a Scotland shaped and created by the past. Not the ancient past of Bruce and Wallace or the Jacobites, but the more recent past of James Neilson and the Colvilles. Even rural and agricultural Dumfries and Galloway has been shaped by this recent past with an economy geared up to feeding the industrial towns and cities of central Scotland.

4.9 If I had chosen (or been advised to choose) History as my specialist subject at university back in 1976 by now I might have a greater academic knowledge of the past. But it would be a more abstract knowledge, not a knowledge/ understanding of how historical forces ( the Thatcher era for example) shape and direct the lives of those caught up in the abstract process of change. Put another way, the critical thing to achieve is what Marxist call ‘historical consciousness’- which also has to be a form of collective (= class in Marxist terms) consciousness. My hope is that by writing, talking, communicating, sharing what I discover about 19th and 29th century railway and industrial history I am making a contribution to our collective historical consciousness. Unlike radical punk, which ended up communicating only to itself, radical history has the potential to connect with everyone  since we all at once inherit and add to /pass on our family/community/personal/regional/national histories. The radical aspect lies in the possibility that once we become conscious of history we can become active rather than passive participants in making future history.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

ACID punk White Rabbit by The Last Words

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Lance Hahn-Bullshit Detector

Lance Hahn 1967-2007

Before his death in 2007, Lance Hahn sent me two chapters from his (still unpublished) book 'Let the Tribe Increase'). This would have been Chapter 6 'Bullshit Detector' and features Amebix, Andy T, Disrupters, Sinyx, Snipers, Icon AD, Metro Youth / Sanction and Kronstadt Uprising. As well as Lance's interviews with group members, it includes several extracts from fanzine interviews.

Significantly, there is a strong emphasis on the political views of the groups which makes this a fascinating piece of social history.

The Amebix Story

The Story Of Andy T

The Story of the Disrupters

The Story Of The Sinyx

The Story of the Snipers

The Icon AD Story

The Story of Metro Youth / Sanction

The Story Of Kronstadt Uprising

Who would suspect that macho, maverick, American expatriate writer Ernest Hemmingway would have such an impact on punk rock? Perhaps showing that at least initially a more literate and sophisticated genre, it was he that first made reference to the imaginary device in his quote, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, bullshit detector.” That sentiment was picked up on by Joe Strummer in the Clash via “Garageland”, “back in the garage with my bullshit detector.” Inspired by that song, Crass began a series of compilations of likeminded groups of all genres. Calling these compilations “Bullshit Detector”, there were three in total with the first coming out in 1980. While many of the artists involved would never be heard from again. Several others would become critical to the scene often winding up recording for bigger indie labels like Spider-Leg, Bluurg or Crass Records.

Not wanting to exert any sort of quality control over the product, the songs appearing on these compilations ranged from proper studio recordings to simple homemade cassette tapes. With all the contact info listed with each band, these compilations helped not only with the communication in the DIY, anarcho scene, but also with the rise of cassette culture that was so important.

The Amebix Story

In Sergio Leone’s remake of “Yojimbo”, “A Fistful Of Dollars”, Clint Eastwood is introduced as the Man With No Name. This smart and ruthless loner threads warring factions without backing down or getting killed, manipulating them in the process. This character, which was actually named Joe, would continue his merciless trek through “For A Few Dollars More” and ultimately in “The Good, The Band And The Ugly”. Such a character was one of the earliest influences on the group that would become Amebix naming themselves originally The Band With No Name.

Rob (Aphid), bassist and vocalist, “We originally formed at school. Billy and Clive were in the Band With No Name, the first band. We went through several changes in line up before going to Bristol and meeting Disorder.”
Known to many for their dark, gothic imagery and their metal influenced sound, the group’s origins were still centered in punk rock.
Rob, “Through Stig, my older brother and friends at school, we listened to everything we could get hold of and John Peel on the radio to find out what was happening…

“Stig suggested it when he returned from Jersey. We liked the ideas of Sniffing Glue fanzine who said that anyone could have a go. So we took them literally without any musical knowledge or even the ability to tune our guitars.”
Forming in 1978, The Band With No Name would go on to play 15 shows before having a rethink and reemerging as Amebix. But before that would happen, they recorded a demo tape. While maybe not successful getting the demo out to the public, one copy did get into the right hands finding them a spot on the first Bullshit Detector compilation.

Rob, “Stig and I recorded a terrible demo in my bedroom in a couple of hours. We sold six copies, and one of them I gave to Crass when I was working as a music reporter for a local paper. That gave us our first track on ‘Bullshit Detector’.”
Recorded in the transition to Amebix, this raw and noisy demo has almost more in common with what would have been considered industrial at the time. The echoic, muddy noise surged forward through songs like “Amebix”, “’77 Faded Heaven”, “Rabies”, “Disco Slags” and “University Challenged” which is the track that would appear on the aforementioned Crass compilation.

That first Bullshit Detector was an indicator of things to come, as it was the debut for many groups that would play a prominent role in the anarcho scene like the Alternative, Andy T, The Sinyx, The Snipers, and The Disrupters. Like most things Crass were involved with, the record found a wide audience selling thousands of copies and putting the newly christened Amebix in front of an automatic audience.

Rob, “It was very encouraging for us. It helped us to decide to pursue the music further.”
Rob and his brother had become aware of Crass and the growing anarcho scene from a friend at the special school.
Rob, “A lad called Ali at the special school mentioned there were a lot of punk kids from London who had been sent to that school for behavioral problems. We hung out with them when they came into town, and they introduced us to some new music.”

The name Amebix, which was also the name of the first song on the demo, was meant as a musical descriptive term rather than anything philosophical.
Rob, “Amebix was from Ameoba. We decided on the name after a gig in a special school in Devon. We were emphasizing how primitive we were; a basic musical form.”
Adopting the pseudonym of The Baron, Rob and brother Stig brought in a drummer named Martin, who let them live in his family’s abandon mansion in Dartmoor. This life would play heavily with the band’s ideas and lyrical imagery.

Rob, “When Martin joined us we lived in his parents’ manor house on the edge of Dartmoor. Very ancient Scooby-doo type of place. We got into drugs there and playing at night, sleeping during the day, reading a lot of Occult stuff. We were drawn to a heavier type of imagery than anything that had previously been associated with punk rock.”
What few gigs they did at the time were largely exercises in futility.
Rob, “We played around youth clubs and village halls for the time we were in Devon, often being canned off stage or attacked. Some trendy new wave types of bands were also on the scene. They could play.”

Shortly after adding a synth player named Norman, Martin’s family returned to find what was probably their worst nightmare. The band packed up and headed for Bristol while Martin’s parents got him medicated.
In Bristol, the band soon became friends with hardcore punk Disorder. Two bands trying to survive together seemed like better odds.
Rob, “We squatted together, shared everything, gigged together and shared the drummer until Virus left Disorder for Amebix full time, but only for a while before he left.”
At this point, the squatter scene was still considered synonymous with the anarcho scene and out of financial realities, Amebix were in the middle of it.

Rob, “Hardly at all in Devon. But once we moved to Bristol we were living the life all the time through necessity. Squatting and eating from the bins.”
In other ways, the band was to be loosely related to the anarcho scene as well.
Rob, “Yes and no. I always thought we had another take on music and attitude, not so much political, although we tried to be at first.”

More than a year after that first demo had been released, the “Bullshit Detector” album finally came out. Through Crass, they were introduced to the guys from Flux of Pink Indians. It proved to be good timing as Amebix had just been able to scrape together the money for their first recording session as a serious band.
Rob, “We were mainly trying to survive when we hit Bristol. It was a very desperate time. I still don’t know quite how we managed to record at all. But we all put in our dole cheques and went for a day’s session for “Who’s the Enemy”.”

Released on Flux’s label, Spiderleg, the four track EP was unlike anything at the time. Tribal with metallic guitars and short, sharp lyrical phrasing with only the second track, “Curfew” acknowledging the hyperactive hardcore that was happening around them. The thunderous tom tom drumming from Neil AKA Virus, resembled Theatre of Hate or even Joy Division. Raw and simply recorded (at SAM studio for 85 pounds total!), the songs “Carnage” and “Belief” represented the band’s unique style that would guide them for the rest of their existence while the final song, “No Gods No Masters” would be their battle cry.
Rob, “It is still a relevant slogan; self empowerment.”

No Gods No Masters
Your God is your chain
Reject your God
Reject your system
Do you really want your freedom?

With the artwork came label art depicting what could either be seen as a demonic face exploding or something more abstract.
Rob from Rejected Fanzine #3, “It is a painting of a guy called Austin Spare who dealt primarily with atavistic art, symbolism if you like. The face is a very immediate painting to me, you know what was in the artists mind when he painted it. Atavism is the drawing up of images from the past through art including music.”

Released in 1982, the band now found themselves with a little more freedom following the success of previous Spiderleg releases by the System and especially the Subhumans. It was followed up early the next year with a two song 7” called “Winter”.
Rob, “It was very much an expression of everything around us. It was a grim time in the early days in Bristol, the drugs and the hardships.”

Wrap up warm
You’ll catch your death
Don’t let your death catch you
The winter tears the Earth apart
Lets hope we see it through

While maybe addressing more worldly things, the b-sides “Beginning of the End” is no more joyful.

The time is near at hand
A fact you must accept
Time stands still for no man
Not even for the rich
So sorry we’re so humourless
It’s just the way we are
You laugh but I don’t get the joke
We walk but don’t get far

The grim, deathlike sketches that also featured on the first EP were this time further emphasized with a foldout poster sleeve. Released on the heels of the Subhumans debut LP, this was another success for the band and Spiderleg.
With these EPs under the belt, it was a lot easier for the band to hit the road and play around the country.

Rob, “A fair amount. Disorder and Amebix would do a lot of gigs together all over the country, including free festivals etc.”
It was during this time that they played for a while as a trio having lost Norman on keyboards. But with news from back in Devon, they hoped to bring back Martin though this time as synth player.

Rob in Children of the Revolution fanzine #3, “We released a second single, ‘Winter’ also on Spiderleg and were happier with the results, as we had the use of a better studio. We will soon be recording a new 6 track 12” EP and hope we can get Martin back to play synth for us as he has just been released from a psychiatric hospital.”
That 12” was “No Sanctuary” and was miles better than the previous recordings.

Rob, “We recorded in London, stayed with Flux and worked hard at it. Jello visited the studios and told us that he liked what we were doing and wanted to offer us a deal if we needed one later on.”
Though not very common in recent times, 12” EPs were pretty common even for punk bands in the ‘80s. But for Amebix at this time it was a necessity.
Rob, “We didn’t think there was enough material for an LP. Also a lot of people were doing 12"s at that time, seemed right.”

They lyrics, though no less grim, were a lot more thematically recognizable with songs attacking technology (“Progress?”), accidental nuclear war (“Sanctuary”), religion (“The Church Is For Sinners”) and general civil liberties (“Control”). But standouts on the record would have to be “Battery Humans” and “Sunshine Ward”. On the former, a story about factory farming is told as if humans were being vivisected.

Back in Cell Block 427 the rest don’t care if he’s missing
Two beasts fuck frantically, fearful of their slaughter
One bloated specimen rolls off its mate and proceeds with pissing
The shit drips between his legs as he pisses on his rotting daughter

With “Sunshine Ward” the band are as critical of themselves as with their fellow drugged out squatters.

Life in this building is freezing and wet
If I once had a brain then I seem to forget
Cos just when I caught it, it slipped through the net
Now we sedate ourselves slowly
No time for regret

From the first note of feedback in “Battery Humans” to the ending trancelike instrumental of “Moscow Madness”, this is certainly the band’s most unique musical document. With simple yet great sounding production, the band for one record abandons most of the heavy metal trappings that appear on all of their other records. Driven more by songs than by riffs, this record also best showcases the original drumming style that was crucial to their early sound keeping them from becoming just a straight metal band. Along with a big bass sound that wasn’t present on the 7”s, there are moments even reminiscent of “Death Church” by Rudimentary Peni.

As a trio the group went on to tour Italy. Before the end of ’84, they had added George from the group Smart Pils on synth and toured Holland. At the end of that tour, Virus left the band to be replaced by Spider.
Rob, “Spider was in a band called Scum before he joined Amebix in around 84.”

As mentioned before, Jello Biafra had been around during the recording of “No Sanctuary”. Liking what he heard, he offered to release the band’s debut LP on Alternative Tentacles and the band agreed. 1985 would begin with a lot of serious work with songwriting.
Rob, “We began to get more serious by the time we were writing material for “Arise”. We took Jello up on his offer, although they were a little disturbed by the Metal sound when we presented the finished recording.”

Stig in Paid In Full fanzine #3, “The deal with Alternative Tentacles came about because when the Dead Kennedys and MDC did their last tour here, we got in on their guest list because our old squatting chums Disorder were playing support for both bands. After the gig all of us went back to the posh hotel the DKs were staying in. There were about 50 of us if I remember correctly and the hotel bar was open late. So naturally we caused some minor havoc. So the bar refused to serve anymore drink until we had left the hotel. So not wanting to deprive the DKs of alcohol we departed taking MDC with us as they seemed adventurous types and took them back to Bristol with us and they stayed the night in one of our numerous squats.

Which was a different experience for them coming to terms with the squalor we lived in. When they looked at us in the morning one of them said, “Christ you guys look real unhealthy.” A fairly accurate statement at the time. So they bouth us breakfast healthy things like orange juice and stuff and from there on we got on really well with them and Jello Biafra. When we played the George Robey in London they came to see us and liked our stuff. Then we took them back to Southern Studios and made them listen (full blast) to the master tape of our second single “Winter” which Jello raved about. After leaving Spider Leg Records we contacted Jello and he immediately said yes. We convinced him that we could make a classic album if we were left to our own resources and with out any interference from the record company as we had with the anarchist Spider Leg Label. ‘Arise!’ is the result.”

The nine songs that make up “Arise!” are thought by most to be the most important Amebix document. With its high production standards, most complex arrangements, and metallic guitars, it’s like if a much, much more sophisticated version of Venom swapped Satan for anarchy. While metal may have been a disturbing trend with crossover in hardcore punk, this record, with all of it’s heavy metal influences, was still far removed from that sad scene. The alien metal guitar sounds with the soaring synth noise was a mix of New Model Army and Berlin era Bowie. In fact, the whole record has futuristic feel to it. Not the space rock of Hawkwind, but something new and unsettling.

Rob, “It is still strong. Simple and strong. I am very proud of that record as a real milestone. “Monolith” was very badly produced. For me “Arise” was our “Black Sabbath”, and “Monolith” was “Never Say Die”.”
Stig in Paid In Full #3, “Are people raving about it? I didn’t realize. That’s nice to hear. Though I do believe it’s the only true Amebix record so far because we produced it all ourselves and we weren’t pressured at all. I don’t tend to take a lot of notice of what’s going on in the music industry or what bands are cool, etc. I just sit out in my country retreat, read books, play a bit of chess, improve my mind, go for walks and things like that.”

For the most part, this record is a departure from the thinly veiled political statements of the previous 12”. This time around, fantasy imagery is used to convey the alien landscape they viewed the world as. The threats of nuclear war, pollution and religion had now become mythological battles. Outsiders to the teeth, this record was not science fiction but the world as seen from the bottom.

There’s some hard times coming down
There’s the smell of revolution on the wind
Well, we’re grinding our axes
Telling tales ‘round the bonfire at night
We will set out with a fire in our hearts
When this darkness gives way to the dawn
In the light we’re united as one
For the kingdom of heaven must be taken by storm!

A rare exception, and standout track on the record, is “Largactyl”.

Rob, “It was about the drugs that Martin was put onto after we left Devon and his parents returned to find their son a junkie.”
Stig in Paid In Full, “I suppose we should have put something on the sleeve for people that haven’t had anything to do with mental hospitals and psychiatrists. I wrote the lyrics to ‘Largactyl’ and it’s a very serious son. It was written for an old friend and ex drummer of ours. It’s a sad story but I’d better tell you what happened to him.

“Years ago we had a gig set up at some party somewhere and we were waiting for Martin to turn up (our drummer). We had been crashing ‘round at his place, an old vicarage which was on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon. He had been acting a bit strange about a week before the gig (ha hadn’t said a word for four days). I think he was worried about his parents coming back. But his eccentricity didn’t really worry us because we were dosing in his house (manor) which was old and definitely full of lost souls (ghosts) and evil presences which we got used to after a while. But if we brought any one else back there they would usually shit themselves and run away literally.

Martin didn’t turn up to the gig as his parents found out we had been living there. I think they found some used syringes, which belonged to me and a girlfriend of mine at the time. He was so frightened of his parents at the time it was ridiculous. He was 23 years old, 7 feet tall (yes, really) but his parents had some horrible power over him. That was the last we heard of Martin for three years.

“Then one day a friend of mine met him in London and gave him our address. We received a letter from him saying he had been incarcerated in the psychiatric wing of the Royal Free Hospital under police observation for strange behaviour (running down Glouscester Road jumping on car bonnets). He was pumped full of Largactyle, which is a drug which they prescribe for almost any mental illness

They are not quite sure what it does but it keeps the patients sedated, which is all they care about in mental hospitals. Well, Martin was one of us. Not the type to let them shut him up so naturally they increased his dose of Largactyl. The letters we received from then ondwards were utter gibberish crap! This wasn’t the old rebel Martin. This was the scribblings of a fuckin’ cabbage. We rang the hospital and found that he was living in a boarding house and had been released. But when we met him he had been converted into a complete and utter straight. It was disgusting to see. We askedif he wanted to play synth for us but he was too scared to step out of line. When we left the hospital they gave him enough of that Largactyle shit to kill himself three times. It actually eats away at your brain.

“Martin was to all of us a sane, powerful, intelligent, rebellious person. Now all his spirit is drained and he just wants to shuffle about in his house in Devon. I still see him about once a year, but in secret in case his mother’s spies are watching him. I took Largactyl four tablets without knowing what they were. I was paralyzed in bed with voices talking inside my head loudly and clear as a bell. Whole conversations like there were people in the room. This lasted for a day. It was horrible and uncontrollable. Imagine being injected or force fed that every day. This happens to thousands of mental patients every day. Who’s next? Me? ‘Nuff said.”

You’re standing on a hill
Looking down at the city
Thinking about your life
And your bottle of pills
They released you from the hospital
You’re cured!
So this is how freedom feels?

The record insert ends with a dedication to the people who fought the police at Stonehenge that year.

Stig in Paid In Full, “No. None of the band were there because it was happening while we were recording ‘Arise!’. It was very frustrating because I have a lot of brothers and sisters in the convoy and I couldn’t get up and leave the recording studio because I considered it as important as the battle of Stonehenge. At the time I was staying in the Hangar in Bristol, which was a starting base for some of the convoy. But I couldn’t go to Stonehenge so I waved them goodbye and wished them all luck in the morning and then went down to the studio. When I got back the place looked like a refugee camp. People were crying. Loads of them were locked up in Salisbury nick.

A few days later this 14 year old boy I knew came back with a hole straight through the front of his skull that was so wide it couldn’t be stitched up. They had to fill the hole with bandages. It was a well planned fuckin’ massacre! After we had finished recording, I went out to the emergency convoy site at Westbury to see some friends. Every single coach had it’s windscreens smashed in and there were a lot of battered people. But they are still strong and hopeful which is good because they are good people. They’ve fed me and clothed me over the years of visits I’ve made and I do my best for them when they are in my area. I could tell of many atrocities that happened at Stonehenge this year. But there isn’t enough time or paper to do so. i thin I an say that we as a band and organization fully support them and sometimes we play for them to buck their spirits up. Me? I love them.”

With the release of that record, the band were back on the road playing all around the UK as well as the continent. Despite the record getting around the US, the band never made it over. With Alternative Tentacles not especially happy to have a metal record in their catalog (though this could have easily have been paranoia on the band’s side as AT were happy to reissue ‘Arise’ on CD a decade after it’s original release), the band and label parted ways.

Rob, “I don’t know. I think that we felt that they were uncomfortable with our direction and were not really doing any kind of promotion. That’s what we felt at the time. “Arise” could have been a huge hit if people had really believed in us. I still appreciate their help though.”

At this point, George left the band to focus on Smart Pils.
Stig in Paid In Full, “An old Amebix saying ‘you can’t afford to carry dead weight’. Callous but true. Virus got lazy. Jenghiz is doing four years for smack. George wants to play bass in his own band.”
The backlash in the hardcore scene against metal had a profound affect on perception and therefore the future of Amebix. It’s important to remember that at the time, heavy metal had previously been the enemy of punk as much any other form of mainstream, corporate music. In the States, crossover bands were seen as bringing commercial and non-artistic elements into the punk scene. It was seen as co-opting by the metal bands gone hardcore and careerism by the hardcore bands gone metal. As time would tell, both sides were half right. But many people see the introduction of heavy metal as the beginning of the end to the first generation of hardcore.

Of course, Amebix were hardly what you would think of as a crossover band. Metal was just one of many influences.
Rob, “We were all into a lot of different music, from T Rex, Killing Joke, Sabbath, Bowie, Eno, everything. A lot of really good metal was emerging with the likes of Accept and Mercyful Fate. I got right into that.”
But at the same time, they were as weary of a lot of the new crossover as anyone else.

Amebix in Rejected fanzine #3, “Personally I don't like Anthrax or Venom. I like a few bands in that wave but most of it is rubbish. If punk bands want to sing about anti metal that's up to them, we can sing about what we want can't we???
“…I am very selective about the sounds that grace my turntable as that scene is turning as equally sub-moronic as the last days of punk rock (a snivelling head pops up and says what about me?). So there needs to be an integration of ideas and positive energy from both movements, others even if we want to be mega radical and form a new music. Our stuff is too simple but it would be nice to see the more aware sections of youth come together for a change, don't you think.”
In fact, lyrically the band was as strident as ever dismissing the idea that they would ever write typical lyrics of any sort, certainly not typical heavy metal.

Amebix in Rejected, “We'd never start writing Satanic songs, there's a backwards bit on Arise that takes the piss out of all that, and we've never tried to have a heavy metal image or view. We're just Amebix; No Gods No Masters...”

To further complicate matters, the band would sign to the newly formed Heavy Metal Records.
Rob, “FM Revolver records had a sub label called Heavy Metal. Stone Roses were on the label just prior to us appearing there. We wanted to get our music across in to the Metal scene as the Punk thing was dissipating into lethargy and rot.”
Before the record had even been heard, accusations were flying at the band.

Spider in Rejected, “Fuck you!! To the people who think we've adopted a new image and started to play heavy metal, this year the Amebix have been together 10 years (not as the present line-up) I was in a punk band for a few years called Scum, before Amebix. You can't keep churning out the same old stuff all the time or else you'll stagnate. Yes, we've played punk/metal but we've played it differently. You ought to hear what we're doing now.”

So approximately two years after the release of “Arise!” came the bands final studio album, “Monolith”. Recorded on the cheap, the band went back to SAM studios where they had recorded their first EP. While musically fascinating and complex, the results were a bit of a letdown after the breakthrough of “Arise!”
Rob, “It is a very, very intense record, but terrible production. Some of the songs on that were extraordinarily heavy played live. We were overwhelmed by the amount of sheer power we could get out of so little musical ability.”

The record still managed to sell several thousand copies, but not enough to keep the band from spinning in their wheels. With inertia running low, the band split before the end of 1987.

Rob, “We came to a point where we were no longer inspired. We ran out of juice. It was as if we had been given a certain amount of energy in order to make those two LPs and then we were empty. The choice was either to continue and become a parody of ourselves or to be true to the whole ethos of Punk Rock, die young, burn out at your height. I am still proud that we were the only one of our contemporaries who actually took that path and stuck to it. It is embarrassing to hear decades old renditions of re-hashed punk bands who didn’t know when to stop, or those who have reformed for the money. Amebix was the art of punk in a complete sense. It will never be reproduced and stands as a righteous testament to our life and times. The Power Remains.”

But public fascination with the band continues to this day. The result has been a series of semi-legit and bootleg releases including the “V Zivo” cassette on FV/Skuc Ropot, “The Power Remains” LP on Skuld/MCR, “The Beginning Of The End” bootleg CD, and “Make Some Fucking Noise” LP on The Only Good Dealer Is A Dead One Records which is a vinyl pressing of the “V Zivo” cassette.

Rob, “The “Make Some Fucking Noise” remix is good, very happy to hear that. A lot of other people have ripped us off all the way along. We haven’t received any courtesy from any bootleggers with one exception. We never did it for the money but many people have made money off our backs and that saddens me. They forgot what it was about.”

Following the breakup of the band, Stig and Spider got back together with George to form Zygote. While their one record doesn’t come near capturing their powerful live show, which was a cross between Amebix and Motorhead, it is still a find document of the short-lived band. For a while, Spider played in the band Muckspreader. But health has essentially put the former bandmates on the ouside of music.

Rob, “Stig has had drug problems since those days. He is very ill. Spider has tinitus and I hear from him from time to time. Stig is my brother. It has been hard to watch him destroy himself since those days in Devon. Choice is a terrible thing at times.”
Despite the tragedies and hard times of the period, Rob remains true to his most distilled ideals.
Rob, “No Gods, No Masters.”

The Story Of Andy T

Spoken word and protest music seem to go hand in hand. It was certainly true in the punk scene and that’s not limited to the anarcho world. In the earliest days you had Patti Smith and Jim Carroll in New York. You had John Cooper Clarke in England and later Atilla the Stockbroker. You could even find some inadvertently hilarious poetry on many of the early Oi! Compilations.

Andy T came from the world of Crass and within a short period of time inspired many people to go out get on the mic. Part of the intellectual tradition that many of the anarchos get coy about, Andy T came from the ideological angle before discovering the artistic side.
Andy T, “I was interested in Anarchism before the Punk thing. I was a member of a political group called Direct Action Movement. We met in a pub every week and talked endlessly, that was about as direct and active as it got.”

But before his renowned as a spoken word artist, he came to punk rock as excited and inspired as anyone else in.
Andy T, “I have been into music ever since I could crawl, having two older sisters who brought music into the house. Listened to anything and everything, The Who, Beatles, Stones, Small Faces, Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry etc. soaked it up like the proverbial sponge. Had a big pile of singles and albums with an old dansette to play them on. I began buying stuff myself in the early 70s. Spent Saturday afternoons rooting round in dusty shops in Manchester and Rochdale. T Rex, Bowie, Velvets, Stooges, Mott, Zappa and loads of other obscure stuff. I used to go to a club in Manchester called ‘Pips’ which had Bowie and Roxy rooms, a lot of the people who later formed punk bands went there.

“I had a girlfriend who worked in a record shop and was able to borrow LPs to tape. It was a chart return shop and they got all the latest releases. I picked up the Ramones first album due to liking the cover, as I had done with the New York Dolls a few years before. Like so many others who heard that album, something primal clicked inside.

“When Punk came along it seemed like a natural progression. Bands suddenly seemed younger and more like the audience. It was a very exciting time, new bands springing up every week - some better than others but all worthwhile in their own way. There was suddenly lots more gigs to go to every week, Manchester had such a vibrant scene. I went to gigs in London as well but they didn’t seem as exciting as ‘up north’ I suppose because they were saturated with music more than us.”

In those early days, he was able to pull a band together. In 1977 Reputations In Jeopardy were born.
Andy T, “We formed Reputations in Jeopardy in Rochdale where we lived in late 1977. I had been writing lyrics/poetry for about 4 or 5 years. My boyfriend Chris had a bass guitar and two female friends (whom I’d met through my girlfriend) played drums and guitar, Jane on drums, Siobhan on guitar. We practiced every week at the local youth club in the basement. We knocked a short set together very quickly. None of us was very proficient but we did a few gigs and enjoyed the spirit of the times. We advertised for a second guitarist to fill out the sound. Chris the Joiner was more proficient than any of us but wasn’t into the Punk scene as such.

“We played quite a few gigs in and around the Manchester area. The first time we used a PA was a bit of a shock as I was used to shouting to be heard above the others. A singer from one of the other bands on the bill advised me not to shout so much. I hadn’t realized I was doing and after that everything sounded so much better.”
While well documented at the time, nothing more than gigs ever developed and the many recordings have since been lost.

Andy T, “I used to record most things we did and send them to people with a view to getting gigs. Everything was recorded on a little portable cassette player. I don’t have any of these anymore, which is a shame. We never went into a proper recording studio; I don’t think it ever occurred to us to try.”
More of a hobby, the band wound up having an expiration date.

Andy T, “The girls’ left the band to finish their A levels and we got a new drummer, Pete, the result of another advert. He used to complain his drum kit was rubbish all the time so I invited a friend of mine from Manchester to come down and listen to us rehearse. He was John Maher, the drummer from the Buzzcocks. He liked us and had a go on Pete’s kit with us. Of course, it sounded really good and wish I had a tape of it. Pete never mentioned his rubbish kit again after that night!

“The band didn’t have the same dynamic after the girls left but this was the line-up that was picked for the Bullshit Detector album.”
With Andy’s continued involvement with the local punk scene, he started to become aware of the growing anarcho world floating up from London.

Andy T, “We used to put gigs on our area with a group of close friends. We would hire a local hall or pub, hire the PA and print tickets and posters etc. and book the bands. Most of the anarcho-punk bands from that time played at one of our gigs. We also produced fanzines and flyers giving information. We also used to put the bands up in our flat. I felt very involved in that scene and met a lot of lovely people through it.”

Eventually relocating to London, Andy soon got to know other likeminded thinkers.
Andy T, “I cannot remember where I first met Crass exactly. I think it was thorough my friendship with the Poison Girls who lived just down the road from Crass. I found we had very similar ideas and Penny, Gee and Steve have been lifelong friends and are very dear to me.

“Sometimes people said they felt intimidated in their presence although I never felt this. We always had lots of fun. They pioneered the playing in very out of the way places, not on the usual rock n roll circuit. We went places bands didn’t normally play and always met enthusiastic audiences.”
Pretty soon, Andy got very involved in the first Bullshit Detector compilation showing up on several tracks.

Andy T, “Since about 1974 I had been writing to people I read about or met at gigs and sent tapes of my stuff. Used to correspond with a lot of interesting people. Crass chose five tracks from a pile of tapes I sent them for Bullshit Detector. They asked for art work of a certain size so I crammed the info for all five tracks into that sized space but when the sleeve was printed they had blown the writing up large. I didn’t realize that I had five such spaces to fill up, a bit of a missed opportunity.”

This compilation would start (and almost end) with the first documents of his spoken word.
Andy T, “I had been doing it for years and it seemed quite a natural thing to do. Also you didn’t have to worry about loads of equipment. It was a lot easier to do gigs. Just to get up on stage between bands armed with a backing tape, and shout at people. I used to get friends from other bands to back me sometimes, just improvising in the background. Mostly we used a backing tape but not every PA had a tape deck we could use. I had a poem in the middle of the set, which needed drums and it served to break the set up. I’d often get a drummer from one of the other bands to play. Martin from Flux, Spider from The System, Penny from Crass and Sid from Rubella Ballet all had a bash at some point and very good they all were too.”

Along with those tracks, he was also credited to having been in the group, Fuck The CIA.
Andy T, “I used to record loads of poems/songs in my bedroom. The ‘Fuck the CIA’ track was me and my younger brother Jerry. When Crass chose the track for the album I had to think of a name and chose it from an old 1960’s poster. It was never really a band to speak of but he’s still my brother.”

Many of the groups from the first two “Bullshit Detector” did subsequent recordings for Crass Records (Alternative, The Snipers, Omega Tribe, Anthrax). Andy T was no different.
Andy T, “They asked me to make the record. Penny wanted to record me for posterity.”
“Weary Of The Flesh” is equal parts spoken word and sound collage. It’s eeriness both precedes the second Rudimentary Peni LP as well as more avant-garde groups like Nurse With Wound.

Your lifestyle is built upon pain and suffering
Money is the poison in your mind
Your face is a mask of violence
Fear is your power and force is your tool
Blind acceptance is the food of your paranoia

The recording was unlike any other Crass Records release. Much of the initial material was put together at Dial House.
Andy T, “Just another nice weekend up at Dial House. Then mixing at Southern Studios in Wood Green. I thought it came out well. We aimed to cram as much as possible into those grooves and I think we filled about 15 minutes, quite good for a 7 inch single.

“The inside cover photo was from another fun session involving Phil, Annie and Steve and a lot of printing ink – not blood!
“I was quite proud of the finished article and wanted to give John Peel a copy to play on his show. Rather than post it I chose to wait for hours outside the BBC to give it him in person. I’d been listening to his radio programs since the early 70’s and he’d introduced me to a lot of good music. I told him a little bit about it and he seemed interested. Unfortunately he never played it on his show. A friend of mine asked him about it at one of his University gigs in Suffolk a few years later; John said he thought it was a bit too extreme for his show. That made me very proud indeed, to be thought too extreme for John Peel’s listeners.”

Along with the usual suspects, a mysterious “E” is credited as additional vocalist.
Andy T, “Ian Edwards was a friend from Lowestoft in Suffolk who I had met at gigs. He could make some very strange noises with his mouth…excellent stuff.”
Much like the bands on the label, he did a lot of touring once the record came out.
Andy T, “We toured loads, all over the UK. Did lots of gigs with the likes of Crass, Flux of Pink Indians, Dirt, Poison Girls, The System, the Alternative, Chumbawamba, Anti-Sect and Kukl etc. Must have done hundreds of gigs in the early 80’s.”

Rather than be a lone voice on stage, Andy used prerecorded tapes at some gigs. Most often he would have live players improvising behind him.

Andy T, “That’s funny; I don’t think I was ever very subtle – especially ‘live’. The message was fairly clear and direct and not buried within the music. People tended to stop pogoing and listen and they responded in a positive way. Sometimes they would throw bottles but I saw this as a sign of affection.”

His different approaches had a drastic effect on the performances. At a show in Brixton at the Old Queens Head in August 1983 Andy with a single drummer sound minimal and particularly brutal. A show four months earlier at the 62 Club in Aberdeen he uses prerecorded tapes to a much eerier affect. It’s the second gig that gets the crowd chanting the words along. But the effect is most striking on newer poems like “Phallic Metallic” and “Sexuality”.

In his hands he holds his power
His prick, his doomsday machine
To rape the flesh of womankind
To burn the flesh of mankind
The tool of mans sexual violence
The tool of mans ultimate violence

Fortunately, Andy kept good track recording many of these dynamic performances, all of which in their tone have a very different feel from the record.

Andy T, “I used to record most things and very often, taped backing tracks for use in live performance. I did a tour with a guitarist friend improvising, which went down very well indeed. I also still had a tendency to get anyone who happened to be about to improvise behind me. Often I like to get people to use instruments they weren’t familiar with. I always liked to experiment with ideas and subvert expectations.”

There was talk of possibly doing a record for Corpus Christi. In fact, it was more than in the talking stage.
Andy T, “We did intend to record an album for the Corpus Christi label. I had quite a few things written and several ideas for backing, from various musicians etc. Also I had some things I had written for Nico, from the Velvet Underground, to sing. She was a friend and liked my stuff. It would have been interesting to have taken that further. We recorded some live shows for possible inclusion on an album too.”

But with the dissolution of Crass in 1984, so did much of their work with the label and the Andy T album was one of many projects never finished. It was just as well as Andy had been himself losing interest in the scene as well.

Andy T, “Towards the end of 1983 I was becoming increasingly jaded by masses of Punks who seemed more interested in getting stoned and pissed than doing anything constructive. A lot of audiences seemed stuck in a time warp and not actually moving at all. Prior to this time I experienced the scene to be more productive, people got together and achieved things, often small but sometimes bigger.

“It seemed that people were learning that they didn’t have to wait for things to happen but could actually do things for themselves.”
Even though he’s long since retired from spoken word, he still maintains the convictions that got him onstage in the first place.

Andy T, “The politics almost seem more relevant now than they did then with political lies, warfare, ID cards, corporate greed and corruption, and environmental destruction. Nothings really changed much on a worldwide scale. At the time we had Thatcher and Reagan in power and each other pockets. Now we have Bush and Blair still treating us all like fools and getting away with it.”

The Story of the Disrupters

In many ways, “Punk And Disorderly” was the most important punk rock compilation ever. It wasn’t a benefit for anything. It didn’t showcase one city (or country even) or one particular scene. It wasn’t Oi! or peace punk or anything. But it managed to get everywhere and exposed thousands of people around to world to the band’s that would be their personal soundtrack to UK punk in the ‘80s. Real or not, this compilation captured that feeling more than any other and there wasn’t a single unreleased track on it. That should be a lesson for all contemporary and future punk compilers.

One of the most inaccessible yet memorable moments of that compilation was the near-tribal march of “Young Offender” by the Disrupters. It’s a genuine one of a kind. I’ve never heard something quite so primitive. When hip journalists would talk about the primitivism of the Fugs or Holy Modal Rounders, this is what I expected but never got. Taken from the group’s first self-released EP, the song only cares about the small number of people that can totally relate to it’s subject matter making it all the more attractive to outsiders.

The Disrupters were founded by a group of teen punks obsessed with the first wave.
Steve, “Someone played me some Ramones and Sex Pistols, this was back in late '77, I was 14. It totally blew me away; I was instantly hooked and threw myself into the scene…

“It was a realization that anybody could have a shot at what those early bands were achieving, and it looked such great fun.”
While it was certainly fashionable to get into punk in England in the late ‘70s, for young Steve it was also the outsider factor that got him so heavily committed and keeps him interested to this day.
Steve, “ABSOLUTELY!!!!!! But then I’ve always been a bit of a black sheep or misfit if you like, I find the straight world very hard to live in. So I’ve given up trying, do as thou wilt and all that.”

Initially working with a couple of school friends, the band officially formed when Steve was still just 17.
Steve, “We were all mates anyway living in Norwich, initially it was Gibbon and Dave Howard’s band and they got me in, we had trouble finding a drummer so we poached Kevin Wymer from The Aborts, it was always obvious they were going nowhere so he joined us. This around late 1980.”

In a flip decision, they chose the band name that would wind up gracing many record covers.
Steve, “There were a few names kicking around but we went for The Disrupters the others were really shit...”
Apart from the drummer, none had ever played in a band before and could barely play their own instruments. But taking a very, very literal position on the punk philosophy of DIY, they began playing gigs well before they were ready.

Steve, “The early gigs were really bad in hindsight, we really couldn’t play at all, but I knew if I stuck at it then things would improve, early gigs were mainly with local with bands like The Pits, Intensive Breeders, The Torpedoes.”
With a few practices, it was easy for a young punk band to put together a set just long enough to play a pub.

Steve, “The set was short in those days, about 20 mins long the songs were mostly a collaboration between me and Gibbon (he came up with a riff and I would put lyrics to it) then Kev would sort out the drums.”
The band recorded their seven-song set at practice. That would become their long lost first demo tape. The only song to survive from that recording was the track “Napalm” as it appeared on the first “Bullshit Detector” compilation.

Steve, “Yes our track, ‘Napalm’, on Bullshit Detector was our 1st release, we did a demo recorded on a cheap cassette recorder one afternoon, about 7 songs, I have no idea what happened to that demo I don’t own a copy.”
The song is rough and tumble but surveys a basic idea that would be a staple for many anarcho bands to follow.

There’s women and kids out there
But we don’t fucking care
You haven’t got too long
We’ve got some napalm
Hand grenades, incendiary bombs
A, B, C and D bombs
We’ll bomb your villages
Bomb your sons
Bomb your villages
Steal your guns

Despite the deafening seriousness of these comps, the Disrupters managed to have a punk laugh with the liner notes. “Alleged guitar inspired by a lack of muscle and an abundance of alcohol.”
Steve, “We heard that Crass were looking for bands for a compilation so we sent them a copy of our demo. I liked those albums at the time, haven’t thought of playing them in many years though but I suspect they haven’t aged well, but I guess it showed what was happening on the scene at that time. Maybe I should dig them out they’re still hidden in my vinyl collection somewhere.”

So within a few months in 1980, the Disrupters went from first practice to appearing on one of the biggest punk compilations of all time.
As teens in Norwich, the band were fans of Crass, but were still pretty removed from the growing anarcho scene.

Steve, “Not at all really I was still kind of wrapped up in the Sex Pistols dress to shock thing, Crass gave the scene a more intelligent and constructive slant. A realization that punk could mean more than just shocking your granny but could be used as a force for real change.”
But with the success and notoriety of the “Bullshit Detector” comp, the band started 1981 by going into the studio to record their first record. Heading into local Whitehouse Studios, the band recorded “Young Offender”, “UK Soldier” and “No Place For You”. With the aforementioned title track, the backing tracks also indicated the groups interest in political music.

They say the army is for protection
But their guns are trained on you
UK soldier or Russian threat
Put them together, they both spell death

Steve, “I am not a great fan of ‘Young Offender’ (or its B-side) but it did very well for us, and we did keep it in the set until our demise purely because fans liked it. Not one of my faves though.”

Rather than wait and shop the tapes around, the group formed Radical Change Records around this debut EP.
Steve, “We wanted complete control over our stuff, bands like Six Minute War were doing it D.I.Y. so we saved up enough to record a few tracks and get 1000 copies of a 7" pressed.”

In a situation of right place and right time, the group was then offered on their first release, to be featured on the “Punk And Disorderly” compilation LP alongside Blitz, the Partisans, Vice Squad, GBH, the Adicts, and the Dead Kennedys.

Steve, “Theo Chalmers was compiling it for Abstract and he asked permission to use it, that was cool it’s a good LP to be on and it sold shitloads. In terms of exposure and royalties it was good for us.”
Unfortunately, with all the sudden interest in the band, they weren’t able to do any touring to support the records. The first of a few line-up changes was occurring.

Steve, “Not at all, we had just kicked Gibbon out of the band and replaced him with Paul Greener. Apart from ‘Napalm’ and ‘Young Offender’ we had scrapped the entire set and were writing new material. Paul was a better guitarist and (at the risk of appearing bitchy) was a much nicer guy to be around. There’s no way we had any future with Gibbon in the band.”

With the first pressing of the record quickly gone, the band needed to find a way to keep it in print. Their distributor agreed to start manufacturing the label giving the band a lot more freedom with their releases.
Steve, “Apart from the 1st 1000 copies of ‘Young Offender’, Backs Records funded Radical Change. We couldn’t afford a repress so Backs (run by Johnny Appel) offered a partnership, they were getting a distribution cut already.”

With that support, the band were able to spend a little more on the recording of their follow-up EP, “Shelters For The Rich”.
Steve, “All 3 tracks on there were the 1st songs we did with Paul, we used Spaceward Studio, which had a good history (SLF did "Inflammable Material" there and The Subs recorded the single version of CID there too). I like it better than the 1st single but there was still room for improvement.”

With the music taking shape (it had been nearly a year since the first EP), the lyrics were also becoming more sophisticated. The political ranting now expanded to animal liberation on “Animal Farm” as well as more particular ideological questions on “Self Rule” as well as the title track.

A million rapes and beatings which way can I turn?
A thousand executions while the bodies burn
Forget about salvation
Forget about your kids
Remember your priority
Build shelters for the rich

With the freedom Backs had given them, they were also able to use Radical Change as a means for helping out likeminded bands that they respected.
Steve, “Mostly me and Kev were doing the groundwork, then we'd run an idea to Backs and they would decide if it was worth putting money into, mostly we had a good working relationship with them.”

The first band they worked with, they knew from being on the “Bullshit Detector” LP. Icon AD would release their first 7” on Radical Change. There had also been talk about releasing the Anti-System LP, but they decided to work with another label.
Steve, “Anti System ended up with Pax in the end, but we worked with Revulsion and Self Abuse and put out a comp LP called "Words Worth Shouting" featuring demos we had been sent.”

1983 started with the band going into the studio to record their first full length LP. “Unrehearsed Wrongs” was a collection of twelve raw punk songs including a revamped version of “Napalm” from that first demo tape.
Steve, “It was cool, we were at Flying Pig Studio working with a guy called JB also it was Steve Hough's recording debut with us, he was a cool guy and fit in better than our previous bassist. It was recorded and mixed in 2 days I have fond memories of it, not least because we now had a stable line up in place.”

Starting with the unusual “Norvic The Clown”, a spoken word rant by band collaborator Prem Nick, the band kick in with “Gas The Punx” and don’t slow down. Another early song reworked is a cracking version of “Animal Farm”.

Steve, “The title is something of a private joke. We were having trouble recording one of the songs on it and I said ‘how about we call this album UNREHEARSED SONGS?’ Then Paul changed the word "song" for "wrong" and it stuck. Sounded better than anything else we were coming up with at the time. I like that album best, ‘Gas the Punx’ is probably the best track on it and it was always a crowd pleaser, also proud of ‘Pigs In Blue’ and the rerecorded ‘Napalm’.”

Despite only a couple of singles in the previous two years, the record was a major success for an indie label.
Steve, “It did well and charted in the indies, I felt we stumbled a bit on the 1st two singles but the album kind of captured our live sound better, its certainly better than the 2nd LP we did. It was a good period in our history.”

Before the year was over, the Disrupters put together their third single. “Bomb Heaven” along with b-sides “Die With Mother” and “Make A Baby” was one of the group’s darkest moments.

The Bishop’s face turned a shocking pink
What about my shares in Rio Tinto Zinc?
The only way to save my bank account
Is to burn heaven down to the ground

This EP was a prelude to 1984’s “Playing With Fire” LP. A criminally underrated record, a tamer production style only partially hinders the 14 tracks.

The joke has worn thin, it’s not funny anymore
There’s too much blood staining the floor
Thatcher’s boot boys running amok
Pouncing on the sitting duck

Again, the band were able to take what was becoming typical subject matter for many punk bands and writing about them in a new and unique way. But with the band not even happy with the record, it was somewhat doomed.
In 1985, the band decided to take it easy just recording the six-song 12”, “Alive In The Electric Chair”.

Steve, “Personally I like the 1st LP and "Alive In the Electric Chair" 12", I’m a bit self critical of the other records.”
While we can now look back and say how this was the band in its final stages, you wouldn’t know it by this fresh and raw record. Even the lyrics seem more angry and inspired than the previous years product.

The Brighton bomb missed, you cunt
The Brighton bomb missed
I hope you rot in hell, you cunt
I hope you rot in hell
I’ll spit on your grave when you’re dead, you cunt
I’ll spit on your grave when you’re dead
The maggots will eat your eyes, you cunt
The maggots will eat your eyes

This great record would prove to be the final record as the Disrupters. That same year, Radical Change released the compilation LP “Words Worth Shouting”. The Disrupters contributed the song “Dead In The Head” to go along with songs by then unknown acts like Revulsion, Haine Brigade and Deviated Instinct.

Steve, “It was a comp LP for a local Hunt Saboteur group. All the bands we either knew or had been sent demos by. They all gave their services for free.”
With no record to support, the band made their first trip to the continent the following year.

Steve, “We did Belgium in 1986. That was fun but apart from that we just toured England. We were supposed to do France at some point but it fell through. It was never full time. We were always signing on because there wasn’t enough money coming in. They were great days but very lean, in terms of finance.”

After two more years, a film about the band called “Anarchy Peace and Chips” was released on video. With that tape as their final statement, the group split late in 1988.
Steve, “I got a bit bored with all the in scene bitching that was going on at the time, and thought "fuck this I'll do something else." I’ve always kept my hand in a bit but I figured the band had run its course really. When I left the rest of them followed suit, nothing acrimonious just time to call it a day.”

Though Steve has all but entirely ruled out a reunion, he remains musically active with New York Scumhaters while Kev plays in Saigon Kiss. Still being connected to punk rock, he’s been able to assess the old days with more smiles than most.

Steve, “Certainly there was a lot of naivety, I have a greater understanding of human nature these days (at the wise old age of 42) but I think it was worthwhile; some great things were achieved and some not so great. I have great memories of The Stop The City demos in London. Man they were hilarious!! Mind you I got dragged through the law courts on more than one occasion but hey its all character building ain’t it? HAHA!!!!
“And lets not forget the anarcho scene produced some really cool records that are often overlooked. Because apart from the political aspect of the scene, music was what got us involved at the beginning.”

Despite his reservations about some of the recordings, he can still focus on the good parts of being in the Disrupters.
Steve, “A great experience but I still feel puzzled that I have spent many more years discussing the band doing interviews like this all these years after we split. But its very flattering. I’m glad people remember us. All I can say is we did our best and above all we were honest in what we tried to do.”

The Story Of The Sinyx

It was a conscious effort to stick to the Sinyx ethos of being completely independent and doing it themselves.”
Steve Pegrum, drummer

Southend has had a history with punk bands going back to the first generation with proto-punks like Eddie And The Hotrods. Of the second generation scene, one of the most important and often forgotten bands was probably the Sinyx.

The Sinyx were formed in the Fall of 1979. Friends from school, the band was made up of Paul Barrett (also known as “Alien”), Paul Brunt, Auntie and Vints (don’t really know there real names). The name was a random selection made by Auntie. Starting with a gig at the Focus Youth Centre in 1980, the band soon developed a local following.
Steve Pegrum, “The Sinyx were the first overtly political punk band from the area. The ‘first’ pure punk band was The Machines in 1977, who put out an EP in 1978 on Wax records and were local legends.”

Despite their political angle, the band wound up with a following the included punks and skins.
Pegrum, “From the off there was something special about the band – I remember seeing their first gig, with the Icons – the place was rammed with Punks and Skins and they blew the roof off the place. They were very intense on stage, and the Sinyx had these really memorable songs like Camouflage and Therapy Through Violence. They never set out to be pigeon holed into any kind of corner, and always took their own stance on things.”

Throughout 1980 the band did gigs in the area mostly at the Focus Centre as well as a few other local punk spots.

Pegrum, “The Focus Youth Centre in Central Southend was a great place. It was quite a large purpose built building, with a Downstairs Bar and Stage, an upstairs bar (The legendary Pine Bar) and a main theatre. Both Sinyx and Kronstadt would hire out the main theatre and put on several gigs there, with various guest bands poets etc. The woman who ran the center, Pat was a great lady, really supportive, and most local Punk bands got their first gigs there. The places didn’t have a bad sound and there was always a regular punk clientele, so from 1980 to about 1986 it really was a key place to get started and play. The Pine Bar was almost exclusively Punk, and was a safe haven to hang out. In London, The Sinyx would play the Pied Bull quite a lot, and in Southend the other main venue was The Grand Hotel.”

With the growing interest in the band, they began to play out of Southend with other likeminded bands. This turned into a lasting friendship with the Erratics and Flux of Pink Indians. This connection would help get them in touch with the Crass camp.
Pegrum, “In the early days, the Sinyx would play with the Erratics and Flux of Pink Indians out of town a lot – Sid from the Flux briefly played drums in the Sinyx. They were great double –bills, as The Flux and Sinyx were coming from the same kind of place, but playing quite different stylistically, which made for great, original gigs. Around Essex the band would sometimes play with The Waxwork Dummies of The Icons.”

On March 1st, the band made the trek to Wapping near the future site of the Anarchy Centre where they recorded their first demo tape.
Pegrum, “The first demo was recorded on the 1/3/80 at the Elephant Studio, Wapping, London, with tracks including “9-5 Auschwitz”, “Bullwood Hall”, “Camouflage”, “Britain is a Mausoleum”, “Mark of the Beast”, “Automaton” and “Therapy through Violence”. It was a great first recording – Best songs on it are “Mausoleum” and “9-5 Auschwitz”. It’s got quite a unique sound. Aside from the usual Punk influences, Barrett was into the Velvet Underground, and I remember Auntie being into Chrome.”

By this point, Auntie had gotten to know some of Crass and passed a copy of the demo along to Penny Rimbaud. Eventually, the band was contacted for inclusion on the first “Bullshit Detector” compilation. The track “Mark Of The Beast” would end up being the only thing released from that demo.

The first “Bullshit Detector” compilation turned out to be a sampler of future bands to record for Crass Records. While that never materialized for the Sinyx, their track was a standout in it’s shambolic approach and fast-paced march through a blasphemous rant.

I’ve got the mark on my forehead
And the mark on my hand
Now I’ve sussed it out
Now I understand
The bible and religion
Are just a load of shit
The Archbishop’s a fool
The Pope’s a hypocrite

Their section of the cover art consisted of bible quotes out of context as sexual innuendos as well as a graphic of Christ on the cross with “Ha Ha Ha” replacing “INRI”. Playfully amateurish, the scrawl seemed all the more outrageous.
With the quick release of that record in 1980, the band found themselves playing more gigs and to bigger audiences.

Pegrum, “The 1980 era gigs were excellent, intense affairs – playing with the Flux a lot and helping generate a great scene.”
The live performances helped to tighten up the band’s set and new songs were added. Before the year was up, they had gone back into the studio to record again. On September 6th, they cut four songs with Barry Martin late of the Kursaal Flyers.

Pegrum, “There were four songs on it, Animal, Decadence, Suicide and a re-working of Britain is a Mausoleum. It was produced by Barry Martin (local guitar legend, now playing in the Hamsters). I think it was slightly overproduced, with a few unnecessary guitar effects, however, it wasn’t that bad and did show the evolution of the band and Baretts rawer singing style – Best track was Suicide.”

But despite the new recording and steady gigging, two of the Sinyx had decided to split the group before the year was over. Paul Brunt and Vints decided to leave the band with little fanfare or acrimony.
Pegrum, “I don’t really know – after the Sinyx I don’t remember Paul Brunt playing in any bands. Vints played in the Nihilist Corps and KMosaic for a while and I lost touch with him after that. He was a great drummer and on the local scene was quite a legend.”

Simultaneously, another local punk band, The Icons, were calling it a day.
Pegrum, “The Icons were a Southend Punk Band that existed between 1979 – 1980 and consisted of Copper – Vocals, Filf – Guitar, John – Bass and Peanut – Drums. They were a good live band, and recorded one demo.”

Nick Robinson (Filf) and John Edwards were soon asked to join the band on guitar and bass. Deciding to give a try at the previously rudimentary drumming, Auntie switched from bass and soon proved to be forceful behind the kit.

Pegrum, “After Paul Brunt and Vints left, the Icons had split up at the same time, and being friends and coming from the same musical background, it made sense to join forces. With Auntie moving to drums, it led to a new, harsher and more powerful sound.”

This new line-up was debut at the start of 1981. The change in style was greeted positively and a new direction was being forged away from the fast marches and more towards the heavier, more doom-laden sound of their later musical output. Some songs new to the set at that point were “Animal”, “Fight” and “Excommunication”.

Pegrum, “By 1981 when the line up changed, the gigs became, if anything more intense, and when the band would play their two key songs – “Fight” and “The Plague”, the place would erupt. Also, there were a number of great alternative venues always cropping up – disused churches etc where some great gigs were played.”

By this time, the band felt they were in a position to release their own record. Wanting to work outside of the normal system of independent punk labels in Britain, they decided on a project release with long time friend, Rob of Reality Attacks fanzine.
Pegrum, “Rob ran the fanzine and was really into the music and ideas of the idea, and subsequently when the idea of the EP came about, it made sense to put it out in conjunction with the fanzine.”

This time around, the band decided to record at home at Spectrum Studios.
Pegrum, “Spectrum studio was brilliant. It was a small studio in Westcliff, on the outskirts of Southend. It had been there for quite a while, and the engineer, Warwick Kemp was a cool guy who had got this amazing 16 track from Decca, who’d used it in the ‘60’s to record bands like the Rolling Stones. It got a great sound (The Kronstadt also recorded their last demo their in 1986). Sadly, under strange circumstances in the early ‘90’s there was a fire at the studio that completely destroyed it and everything was lost, which was really tragic.”

The four tracks recorded were “The Plague”, “Decadence”, “Zulu” and “Animal”. The record was titled “Black Death” which seemed to come from the lead track.
Pegrum, “Mainly it was Aunties and Paul’s idea, so you’ll have to ask them, but the key song on the EP was “The Plague”, which had the lyric ‘anarchy is here – the plague of peace’ and so the “Black Death” fitted the title excellently.”

The record would turn out to be a one off project for Reality Attacks and would be the label’s only release. Despite it being on such a fly by night label, the record did still fit into the anarcho approach and more specifically with Crass.
Pegrum, “Obviously, there was a Crass connection, and they were very helpful in advising the Sinyx on the best way to put our their own independent EP etc and were very encouraging, but essentially the Sinyx were quite unique.”

The record was released to critical and popular success even making a decent showing in the UK indie charts. But as was becoming their curse, the release of the record saw the second line-ups disintegration. With Filf deciding to leave the band, Auntie and John decided to both move to guitar for a bigger wall of sound and a new rhythm section was brought in comprising the band’s final line-up.
Pegrum, “When Filf left the band, they had a rethink about the sound, and wanted to pursue the really intense wall of intense sound they’d been developing, so Andy Whiting (ex-Kippars and future Sonic Violence bass player) was brought in on bass, John Edwards switched to second guitar, Auntie switched to first guitar, Barrett carried on singing and I stepped in on drums. (I was really into that heavy, tribal style of playing at the time that suited their songs and sound quite well).”

Steve had up until then been drumming for Kronstadt Uprising, another local band that had played many times with the Sinyx. The crosspollination would continue as at different stages Filf would play guitar for Kronstadt Uprising and Paul sang with them at a different time.
Despite the third line-up, the band still remained on course getting further and further into heavier music on the edge of what later would be the doom metal scene. Not wanting to sever all connections to the past, the band also continued with the “hits” of the earlier days.

Pegrum, “The set was quite a mixture of the old and new at this point. Whenever the band would play live, a large portion of the crowd would always want to hear some of the ‘classics’ like “Britain is a Mausoleum” and “9-5 Auschwitz”, which we enjoyed too, but the newer songs were becoming really strong and we would introduce more and more of them, creating quite a formidable canon of work. Newer songs like “David’s Star”, “Charles Manson/g”, “Kiss of Death” and “Blasphemer” were especially strong.”

With this set, the band played its first gig at the Forest Gate Centre on March 26th, 1982 supporting the Mob and Rudimentary Peni. The band found themselves in the favor of the still developing anarcho punk scene.
Pegrum, “We played with the Mob a lot, Riot/Clone, Assassins of Hope, Rudimentary Peni, Nightmare loads really.”

The band was now able to play regularly for the rest of the year highlighted by an August 1st gig with the Mob at the Centro Iberico.
Pegrum, “The gigs at this time were very special, and when the band and audience clicked in, it was a very intense and uplifting cathartic experience. We’d regularly leave the stage covered in blood from the intensity of our playing. The first gig I played with the Sinyx was in a big hall in Forest Gate, London. I think it was with the Mob and Rudimentary Peni and was a great gig. Probably the best gig was at The Centro Iberico in West London. We played with the ubiquitous Mob, amongst others, it was a great summers day. The inside area /venue area was painted in an astounding array of colors, it was rammed with a very encouraging and up for it crowd, the sound was great and people tell me it was one of the best gigs they ever saw. It certainly felt great to play – I remember it was really hot, and so intense, just before the encore I had to vomit, temporarily passed out and just made it back for the encore of ‘Fight’.”

At this point, their set included new originals “David’s Star”, “Charles Manson/g”, “Kiss Of Death” and their final composition, “Blasphemer”. Unfortunately, no proper recordings were ever made of this last line-up to document the songs.
Pegrum, “No real demos – I think we made a 4-track reel-to-reel of a couple of songs at the rehearsal studio, but I‘ve never heard them. There were a lot of live bootlegs I remember, which was really the best way of hearing the band at their best.”

Though the band was probably at it’s most cohesive, it was also on its last leg. A month after the Centro Iberico gig, the band, for all intensive purposes, was done.
Pegrum, “In late ’82 after a really powerful gig with Rudimentary Peni at the Moonlight in Hampstead, London, Paul Barrett left the band, and without his voice I didn’t feel it would be the same, so I left too. (I also wanted to concentrate on Kronstadt Uprising a lot as we were starting to take off at the time) Auntie, John and Andy Whiting carried on for a few more years, with Mark Bristow in the vocal limelight for a while, and with Donald on drums, but I think that line up eventually disbanded around ’86, where not too long after, Auntie and Andy Whiting started up Sonic Violence.”

John Edwards would eventually leave to play bass for the short-lived Allegiance To No One and Paul briefly sang with Kronstadt Uprising before quitting music all together to become a psychiatric nurse. Steve decided to focus all of his attention on Kronstadt Uprising. Auntie and Andy Whiting would carry on with Sonic Violence who would release a volley of records and have some success in the Head Of David / Godflesh vein also playing gigs with bands such as Extreme Noise Terror and Concrete Sox though never capturing the same unique quality of the Sinyx.

Pegrum, “Without Paul Barrett, it wasn’t really the Sinyx, yet at the same time, Sonic Violence took that intensity of the Sinyx and took it in a different direction. The song “Blasphemer” was the last new Sinyx song I remember playing with them and was the only Sinyx song to my knowledge that Sonic Violence did.  Auntie was the main Sinyx songwriter, so obviously there was that legacy and simultaneous continuum, but personally for me Paul Barrett was the voice of the Sinyx, and once he left, as I said earlier, that was the end of it for me to.”

The Story of the Snipers

For anyone attempting to find some sort of musical aesthetic relationship between the bands on Crass Records, the Snipers are a perfect obstruction. Even their only record, the “Three Peace Suite” EP, is a mish mash of un-commercial styles. From hypnotic drone to fast paced punk to almost dance-like post punk, the record was an uncompromising bridge between the various colors of the new music.

For the few years the band existed, the Snipers never backed down from their iconoclastic message.
From Coming Attack fanzine #2, “Government, oppressive leadership, domination, complete control – servility is what it’s all about. ‘Tow the line’… ‘Be a good (?) boy/girl’… ‘Do what is expected of you’… ‘Do what is right’… (What is right?)”

Starting in 1979, the group hailed from the town of Bruford, about 20 miles west of Oxford. The line-up, which seems to have remained the same throughout the groups existence, featured Russ on vocals, Dave “Bungi” on guitar and vocals, Steve “Whacker” on bass and Mark on drums.

The group was quick to do a practice room recording, which became their first demo tape. To call the 10-song effort “raw” would be an understatement. But the fact that it sounds like just one mic propped up in a corner where the group probably thought would give them the highest fidelity makes it a more fascinating relic: a rare though weathered fossil.

In fact, the group is barely holding it together as they seem to be fighting with their instruments as much as the outside world. It’s an addictive cacophony of furious strumming and bashing while fighting for the self-discipline of rhythm. There’s conflict between the bass and guitar chords. It’s not that they are making mistakes. They’ve simply chosen to play related but different chords in the same structure. It works whether they like it or not.

But it’s the vocals that sort of make or break the group. The virtually deadpan, unbothered delivery can either be seen as a brilliant condition or total tedium. At the time it sort of had the appeal of some of the early Fall singles. A decade later the style was unconsciously mimicked on the first few Pavement recordings.
Lyrically, this was no stream of consciousness. The group was vehement in their message.

From Coming Attack, “Ordinary people are an inconvenient nuisance to ‘people in power’. Their lack of conformity makes them difficult to control – the difficult ones, the ones who say ‘no’ too often or too loud, are a problem. We are better off without them, at least that’s what we are lead to believe.”
It was this kind of thinking that made them natural allies with the Crass camp and in 1980, they appeared on the first “Bullshit Detector” compilation with “War Song” pulled off of the demo tape.

Men die for King and country
Men die for money and hate
No one asks the children if they want to die
War is indiscriminate
It kills everyone
Wars are the mistakes of the chosen fools
Borne by Mary

The compilation took them from their own self-organized gigs to involvement in the ill-fated 1980 festival at Stonehenge. According to a review in the NME “the evening began peaceably with music from Nick Turner's Inner City Unit, The Mob and The Snipers, but when punk band The Epileptics took the stage they were greeted with nail of flour-bombs, cans and bottles. Their lead singer was knocked to the ground by a bottle.” (Possibly the most remarkable thing about this review was the writers insistence on differentiating the Epileptics as a “punk band” as opposed to The Mob and The Snipers…)

The following year, the group released “Three Peace Suite” on Crass Records. Recorded like most of the label’s material with Penny from Crass, the extremely more polished sound gave the band a whole new dimension. Starting with the hypnotic dirge of “The Parents Of God”, there is something about the overall approach that is in equal parts reminiscent of the first few Public Image recordings and the Cravats on speed. “Nothing New”, a song retrofitted from the demo, is almost like the Pop Group with it’s disco-like drum pattern and aforementioned conflicting guitar and bass work. On “3 Piece”, the group goes for breakneck speeds sounding like a psychotic version of Wire.

Gimme religion
Die like Christ
Go to church
Pray for forgiveness
Eat the bread
Drink the wine

More telling than the actual song lyrics was the hand drawn chart on the back cover that seemed to be some sort of map of religious consciousness connecting thought balloons with words like “religion is gently coaxed into the mind by media”, “the desire to be told what to do”, “consider tribalism”.

The promising record would end up being the Snipers’ only document. An LP was recorded for Crass, but never saw the light of day. The following year, drummer Mark moved away putting into motion their gradual dissolution.

From Coming Attack, “Behind most commercial media, no matter how outspoken or revolutionary they seem, are the same band of bigoted hypocrites trying hard to ‘clone’ ‘their public’ into a mass of stereotyped zombies. Their ‘freedom of speech’ is subject to well defined rules of the game. What sort of a game is it that shatters life and can cause so much suffering in the name (excuse) of ‘what is right’? People have problems, problems have solutions. But violence is no solution.”

The Icon AD Story

Icon were one of the 10 or so bands off the first “Bullshit Detector” comp to survive long enough to release a couple of the their own records. With the memorably catchy “Cancer”, the band managed to make the most of a pretty poorly recorded practice tape.

Started by Craig “C#” Weir, the original inspiration was his neighborhood friend, Shonna. Having introduced Craig to the first wave of punk, Shonna himself went on to found the pivotal second wave band, Abrasive Wheels. By 1978, Craig had his first guitar and was totally absorbed into punk rock.

The first incarnation of the band was Icon. With schoolmates Mark Holmes, Phil Smith and “Dicky” Watson, the group went through several names (The Jackets, Terminal Boredom) before settling on a song title from the Siouxsie and the Banshees album “Join Hands”.
Even as young teens, the band was eventually able to get gigs outside of their town. The more gigs, the quicker their musical education and by the time they got in touch with Crass, they were a fairly tight punk band.
Drummer Mark was the one interested in politics at the time and sent off their practice tape to Crass. The result was the inclusion of “Cancer” on the 1980 “Bullshit Detector” compilation. With a song in many ways atypical for Crass, its lyrics naiveté is almost metaphorical and surreal.

I can almost taste it
It’s getting so close
There’s no need to waste it
It’s only a growth
Will paracitomal kill the parasites?
Or are they ready to kill themselves

But the following year, when school finished, the four essentially drifted apart effectively breaking up the group. But in the subsequent year, Craig had written some songs that he decided to record. Employing the aid of Mark on drums, they recorded some tracks with Mark’s wife and her sister on vocals.

Timing is everything and simultaneous to this happening, Radical Change, the label run by the Disrupters, were looking to release some other groups. With both bands being on the “Bullshit Detector” comp, things started to fall into place.
On a whim, Craig had sent over the demo and Steve of the Disrupters dug it.

Steve, “I loved their track "Cancer" on the 1st Bullshit Detector LP and I contacted them to ask if they had any more stuff out. They sent me a great demo so I offered to release it for them. They were a cool band I think, very underrated.”
With the other two original Icon members uninterested or unable to reform, the group carried on with Marks’ wife, Bev adding Roger Turnbull on bass. The band was resurrected as Icon AD just in time for the release of their debut record, “Don’t Feed Us Shit”.

Craig, “The first title was taken from the chorus line of our first proper recording, ‘Cancer’, and was a fierce two fingers up to the government/anyone who lied and rammed bullshit down our throats, and who we felt were eating our lives away and destroying our freedom. (Quite ironic that it ended up on a compilation called ‘Bullshit Detector’?)”
The four-track EP was an especially melodic affair not too unlike what groups like Shelley’s Children would be doing a few years later but with a serious inclination towards Stiff Little Fingers (especially on the second song “What’s Your Name”). The sweet vocals and chiming guitars make for a criminally underrated record.

The record was an indie success and the group were soon asked to their one and only Peel Session. They concluded that four song set with a great updated version of “Cancer”.
The only other proper recording of Icon AD was the follow-up EP, “Let The Vultures Fly” also on Radical Change. With a more rock edge and bigger production, the group still maintained their political edge along with less obvious, but equally wonderful vocal melodies.

Craig, “The meaning of ‘Let the Vulture fly, was our way of saying NO!, stand up for what you believe in, a plea for peace, an anti-war message, SAYing NO to senseless killing which we considered to be ‘legal murder’ authorized by selfish leaders of countries.”
Even the cover art had evolved. The one-legged, peace symbol guy with the rifle for an arm was replaced with a spikey top with a circle A on his face.

But despite the anarcho imagery, Radical Change’s distributor and manufacturer, Backs, was certain that Icon AD could make a go of it as a commercial pop act. The label wanted to release a new EP with a glossy cover. The band flat out refused and the third record was never released.
Soon after, the group split up again for good. Ironically, Craig’s teenage son now plays in a new punk band.

The Story of Metro Youth / Sanction

I never looked to them for politics; I just liked the punk rock noises that they made.”
Rich Cross, bass player for Metro Youth / Sanction

Exeter was a hub for punk rock activity in the ‘80s. The home of numerous bands and probably even more fanzines, the city developed it’s own unique scene of bands combining influences from several different generations of punk rock. It was at school there that Nigel and Rich first met and began playing music in the band XLR8.

Rich, “The four original members of Metro Youth were all at the same school, Hele’s School in Exeter, Devon. Three of us were in the same class. We’d all started there in 1977, and pretty quickly realized that we were all drawn to and excited by the music of the Pistols and the other bands that we started to hear about. We all listened to the late-night John Peel program on Radio One (the only national music show where this music found an outlet to begin with) and swapped tapes and shared records and started to read the music press. There was a punk rock ‘in-crowd’ that we were never really accepted as a part of, but we just got on with our stuff regardless, and there wasn’t much in the way of animosity, at least from other school punks.

“Nigel was the first to make the move to start a band, and once I’d found out that he got himself a drummer and guitarist (neither of whom were at Hele’s), I realized I’d need to buy a bass guitar if I was going to become a member of XLR8. So I bought one, for forty quid. That’s the only reason that I ended up playing bass — whatever it took to be in the band. We all piled into Nigel’s garage in what must have been late-1978 or early 1979 for a few rehearsals, but — literally — none of us could play a note or hold or beat. I’d bought the first Clash songbook, which we all tried to decipher, but we couldn’t work out how to make chords on the guitar, or how to match them to notes on the bass. I remember we did this very spartan and weedy version of ‘Police and Thieves’ and that we wrote a crappy ‘Borstal Breakout’ rip-off before we realized that this was going nowhere.”

XLR8 were more of a whim than a band and soon dissolved. But for Nigel and Rich, it was a way of testing the water. It gave them their first taste of musical creativity. Instinctively, the process intrigued them. With the end of XLR8, they decided to find more likeminded people to form their next band, Metro Youth.
Rich, “XLR8 packed up, and within a couple of months Metro Youth came together during a series of rehearsals in Easter 1979. We were all either 15 or 16 at the time. I was 15 myself.”

Like many bands of the time, Nigel and Rich were drawn together more by their desire to create and be part of a growing youth movement that was largely (if only in lip service at the start) based on encouraging everyone to participate. The DIY ethic started with the idea that you could just pick up your musical instruments and make an interesting noise without years of training. As a beginning block, this concept could be used to infuse DIY ethics into all aspects of the process of popular music. As a basic pretense of punk, the anarcho bands took it a step forward seeing it as a way to affect life and culture.

They rounded out the band with schoolmates, Andy and Tim. Eventually, Andy became the drummer, Tim the guitarist, Rich on bass and Nigel the singer.

Rich, “We learnt to play our instruments through trial-and-error and experimentation. It is absolutely true than, when we started, none of the original four members of the band could play anything — at all. We knew nothing about guitar tuning, yet alone song structure or key shifts. For the first few weeks, everyone in the band tried their hand at everything — drumming, guitar, bass and vocals. We all just moved around, and started making a horrible racket afresh each time. What eventually got us moving (like so many other bands since the dawn of rock’n’roll) was working out cover songs, by playing along to records that we liked.

The first recognizable songs to emerge from our cacophony were things like ‘Mongoloid’ by Devo, ‘Where Were You?’ by The Mekons and ‘Law & Order’ by Stiff Little Fingers. Looking back on it now, what began to turn things around was the emergence of Andy’s natural talent as a drummer. Once his technique started to reflect that, my dead simple bass playing helped to give us a solid rhythm section, and the confidence to start writing our own material. It’s become something of a cliché, but it’s no less true for that — one of the hugely important things about the emergence of punk was its message that you could be a part of it if you got stuck in, and its insistence that enthusiasm and commitment was what mattered. It’s very clear to me, looking back on it, that the fact that we couldn’t play really didn’t concern us at all. We just were not put off by that. We wanted to play, and knew that it would come together somehow if we picked up those instruments and got on with it. After that, our ability to play developed almost beyond recognition in the couple of years that followed.”

As teenagers, the band was a little too young for the first generation of Exeter punk bands. Metro Youth’s inception happened during a lull in the area’s underground music scene. Not having much of a connection to the rest of the Exeter punk scene, the band developed independent from any notion of what was going on around them. Un-influenced by bands and musicians in their area, they were forced to take their own path from the development of their music to the selection of a band name.

Rich, “When we started we didn’t really know a lot of other local musicians. There had been a spate of 1977 Exeter punk bands, including The Scabs and The Fans, but we only knew about them by reputation, really. There had been a couple of other short-lived bands at our school, but it was only later that we really connected with the local scene, such as it was.

We talked and talked about possible names for ages, and, for a time, different versions of ‘Victimize’ and ‘The Victims’ were in the front running. Eventually, ‘Metro Youth’ emerged as the name that everyone disliked least. I’m reminded; re-reading one of our old fanzine interviews, that drummer Andy came up with it. I suppose, not very subtlety, we were identifying ourselves as ‘urban youth’, which, considering we lived in a small town in the rural southwest, was an odd choice. I didn’t like it much then, and I can’t say I like it any better now!”

With the line-up of Metro Youth resolved in 1979, the band began an intense period of rehearsals to develop their set and their individual musical styles. This started during their schooling at Hele’s School and continued until they were all signed up at Exeter College. Practicing for several weeks in the typical “suburban garage”, the band was eventually forced by noise complaints to soundproof their living room and move their base of operation.

The band’s first live performance came in August of that year at the St. Thomas Methodist Church Hall. As might be expected, the first gig was a shamble of failing equipment and nervous technical inability. Despite that the crowd, having been through a musical drought, were eventually won over and reacted wildly. This was a great dose of encouragement to the band.

But as time went on, the band began to be kept at an arm’s length from many in the punk scene. Their growing association and influence from political bands like Crass and Crisis was the cause of some scrutiny from the more traditional punk luminaries of Exeter.

Rich, “The first time that I can remember being aware of the existence of ‘punk’ was reading the headlines about the Pistols in the tabloid newspapers on my paper round in 1976-77. But it wasn’t until I heard the music that I really started to sit up and take notice. I read the British music weekly Sounds each Thursday, and it was in there that Garry Bushell wrote the first ever national music press report about Crass, announcing the imminent release of ‘The Feeding of the 5000’. The record and Crass sounded amazing, so I sent off to Small Wonder and had a copy of the first pressing of ‘Feeding’ by the following week.

I can remember that it took me a few listens to get into the whole of it, but that I loved ‘Do They Owe Us A Living?’ from the first time I heard it. There were a handful of incredibly significant punk records that sounded like no one else had ever sounded before, and changed what you thought about punk. ‘Realities of War’, the first Discharge EP would be one, and ‘Feeding’ was definitely another. Next, I bought the ‘Reality Asylum’ single, and started to get more and more interested in the anarcho side of punk.”

The dawn of a new decade was still a difficult time for new music outside of London. Finding venues for their music, the band took it upon themselves to set up their own events rather than waiting for a promoter to call (a call many bands waited for that never came). This was combined with the grass-is-greener mentality of many music scenes towards it’s local bands.

Rich, “Gigs were always extremely hard to come by. Our first gig, in a church hall in 1979, was pretty shambolic, until the encore when we started to pull things together at last. Once we’d got a grip on our nerves and had a few shows behind us, we played some pretty good gigs, I reckon — including a No Nukes benefit at the university; a headlining slot at the Rougemont Festival in an Exeter park; and the major support slots that we got. We had a small local following, but it was hard to build anything because the scene was so weak. There was never an ‘anarcho-punk’ scene in Exeter, at that time. But remember, Metro Youth was not in the straight anarcho-mould anyway.

“What was certainly true was that Exeter punks had little enthusiasm either for local bands, or for bands that they didn’t already know. One example of that would be the reception that The Ruts got when they opened for The Damned at the Routes club in Exeter in 1979. Metro Youth people knew Ruts songs because we’d taped the sessions the band had done on the John Peel show and couldn’t wait to see them. But this was in the days before their Virgin signing and to most Exeter punks turning out to watch The Damned they were unknown. The Ruts did blistering versions of classic songs like ‘Sus’, ‘You’re Just A’ and ‘Babylon’s Burning’ and other numbers from what would become their first album, and most of the audience just stared at them in blank indifference.

Our lot clapped and cheered but The Ruts went down pretty badly overall. Of course, then a smacked-up Malcolm split his head open on a cymbal and had to be hospitalized at the close of ‘It Was Cold’, but that’s another story… The Ruts played again, at the same venue to a fuller crowd once ‘Babylon’s Burning’ had charted, and that time the place went wild — on hearing the same set. That sort of mentality made it hard for local bands, and not just Metro Youth, to win a hearing.

As for trouble at our gigs, there were only a few instances of that, and — Whitstone apart — nothing major. I later encountered much more trouble at various Crass, Poison Girls and Flux gigs. There’s nothing quite like being punched in the side of the head to the sound of ‘Fight War, Not Wars’! Exeter itself wasn’t too bad a place in terms of street hassle or violent hostility towards punks, at least by comparison with other places we got to know.”

Whitstone Community Centre was a 20p ride from downtown Exeter. Metro Youth selected it as a venue for organizing a three band punk gig at a remarkably cheap door price of 30p. Unfortunately, a group of media brainwashed punks took it upon themselves to trash the hall and physically attack band members who tried to stop the destruction. Being stuck with a very large repair bill from the hall, Metro Youth were nearly forced to sell off their musical equipment to get out of this overnight debt.

Rich, “The Whitstone gig exposed our naivety big time. It had seemed obvious that self-organization was the way to go — no-one in town would let us book a punk show, and all local punks were moaning at the lack of any action. We hired the Whitstone Community Centre, a few miles out of town, booked a bill of local punk acts and laid on transport there and back. Tickets were 50p (inclusive of the coach fare) and we pretty much filled the bus on the night.

The Centre had tried to cancel the booking at the last minute, once they’d learnt that Whitstone would be full of ‘punk rockers’, but we gave all the guarantees under the sun and they finally relented. In our naivety, we hadn’t given much thought to ‘security’, and in the end, we just couldn’t protect either ourselves or the building from the attacks of a minority of the audience, who trashed as much of it as they could, attacked us when we tried to intervene, and who had no interest in what any of the bands on stage were doing. That night ended any illusions we might have had that punks felt an innate ‘common cause’, were automatic allies or all looking for the same thing. We felt let down, betrayed and well pissed off.

The other bands on the bill were sympathetic, including The Drop (who we became good friends with, and who wrote great songs like ‘Arcadia’ which never got recorded before they split), but my recollection is that we were seen as ‘the organizers’, and pretty much left to get on with it.”

Undaunted, the band still persevered and remained committed to the DIY approach to organizing gigs and recording demos. The first ever demo, featuring soon to be discarded songs such as ‘Arson’, was recorded at Catharsis in 1979 (all known copies have since gone missing). Next up was a professional recording session at Exeter’s ESR studios. The results were largely positive with support slots for the Bodysnatchers at St. George’s Hall and two dates with Tenpole Tudor in Portsmouth and Exeter. These gigs made deep impressions with the band and people who saw the gigs.

In a 1981 interview for “Obnoxious” fanzine, the band reflected on the gig with the Bodysnatchers.
Obnoxious – Did the Bodysnatchers treat you okay when you supported them?
Andy – NO! They didn’t speak to us at all.
Rich – Start again, they arrived four hours late for a start; by the time they’d set up and sound checked it was about 5 minutes before the place was due to open and we hadn’t tuned up or anything, so we had to soundcheck as people were coming in. Then the lead vocalist of Bodysnatchers said to Nigel you can do two songs then walked off and that was it. They weren’t interested or anything, just another support band to them.
The following issue of “Obnoxious” ran this review of the band’s gig with Tenpole Tudor.

“There wasn’t a bad atmosphere this evening and it was a pretty good turnout, surprisingly the audience was mainly made up of punks and there weren’t many rock-a-billies… This was the biggest gig Metro Youth have played since supporting the Bodysnatchers in 1980 and they were on top form… (they) began the new set with “UK 79” an old Crisis song, they carried on with “Equality” a rhythmic riff with a lot of drum punch. They carried on with things like “H Bomb”, “H Eyes” a great Ruts cover, played nearly to the exact style, and then one of my favorites “Brutalised”… They were very much together tonight, so if you missed them that’s your fault.”

Rich, “We were a small, local band, struggling to find an audience and get outlets for our work, and The Bodysnatchers show was a chance to play a big local gig with a proper PA and light set-up. We were really excited about it; because it marked a step up for us — the chance to play to an audience of a several hundred, rather than a few dozen, with the possibility of a useable live recording taken from the mixing desk. I have to say that we weren’t that interested in The Bodysnatchers. I seem to remember that we thought they were OK, but I’m sure we didn’t own one of their singles between us. We were a pretty straight down the line ‘77-style band at the time, and hardly the ideal support for them.

The fact that we got offered the gig is a reflection of the poverty of Exeter’s local music scene in 1979 — an up-and-coming all-female ska combo, and Metro Youth were the nearest thing there was in the way of a possible support act. I don’t remember them saying a word to us all night. Tenpole Tudor, who we played two support slots with in 1981, were much more friendly and interested, Eddie Tenpole in particular.”
But the band still considered their best gig to be with The Gift at their rehearsal space, Catharsis.

Catharsis was an old warehouse on the south side of Exeter that the band moved into in 1980. The rehearsal space soon also became their main base of operation and ad hoc recording studio. During this time, the band added Heather (Heff) on saxophone to broaden their sound. This crucial move completed the picture that most people think of when they think of Metro Youth. Having seen the band open for the Bodysnatchers, she added a Lora Logic type element to the music and also reinforced the band’s increasingly political outlook.

Again, they talked about Heather’s joining the band in “Obnoxious” fanzine.

Obnoxious – Do you think having Heather on sax has helped musically?
Rich – Yeah (laughs). Seriously I think it has.
Nigel – I think the sound has quite a lot of depth to it.
Heather – I’ve got grade eight clarinet. You can throw that in if you want.
Rich – Now we’ve got more songs with sax in and it is very healthy.
Heather – I think it could be quite interesting because I’m not quite as punk minded as the rest of the band are. And I like all sorts of different music.

Aside from the sax, Heather added backing vocals that were especially prominent in their live set. Her vocals were especially reminiscent of Exene Cervenka’s on tracks like “Boys In Blue”.
The band could now reach out beyond the ’77 style format. Their inspirations were expanding and that exponentially affected the development of their music.

Rich, “We always listened to a massive range of stuff. The original Metro Youth foursome didn’t have that many records to start with, but we all raved over the original ‘Live at’ and ‘Farewell to’ The Roxy albums, and loads of the early Small Wonder releases, as well as ‘Bollocks’ and the first Clash LP. We all loved the UK Subs, Stiff Little Fingers and The Ruts too. As well as that, we were variously into people like X-Ray Spex and 999. We also rated more consciously political bands like Crisis, The Pop Group, The Gang of Four and The Au Pairs. Our tastes were pretty diverse.

Nigel, our vocalist, was really into reggae artists like Black Uhuru, Misty in Roots and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Tim, our guitarist, loved trashy stuff like The Anti-Nowhere League, and bubble-pop like The Rezillos. Drummer Andy liked bands liked The Damned and The Stranglers. He liked all kinds of bands (punk and not) who were really proficient at what they did, and could play their instruments. At the time, our saxophonist, Heff, really liked Lora Logic, and I know that that was a big influence on the way that she wrote for our songs. I was very much into the anarcho thing, but I never saw it — in musical terms — as an exclusive thing.

I would buy Conflict and Cockney Rejects singles at the same time. I liked Sham and The Upstarts. I never looked to them for politics; I just liked the punk rock noises that they made. I treated them very differently to the way that I approached anarcho-punk.”

It was also at this time that the band started a working relationship with Len Gammon. While the band never had an actual manager, Gammon was a big booster of Metro Youth and helped out over the next year or so with many of the details and responsibilities that go along with keeping a young band moving.

Rich, “Len Gammon helped out Metro Youth in a number of different ways, but in no way was he a manager for the band. We never had a manager. Metro Youth would have been opposed to the idea in principle, and Sanction would never have entertained the idea for a minute. Len ran the Catharsis rehearsal studio, put on a gig for us there in March 1980, and engineered our first ever four-track recording (the only one I don’t have a copy of). He also put in a lot of ‘good words’ for us around the place. We all liked Len.

Catharsis was used by pretty much every local band around 1979-1980. It was an old warehouse on the banks of the River Exe on the edge of the city center. It was pretty tatty and basic, but there were few noise restrictions, and we liked playing there. It’s where “Brutalised” was worked out! The funny thing about booking Catharsis was that you could never get Len to answer his phone. When you did manage to book a session, there was no guarantee that you’d be able to rouse Len at his flat when you went round to pick up the key. You might get a rehearsal, you might not.”

At Catharsis, the band quickly worked out a blistering set that they recorded there in the space as their second demo tape. Recorded right to four track, the demo included the classic punk songs “Red Rifles”, “No Tomorrow” and “Brutalised”. All three tracks sound unbelievably fresh even today. While each one is a sing-a-long in it’s own way, the music is sophisticated and overflowing with excitement. The punchy rhythm section and imaginative but understated arrangements keep each song moving and creates a safe backdrop for the stretched yet tuneful vocals as well as the incredible sax playing.

The Lora Logic comparison shows up the most on “Brutalised” while more avant-garde influences are more evident on the other tracks. Listening back on it, it’s a shame these three songs were never released as a single as they really compliment each other.

Rich, “As Metro Youth, we did those three studio recordings — one at ESR and two at Catharsis. On top of that we had two live tapes, taken through the mixing desk at our two largest St Georges Hall gigs. We distributed versions of all of them to fanzine editors and the like, and a couple of tracks from the live stuff were taken for various benefit compilation tapes.

The Catharsis tapes were way better than the ESR one, even though we knocked out the Catharsis ones on a stripped down four-track while the ESR session was done in a professional studio. Inevitably, the Catharsis recordings captured the immediate, raw, un-doctored noise. The ESR tape smothered and neutered all that edge. We didn’t know enough at the time, I think, to recognize how much we’d been mugged by the production on the recording.”

“Brutalised” would be the track that actually created a tangible link between Metro Youth and the anarcho scene around Crass. On hearing the track, it was chosen for inclusion on the second “Bullshit Detector” compilation.

Rich, “It should be said right up front that the scene wasn’t just found in London. That was true even of what Crass themselves were doing. By 1981-1982, Crass Records had signed artists from as far a field as Rochdale, in the north of England (Andy T) and Dunfermline in Scotland (The Alternative). Crass’s interests weren’t restricted to some narrow London ‘scene’. But, more than that, anarcho-punk, as a movement, established important bases way beyond London, and across the country.

Strong local anarcho-scenes sprang up in places as far apart as Bristol in the southwest, in Birmingham in the west midlands, in Sunderland in the northeast of England and in Dunfermline, around what The Alternative were doing. Anarcho-punk also found an important footing in Belfast, in the north of Ireland, around the Anarchy Centre (which both Crass and Poison Girls played at). Of course, loads of important stuff was centered on London, but don’t get the impression that London was where anarcho-punk stood or fell. Our knowledge of things like the Anarchy Centre, the early London anarcho-gigs, the anarcho-squat scene and all kinds of other things only came from record sleeves, anarcho-handouts and bits that we could glean from the national music press.

Our knowledge of what was going on elsewhere around the country came from fanzines, letters, visits and visitors. To us, stuck in Exeter, where things were so sluggish, what was cracking off elsewhere always sounded really impressive and exciting, but a world away from where we were.

“You have to remember that prior to the impact of punk, there was no network in place for the distribution of independent records and publications. Seminal punk records like SLF’s ‘Alternative Ulster’ and The Ruts ‘In A Rut’ took ages to circulate as far Devon. The distribution deals just weren’t in place. It was really difficult to get hold of stuff. A lot of the time you read about bands whose stuff you had no chance of getting hold of.

The first time that I went to the Rough Trade shop in London, sometime in 1981 or thereabouts, I couldn’t believe that they had — as well as this amazing collection of punk vinyl — folders stuffed full with punk fanzines, that you could browse through and pick from. That was a revelation to me. To realize how large and diverse the fanzine movement really was, and just how many titles there were. There were a smattering of gigs in Exeter and in Bristol (about seventy miles north), but we felt completely off the beaten track in many ways.”

The success Metro Youth could have received on the release of the compilation never occurred, as it wasn’t released until 1982, after the band had split. The band’s delight at making the final selection for Bullshit Two was somewhat marred, on receiving the advance copies of the record, by two disappointments: first, that Crass had selected the weaker of two possible mixes of the song from the tape, and, second, that an unwanted fade out had been imposed on the end of the track.

Says Rich, “Don’t get me wrong — we all felt that it was a real achievement to be included, we were really happy about that and grateful to Crass for the opportunity. It’s just that, if we’d have been asked, we’d have made different decisions about both the mix and the ending.”
In 1981, the band added established local musician Brian on second guitar to fill out their live sound and to take over a lot of the lead guitar work.

Rich, “Listening now to some of the live and studio recordings, I’m struck by how much better we got, and how quickly. With Heff and later Brian joining in 1981, the situation changed. Heff was already an accomplished clarinet player and saxophonist. She’d even been a participant in the BBC ‘Young Musician of the Year’ competition one year. She picked all our stuff up by ear, and kept her sax parts pretty fluid and improvisational. She was good enough to do that and have it work. Brian was a talented guitarist, who we’d got to know from various local bands he’d played in. Tim, our existing guitarist, was an effective riff-pounder, but he was more than happy to play rhythm guitar to Brian’s lead.”

But this six-piece line-up was short lived. After a few gigs, both guitarists split the band effectively ending Metro Youth. Their final gig was on December 3rd, 1981.
Rich, “Metro Youth came apart at the end of 1981, at the moment when things were going better than they ever had for the band. We had a whole bunch of gigs set up for early 1982, but Tim, our original guitarist, was moving to Plymouth to go to art college, and our new lead guitarist, Brian, decided for personal reasons to pack in playing music completely, and we failed to persuade him to stay. There really weren’t any personal tensions in the band. If we’d have kept one guitarist, I’m sure we’d have carried straight on, but, losing both, we just stalled!”

The end of the band, however, didn’t diminish the remaining four members interest in DIY or the music scene. Through 1982 they continued to be involved with fanzines and promoting gigs while playing music was put on hiatus.
Like many individuals and bands involved in the DIY culture of the anarcho punk scene of the time, the members of Metro Youth were involved with their local fanzine scene both as supporters as well as contributors. Metro Youth’s successes were used to help support others like the printing of “Obnoxious”, “Never Surrender”, “Catalyst” and “Radical Hedgehog”.

Rich, “Phil Hedgehog was, at that time, a young anarcho-punk from the Forest of Dean (just west of Bristol) who started writing to us after buying an ‘Obnoxious’ fanzine at the massive 1981 CND rally in central London. Over the next couple of years, me and him became the best of friends, and he came to stay in Exeter a fair bit. Phil, who never became a member of Metro Youth or Sanction, was — and remains — a brilliant cartoonist and graphic artist, supplied loads of cartoons and drawing for ‘Catalyst’ fanzine, which me and Heff produced between 1982-84, and did all kinds of illustration work for Sanction.

He was very much involved with what we were doing. Phil also produced his own fanzine ‘Radical Hedgehog’, which, with its entirely hand drawn contents, was pretty much unique in fanzine circles at the time. Phil was one of the organizers of the second Exeter Crass gig in September 1984, and contributed the spoken-word track ‘Radio Times’ to ‘Bullshit Detector 3’.”
“Obnoxious” was a local fanzine that supported Metro Youth from the start. The fanzine’s editor, Clem Page, was able to print the zine’s four issues with the help of the band financially and in terms of distribution.

Rich, “‘Obnoxious’ was an Exeter based anarcho-punk fanzine, put together by the then fourteen-year-old Clem Page who we got to know when he approached us for an interview. Clem was seriously talented and articulate for such a young kid, and various members of Metro Youth got involved helping him out with his fanzine, and him with ‘Catalyst’. Me and Heff, in particular would write things, help out with interviews, print pages, but it was always Clem who edited the thing.

Despite his appalling spelling and hit-and-miss typing skills, he did pull together quite an impressive fanzine, particularly with the later issues. It sold pretty well at local gigs and demos — relatively speaking — local fanzine print runs would be in the low hundreds at that time. It’s not much of a surprise looking back on it now that Clem, who was very advanced for his years in many respects, suddenly took off in a new direction, almost overnight, abandoning his punk and anarcho interests. Nothing we said could convince him that it didn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’, and he quit our circle and scene completely. Of the fanzines of the time (1980-1982) Obnoxious certainly held its own.”

Rich and Heff eventually started their own publication with Catalyst. Leaning more towards politics, the fanzine pooled the resources of other underground publishers they met along the way.

Rich, “Me and Heff put together the first issue of ‘Catalyst’ fanzine in early 1982, with help, from the very beginning, from Phil Hedgehog. We also met with and swapped materials with Higgs who published ‘Never Surrender’ in nearby Bideford. Phil Hedgehog began to produce his own fanzine ‘Radical Hedgehog’ in Coalway in the Forest of Dean from 1983, and we had regular contacts with other south-west fanzines editors, including Tim, who we’d known from Exeter Youth CND, who went on to produce ‘Children of the Revolution’ in Bristol where he settled.

But we were also in contact with dozens and dozens of other fanzine producers across the country, and we put a lot of effort into that ‘postal network’ of producers. We’d send out ‘swap’ copies to names on a list, and then pick out a handful more from the reviews sections of those zines and do the same again. We got to know quite a few fanzine editors pretty well, and visited them or had them come to stay with us. Some of the better fanzines were really excellent. Why did fanzine culture seem so important? I suppose we felt it was equally as important as the music — another forum for the message, another conduit to people, another voice for what we saw as ‘the movement’.

It was also something that anyone could do to get involved. If you didn’t have enough friends to form a band, you could put out your own fanzine by yourself — handwritten in block-capitals if need be. If you could only afford to print 30 copies, then fine, do exactly that. Fanzines were another expression of the DIY ethic. After a time, many titles tended towards the formulaic and ritualistic, and the law of diminishing returns started to set in. But by best of the early 1980s titles — works like ‘No New Rituals’, ‘Acts of Defiance’, ‘Kind Girls’, ‘Joy of Propaganda’, ‘Cool Notes’ and loads of others — were very effective for a time.”

Over six issues, “Catalyst” covered political issues from an anarchist perspective as well as the occasional band likeminded inclinations.

Rich, “‘Catalyst’ fanzine was a political publication from front to back. We did do features on music, but it was a pretty straight down the line anarcho fanzine. Quite a lot of the early issues were all but illegible, and, reading them today, chock full of semi-literate sloganeering and ‘stream of consciousness’ stuff. They got better. We could only afford a few photocopied pages, and the rest had to be run-off on hand-cranked duplicators using wax-covered stencils punched out on a typewriter. The quality of the finished print was crude at best, and scrunched-up and ink-splattered at worst. Things did improve with later issues, and our design and writing skills picked up as well.

We would have features on companies like Rio Tinto Zinc, actions like Stop the City, law-and-order issues in Northern Ireland and — something which became the overriding priority for us — the struggles taking place against the deployment of Cruise and Pershing nuclear weapons in western Europe in the mid to late 1980s. We wrote a lot about actions we took part in, air bases we visited, peace camps that we stayed at, and the strategies and tactics of ‘non-violent direct action’, including blockades, fence-cutting, and occupations at places like USAF Greenham, Alconbury and Molesworth.

We might also include an interview with Dirt or Conflict, but we’d also have regular ‘punk really is dead’ features, slamming the state of ‘the movement’, railing against the limitations and blind spots of its politics, but also urging on that movement to realize what we saw was its very real potential. The last ‘Catalyst’ was produced in January 1984, and a few months after that I joined the collective producing the fortnightly Peace News magazine in Nottingham, and so left Exeter for good.”

Their involvement with “Bullshit Detector Volume 2” helped pave the way for them to set up gigs in Exeter for Crass. The first came shortly after the split of Metro Youth.

Rick, “We ended up organizing the first Crass gig by accident, really. Patrick, one of the local promoters from Stagger Lee, had been putting on a series of punk gigs in the city. Stagger Lee had given Metro Youth support slots in the past, but we were becoming more critical with how Patrick, as an individual, was putting gigs together. We were red-hot on the question of anti-commercialism and the DIY punk ethos, increasingly defining ourselves by anarchist politics, and were very concerned to hear that Patrick had got Crass to agree to play live in Exeter in 1982.

“To cut a long story short, we were very concerned that someone with no interest at all in the politics would be organizing and potentially profiting from the Crass gig. All our correspondence with Crass up until then had been through the PO Box in London, but Anna-Joy David, a YCND organizer, had given us Crass’s home address at a meeting held to launch a YCND group in the city. We wrote to Crass at Dial House to warn them of our concerns with Patrick, and a few days later Andy Palmer rang me up and asked if we’d be willing to put the gig on ourselves instead. We said OK, although we’d never meant to offer ourselves as alternative organizers!

“That first gig was put together mainly by me, Heff and Graham, a local CND organizer and activist, with various friends and other CND people helping out on the night. The second gig in 1984, I only agreed to organize after a visit to Dial House to talk through my concerns about Crass’s live performances in late 1983 — a front-to-back rendition of the ‘Yes Sir, I Will’ album, which me, Phil and other friends had endured at a hideous gig in Birmingham that December.

I had major criticisms of the route Crass were taking live, although I completely understood the frustration that led them in that direction. My view was that ‘Yes Sir, I Will’ was a stunning record (and that’s still my view today), but — performed in its entirety — it just did not work live. The short version of the story is that Crass decided to rework their live performance (though not because of what I said to them!) for what became the final tour, in the spring of 1984. In light of that, I agreed to put on the gig. This was then put together by me with help in the week of the gig itself with anarcho-punk mates, from Peterborough, Newcastle and Phil Hedgehog. So neither were really Metro Youth or Sanction gigs. The first was a split benefit for Exeter CND and the magazine Peace News. The second was a joint benefit for Alconbury and Molesworth peace camps.”

The first Crass gig became pivotal both for Rich and his crew as well as for Exeter. One night of support for Crass helped clear the air and unified as well as validated what many in the scene had been doing for some time.

Rich, “There’s a lot I could say about both those gigs, but I know that Crass thought of both of them as examples of successful shows, and were really pleased both we how we put them together and with how they went off on the night. Crass and the brilliant PA crew that they used both times, run by the talented engineer and mixer Paul Tandy, were incredibly efficient and well organized from the moment that they arrived, getting the gear set up and transforming the insides of the hall (decked with banners, TV and projection screens) and sound-checking in the matter of a couple of hours.

That sense of focus and concentration was completely understandable, but it meant that it wasn’t really until later in the evening that they had the time to relax and chat with us a bit more. I can remember feeling a little put-out at the time, initially, that they weren’t more friendly and interested in what we were about from the off, but I think, if anything, we were being a bit over-sensitive and not making allowances for how much work they had to get done to get the thing ready.

“In the end, Crass were pleased with how we had organized the evening, and seriously happy to be fed and watered and looked after properly. I think at a fair number of gigs they had gone hungry and neglected, and were left trying to pull things together themselves on the night. They even beat us to doing the washing up, and Andy took ‘our’ recipe for home made soya milk back to Dial House with him.

Crass did entirely ‘take over the event’, and I think that was what partly surprised us to begin with. But that was the way of working they had developed. That’s what the experience of being on the road, trying to put on the kinds of shows that they were doing, had taught them was necessary. Crass sent us handwritten ‘contracts’ for both gigs, which might surprise some people. I’m sure that came from a combination of being ripped off by promoters and let down by inexperienced and overwhelmed young punks.

Crass gigs were pretty large events, and when we were pulling together the first one me and Heff were just eighteen. Our experience of organizing up until then had been pub gigs. Both gigs I can safely say were absolutely electrifying, although I spent both evenings charging about everywhere sorting things out, so I didn’t get to see all that much in the way of interrupted performances. We had arranged security staff (paid and volunteer) for both nights, but we did it in a low-key way, as agreed with Crass — and frankly, there weren’t enough people to call on if things had turned seriously ugly. We monitored things really closely as a result. As it was, there wasn’t any trouble to speak of on either night.

“To talk about the first one, it’s still struck by how much the atmosphere changed over the course of the evening. To begin with, it was a memorable sight to see dozens of black-clad punks slouched in groups on the floor in the main hall watching the ‘Choosing Death’ film show. It didn’t feel like ‘a gig’ at all at that point. Later, as the place filled up, the mood was more tense, the room more packed, and, as Annie Anxiety performed, there was a real ‘edge’ to the atmosphere in the place.

But that, I think, was just as much a reflection of the intensity of the evening, and of the contents of the performances, as it was an indication of the intentions of the crowd. These performances demanded a reaction from the audience, and you could feel that recognition in the air. Then Crass came on, opening up with an excoriating version of ‘How Does it Feel?’, which launched them into a powerhouse set. They took total charge of everyone’s attention from the off.

“I’ll never forget the ‘turning point,’ the moment when we knew we’d made it. It came when Crass, knocking out ‘Big A, Little A’ got to the section: ‘if you don’t like religion, you can be the anti-christ.’ Steve Ignorant delivered the next line, ‘if you’re tired of politics, you can be…?’ and then turned his microphone towards the audience, inviting.

Hundreds of voices bellowed back, on cue, ‘an anarchist!’. As the drums and hacking guitar powered back in, me and Heff threw our arms around each other laughing, because we knew, at that moment, we’d pulled it off. It wasn’t that we thought that the three-quarters of the 600-plus audience who’d yelled it, meant it. But it did mean that the audience were ‘up for it’ and willing Crass on, on the night.

“Another brilliant moment came right near the end of the set. Crass were closing with the inimitable ‘Punk Is Dead’ and the whole front section of the audience had taken up the closing chant — ‘punk is dead! punk is dead!’ — and were yelling it back at Crass.

Meanwhile, up on stage Ignorant and Andy Palmer, shaking their heads, were insistently singing back at them, ‘oh no, it’s not! Oh no, it’s not!’ That was both really funny and really striking all at the same time. It made me laugh out loud, but it also made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was a brilliant way of making the point, of forcing this issue — they were saying ‘stop and think! Is there a future for punk or not? Does it mean anything any more or not?’ Quite a moment, I thought.”

It was around this time that the “Bullshit Detector Volume 2” double LP was released featuring “Brutalised”. Immediately recognized as one of the better songs on the compilation, it brought new interest in their activity from Exeter and beyond.

Rich, “By the time that Brutalised came out on ‘Bullshit Detector 2’, Metro Youth had been wound up. That was simply a product of the length of time that it took Crass to prepare the compilation for release. Choosing from amongst hundreds of cassettes, and then mixing the selected tracks and preparing the artwork from the band’s own submissions did take a while — which is hardly surprisingly when you think of how much work Crass had on at the time. It was Eve Libertine who we liased with mainly, as she had taken on responsibility for ‘Bullshit 2’. She told us, at the 1982 Exeter gig, that ours was her favorite track on the LP — and I like to think that she didn’t say that to every band she spoke to.”

“Brutalised” is a punk riff with a big walking bass part and effective emphasis brought by the amazing sax part. Like an anarchic X Ray Spex, the song is truly one the best songs on the comp and of that era of anarcho punk. Lyrically, it’s a reaction to seemingly random violence against youth everywhere by social and governmental institutions.

Another youth dies, it’s not surprising
It’s hardly worth analyzing
It’s last in the news, both sides losing
It’s hardly worth passive viewing
A terrorist gone or was it a soldier?
A land mine / bomb? Oh just turn over
A terrorist gone or was it a soldier?
A land mine

Rebels abroad, it’s guns they’re hoarding
It’s funny how murder can be so boring
Message of doom, war clouds looming
It’s funny how murder can be so time consuming
Police are killing or are they the dead?
It’s too far away to recall what was said

At the start of 1983, the four remaining members of Metro Youth reconvened under the name Sanction. Having taken enough time off from playing music, they had a change of heart and decided to play together again but this time with a more experimental edge to the music and a more openly anarcho political agenda. But little was known of the band’s activity, as they didn’t appear publicly. Word of the band’s existence and music was mostly dependent on interest that remained from the Metro Youth track on “Bullshit Detector”.

Rich, “There was a bit of a hiatus in 1982, following the end of Metro Youth, with fanzines, arrangements for ‘Bullshit Detector’ and organizing the Crass benefit taking priority. Following the September Crass gig, three of us left Exeter to start college courses in Bradford, Birmingham and Nottingham. Each of us who went realized, for our own individual reasons, that we’d made a really stupid decision, and agreed that we would return to Exeter and re-launch the band in 1983.

We first rehearsed again in January 1983, when Phil Hedgehog came to visit us for the first time, and Sanction got properly restarted around April 1983. Did we aim to keep a ‘low profile’, or choose to be ‘unproductive’ for some reason after that? No, absolutely not. We’d have loved to have been able to do more, get more projects organized and be part of some larger local community of people trying to do similar sorts of work. But there was precious little to ‘connect’ to, where we were, and few opportunities to promote what we were doing. We certainly didn’t seek some kind of cool obscure and underground status.”

From the start, Sanction were set on developing a set of new originals with only a couple of leftovers from Metro Youth being “Brutalised” and “Red Rifles”. In many ways, Sanction was a continuation of Metro Youth as well as an exploration of one aspect of Metro Youth. If Metro Youth had stayed together, they surely would have been forced to either choose a path or continue in a variety of directions running the risk of losing focus, certainly a common obstacle of all bands in that position.

Rich, “Sanction certainly felt like a continuation of Metro Youth to begin with. Sanction started out with four Metro Youthers in it, and we continued to play quite a few Metro Youth songs at the outset. Metro Youth’s own music style had developed quite a bit over the two years of the band’s existence, or at least it had diversified. We were still producing straight-out punk numbers, but also more complex and unorthodox stuff as well, examples of which would be songs like ‘Utopia’ and ‘Equality’.

Sanction began as a much more political project from the outset, reflecting changes in where we were at individually and collectively. In the summer of 1983, Sanction got a house together on the outskirts of Exeter, where we could rehearse without disturbing the neighbors, and all of the songs that we started to work on were political ones in one way or another… We were definitely a political punk outfit from the very start.

“The Sanction house was, in reality, a ‘holiday cottage’, sat at the far end of a large field that it shared with just one other house at the opposite end. It was set back from the road, surrounded by trees and backed onto fields of sheep. It was outside of town, but you could be in the city center in forty minutes, if you took a leisurely walk down the canal tow path, passed the ‘Double Locks’ pub that became our local. It was pretty idyllic in many respects.

We hauled our instruments and duplicators up there, set up a shared house, bathed in the summer sunshine and hung out at the pub on the canal. It was toughest for Andy, because he was holding down a job in town, and having to haul himself in to work in the mornings, while me and Nigel were unemployed, but it worked fine for several months.

When the winter came, things turned a lot grimmer. We froze. This was a summer building. The cottage walls were paper-thin, the roof wasn’t insulated, and there were icy draughts blowing everywhere. No matter how many logs we burned, it was impossible to heat the place. We had to rehearse in coats and gloves. With Sanction making no headway in Exeter, spring seemed a long way off. We gave up the cottage in the end not because the band fell out about living together, but because it wasn’t worth investing in a place that was basically uninhabitable for half of any given British year. ‘A nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there’.”

Despite their short existence and outside activities, Sanction managed to develop a following in the anarcho punk community largely due to demo recordings made at the time. Rich, “We recorded two tapes. The first was a eight song demo, recorded at a new studio on Queen’s Street in Exeter on 20 August 1983, when we were still a four-piece. The second was a recording of our only live show in Exeter in May 1984. We circulated those mainly through the fanzine network, and to the people who were continuing to write to us because of ‘Bullshit Detector 2’.

Quite a few tracks appeared and re-appeared on benefit compilation tapes in the UK and US at that time, like ‘Inner Ear Damage’ (a Californian release) and ‘Alternative South West’ (put together in Devon). In the decades before CDs, all DIY punk compilations were on tape, and the humble cassette was the always the weapon of choice of anarcho-punk. On ‘Have a Nice Day: Volume 4’, put out by ‘Caution’ fanzine in late 1983, for example, Sanction appear alongside bands like The Subhumans, Chumbawamba, Passion Killers and Faction. I’ve got four or five such Sanction-included compilations on my shelves, but I know there were a fair few others. You didn’t always get sent copies of what people had done!”

Their one studio recording yielded eight great songs including updated versions of “Red Rifles” and “Brutalised”. Other songs were “Our Lives, Our World”, “Butchery”, “Time Is Tight”, “Old MacDonald’s Song”, “Unknown Soldier” and “Plastic Bullets”. More prominent were Heather’s vocals, taking the lead role on many songs. The songwriting had also become more adventurous bringing to mind the Cravats, the Ex and at times, Eve Libertine’s songs with Crass. The variation in song structure was result of intense commitment towards learning their instruments without the benefit of professional training. As the group grew more proficient at performing, they still were able to maintain a unique style. But of course, their immediate listening choices also played some influence.

Rich, “We were listening to a whole range of stuff. I certainly was the biggest fan of straight anarcho-punk, and was listening to everything that I could track down. There were a lot of influences as well as that though — all sorts of things from reggae, PIL, Gang of Four, Au Pairs, Pop Group, Devo as well as traditional and new wave punk.”
Of course, the lyrical content was as pointed as ever.

Posing no threat
The noose is tight
Shuffled into life’s
Phony categories
Mind pollution
Destiny unknown
Hands above the water
Tides crashing in
Out of one grasp
Into tyrant’s hands
Pleas for mercy
No reply
Disfigured values
Rigid roles
Heads are empty
Time is tight

Disguise my death with deceptive names
Cram your stomach with my limbs and brain
I will die so you can be content
Bud did I ever give you my consent?
I don’t want to die for you in pain
You should lower your bloodstained face in shame
What right of death have you got over me?
What you do is butchery.

But frustration with the local music scene and the new atmosphere in the mid ‘80s kept the band from performing live. The lack of sympathetic venues and even less sympathetic ears kept the band dormant. This situation eventually led to Heather splitting the band to focus on her other project, Toxic Shock.

Rich, “Heff had intended to move into the house as well, but in between the folding of Metro Youth and the launch of Sanction, she had formed the two-piece feminist combo Toxic Shock, featuring Al on bass and vocals and Heff on sax and vocals. The two bands did do some work together, releasing a joint demo tape amongst other things, and Heff contributed to the first Sanction studio recording, but with Toxic Shock based in Birmingham, Heff eventually decided to stay put, prioritize Toxic Shock, and quit Sanction.

Toxic Shock subsequently toured with Poison Girls, gigged with Conflict and many others, and released material on the Birmingham based Vindaloo Records, before calling it a day. This meant, among other things, that Sanction were pretty quickly a three-piece.”
Over the course of the almost two year existence, the band only managed to play one gig.

Rich, “We struggled so hard to find outlets in Exeter to play, it just proved to be impossible. There was no pub circuit, certainly not for the kind of stuff that we were doing, and nothing in the way of local club venues. We got to know another local outfit called Wounded Knee, who were pacifist and vegetarian, but who were more into the ‘spiritual’ side those beliefs, than the spray-painting, fanzine-publishing, state-smashing end of stuff that we were drawn to, and we agreed to do a gig together at The Caprice in Exeter in May 1984. By this time, Sanction was a three piece, with Nigel on guitar and vocals, me on bass and lead vocals and Andy on drums. It was OK, but it didn’t really lead to anything else…

“We tried really hard to play more often! This was not an attempt on our part to be ‘obscure and mysterious’; it was a reflection of the fact that Exeter was in 1983-84 a seriously tough place for anyone to get gigs, and a near impossible place for an agit-anarcho band like Sanction. Any leads that we got just ended up going nowhere. We were stuck, living in our cottage on the outskirts of town, rehearsing and writing and existing as a ‘correspondence band’, sending tapes out, answering fanzines interview questions and getting songs included on numerous anarcho compilation tapes. We had more interest from punks in Italy than from Exeter.

“…An obvious thing to have done would have been to ask Crass to join the bill at one of their Exeter gigs. Even by 1982, the question simply did not arise. Earlier on, Crass would have, and did, include local bands wherever they played, but that inevitably meant that local bands with no interest in what anarcho-punk was about ended up performing under the Crass banner. Part of Crass’s determination to retain complete control over the performance on any night, meant that the bill was agreed in advance and included only thoroughbred anarcho-punk acts, most if not all already signed to Crass records. Metro Youth or Sanction was simply never asked, and I’m sure that would have been politely but firmly refused even if we’d have had the gall to ask!

“We could have played with Poison Girls in October 1981 in Exeter, but we didn’t find that out until the night of the gig, when they invited us to join the bill — but some of Metro Youth were out of town. We’d asked for the slot before, but talked to the wrong people in Exeter CND and not the organizers. I really regret that we weren’t able do it in retrospect, but we carried out a cracking good interview for ‘Obnoxious’ fanzine with Poisons and Tony Allen before they went on stage. Both Allen and the Poison Girls were excellent that night. There were other possibilities — we traveled to a squat gig in Swindon, but there was no generator for us to use; we had agreed to organize a joint gig with Flux of Pink Indians in Exeter, but the timing didn’t work out; illness forced us to cancel a gig in the north-east at the last minute — so we didn’t have the best of luck.”

In spite of the lack of live gigs, the anarcho community was strong enough for a band like Sanction to become known and make their music available without the benefit of a tour. At the time, there were several bands that never even attempted to perform live. The DIY community was strong enough that Sanction was soon known throughout England as well as internationally.

Rich, “The core activists and enthusiasts of British and European anarcho-punk were all, in one way or another, connected — through the vast web of bands and performers and the interconnections of the fanzine network. Hardly anyone in Exeter knew who we were, but the band was known about in the anarcho-milieu in this country and abroad. We publicized our work through fanzines, contacted people through the mail and had our songs included on DIY tape releases. Mail from ‘Bullshit Detector 2’ continued to come in for Metro Youth for a good couple of years after the release, so we’d write to people about Sanction.

This was how we ended up working, and of the three of us, I had the most interest in following up on all the stuff that was coming in. All of us in the band shared the frustration of not being able to do more, but I know that for Andy and Nigel, there was even less going on with the band because of that. The chance to correspond with fanzine editors in France and Germany about what we were and weren’t up to, felt like a poor compensation for our inability to get out there and do it on our home turf.”

One last hope keeping Sanction going was the possibility of recording for Crass. There had been ongoing discussion of a possible single which, obviously, would have helped their cause greatly. But just as things were looking more and more likely, Crass split up in 1984 ending the bulk of their operations.

Rich, “Talks about doings a single for Crass were pretty serious, as far as I remember them. We last spoke with Penny Rimbaud about it at the 1984 Exeter Crass gig, and sent in a tape of Sanction material, which both Eve and Penny sent us encouraging comments about. I’m reasonably sure that we would have been invited to record one, if Crass had not packed up within a matter of weeks of that gig, at the end of the tour. Andy T, The Alternative and The Snipers all had tracks on ‘Bullshit Detector 1’ and then did singles on the Crass label. Omega Tribe did a single and an album after having a track on ‘Bullshit Detector 2’. It wouldn’t have been an unusual development at all. I’m also sure it could have transformed the situation for Sanction had we been able to do it.”

By 1984, any interest in politically active punk was dead in Exeter. Apathy was the general sign of the times and the creative elements of the anarcho scene had given away to more straightforward hardcore. Even at Crass gigs, there was little interest in the anarchism outside of it being a trend in punk rock entertainment.

Rich, “There really was very little happening in Exeter in terms of anarcho-punk, and not that much in the way of punk more generally, at that time. One of the things that we hoped might come from the Crass gigs was that it would encourage people to get involved in things, and help kick-start a local anarcho-punk scene. At each gig, we arranged to have stalls — things like the local CND group, Exeter Hunt Sabs, Housman’s Bookstall (a political bookshop from London), anti-police powers campaigners, and others, in the hope of getting punks interested and involved in things.

At the 1984 gig, with Crass’ agreement, me and Phil produced a booklet which we gave out to everyone coming into the gig — basically a call to get stuck in to the anti-nuclear struggle raging at the time; to become involved in organizing events like the gig; and to contribute to getting things off the ground in Exeter. We had 600 people at the gig. We didn’t get a single letter or contact in response to the booklet from anyone in Exeter or anywhere else, though there were a lot scrunched up and on the floor by the end of the evening!

That didn’t necessarily mean that people didn’t sign up for CND or Hunt Sabs that night, or contact Crass, but it didn’t do much to improve our sense of isolation and frustration with Exeter. That said, we never considered moving to London. It’s just not something that ever came up. As I said before, anarcho-punk was never just a London phenomenon, and none of us were at all attracted to the idea of living there. I feel the same way about it today. It’s an OK place to stay, but I consider it a foul place to try to live.

The nearest strong punk ‘scene’ that there was by the mid-1980s was in Bristol, but it was based around bands like Disorder and we were never taken with the whole ‘cider punx’ or, later, the ‘Riot City’ culture either!”

The lack of places to play and the lack of recording prospects finally took its toll and Sanction called it quits in August of 1984. Of course, the political and social climate was extremely different in the mid ‘80s and the conservatism of the times certainly had much blame for the situation. The conservative attitudes trickled down and would eventually send the counter-culture into a remission.

Rich, “Devon, where we were, felt beautiful but backward. If you had transport, it was a pretty amazing place to live — with stunning coastline, woods and moorlands all within spitting distance of our house. We lived just ten miles from great beaches and forty minutes from the edge of Dartmoor, and we grew to love that. But the place was an insular and conservative backwater at the same time, totally separated off from where I consider ‘the action’ to be — musically, politically, culturally.

Sanction just wasn’t working, despite all the efforts that we put in to turn that around. We had to give up the house that we had been sharing, and that made it even harder to keep us all involved. By that point in 1984, our frustrations with anarcho-punk had reached a kind of breaking point. In all senses, it felt like time to move on. For myself, I wanted to be more engaged politically, and I wanted to write about politics outside the confines of the fanzine format.

“I applied to join the collective producing Peace News magazine, which was then a fortnightly journal, reporting on and analyzing nonviolent actions of all kinds against the ‘war machine’. Mike Holderness, who was on the staff there, had been in contact with Crass as early as 1979, organizing a gig for them in London and writing the brilliant sleeve essay for ‘Nagasaki Nightmare’, but there wasn’t anybody on the collective who’d come to their politics through anarcho-punk. That was one of the reasons I got the job, I think. Peace News wanted a staff member who knew about and could reflect the voice of that section of their readership that was from that world.

I moved to Nottingham in August 1984, and Nigel returned to college in that September, also in Nottingham. Andy stayed put in Exeter. That marked the end of Sanction. We did talk about organizing a ‘farewell’ Sanction gig in Exeter in July 1984, but, given the reception we were getting from the place, it seemed kind of pointless to us really. Instead, we called it a day with a final mail-out to the people who’d written to us or written about us.”

Despite the frustration, Rich is still politically active and responds positively when thinking back on those times.

Rich, “No, I don’t think it was all ridiculous, but, yes, much of it was ridiculously naïve. It’s important not to overstate how wonderful it all was — some fanzines were shite, many anarcho-bands were worse, many anarcho-punks turned up from the gigs, but would never turn out for the actions, and a lot of the political ideas informing those actions were delusional in the first place.

But I’d want to defend a lot of what went on and what we were involved in too. I’d want to criticize the individualism and the blind pacifism of the movement, its lack of political strategy and its confused priorities. I’d want to point to the chasm, which separated the claims of the movement from the reality of the movement’s work, and much more besides. And yet, at the same time, many of the visions, aspirations and hopes articulated by that movement still seem to me the right ones.

Anarcho-punk wanted to disarm and break the nuclear state, end the alienation of family life and the misery of wage slavery, free the earth of the exploitative parasites who plunder and threaten it, and create a new global human community, able to exist in peace, freedom and equality. You can attack anarcho-punk’s efforts to execute the plan all you want, but I’m reluctant to criticize the sense of ambition! Personally, in the years since Sanction wound up, I’ve kept hold of the anarchism and vegetarianism, and let go of the pacifism.

“As for as Metro Youth and, more so, Sanction go, I think we invested far too many expectations in it, and were constantly disappointed as a result. We could also be over-earnest, self-righteous and indignant about many of the things we did and said — me especially — but that kind of came with the territory, I suppose. But listening again to some of the old recordings, particularly the later Metro Youth ones, and some of the Sanction material we only taped at rehearsals, I am quite impressed by the kinds of things that we were doing and the material we were trying out. Three to four years before that, we really couldn’t carry a note between us.”

The Story Of Kronstadt Uprising

1982 it felt like we could take on the world – I remember when we used to play gigs in this period I’d get very fired up and want to kick over the statues and start the Revolution NOW!”
Steve Pegrum, Kronstadt Uprising

In the spring of 1921, four years after the October Revolution, an insurrection took place near Petrograd at the frozen Gulf of Finland. The lack of food and fuel created unrest in the workers and sailors at Kronstadt, a naval base 50 miles from Petrograd. Strikes throughout Petrograd were met with state violence culminating with gunfire at a meeting of 10,000 workers.

The sailors at Kronstadt, who Trotsky had previously referred to as the “pride and glory of the Russian Revolution”, had formed their own free commune outside the control of the totalitarian state. On March first of that year, they made demands including the end to privilege for certain political parties and the end of Red Army presence at factories and work places.

They demanded an end to monopoly of power maintained by the Bolsheviks and their bureaucracy returning power to the Soviets. The Bolshevik leaders responded by labeling them “counter-revolutionaries” and “mutineers”. Ironically, it was Trotsky who was in charge of repressing the rebellion. He oversaw the formation of a special attack force made necessary by the fact that many of the Red Army refused to fire on their comrades. On March 18th, Trotsky ordered an attack that ended with the slaughter of the “pride and glory of the Russian Revolution”.

That often over-looked moment in the history of the Soviet Union was the inspiration behind the name of the band, Kronstadt Uprising. Formed at the end of 1981, the band became known for their track on the second “Bullshit Detector” compilation on Crass Records. But the band’s roots go back a few years further.

In 1979, Steve Pegrum bought his first drum kit. Inspired by the DIY spirit of punk rock, he did it already with the intention of starting a band. A dedicated fan of pop music and its history, he had grown up around music and was immediately taken by punk rock upon his first introduction to it. Living in Southend-on-Sea would be no obstacle for him.

Steve, “I grew up in a very musical household – my Mother played the piano, my Uncle was a professional Jazz drummer, and there were always parties with various people bringing instruments round and jamming. I remember at 7 or 8 years old thinking it was really cool. Then with the Glam stuff in the early ‘70s – especially David Bowie and T-Rex –I started buying the records with my pocket money and formulating the idea of one day playing on a record myself – it took until 1982, with the release of “Receiver Deceiver” on Bullshit Detector 2- and once I saw the Sex Pistols on “So it Goes” and “Top of the Pops”, within a few days I went straight to Seditionaries, and started ripping things up and my life was beginning. 

In Southend in the ‘70s there was quite a thriving music scene – Dr Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods etc, but by the time the Kronstadt Uprising came to start gigging the scene was a bit stale and needed shaking up a bit. All the old Punk bands like the Machines, etc had folded and a new breath of air was needed.”
His first direct connection to the punk scene was through underground publications of the time. Fanzines in punk culture ranged from gossip and ranting to high journalism. This casual approach to DIY struck a chord with Steve.

Steve, “I’d been reading fanzines since 1977 – my favorite to this day is still Tony D’s excellent Ripped and Torn – primarily because they represented the views of people like myself who felt largely dispossessed by the representation of our music by the national weeklies like Sounds, NME etc. They also would often focus on key geographical areas that I found fascinating and would give an insight into the local scene. For example, in my original home town of Southend-on-Sea there were several titles: The aforementioned Necrology etc, Strange Stories, and Graham Burnett’s legendary New Crimes. The ’zines really did represent true freedom and the spirit of autonomy and were the true embodiment of the Punk D-I-Y ethic.”

Soon, he was getting involved himself, publishing his own homemade fanzine.
Steve, “My first Fanzine was Protégé in 1978, which I then re-launched in 1979 – 1980, running parallel with my other fanzine ‘Slaughter’ which ran from 1979 –80 also. They were mainly pictorially orientated with features on the bigger punk bands of the day. The main fanzine I put together which did quite well – Rough Trade really helped with the distribution etc – was ‘Necrology’ which ran from 1981 – 1982.

It was great fun to do, and concentrated on the newer scene – i.e. Crass, Poisons, etc, but in 1982 I was playing drums in the Kronstadt, playing drums in the Sinyx and doing the fanzine and couldn’t do all three so I stopped the fanzine to concentrate on the bands, and ultimately the Kronstadt Uprising.”

Inspired by his Uncle, Steve had been interested in drums. As a jazz fan, it also showed him that a bandleader didn’t have to be the lead instrumentalist as was the case in most rock bands of the time. But it was seeing Paul Cook on television with the Sex Pistols that convinced him to take the plunge and get a kit and teach himself to play. Soon, he was taking notice of other drummers in the punk scene.

Steve, “I’d seen my uncle playing the drums as a child and was very impressed with the sound and feel he generated. He has been a professional Jazz drummer all his life and is still playing now at 70! Also, all of my family was into music – my dad was into the Big Bands, especially Gene Krupa, and his vibrancy and raw energy really struck a chord with me (I was fortunate to see Buddy Rich a couple of times in the ‘80s). Between the ages of 7 – 12, I’d regularly watch Top of the Pops (in the ‘70s in the UK, the real must see program for teenagers) and I was fortunate to be watching it when it had Alice Cooper, T-Rex, Slade and The Sweet on there regularly. The Sweet and Alice Cooper I especially loved, in Alice Coopers case primarily for his drummer Neil Smith whom I thought was excellent.

The thing that sealed it though was watching The Sex Pistols on “Top of the Pops” performing “Pretty Vacant” in 1977. This changed my life forever – and seeing Paul Cook pound out the rhythm, I knew that was what I wanted to do. Him, Rat Scabies and Topper Headon really set me on my path.”

By the spring of that year, under the pseudonym Cut Throat, he formed Cut Throat and the Razors. Formed with school friends, Chris Davies and Graham Godfrey, on vocals and guitar respectively, they spent the next few months learning their craft. With a haphazard set made up mostly of punk rock cover versions, the band fell apart before the end of the year. But by playing with other people right away, Steve was able to move quickly in terms of skill and understanding of band dynamics.

At the beginning of 1980, Steve and Graham formed a new band with vocalist Nicholas Stocks. Appropriately punk, they decided on the name Bleeding Pyles. Focusing on a set of originals, the band were faced with the daunting task of making a name for themselves amongst the myriad of garage bands popping up around England at the time. Within a few months, this band, too, split leaving Steve to start again.

It was around this time that Steve met Spencer Blake during one of the Easter Bank Holiday Weekend riots between punks and teddy boys. Spencer was a fellow Southend punk fanatic and the two began forming a band using the name Bleeding Pyles.

Settling on Lee Lobb on vocals and Mike Heddon who was known as Spiderman on bass, the band began putting together a set of originals at Dave’s Rehearsal Studio in Southend and rehearsing quite regularly. But after having played only two gigs at the Focus Youth Centre between the summer of ’80 and the spring of ‘81, this line-up also split with Lee and Spiderman losing commitment.

Determined to make the band work, Spencer switched to vocals and Bleeding Pyles recruited Paul Lawson to play guitar and Mick Grant for the bass duties. Rudimentary versions of later Kronstadt Uprising songs, as well as a few tracks lost in time, were developed. Song titles included “Receiver Deceiver”, “Blind People”, “Dealer of Death”, “Necrology”, “Nihilistic Vices”, “Invasion”, “Dreamers of Peace”, “Violent Fear” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth”. But by this point, the original members of the band were losing interest in the band’s initial vision and their musical interests were progressing with the times, although on August 19th, 1981, this line-up made its debut at the Thorpedene Community Centre as the (final version of) Bleeding Pyles.

Steve, “My first band of any note was Cut Throat and the Razors. We really couldn’t play and just generated this noise that we enjoyed, with song titles like “G.B.H.” and “Boot Boys”. The Bleeding Pyles was an ongoing ‘pure punk’ project of mine, with various musicians going through it’s ranks constantly, until the final line up which became Kronstadt Uprising on 1981.”

In 1981, Steve, Spencer and Paul saw the punk scene as being divided into two factions. On the one side was the Oi! movement, which they found to be “repugnant” and wanted little to do with. The other scene was the anarcho scene started with Crass and Flux Of Pink Indians but brought to Southend by local band, The Sinyx.

Steve, “In 1979 I was buying records like the “Feeding of the 5,000” 12” by Crass, The Fatal Microbes, etc and it’s intense minimalism appealed to me. By now I’d been into punk for a couple of years, and a lot of the original bands were starting to fragment, as was the scene itself, and I began to be aware in the fanzines, Sounds, etc of the rise of Crass and began to pay attention. In 1980/1981 I remember myself, along with many other disillusioned punks of the original school found a real home in the Crass, Poison Girls, Flux, Sinyx, Mob scene. They seemed to encapsulate the original spirit we’d seen in The Sex Pistols and The Clash, and given it a new, articulate update and twist…

“It’s hard to describe now, how revolutionary Crass and the Poisons sounded back in ‘79/’80. It was like nothing we’d heard before. I remember a few of us used to have these “Sunday Morning Sessions” at Spencer Blake’s house, where we would blast out all the singles we’d brought the previous afternoon, on his folks’ stereo. I vividly remember how awesome the “Bloody Revolutions” EP was. Truly astonishing. Ditto the first time you heard “Tube Disasters” by Flux. Live the song had been great, but on record it really seemed to explode. There was definitely a sense that something was changing. The paradigm shift in consciousness was occurring.”

Inspired by this new scene (new to them at least), the three re-grouped at Dave’s. Mick Grant had converted to Christianity and that certainly didn’t jive with the band’s new interest in anarchist politics. They recruited would-be Goth, Andy Fisher on bass. More interested in the Sisters Of Mercy and Bauhaus, he helped expand the bands sound from the standard three chord fair. October 2nd, 1981, this line-up made its debut at the Maritime Rooms as The Bleeding Pyles for the last time. Ironically, owing to ‘girlfriend’ problems, Spencer Blake couldn’t make the gig, and Steve’s friend Gary Smith (and future Kronstadt singer) sat in with the band just for the night. Quite a portent of things to come.

Steve, “When Spencer, Myself, Paul and Mick put the final line up of the ‘Pyles together in 1981, it seemed like the band had come full circle, as by now we could vaguely play and were slowly starting to move away from the old ‘pure punk’ style, and wanted a name that reflected our new approach. Also, when Mick left and Andy Fisher came in on Bass, that’s when we really started to discuss a name change, and after much deliberation and with a suggestion by Graham Burnett, decided to call ourselves Kronstadt Uprising. It perfectly encompassed what we were about.”

Drawn to the political element of the anarcho scene as a conduit for the DIY elements of punk that first piqued their interest, the new direction was more than musical. It was through this new interest in anarchist politics that Steve learned about the Kronstadt rebellion.

Steve, “Personally, between ’81 – ’83 I was quite entrenched in the politics of the time, and still retain some of those ideals to this day – much like the original wave punk ideals – pro-creation, anti-ignorance – I think these ideas are still valid. I remember reading a small amount about the Kronstadt Uprising in Russia at school, and then buying a book about it at an anarchist bookshop in Brixton, London. It really inspired me and I certainly felt kinship with their struggle. Around this time, Graham Burnett of New Crimes said it would be a good name for a band, and so after some discussion with the other members, the name was chosen.”

The newly christened Kronstadt Uprising worked feverishly at writing a new set of material driven by their excitement of their new musical / ideological direction. Their new set included the songs “Act of Destruction”, “Charrons Hordes”, “Crucifying Anarchists”, “Divide and Rule”, “Dehumanization”, “End of Part One”, “False Leaders”, “Xenophobia” and a cover version of “Holocaust” originally by Crisis.

Steve, “Crisis had always been one of my favorite punk bands at the time, and Spencer and Paul also really liked them. One day for fun we started messing around with “Holocaust” and it sounded quite good, ‘til ultimately we started playing it live. People used to love the song, and I’d like to think we helped turn a lot of people on to Crisis. I didn’t know them personally, and as for Death in June, I was so into Crisis, I didn’t want to know what they sounded like really in case it was a let down. Various Goth friends over the years always seem to highly praise Death In June. But I have to plead ignorance.”

By November of that year, the band decided to record the songs they had and went up to Elephant Studios at Wapping, London and recorded nine tracks. At the time, overwhelmed by their first recording experience, the band later felt disappointed with the recording feeling that it didn’t at all capture the band’s live energy. Putting it behind them, the band played their first gig as Kronstadt Uprising on December 7th at the Focus Youth Centre.

1982 turned out to be one of the band’s most active years starting off with a slew of gigs earning them a large following in their area. At the insistence of their friends, The Sinyx, the band sent the Elephant Studios recording to Crass. The Sinyx had been featured on the original “Bullshit Detector” compilation and Kronstadt Uprising were picked to be on the second one, released in September of that year.

Steve, “I’d been in touch with Crass through the fanzine/gig scene, and my friends from The Sinyx had been on Volume 1 and suggested I send Crass a copy of the demo that the Kronstadt Uprising had just done. I wasn’t that happy with the recording but gave it to them anyway, and the rest, as they say, is history. “Receiver Deceiver” started life as a Bleeding Pyles song in early 1981, written by Paul Lawson and myself. Although the first time we ever went to a recording studio was just after we’d changed our name to Kronstadt, so it is an official Kronstadt Uprising track.”

The constant gigging helped them build a following. Southend had developed it’s own anarcho community thanks to Kronstadt Uprising and The Sinyx.

Steve, “There was quite a good anarcho scene in Southend at the time – I personally prefer the term ‘punk’ scene if one has to call it something, but anyway. Between ’77 – ’87 there were some great bands – The Vicars (featuring a young Allison Moyet who believe it or not was a belting punk singer), Machines, Eddie and the Hot Rods and the Psychopaths, who collectively were the best of the ’77 – ’79 class, and then from ’79 – 82 you had The Kronstadt Uprising, The Sinyx, The Icons, Autumn Poison, Allegiance to No One, and then ’82 – 87 you had The Prey, Burning Idols, Anorexic Dread and the Armless Teddies. I absolutely loved The Sinyx and Icons (I joined The Sinyx for a while in 1982, and Filf the guitarist with The Icons/Sinyx played in the Kronstadt Uprising in 1983). Also the Burning Idols and The Prey, whom the KU played with a lot, as well as Allegiance and Autumn Poison.”

But despite the momentum, or perhaps because of it, singer Spencer Blake found himself unable to commit to the band. As the band got busier, he decided he needed to leave. Rather than finding a replacement, they decided to carry on as a three piece with Paul doubling as guitarist and singer. Their debut as a three piece was at Heroes in Chelmsford, Essex on June 26th. Though the band lost a few fans over the new vocal style, inertia was on their side. The band had been asked to record a record for Spiderleg Records (owned by Flux Of Pink Indians).

Steve, “If I remember correctly Penny from Crass put us on to Spiderleg because he knew Derek Birkett (MD of Spiderleg) was looking to get some new bands on the label – again we kind of knew them through the scene anyway, and thus in 82 with the help of Colin and Derek (Flux) and John Loder at Southern Studios, where all the Crass stuff was done, we recorded our first EP.”

The resulting record was “Unknown Revolution”. In tune with the music of their inspirations in Crass and Flux Of Pink Indians, the EP is a varied collection of punk songs. The music is raw despite (or maybe because of) big production at Southern Studios. The upbeat songs had hidden elements of melody reminiscent of songs like “I Ain’t Thick Its Just A Trick” or even very early Stiff Little Fingers. Lyrically, the record was also in tune with the times reflecting the nuclear paranoia at the time of Greenham Common and Cruise missiles

Nuclear deterrent ha what a joke
It makes me sick and I wanna choke
Take it away I don’t believe my ears
The only thing that has kept peace for 40 years
Fight for power fight for yourself
Don’t let them put you on the shelf
Ban the bomb they all cry out
So that millions won’t have to die
Do they really understand what they’ve said?
Are there any real thoughts inside their heads?

Other tracks dealt with the topics of corporate greed and cultural alienation.

All the filling is pure offal too
Your rotten flesh not eaten by you
We taste your lies from day to day
Why not go back to the USA?

Auschwitz / Belsen / Dachau / Death
Screaming anarchy on my final breath
Mai Lai / Dresden / Witch Hunts / Death
Screaming rejection on my final breath

The lyrics at this point were as important as the music. Punk rock, for them, had become a way of expressing very simple, but very direct ideas.

Steve, “I’d say between ’81 – 84 they were very important and came as one with the music. I don’t like extremely didactic lyrics or at the other end of the spectrum banal ones, there’s a fine line to get it just right. Some of our best lyrics are on “Xenophobia” and the song “Twilight of Your Idols” (not released). In the ’84 – ’87 era, it was a completely different entity, going back to our punk roots – i.e. the Iggy/Thunders etc influence - and the lyrics were still important, but in a different way. I was very nihilistic at the time and loved the dumb minimalism of The Stooges and in the reverberation of songs like “Dirt” felt that it captured the beat of the Universe.”

The liner notes also included some of the band’s political “agenda” and identity.

In search of the black rose…
The black rose was used as the symbol for freedom during the many peasant uprisings in the middle ages. The black rose does not exist in nature, and the anti-authoritarian peasant rebels symbolized their pursuit of it in much the same way the Christian pursued the Holy Grail. Mankind has yet to find freedom, and when we do we have found the beautiful black rose.”

Though no recording credits are listed on the record, it was recorded under the supervision of John Loder at the 24 track studio Southern.

Steve, “I remember being very nervous as it was an awesome studio, and my drumming at this stage was somewhat ‘rudimentary’ to say the least, but I think the finished result came out ok. For just a 3 piece it sounds quite powerful (Filf hadn’t played on the record, and although he joined just after, he left before it was released, although Andy thought we should put his name on the sleeve anyway) “Blind People” was one of the very first songs we ever played together and we often used to open up a gig with that number, so we put that on first. “Dreamers of Peace” was again an early song we liked, although with Derek and John Loder’s help we did re-arrange it a bit in the studio. “Xenophobia” and “End of Part One” were more recent and again firm live favorites, and they all seemed to gel well as an EP.”

The EP also showcased the great detail and interest the band had in their artwork. Not wanting it to be any sort of a throwaway or an afterthought, they got artists outside of the band involved in creating the cover art.

Steve, “The packaging was very important, as I always believed in presenting a total full-on Kronstadt Uprising – one which you’d always be aware of, through subliminal design/overt design, logos, our banner on stage, badges, flyers etc. My girlfriend of ’83 –’88 (Veda Pond) did a lot of the later Kronstadt Uprising artwork which was brilliant, Ian Hayes-Fry did quite a lot over both eras and did the banner for us, and Celia Biscoe, Kev Hunter from the Flux’s partner, did the actual designs for the EP. Andy Fisher loved the Black Rose so much Celia had drawn, he had a brilliant tattoo made up of it.”

The record was practically a love letter to the anarcho punk scene. It was a great time capsule of what was happening in young, radical England in the early ‘80s.

Steve, “I’d say ’81 – ’84 we definitely were part of the scene, consciously so between, in my opinion, the scenes peak of ’81 – ’83. We would regularly correspond with, play gigs with and generally believe in the whole essence of this period. 1982 it felt like we could take on the world – I remember when we used to play gigs in this period I’d get very fired up and want to kick over the statues and start the Revolution NOW! A highpoint for us was recording the “Unknown Revolution” EP.”

Unfortunately, it would be a year before that record would see the light of day. It was in the middle of all this that “Bullshit Detector 2” was released. In many ways the most well received of the three “Bullshit Detector” comps, it prominently featured Kronstadt Uprising’s “Receiver Deceiver” on the first side.

While a throwback to the band’s first line-up, the track was an upbeat punk number with a memorable chorus. Despite the band’s objection to the production value of the track, it became their most well known and a live favorite. The song itself was a simple condemnation of police violence and it’s cover up in the media.

Guilty copper on the TV screen
He tells lies because the truth is so obscene
Can’t put his dominant reputation at stake
That’s why this program is a fake
Brixton riots, Southall too
It’s their fault but they’ll blame you
They all get together for a mass debate
On how to protect their precious state

A double record set costing roughly $5, the compilation sold in the tens of thousands. The success of the record allowed the band to expand its base of activity and focus on gigs outside of their area, in particularly setting their sites on London. They were soon getting requests for tapes and fanzine interviews from people around the world.

Steve, “The response to our being on “Bullshit Detector 2” was staggering – we were getting mail form all over the world, fanzines were tripping over themselves to speak to us, hear other tracks etc – it really had a far reaching affect. It’s ironic really because it was our first ever recording, Paul the guitarist’s distortion pedal wasn’t working, Andy had been in the band about 3 days, so technically it’s far from us at our best, but I guess it does represent something and people seemed to like it.”

The release of this compilation further reinforced the connection between scenes. The Southend anarcho scene now felt validated and it created a new momentum in the scene.

At the beginning of 1983, the band filled out their line-up adding Filf (Nick Robinson late of the Icons and the Sinyx) on second guitar. Steve had also been busy moonlighting with the Sinyx on drums.

Steve, “A load of us from Southend, in 1981 – 1984, would regularly go to all the Crass, Poison, Flux, Subhumans and Mob gigs in London. London was only 30 miles away from Southend so it was easy to get there. I remember the Zigzag club squatted gig of 1983 being a high point of the scene – in one day seeing The Mob, Amebix, Flux, Poisons and Crass.

Also the Centro Iberico was really cool and it felt like we’d all achieved something. The Kronstadt Uprising did play London a fair amount, especially at one point with Hagar the Womb, and by and large they’d be great gigs, but even in the ‘Anarcho‘ scene that were was a lot of back biting and pettiness which used to annoy me somewhat, which is why we would often organize our own gigs in London, supply other bands to play with us sometimes bring alternative Poet friends of ours etc and at one point we had quite a Kronstadt Uprising collective going on.”

But the strain of constant gigging was starting to take its toll on the band. They were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the anarcho scene and tired of being pigeonholed. After headlining a gig marred by technical problems and skinhead hassles, the band decided to take a needed vacation to reassess their situation.

Steve, “In terms of being labeled an ’anarcho’ punk band, I was quite unhappy because it seemed to the easy option for people in the mass media to compartmentalize us and simultaneously try to limit the movement by defining it, which I was against. To me the core nexus was always punk, pure and simple. Initially we always wore all black, in order to reflect our nihilism and to present a strong unified visual force. Latterly, with Goth-Glam influences, this obviously had an effect too, and led to a strong but different image also.”

During this time period Filf split the band, as did Paul for a short time. But eventually he rejoined returning the band to their three-piece line-up. By the end of the year, they were playing together again, though this time determined to play the type of punk rock they had loved from the start. Rediscovering their love for The Heartbreakers, The Lords of the New Church and Hanoi Rocks, the band created a raunchy punk rock-n-roll style despite the September release of “Unknown Revolution”.

Steve, “The first single, although recorded in 1982, owing to various label problems, wasn’t issued until 1983, by which time we’d moved on and didn’t really take advantage of the publicity. We were more concerned with writing new songs and recording them – songs from this period (late ’83 – early 84) would be “The Knife”, “The Day After”, “New Age”, and “Battlecry”, etc. Some out of town gigs were great for us – especially in the New Towns like Harlow and Basildon, London was always good – although some places we were met with complete incomprehension and indifference.”

Other songs from that line-up included “Insurrection”, “Soldiers of Fortune”, “Complacency Kills (Parts one and Two)”, “Final Solution”, “Decadence”, “Animal Liberation”, “Strings of Falsehood”, “What Price”, “Twilight of the Idols”, “Live for Today”, “I Don't Wanna Live Your Way Today”, and “The White Room”.

This new direction for the band caught more than a few folks offguard. Expecting the standard peace punk fair of “Receiver Deceiver”, some audiences were left bewildered at their live gigs.

Steve, “Around late ’83 when we began to move away a bit from the “Unknown Revolution” EP sound, I think some people weren’t sure about the newer material and would still expect us to play “Receiver Deceiver” all the time. So yes, it was a bit hard at first, but then people began to slowly accept it, and by the time of the second single with the new line up, it was almost an entirely different audience. The second single had appalling distribution, and thus didn’t get very far, so fifteen years later it’s good to get it out on CD with better distribution at last. (Note: one of my personal Kronstadt Uprising favorite songs – “Live for Today” – was recorded at that session for the single but was never issued until the aforementioned CD).”

By 1984, the band had a new sound and a new set of songs. They decided to get back in the studio early that year. They recorded a full set of material at their rehearsal space and made two trips to Pet Sounds studio in London. By the time they had finished recording, the band felt that they had reached their creative limitations in that format. Besides, Steve was getting ready for his “A” Levels, Paul was about to marry and Andy wanted to do some traveling without the benefit of a band in tow. On the 5th of March in 1984, they played their last gig together with the Lost Cherees at the Old Queens Head in Stockwell, London.

For the next year, Steve focused on finishing his “A” Levels, starting up a dance club called The Taste Experience, and playing in a psychedelic band called The Children Of The Revolution. But soon he regained his desire to play in a punk rock band. By the summer of 1984, he had pulled together a new version of the Kronstadt Uprising featuring original vocalist, Spencer Blake back on vocals along with Spencer’s brother, Murray, on guitar and Steve’s college friend, Stuart Emmerton, on bass.

Soon, however, Spencer’s lack of commitment again led him to be quickly replaced by Gary Smith (ex-The Get) and the band proceeded to build a new set mixing songs from the previous line-up like “Live For Today” and “The Knife” along with new material that they were fiercely working at writing.

In April of 1985, the band went into the recording studio to document some of what they had been writing. Away from London, the band recorded at Diploma Studios in Wickford, Essex. The resulting three songs were enough to impress Ian Cox of Dog Rock Records. Mutually financed, the result was the band’s second single, “Part Of The Game”.

The record, while maintaining the rawness of their previous single, was really a completely different entity. The band’s new punk rock persona definitely had more structural similarities to blues based rock n roll. In it’s own right, it’s an exciting punk record that needed to be respected: to record a totally raw guitar based punk record in 1985 certainly showed the band had no interest in the commercial trappings of the musical mainstream of the time.

Steve, “The love of my life musically was always that real blistering punk / R'n'R, as epitomized by The Stooges, Social Distortion, Pistols, Dead Boys, Heartbreakers, Ramones, etc and original Kronstadt Uprising members Spencer and Paul felt the same. However, at the beginning of the Kronstadt Uprising, we could barely play our instruments, and for myself I’d say it wasn’t ‘til 1985 that I began to get any vague idea of what to do, so it wasn’t ‘til then that musically I could translate my ideas into songs, which came out with that raw sound. Also I’d say that after various let downs, hassles and general disillusionment with some of the more didactic elements of the anarcho scene, it encouraged us in late ‘83 and early ‘84 to see the reemergence of Johnny Thunders, Ramones etc and this did bring us back to our roots and simultaneously take us off in a new direction. I understand that for people who only like the ’81-’82 Kronstadt Uprising era of “Blind People”, “End of Part One”, that the latter stuff may not be quite up their street, which is fair enough, but I do feel it stands up in it’s own right.”

Despite these concerns and abysmal distribution, the record was well received for the most part. The fact that the record wasn’t completely embraced by the anarcho scene that embraced “Unknown Revolution” probably has to do with the fact that by the mid-‘80s, the anarcho scene was very different. While some areas continued to develop, other areas had collapsed and the initial excitement of the scene had certainly been tempered.

Although the band had taken on a new musical direction associated with rock n roll excess, Kronstadt Uprising was still true to their name and operated under the same value system as they had since the start.

Steve, “In terms of our original Punk inspired DIY ideals, absolutely. The second single was independent financed, most of our gigs were self organized; we’d go out of our way to help other bands, so yes we certainly lived that ethos. Lyrically it did evolve/change as I mentioned earlier – and some members of the later line up were not so politically motivated, so obviously this had an effect, but overall, I’d pretty much say that in terms of core ideals we stuck to our beliefs, although again I’d understand that anyone seeing pictures of us now might find it incongruous seeing this glam-punk image with biting lyrics – but hey that’s what we were about!”

The release of the single garnered the band more positive press and opened even more doors for them.

Steve, “In Southend we would get excellent press, even nationally sometimes in Sounds and NME, although the best press would be in the fanzines of the time, like “Final Curtain” and “Obituary”. Once “Bullshit Detector” came out, we started to get featured in magazines all over the world, do radio features in Europe etc. The “Unknown Revolution” EP consolidated this. I moved to London in 1985, and Stuart the bass player did likewise in 1986, and consequently we featured in a lot more publications at the time.

In Southend people seemed to regard us as some kind of seminal punk band, and right up until the split audiences there would always encourage us. The area had always had an active music scene, and if its known for nothing else it should be respected for giving Dr Feelgood a forum and helping them establish a fertile land that sowed the seed for the Pistols et al.”
The band celebrated the release of this record by playing their first gig on May 3rd at the Basildon Roundacre. By now, the supporters of the band had time to let the new style sink in and were more in tune with what the band were doing. This new sound also led to a new audience of like-minded music fans attracted to the style of the Heartbreakers and the Dead Boys.

Shortly after the gig, the band recruited guitarist, Kevin De Groot into their ranks from an ad in a local music store. Influenced by both Hendrix and a lot of goth, he added a new dimension with his more technical solo work. Again, the band rushed out to document this new direction for the band and recorded a new demo, this time at Real Time in London. The new five-piece line-up made its debut at the Monico in Canvey Island, Essex on September 10th. The band spent the rest of the year in a more rigorous schedule of live dates.

Steve, “The first era of the band (’81 – ’84) only really played gigs we either organized ourselves or were with sympathetic punk bands, like Fallout (ex-Six Minute War), Hagar the Womb, Lost Cherees, Nightmare, etc The second era would play with different bands such as The Bollock Brothers or Malice, but again we’d often try and play with various friends bands and present a unified front, like when we’d play with the Burning Idols.”

Some of the songs they were playing at that point included “Suicide”, “What Are You Gonna Do”, “Looking For You”, “Hold Me Back”, “Stay Free”, “Watch Me”, “Something Going On”, “Running”, “Chasing My Angel” and “Vietnam Blues”.

The band now had a steady flow of gigs and was working hard to expand its musical palette. But with Steve now living in London, it was getting harder and harder to practice. With no prospect of a label to release any more recordings, the band began to disintegrate. The first to split the band was rhythm guitarist Murray Blake in the summer of ’86. He was soon followed by their vocalist, Gary Smith, that fall. After spending a year auditioning new singers and occasionally rhythm guitar player, Kevin left the band effectively ending Kronstadt Uprising for good.

Steve, “I was the only original member throughout the second line up –I so believed in the songs and the things we were writing especially in ’84, that when Paul and Andy wanted to split the band in ‘84, I was determined to carry it on and put a new line up together, which I did. The second line up was pretty constant, from ‘84 – ‘86, until Murray then Gary Left, and then in 87 I’d had enough of trying to constantly hold the band together, so when Kev said he’d had enough after us not finding a new singer, I agreed and we called it a day. I think, after Gary Smith left in late ’86 and through the bands dissolution in late ’87, if we’d found a new singer we would have changed the name, as it would have been a completely different band.”

By this point, Kronstadt Uprising had been through five line-ups in five years. Though many ex-members went on to other musical projects, the list still looks like a body count. Steve, oddly enough, seems to be the only one to come through mostly un-scathed.

Steve, “Andy and Paul spilt the first line-up of the band – there was some slight animosity but that was cleared up fairly soon afterwards. The second line up split was a slow disintegration – Murray left in 1986 due to a bad drugs problem, Gary in late 1986 for reasons only he knows, and finally Kev left in 1987 after a fruitless year of looking for singers, at which point Stuart and I said enough is enough and stopped too.

A year later we returned with neo-glam/punk band The Ghosts of Lovers. Kev went solo under the name The Misanthrope for a couple of years. Murray went on to play bass in Sonic Violence in the early ‘90s and did quite well with them. Gary didn’t do anything. From the first era, Spencer played briefly in a couple of rehearsal only bands and helped form Sonic Violence, Paul Lawson didn’t really do anything, Mick Grant became a Christian, and Filf hung up his guitar. Andy Fisher played guitar in Anorexic Dread for a bit before roady-ing for the Cure, and moving to the States, where he now lives in Cincinnati.

I’m still as obsessed as ever with raw, burning rock and roll/punk, still love Social Distortion/Johnny thunders and Stiv Bators, and so after the KU I played in The Ghosts of Lovers, Nicotine and Razorblades and The Hearts of darkness. After a three year lay off due to the death of my father and my close friend Guy Bourseau and a protracted period of traveling in Central America, I am now writing songs again, and in Feb 2001, for the first time in 12 years, I began recording a few demos, with the help of Kevin de Groot, the KU-second era guitarist. Once I get a line up together for my new band, we’ll start playing immediately.”
Years later, Steve still happily reflects back on the band. The few regrets or missed opportunities are minor in the long run.

Steve, “Overall I’m fairly pleased with what we achieved. I do wish we’d been able to play outside of the UK, and maybe released an album at the time of Unknown Revolution ep quality of some of our ‘lost’ songs such as Insurrection, Act of Destruction etc, but hey, with the release on Overground last year of the KU retrospective ‘Insurrection’, at least a few things are out there. It’s mainly demos on the CD, but at least there is a record of some of our experiments. So highs would be: The first gig, playing on a stage, people listening to us and giving us respect, Bullshit Detector (my copy arrived on my 17th birthday), the Unknown Revolution ep, the London gigs in 1982, and the final farewell Southend gig in 1986.

Most of all I’m pleased with any sense of inspiration that we left, and the sense that anyone could do it, just get up there and kick out the Jams!

“I think that Crass, etc certainly contributed to the reemergence of serious protest in the ‘80s i.e. CND/Animal Aid etc, as well as encouraging the traveling lifestyle and the sense of self-empowerment. I think most of the best bands of this period provided a much needed forum for debate, and acted as a cipher for the anger felt against an anachronistic old world order, as personified in the Thatcher-Reagan years. Finally, yes, I would be the first to admit that some of the music was a bit naïve in places, however, it shouldn’t be forgotten how GREAT the following records, and many others of the period, actually were:

Crass - Feeding of the 5,000
Poison Girls - Where’s the Pleasure
Flux/Epileptics - Everything ‘till 1983
Mob - Let the tribe Increase
Sinyx - Everything ‘till 1983

“Because in 1000 years times, as artifacts of an era, I think these will stand up far more so than whatever the mainstream had to offer. All power to the imagination!”