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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Anarcho-Punk as Militant Liberalism Part Two 1995

Anti-Criminal Justice Bill Hyde Park 1994

This is a longer critique of anarcho-punk than the Anarchist Workers Group one posted in Part One. However it also describes anarcho-punk as ‘militant liberalism’.

The following is only part of a much longer article which has as its main focus a discussion and critique of opposition to the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act- the one famous for its attempt to make ‘repetitive beats’ illegal. The VERY full text from Aufheben 4 March 1995 can be read here

Read from today’s perspective, there is an interesting absence from the full article- neoliberalism. If written today, a section like this on Tony Blair would include a reference to neoliberalism. However it was not until David Harvey's 'A Brief History of Neoliberalism' was published in 2005 that the history of the recent past became the history of neoliberalism.

It has taken 15 years in opposition for the Labour Party to respond to the dictatorship of finance capital by planning to scrap the traditional commitment to nationalization. During those 15 years the party has swung to the right, recognising that if it is to win an election it will have to satisfy City analysts that it is capable of imposing as harsh a monetary regime as its opponents. This process has reached its logical conclusion with the election of Tony Blair as leader and his plans to reassure the bankers that his party does not even have a semblance of a commitment to the type of fiscal regime which would allow the diversion of surplus value into loss making nationalized industries and public services.

And the ‘question of Europe’ has now taken centre stage. The marginalized are now immigrants, welfare scroungers and the disabled rather than punks, travellers, ravers and road-protestors.

 Despite the ditching of the 'petty nationalist' Thatcher, the Conservative Party is still divided over the question of Europe: the problem of class rule in the new economic reality of global finance capital…The problem they face which seems to be defying any easy resolution is simply the need to impose austerity, the need to attack the gains of an entrenched working class, without destroying the fragile Conservative social consensus represented by the 'Essex Man' phenomenon. With the dream of a property-owning democracy sinking into the nightmare of debt, the consensus is rapidly becoming unravelled, but UK plc cannot retreat. 
What better tonic than a good old attack on those firmly outside of the deal, the marginalized, whose exclusion the Conservative deal was predicated upon, to stiffen up resolve in the ranks for those attacks which threaten to recompose the class. But even such an apparently uncomplicated weapon has been threatening to blow up in the faces of those trying to use it. 

Aufheben’s 1995 critique of anarcho-punk

b) No Future:
Given the close relationship between alternative lifestyles and music, and the importance of music in providing something concrete within which value can invest itself in its repeated search for a new generation of consumers, the word 'alternative' needs to be treated with a degree of caution.

 Nevertheless, not all youth cultures are the same. Some contain more or less positive tendencies than others, a greater or lesser potential for recognizing the contradictions inherent in the phenomenon and developing a practical critique of their grounding. And all 'alternative' lifestyles are by definition outside of the remit of the usual forms of political representation.

Music was in a moribund state in the mid 1970s. The musicians of the '68 generation had become tired and boring, the naive optimism of hippydom out of tune with the harsh realities of ongoing class conflict. No amount of lustre or glitter on the stage sets of glam rock could disguise the fact that all was not well in the (music) factory, and it was obvious that the new subjects of struggle required new overtures.

And as Callaghan declared his intention to launch the war of austerity in 1976, a different declaration of war was beginning to reverberate through distorted amplifiers in the back rooms and basements of London: the declaration of war on 'society' by punk. Punk was able to articulate the frustrations of the new generation. But in comparison to the wave of youth revolt in Italy, both inside and outside of the factories, punk was only a caricature of revolt, superficial nihilism.

Punk was inherently contradictory. Central to it was the 'DIY' ethos, but it lacked an explicit critique of the commodity-form. This lack of critique allowed self-valorization to give way to recuperation, giving a long overdue kick up the backside to the entrepreneurs involved in the 'youth culture' industry.

The shops of King's Road and Carnaby Street testified to the process of turning rebellion into money, shelves laden with designer bondage trousers, studded leather, mass-produced 'Destroy' and 'Vive La Revolution' t-shirts, and badges. But the recuperative powers of these new commodities were not without limit.

 For the punks that had taken the mocking lyrics of their anti-heroes seriously, the sight of all this commodity capital awaiting realization, and the selling out to major labels of the biggest bands, was an insult they could not leave unanswered. They realized that 'the great rock and roll swindle' had in fact been perpetrated on them.

Perhaps the most important point, however, is the fact that selling an image of revolution to keep would-be revolutionaries from the real thing requires that they have the necessary purchasing power. And many of the working class youth attracted to punk were on the dole and therefore skint. The time was right for a sub-genre to emerge from all this shit to explicitly politicize the DIY ethos that punk stood for.

c) Anarcho-Punk:
'Do you believe in the system? Well OK. I believe in anarchy in the UK'. These words from the release of the first Crass record on their own non-profit making label were accompanied by the words 'Pay no more than £2'. If you still had to pay for your anarchy at least it was affordable! Crass had the means to release their own cheap records, play cheap gigs, and promote other bands who shared their ethos.

 The anarcho-punk scene soon became a vibrant alternative to the punk scene it declared dead. The anarchism of the typical anarcho-punk was however little more than militant liberalism. Crass had their roots in the old peace movement, and largely ignoring the harsh realities of class warfare in the world outside their commune, set about promoting the ideas of pacifism and lifestyle politics.

Offensive though many of their dogmas were, the anarcho-punks must be judged not just by the lyrics they sang along to, but, crucially, by what they actually did.

During the early 1980s, the main political focus for the new breed was the CND demonstrations which drew hundreds of thousands of concerned liberals to Hyde Park on a yearly basis. Grouping under a collection of black flags the anarchos would hand out leaflets and fanzines encouraging personal revolution and then heckle the speakers and try to storm the stage.

As numbers swelled, the anti-militarist struggle was taken into the heart of enemy territory with the Stop The City actions when banks and rollers would get smashed under the cover of a pacifist carnival. The obsession with lifestyle politics, however, was a major factor hindering the development of the 'movement', making links with those who didn't fit problematic, as would become apparent during the miners' strike.

Far too many anarchos simply changed their clothes, diet, drugs and musical tastes, deluding themselves that by doing so they were creating a new world within the belly of the old which would wither away once it recognized its comparative existential poverty.

But most of the criticisms of lifestyle politics, then and now, were and are mere defences by militants prepared to accept the continual deferral of pleasure in favour of the 'hard work' of politics. The desire to create the future in the present has always been a strength of anarchists.

 How one lives is political. Thus the anarchos may be considered to have constituted a political movement seeking social reproduction unmediated by wage labour.
In 1980 Crass played the Stonehenge festival and a close link with the free festival scene subsequently evolved. Likewise the anarchos gave a massive impetus to the squatting scene left over from the 70s.

By the mid 1980s, virtually every town in England and Wales had its squats. Bands were formed, venues either squatted or hired dirt cheap (church halls and the like which meant no bar - take your own home-brew) and gigs organized, often benefits which would succeed in raising money despite cheap entry because the bands would play for next to nothing.

During the summer months much of this activity would shift on to the free festival circuit, meeting up with those who had chosen to spent the whole year travelling between peace camps and festivals, and who in turn would benefit from the links with the urban scene (news, contacts, places to rest and repair, opportunities for fraud etc.).

This scene was particularly well organized, and more politicized, in the cities. On Bristol's Cheltenham Road, the Demolition Ballroom, Demolition Diner, and Full Marx book shop provided a valuable organizational focus, with the activities of the squatted venue and cafe supplemented by the information and contact address of the lefty book shop. Brixton squatters not only had their own squatted cafes, creches and book shop, but also Crowbar their own Class War style squatting oriented paper.

Strong links were forged with the squatting movement on the continent, particularly Germany, and draft dodgers from Italy were regularly encountered. And with direct communication supplemented by the then fortnightly Black Flag, a couple of phone calls and a short article could mobilize numbers in solidarity with other struggles.

Whilst the anarcho-punk scene created a not insignificant area of autonomy from capital, such autonomy was always disfigured by the continued existence of exchange relations. Going to gigs and eating in squat cafes, even brewing your own beer to share with mates, all required money. And free festivals, whilst standing in stark contrast to the commercialism of Glastonbury, were anything but - there was no entry fee and no-one would let you starve if you were skint, but drugs in particular cost money.

Unless you wanted to cloud your relationships, obscuring lines of solidarity and friendship by becoming a dealer, if only to cover your own dope requirements, money remained a problem. There was always a correspondence between the satisfaction of needs and the need for money, a correspondence that contradicted the professed desire to abolish the filthy stuff.

d) Fragmentation of anarcho-punk:
This contradiction partially explains the subsequent fragmentation and decline of the anarcho-punk squatting/travelling movement. On the one hand, the state relaxed credit restrictions, abandoning tight monetary policy, producing the credit-fuelled boom which preceded the 1987 stock market crash.

This led to a rapid fall in the number of jobless. Many previously involved with organizing in and around the squatting scene got jobs during the boom, and whilst many remained living in squats (to stay with friends and save on rent), momentum was being lost. Individualism tended to replace a collective approach to social problems, as wage earners and dealers could afford to accept the position money held within the scene. The carrot of the boom, however would not have had the same impact without the repeated blows with the stick of state repression.

With unemployment falling, it became easier for the state to make the benefit system more punitive. The changes in 1987 and 1988 certainly increased the disciplining role of the welfare state, thereby throwing down a gauntlet to the lifestyle of work-rejection. Benefits for 16 and 17 year olds were scrapped in favour of an extension of YTS slave labour, thereby removing the possibility of work avoidance (except by begging) for the young school leavers who had always been central to the movement.

The introduction of the Job Training Scheme and the availability for work requirements also had an effect. Restart interviews were easy enough for most people sufficiently clued up to blag their way through, but tended to encourage people to rely on their own wits. Because these changes were ultimately divisive, they encouraged people to look after number one. Attempts to organize against them were met with responses that expressed a distinct lack of solidarity, and this reflected not only the nature of the attack but also the divisions that had emerged within the scene.

The biggest causes of such fragmentation were the smashing of the miners and printworkers on the one hand and the repression of the festival scene on the other. The anarchism of the anarcho-punk scene was always pretty incoherent, a militant liberalism that sought to destroy the state yet which was committed to pacifism. Within the movement there would be differences, some placing greater emphasis on non-violence or animal rights, some more committed to a revolutionary class position.

For a while these underlying differences could be glossed over, and whilst people could argue about the 1981 riots, for example, it was just talk. But the miners' strike presented a major challenge by its longevity and opportunity for involvement, one that caused underlying differences to surface with a resultant divergence between those who dismissed the miners as violent macho men performing an ecologically unsound activity, and those who, despite a certain amount of confusion, recognized that there was a war going on and, whatever it was about, they had to choose the violence of the pickets over that of the state's thugs.

Most anarchos supported the miners, even if such support was not of a particularly practical nature, though bands like Crass and Poison Girls and numerous others played benefits for the miners to give some material assistance. The resultant defeat therefore had a demoralizing effect on the anarcho-punk scene.

The same conflict between liberalism and class struggle anarchism came to the fore with the Wapping dispute the following year. The movement was divided between those who saw the need to support the printworkers and those who dismissed them as sexist, racist, homophobic macho men. However even amongst those more sympathetic to the former view were some who argued that it was better that pickets got trampled by police horses than horses get broken legs by pickets rolling marbles under their hooves.

The defeat of the printworkers was another demoralizing factor, but also one which accelerated the process of fragmentation. The inherent contradiction in the movement led to a substantial parting of ways, one pole devoting itself almost exclusively to the moral crusade of animal lib and many of those they fell out with getting so fed up with lifestylism that they joined one of the national anarchist organizations.

Meanwhile those who had been more attracted to travelling than squatting or political activity were being put under severe pressure. The Stonehenge festival was banned in 1985, and the determined attempt to defy the ban was met with a response not unlike that experienced by the miners, culminating in the famous 'Battle of the Beanfield'.

The following year the state brought in the Public Order Act, section 13 of which established a 4 mile radius exclusion zone around the stones. Other sections gave new powers to proscribe demonstrations and extended the law against trespass. The former were successfully challenged on the streets of London by the Campaign Against The Public Order Act/Campaign Against Police Repression; but whilst many travellers have battled bravely in adverse conditions, the police have been able to use section 39 to intimidate and harass them, continually moving them on.

Travelling and free festivals continued, but, with the loss of the weeks-long Stonehenge focus, went into something of a decline. The police-benefit festival at Glastonbury, extortionately priced but affordable to those now working, mopped up. And before they were successfully excluded in recent years, convoys of travellers used to gatecrash it (literally), with many others bunking in, and so the new reality was gradually accepted, particularly as the 'unfree' festivals were full of punters waiting to be parted from their cash.

The nomadic dream of rural idyll gradually gave way to the reality of being moved from noisy lay-by to squalid car park, with decent sites often blocked off by farmers and local councils. As the links with squatters and politicos became more distanced, so the mysticism of the 60s hippies, aided by reminiscence of the magical stones now out of reach, took further hold, alongside cynicism.

 Alienation from capitalist society increasingly expressed itself through alcoholism and heroin addiction, bringing new problems to deal with or run away from. Ghettoization increased, with the 'you've had a bath so you must be a cunt' mentality increasing.

Whilst the late 80s witnessed a decline in the anarcho-punk phenomenon, it did not disappear. The Poll Tax riot demonstrated that the anger of the punks only needed an invitation to riot to stop it being internalized and bitterly misdirected. And despite all the repression since 1985, the loss of direction, supportive links, and ghettoization, a significant travelling scene survived to see the psychedelic cavalry arrive in 1992.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Anarcho-Punk as Militant Liberalism Part One

Stop the City 1983
In 2008 I found and posted a critique of anarcho-punk written by the Anarchist Workers Group in 1989. The same  post included this short section from a critique of anarcho-punk published in 1995 by Aufheben magazine.

The anarcho-punk scene soon became a vibrant alternative to the punk scene it declared dead. The anarchism of the typical anarcho-punk was however little more than militant liberalism. Crass had their roots in the old peace movement, and largely ignoring the harsh realities of class warfare in the world outside their commune, set about promoting the ideas of pacifism and lifestyle politics. 

The Anarchist Workers Group also described anarcho-punk as ‘militant liberalism’.

I discovered these critiques via Ben Franks book ‘Rebel Alliances-the Means and Ends of Contemporary British Anarchisms’ published by AK Press in 2006.

The Anarchist Workers Group are described on  page 83.

The Anarchist Workers Group membership never rose above 20 and its influence was further reduced, partly as a result of taking sides with the Iraqi dictatorship during the 1991 Gulf War. As if to conform to its critics' accusations of incipient Bolshevism, several of its members joined the Revolutionary Communist Party.

I don’t know how many members the Aufheben collective have, but as a Marxist -academic group based in Brighton, probably not many more. See Part Two of this post for the Aufheben critique of anarcho-punk.

Anarchism in the Thatcher Years -extract- published August 1989

For the first time in years, the start of the decade saw a real increase in the number of people referring to themselves as anarchists. This growing movement of mainly young people was in no small way influenced by the rock group 'Crass' and the imitators they spawned. Their "anarchy and peace" agit-prop was in part inspired by the "do-it yourself" ethos of the punk-rock explosion, and in part hankered back to the pacifistic "alternative lifestyle" tradition that had become a major facet of what passed for the British anarchist movement in the previous 20 years.

Anarchism has always had, to varying degrees, its liberal wing. This is partly because terms bandied around by anarchists, such as anti-authoritarian, freedom and justice, are in themselves meaningless and open to a wide range of interpretations when divorced from their specifically anarchist context: the day to day realities of class society, and an understanding of capitalism and why and how it should be smashed. Going right back to the days of the First International. there were those anarchists who in contrast with Bakunin (1)

"Abandoned the field of struggle of the working class in favour of a particular form of radicalised liberalism."

In Britain in the 1980s anarchism was still tightly in the grip of a rot that set in during the heyday of the l950's peace movement. Many rank and file anti-nuclear activists (7% of the movement during 1958-65(2)) disillusioned with limitations, in terms of politics, leadership and strategy, of the CND adopted anarchism: in part as a reaction to this, and often not fully aware of the political legacy behind their new label, confusing anarchism "with a more militant liberalism" (3). Their confusion was not helped by the sectarianism of the existing - and increasingly isolated - anarchist movement who made little effort to provide a political lead or a class perspective to the new 'anarchists'.

Living in a state of blissful ignorance of class struggle, they promoted their ideas in "Freedom", "Anarchy Magazine" and "Peace News", taking on board and developing the ideas of pacifism, personal liberation and alternative lifestyle. The "punk anarchy" of Crass and their camp was but a continuation of this: a dressed up version of militant liberalism with electric guitars and a brand new haircut, but the same tired face

But it did catch on, striking a chord with the disaffected, young rebels - without a cause but on the look out for one. The small groupings of class - struggle anarchists "active" in the early 1980's repeated the mistakes of the l950's by failing to acknowledge - let alone give a lead to - the new generation who were left to their own devices to "reinvent" "anarchy". In this case it meant inventing a loose, anti-statist pacifist "movement" that left the theory question of class conflict to the trots, instead proclaiming that

"Anarchists believe that if each individual can learn to act out of conscience, rather than greed, the machinery of power will collapse." (Penny Rimbaud, 4)

The small groupings that started to spring up around the country responding to Crass's challenge were soon to be seen on CND demos clustered around their ragged black flags and handing out their leaflets and fanzines, telling the world;

"Don't give in to the authorities, make them give in to you" (5)

but never quite managing to go so far as to suggest a way that this awesome task might be achieved.

In some of the literature of the time, however, the way forward for anarchists was spelled out a bit more clearly. And reading it, you would be forgiven for believing that the anarchist movement was less a political current, more a bizarre religious cult:

"to give back to life what we have taken from it ... understand the seasons, the weather, the soil .. reject the grey filth and shit" (Penny Rimbaud ,6).

It seems there was quite an obsession with shit. Stripping away the mystical nonsense we are left with naked personal politics: the revolution begins - and ends - within. There are, for those whose imaginations have perhaps been tainted by years of dealing with the "grey filth" some useful practical examples of how this discovery of self can be put into practise. And it's the classic lifestylist romanticism of a small band of worthy converts struggling to build the society within the shell of the old with:

"housing co-ops or communes ... gardening groups to squat and farm disused land ... and grow medicinal herbs to cure each others headaches " (Penny Rimbaud, 7)

All very commendable and laudable stuff, but about as revolutionary and "anarchist" as sharing your last Rolo with someone you love. Of course there is nothing wrong with being nice to your mates and eating a lot of organic garlic, the danger was that this was substituted for the more pressing and difficult task of developing and testing out a coherent and workable revolutionary strategy that could win people over to the struggle against capitalism. Bakunin asserted that:

"the serious realisation of liberty, justice and peace will not be possible while the majority of the population remains dispossessed. (8)

However, the punk anarchists hadn't cottoned on to this, and busily sought personal solutions to social problems. Therefore, the groups were little more than consciousness-raising rap groups existing in navel gazing isolation from the real world, helping their participants along on the quest for personal purity.

The movement in the early eighties displayed the worst kind of elitism - the politics of "if everyone was like me wouldn't the world be a wonderful place." The concept of working class mass self-activity didn't get a look-in because there was no understanding - or will to understand the class nature of society. In fact the working class categorised as "grey-nobodies", as people who were:

"in their willingness to bow down to authority ... the real fascist threat." (Penny Rimbaud, 9)

So count out the working class in terms of having any positive role to play in fighting. The action to be taken - aside from changing your own life - was to be taken by the anarchists on behalf of the class and amounted to little more than adventurism and propaganda by deed:

"jam up the locks of banks and of with superglue or cut down fences around government installations ... sabotage operations at work." (1Penny Rimbaud, 10)

Aside from that, ever living for kicks you'd be more likely to find an anarchist a on a hunt sab than a picket line, at a free festival than a march against deportations, advocating shoplifting than fighting cuts in welfare provisions. After all, we're trying to get away from the grey filth and we mustn't forget that:

"boredom is counter-revolutionary militants are people for whom boredom is part of the struggle and being miserable and downtrodden is part of the revolution. (11)

This phase of modern day anarchism had its swan song in the "Stop the City" demonstrations in 1983-4. These were mass demonstrations of anarchists. pacifists and other members of the counterculture that took place in the City of London with the aim of closing it down for the day.

Little attempt was made to broaden them beyond the lifestyle ghetto and although they received national media coverage. they were not much more than adventures of the same type as the beloved super gluing expeditions. albeit on a larger scale. They were a spectacle, and a substitute, for the hardwork of building and organising the fightback, and there were those in the anarchist movement who were beginning to recognise this:

"If we are to build a meaningful anarchist movement we have to go beyond Stop Business as Usual and be prepared to argue our case in the workplace and the community." (12)

The start of the upheaval that transformed the movement in Britain was the great Miners Strike of 1984-5 where the anarchist movement was forced to test its ideas out against a backdrop of genuine struggle. Those who did. found contemporary anarchism wanting. They started to rediscover the class roots of anarchism and realise how far the movement had strayed from them. From the Miners Strike and through to the end of the printers dispute at Wapping many were forced - in one way or another - to make the break and embrace the class struggle.

Not everyone in the movement chose to make that break. There were some who chose to distance themselves from the struggle of people who through lack of time, opportunity or inclination, had not reached the same dizzy heights of personal sanctity as they had.

Thus we saw so-called anarchists refusing to dirty their hands in the Miners Strike, blithely dismissing them en masse as sexist and racist without making any attempt to get to a picket line let alone have any argument about the need to fight. Another way out was to blame workers for the effects of the industry they worked in: thus the miners were not worthy of support because they exploited the earth, as the 'green' anarchists were want to put it.

This mistake was repeated over the Wapping dispute. where an anarchist paper claimed to support the printers but:

"I detest the racist and sexist shit they print ... many have said they are only doing a job like anyone else with no control over what they do. BOLLOCKS" (13)

It gets better. The author goes on to say, talking of the fight for better pay and conditions at work:

"Suddenly all our aims and dreams are thrown aside in the euphoria of class struggle ... playing the capitalist money game." (14)

So the class struggle is reduced to an annoyance. something that gets in the way of the real task of building the anarchist revolution, once again in isolation by the anarcho elite on behalf of everyone else. Again it shows the complete and seemingly wilful ignorance of the anarchist movement about how exciting its is going to be making the revolution, and failing to realise that workers fighting back against the attacks of the boss class are far more relevant to the struggle than any number of obscure and turgid anarcho-rags.

There was however a considerable section of the movement who saw the need to leave all this behind. Unfortunately some of them - seeing the need for political, tactical and organisational coherence - and seeing it to be conspicuous by its absence in the anarchist movement, ended up gravitating towards and in many cases eventually joining the various Leninist parties - notably the SWP - who were active during the Miners Strike and Wapping. The anarchist movement drove away through its own folly - good, active revolutionaries who wanted to fight and for whom the movement had nothing more to offer.

1 "Putting the Record Straight on Michael Bakunin" Libertarian Communist Review 1976
2 R Taylor, C Pritchard "The Protest Makers" Oxford 1980
3 A Meltzer "The Anarchists in London 1935-1955" quoted in P Kane "British Anarchism Surveyed" Virus No 7
4 P Rimbaud "The Last of the Hippies" in "A Series of Shock Slogans and Mindless Token Tantrums" Existence Press 1982
5 "Prisoners of War" No 1 1983 Page 7
6 P Rimbaud ibid
7 R Rimbaud ibid
8 G Maximof "The Political Philosophy of Bakunin" quoted in P Kane "British Anarchism Surveyed" Virus No 7
9 P Rimbaud ibid
10 P Rimbaud ibid
11 The Beano No 3 June 1986
12 Steve T "Anarcho-syndicalism?" Virus No 7
13 The Beano No 3 June 1986
14 The Beano ibid
15 Black Flag

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Brexit, Crown Prerogative and Popular Sovereignty

Revolutionary Spanish Tram System

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

What was meant to happen was that having seen off a threat by the Scots to break away from the United Kingdom in September 2014, David Cameron would repeat the trick in June 2016 be seeing off the Ukippers and their allies and keep the UK in the EU.

What Cameron failed to notice was that in Scotland ‘Project Fear’ as the No to Independence campaign was called, had complete control of the British and Scottish media. In the EU referendum, the Leave campaign had the support of an influential chunk of the print media which countered the Remainers scare stories with their own even scarier ones.

From triumph to disaster, Cameron’s political career ended in ruins in the early hours of 24 June. He resigned and was succeeded as prime minister by Theresa May

For the UK to leave the EU, the UK must trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. Here a major legal question arises.

Domestic laws, laws created by acts of Parliament, cannot be altered by what is called Royal or Crown prerogative. Only Parliament can do this.

International treaties are part of international law, not domestic law. In the UK, but not most other countries, Parliament has no formal role in treaty-making. Treaties are made by the government of the day using the power of  Crown prerogative. The same power can therefore be used to unmake international treaties.

However, where an international treaty made by the government of the day requires changes in domestic law, Parliament has to be involved in order to pass the necessary acts for the changes to be lawful. An example of this is the European Communities Act 1972. This was necessary to make European Community law part of the national legal systems (I.e. including Scots law) of the UK.

The recent High Court judgment therefore found that , because leaving the EU would change domestic law, the Crown prerogative cannot be used to trigger Article 50. Only an act of Parliament can do this.
Despite the outrage this judgment caused among Leave supporters, this example of a limitation of the Crown prerogative is part of a centuries long struggle.

It goes back to the time when kings and queens believed they had an absolute right to make and unmake laws. In practice this power was always limited by the rival military power of feudal barons and the ‘spiritual’ power of the Church when belief in God was universal.

As everyone knows, it took a bloody civil war and a revolution for an undemocratic parliament to place firm limits on the power of kings and queens. However, since it was useful for successive governments, the residual power of the Crown prerogative was only slowly whittled away.

If the Court of Appeal upholds the High Courts judgment, then Parliament will have won another victory over the Crown.

There is an interesting twist though.

In a live television discussion with Gina Miller, one of the people who raised the High Court challenge, Nigel Farage said

“This not about whether Parliament is sovereign, it’s about whether the British people are sovereign. That’s the real argument.”


In Scotland, the idea that the people not parliament/ the crown in parliament are sovereign is widely held. For example at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in May 2016 -

"Nicola Sturgeon has declared that the Scottish people are sovereign... the First Minister said: “The Scottish National Party pledges loyalty to the people of Scotland, in line with the Scottish constitutional tradition of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland.”


I don’t suppose Nigel Farage or even Nicola Sturgeon have thought through what it would mean if the people really were sovereign. It would require a democratic revolution to put in place mechanisms which would give the people the power to rule themselves.

Or should that be  ‘It will require a democratic revolution for us to take back the power to govern ourselves’?  The mechanism then being a federal network of autonomous anarcho-syndicalist communes/ co-operatives

No, I don’t think that is what Nigel Farage has in mind, nor Nicola Sturgeon. On the other hand, if, as I have argued previously, the impossibility of Brexit leads to ‘anarchy’ as in failure of government
In the UK, some form of anarchism may emerge as the rational solution to the collapse of authority.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

No Future In The British Dream

We have fed the heart on fantasies, 
The heart's grown brutal from the fare 

Britishness/ British identity was originally a product of James VI and I attempt to unite the kingdoms of England, Ireland, Scotland and the principality of Wales after 1603. It was a form of cultural engineering, an imagined community. It was a way to manufacture consent to James and his successors’  rule. It did not work in Ireland where the Irish refused their consent and so had to be ruled by force.

Britishness in Ireland was therefore not ‘hegemonic’ in Gramsci-speak since it was imposed from above and grew from the barrel of a musket. In England ‘British’ was read and understood as equal to ‘English’. In Scotland, Britishness was given a coat of tartan paint. In Wales , the Welsh could see themselves as the surviving descendants of the original, pre- Anglo-Saxon, ancient Britons.

The global imperial/industrial success of nineteenth century Britain as England, Wales and  Scotland but not famine struck Ireland buttressed popular consent to Britishness in the island of Great(er) Britain. [Brittany in  France was the original ‘lesser Britain’]

Two world wars, but not Easter 1916 nor the 1966 World Cup, helped keep James VI and I primitive hegemony alive. However, following the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 and during the economic traumas of the 1920s and 1930s, Plaid Cymru was formed in 1925 and the Scottish National Party in 1934.

Electoral success was elusive for both parties until the 1970s. In the October 1974 UK general election, Plaid won 3 seats and the SNP 11. This was the same period renowned in accounts of popular culture as the point where the post-war social democratic consensus broke down and punk emerged spitting and screaming out of the ruins.

Punk is interesting not because it involved an actual breakdown of the reproduction of consent (Britishness as hegemony) but because it symbolised and acted out that breakdown, most obviously in the summer of 1977 when the Sex Pistol’s ‘God Save the Queen’ challenged the universality of QE2’s silver jubilee celebrations.

But as John Medhurst revealed in ‘That Option No Longer Exists: Britain 1974-76 (Zero Books, 2014), by 1977 a wave of left radicalism inspired by the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders 1971 work-in and encouraged by the Institute for Workers Control had been neutralised. Right-wing reaction to this socialist surge, which included feverish talk of a military coup, solidified around a push to get Margaret Thatcher elected.

Following Thatcher’s election, plans for Scottish and Welsh Assemblies were dropped, removing a perceived threat to the Britishness of the UK. However, to keep the UK safe for capitalism, the Thatcher regime chose to impose consent by coercion, unleashing a wave of political violence which culminated in a huge anti-poll tax riot in London in 1990.

In Scotland and Wales, the fallout from the Thatcher era forced Labour to revive plans for devolution in order to keep a lid on the nationalists. These plans reached fruition in 1999. In Northern Ireland an Assembly was created in 1998 as part of the Good Friday peace agreement. In England, the situation was more complicated. A proposed  north east England regional assembly was voted down in 2004 but the Greater London Council dissolved by Thatcher in 1986 was revived as the Greater London Authority in 2000.

During the seventeenth century, as the capital of three kingdoms and a principality, London grew rapidly. From 200 000 in 1600, London had doubled in size to 400 000 by 1650, By 1700, after recovering from plague and fire, it reached 575 000, overtaking Paris to become the largest city in Europe. Growth continued to the million mark by the beginning of the nineteenth century, making London the largest city in the world. Growth continued until 1914, when London reached 7.5 million, but then New York edged ahead to become the largest city in the world.

London’s growth stimulated the coal industry in north-east England in the seventeenth century. During the eighteenth century this domestic use of coal was matched by the industrial use of coal. During the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, the coal fields of south Wales, central Scotland, north-west England and the English Midlands as well as north-east England became an economic powerhouse which made Britain the ‘workshop of the world’. The combination of economic wealth and urban growth in these areas created a political and economic counterbalance to London.

The economic ability of the industrial regions to act as a counterbalance  to London as a financial centre broke down in the 1920s and 30s. Despite a return to importance in the 1940s, stimulated by war production, and the 1950s, stimulated by a post-war boom, by the 1960s cotton, shipbuilding, coal mining, steel making and locomotive making were once more struggling. The 1974-79 Labour government had a plan to re-vitalise manufacturing industry using tax revenue from the newly discovered North Sea oil reserves.

Tragically, by the time the oil revenues came on stream, the Conservative party were in power. In order to destroy organised labour and the Labour party, but disguised as anti-inflationary monetary policy, interest rates were raised and manufacturing industry was devastated, never to fully recover. At the same time,  constraints on London’s financial sector were removed.

The Labour party survived by re-inventing itself as ‘New and Improved’ under Tony Blair, moving its position to the right so it could become electable in 1997.

This move created a crisis for the concept of post-war Britishness as a form of social democratic consensus. In Scotland especially, the tension between new and old Labour made it increasingly difficult to sustain this form of Britishness. This allowed the SNP to start eating into the Labour vote in Scotland by presenting itself as a social democratic party committed to civic rather than ethnic nationalism. In 2015, after being Scotland’s largest single party for nearly 100 years, Labour were wiped out, returning only one MP.

In England the concept of Britishness had always been confused by its equation with ‘Englishness’.  But this Englishness itself was always fractured by regional and class divisions, reflected in a crude way by the strength of the Tory vote in most rural/agricultural areas and the Labour vote in most urban/ former manufacturing areas.

The 2016 EU referendum vote has created a further layer of confusion. Every local authority region in Scotland voted Remain. No such clear picture emerged in England. If the Leave vote was an expression of English nationalism/ identity, then England is a nation divided against itself.

If England is now a divided nation, where does that leave Britishness? If there is a British identity, where does it exist now? If the Leave vote in England was an expression of English nationalism as Anthony Barnett has suggested, was it therefore an ‘anti-British’ vote?  A vote to, effectively, dissolve the united kingdom first established in 1603 and the traditions of a British identity James VI and I invented?

Among the ideas being floated about a post-Brexit Britain is that somehow ‘free trade’ with the rest of the world will make up for the loss of trade with the EU. But even within England, the era of free trade -1840 to 1930- was one when economic and political power was more evenly distributed than it is now. It was also the age of empire, not an English empire, but a British one. The Irish were never reconciled to the British identity of this period, but the Scots and Welsh and even the English were.

The ‘loss’ of most of Ireland did not noticeably diminish Britishness, but the possibility of ‘losing’ Scotland was seen differently. Without Scotland England would have to confront the question- what does it mean to be English not British? To pick up the threads of an identity put on hold since Tudor times…

For a brief period between September 2014 and June 2016, it seemed that this confrontation had been avoided. Now it has returned. Or rather, it hasn’t.

One of the influential economic arguments against independence in the Scottish referendum campaign was that an independent Scotland would be outside the EU and have to negotiate its way back in. This argument equated Britishness with membership of the EU. There was a related currency argument. If Scotland left the UK, what currency would it use? Scots were told very firmly that they would not be allowed to use the British pound. But as we are now finding, the British pound was only strong because of EU membership.

Could the survival of Britishness over the past forty years therefore have become  entangled with membership of the EU? If so, then the Leave vote in England was a vote against Britishness. This creates a tidal wave of irony. While the BBC and other ’British’ institutions presented the Yes campaign in the Scottish referendum as an attempt to ‘break up Britain’, they did not  present the Leave campaign as working towards a similar outcome.

Yet if Scotland had voted Yes in 2014, it is highly unlikely that there would have been an EU referendum in 2016. England would have had to reflect on what English Britishness now meant in a smaller United Kingdom, but without having to go through the deeply divisive process of an EU referendum.

Now the question is- can a British identity survive Brexit? It is very difficult to see how it can, even if the result of a possible second Scottish independence referendum is uncertain. This is probably why there has been no great debate about the survival of Britishness. The ‘national’ institutions like the BBC, the newspapers, legal establishment, academics and political parties involved all see themselves as British not English institutions.

They are constitutionally incapable of thinking from an English rather than British perspective. On the other hand there are many in Scotland who would disagree, arguing that institutional disinterested Britishness is a cloak for English interestedness.

What this points towards is the fracturing of the UK along some pre-existing fault lines and some new ones. One old one runs along the Scotland/ England border, another between the institutions of the UK and the people of Wales, northern Ireland, Scotland and England, between the rulers and the ruled. A new fault line is opening up between people who voted Leave and those who voted Remain. Within Ireland, the  Brexit vote risk turning the open border between south and north back into a closed one.

As yet the actual economic impact of Brexit is unknown, although the fall in value of the pound is feeding through into higher inflation. Brexit was sold on the promise of a better life outside the EU. Several of the promises have already been revealed as lies. If Brexit has a negative economic impact, even in the short term, there will be political fall-out.

But if, as I have argued above, the UK’s Britishness is faltering, then the social cohesion British identity once provided cannot be relied on any more. To echo the title of John Medhurst’s book -that option no longer exists. In particular, if there is a connection between the current model of Britishness and membership of the EU, leaving the EU will explode that model.

It will not be possible to summon up the spirit of Britain as a defence against the break-up of the United Kingdom.

How will this affect England and Englishness? Can England dream itself a future?  There are traditions of English radicalism, of a historic culture which ran counter to British imperial delusions, a red and black thread which still Remains.

England already possesses a dream whose consciousness it must now express in order to actually live it; as both Karl Marx and Guy Debord once almost said.

But it is a dream which hovers even now on the edge of a nightmare, an abyss of fear and hate unleashed by the final failure of the  Britishness that was once at its centre to hold the UK together. We are entering a state of disorder in the absence and non-recognition of  what was once authority as the controlling systems of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland  collapse into Brexit as a black hole.

In 1976 the Sex Pistols sang about it. It was a bit of a joke back then. In 1919, reflecting on the carnage of a world war and as the brief war of Irish independence was beginning, William Yeats took a more serious view of ‘anarchy’.

 The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

By 1922 the fight for Irish independence had been won and the Free State created, but then a civil war broke out. In response Yeats wrote ‘Meditations In Time of Civil’, published in 1923.

During the Scottish independence referendum campaign I re-read it and noted these lines-

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart's grown brutal from the fare

In Scotland, the failure of the  2012-14 Yes campaign has led to a narrowing of debate. The optimistic, forward looking, vision of the radical, grassroots independence campaigners has struggled to survive a retreat into a reactionary nationalism promoted  by advocates of ‘Independence first’. The fantasy of freedom from English rule has returned to supplant the difficult reality of working out what independence would mean in practice.

This conflict between fantasies of freedom from foreign rule and the actuality of self-government faced the Irish in the 1920s and will- if Brexit happens - face the English in the 2020s, just as it will the Scots if they ever achieve independence.

By concluding with this section from Yeats ‘Mediations’ I am not anticipating an actual, physical, bloody civil war. Rather, I am anticipating a cultural and political, even ‘spiritual’ in William Blake’s  language, civil war. One which has the potential to become a democratic revolution completing the work of the seventeenth century ‘British’ revolutions.

The Road at My Door

An affable Irregular,
A heavily-built Falstaffian man,
Comes cracking jokes of civil war
As though to die by gunshot were
The finest play under the sun.
A brown Lieutenant and his men,
Half dressed in national uniform,
Stand at my door, and I complain
Of the foul weather, hail and rain,
A pear-tree broken by the storm.
I count those feathered balls of soot
The moor-hen guides upon the stream.
To silence the envy in my thought;
And turn towards my chamber, caught
In the cold snows of a dream.

The Stare's Nest by My Window [stare = starling]

The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the state.
We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned,
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.
A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war;
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart's grown brutal from the fare;
More Substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Zounds by Lance Hahn

                            Lance Hahn 1967-2007

The Story of Zounds

“I don’t think we ever thought about why we did it. Career was a dirty word to us. Playing music was something we did like eating and drinking, breathing and shitting. It seemed to be a natural function.”
Steve Lake, singer - bassist

At the ULU venue in London, Zounds are tearing through their set. Songs about squatting and alienation become anthems for the choir (as opposed to sermons) as the gig is a benefit for the defendants arrested for passing out leaflets about vegetarianism in front of a McDonald’s. The audience is an enthusiastic and mesmerized stew of squatters, punks, hippies and all the gray area in between. But this isn’t a journal entry from 20 years ago. This is 1998.

Of the many bands, anarcho and otherwise, revisiting the past recently, Zounds seem especially current. This is partly because the lyrics about the aforementioned subjects are in many ways as relevant under Blair’s England as it was under Thatcher’s. But also because of their musical status as outsiders within the underground that prevented them from ever being typecast to one particular style. Of course, that same uniqueness kept them from benefiting of the recognition and success that many of their peers did. Unlike other bands also in that situation, this reunion gig was a one off affair strictly for the greater good.

Steve, “We never reformed. We just did a couple of benefit gigs for the McLible campaign. Dave Morris the defendant was an old friend of ours. I don’t know why but I have a particular hatred of McDonalds.”

Formed in 1977, Zounds started as a nameless “jam” band of constantly shifting personnel. The one central figure that would eventually take control of the band’s direction and give it form was Steve Lake.
His parents splitting up when he was five, what little contact he had with his Dad was characterized by jazz music.

Steve, “I was abandoned to my grandparents when I was five. My mother went to live with her family in the U.S.A. She was a dancing teacher. My dad ran a jazz club. He took me along once to see a New Orleans jazz band when I was about 6, that was probably a key experience. He introduced me to the band and it just seemed such a great thing to be in a band. But ultimately I didn’t have much contact with either of my parents.”

But he had an epiphany when he first heard the Beatles and ‘60s rock-n-roll. He became interested in taking part in the creative process of popular music early on.
Steve, “I was seven years old or something and heard the Beatles on the radio and I was so overwhelmed I still haven’t come down… The Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, the Who, Tamla Motown, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash. I always liked the good stuff.”
A few years later, he began learning how to play in order have a more physical connection to the music. At 15, he met a guitar player named Terry Small who gave him the right encouragement to pick up the bass.

Steve, “He and a drummer were trying to get a three piece heavy blues band together like Cream. We got on really well and he said I could play bass in their band. He said it was easy as there were only 4 strings and they were so big you couldn’t miss them. I got a bass and the rest as they say is history.”
The desire to play over-shadowed the “what” and “where” as the only things more dubious than some of the music he was playing were the venues where he would play them.

Steve, “(I learned to play the bass) when I was 16. I started playing in a rock’n’roll band, doing Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and Presley stuff in brothels and Speedway club dances.”
Like many kids at that age in that time, he felt like he had been born too late. Being born in the ‘60s or late ‘50s meant you were too young for the birth of rock-n-roll. You were a bit too young for mod and a little too young for the hippies. You were truly a rebel (anti-establishmentarian) without a cause (youth culture). For many people, this was the psychic swamp that bred punk rock.

Steve, “I wanted to be a hippie but I was too young so when punk came along it just fitted in with our bohemian, anti-establishment view. I hitchhiked three hundred miles to buy Anarchy In The U.K. the day it was banned and withdrawn by E.M.I.”
Growing up in Reading, Steve eventually was drawn to what local counter-culture there was.
Steve, “I am from Reading. It was a market town with a cowboy mentality. Now it’s a bland software based shopping mall type of place. I had to come to London because it was and is the centre of many things I love and hate.”

Despite that, there was enough of a scene that Steve was able to find people to play music with. This original improvised music would be the building blocks of Zounds.

Steve, “Zounds originally evolved out of a series of jamming scenes that took place between various groups of friends of mine. First of all we were based around the Reading area, which is where I come from. Circumstances moved us to Oxford where we developed a very ‘peripheral’ lifestyle that consisted of a lot of jamming, a lot of painting and drawing, an enormous amount of dope smoking, and more than a passing interest in L.S.D. and psychedelia. None of us had jobs, we were unhealthily terrified of the police, and were unknowingly engaged in the process of transforming ourselves from happy-go-lucky, harmlessly mischievous teenagers into marginalized, paranoid wrecks who had become totally alienated from the ‘straight life’. Musically we were involved in a lot of weird free form jamming that was influenced by everything from the Velvet Underground and Can to the Grateful Dead and  the Byrds.”

From these “open” sessions, a proper band eventually took shape. Taking form around Steve’s organization and songwriting, Zounds was first documented in the public eye in 1977.

Steve, “The first incarnation of Zounds must have formed and started doing gigs in 1977 or ‘78. Lawrence was around then but wasn’t in the band. We didn’t meet Joseph until a couple of years after that. The idea of recording demos never crossed our mind. We were absolutely alienated from the world of record companies and mainstream ‘cultural business’. We were complete outsiders. I don’t mean in the sense of some Hollywood Rock ’n’ Roll leather jacket version of outsider. More in the sense that we had become social cripples, barely able to function and interact with anyone outside of our particular bohemian cesspit.”

In fact, it was the guitarist that preceded Lawrence who came up with the band’s name.

Steve, “Steve Burch, our original guitarist found it in a dictionary. We always mispronounced it to rhyme with ‘sounds’. It’s an exclamation; a corruption of the phrase ‘gods wounds’ which we thought was appropriate at the time. Though I grew not to like it pretty quickly and am still not keen on it. Actually God’s Wounds would have been a better name. I could start a Zounds tribute band and call it God’s Wounds.”

Though still in a sort of psychedelic funk, the band was aware and interested in punk from more than just a sociological perspective. The result was that their first gig was supporting a local punk band.
Steve, “Yes, the first gig was as a three piece and we didn’t have the name Zounds at that point. We supported a punk band at a village rock club near Reading. At that point the line up was me on bass, Steve Burch on guitar and Jimmy Lacey on drums.

“Then we added Nick Godwin on guitar for our second gig. This was at Oxford Polytechnic supporting Australian psychedelic fruitcake David Allen who had previously been in Soft Machine and Gong. We were still doing a lot of improvising and free form stuff at that point but they were really dynamite gigs, full of fire and power and energy. The Oxford Poly gig was the first time we played ‘Can’t Cheat Karma’ and Steve Burch came up with that great way of playing that riff. It was the best performance of it really. They were great gigs but you would have had to be there to get it I think. Tapes don’t do those kinds of events justice.”

While being self-described outsiders, the normal band activity of recording a demo tape was ignored. Despite not having an easy way to expose their music to promoters or booking agents, the band still managed to gig and the line-up continued to evolve.

Steve, “We just didn’t bother with demos. Despite our fragile, broken egos we were supremely arrogant and felt if the world deserved Zounds they would have to seek us out, we were not going to chase after anything.   In our childish, fantasy world we regarded it as inevitable that the world  would beat a path to our door. And at first things progressed in that way. Our fourth or fifth gig was reviewed in the New Musical Express, which at the time was pretty much the main voice of youth culture. It wasn’t a great review but it made us think we were on the map and recognized. It wasn’t really until we moved to London and got Lawrence in that I started to think we were going to have to make a record and somehow pursue that notion, as nobody was coming forward to offer us the chance to make a record.

“Anyway, after Steve Burch left and Lawrence joined, the band deteriorated terribly. We became directionless and  plodding. It took us a lot of playing and a lot of gigs to get good again. Which we did.”
With the band’s music evolving from jam sessions and free experimentation into more conventional song structures, there had to be a new concern about the process of lyric writing and what was to be written about. In writing about his surroundings, there was much fodder for angry expression in late ‘70s Britain as it’s economic and therefore political climate was a weather vane for what would become Thatcher’s England.
Steve, “Well my music and my songs have always been born out of my experience of living in and observing the world around me.

“As I said, we were pretty alienated from mainstream society, and consequently mainstream politics, including traditional radical left politics. But our experience was that the world of work was oppressive, tedious and destructive and offered us nothing but drudgery and boredom. We had constant hassles with the police for looking like freaks; it was becoming really difficult to find affordable places to live. We really started to understand that we had ‘no future’. At first we would not have even recognized this position as being political. But things were really hotting up in England during 1978/79. The ‘right’ were starting to exercise a lot of muscle and becoming noticeably and violently more of a presence. The National Front were gaining ground and the Conservatives were following them to the right. Ditching the old post-war consensus and preparing the way for hard Thatcherite, Corporate, market economy.

“At the same time elements of the police force were completely out of control. The S.P.G. in London, the West Midlands Crime Squad. Unemployment was rising and race relations were becoming a potent issue.

“On top of all of this we were becoming aware of the massive build up of nuclear weapons by the U.S.A and the Eastern Bloc, which led to the reactivation of C.N.D. and various environmental groups. No sensible, intelligent person could fail to see what was happening and how bad things could become. We couldn’t fail to become more politicized and see how political power was impinging on our lives.

“That is why things like Rock Against Racism and the Anti Nazi League started. We started to see ourselves as enemies of the state just because of the way we thought; we weren’t activists in any sense of the word. Yet we felt we were under attack by the forces of society. These things affected everything we did, how we lived, what we ate, who we slept with. And ultimately the songs we wrote and the way we played them.

“We were never attracted to the organized left with its infighting and dogma and rules. We were instinctively drawn towards anarchy. Not because we had much of a clue as to what it was about, but we just wanted to be left alone to pursue our own weird trip and not have people tell us what to do.”

While much of the anarcho punk movement at the start was referred to as being “hippy punk” or “peace punk”, the terms usually were meant in defining ideology and practice. But within the traveler scene that had been developing for some time, there were musical bridges being created with punk bands like Alternative Television and hippy bands like Here & Now. For Zounds, the mesh of musical ideas had more to do with the psychedelia of the ‘60s rather than the acid rock of the ‘70s.

Steve, “The very earliest incarnations of Zounds were really in to psychedelic San Francisco bands. We were also in to Can, the Velvet Underground, lots of weird stuff, the early Mothers of Invention. The Byrds, the Beach Boys, the Beatles… We were really into music. That was always the thing with us. I really got into Patti Smith early on, things like “Piss Factory”. The early punk stuff that was inspirational was stuff like the Fall, ATV, Patrick Fitzgerald, Buzzcocks, and American stuff like Pere Ubu and Television. But we were never trying to emulate anybody; we were trying to find ourselves through music… I think Robert Smith was also kind of marrying the weird and unusual with a pop sensibility, which I think characterizes Zounds in many ways.”

But Zounds were coming to both musical camps without prejudice to either side. While many eventually identified them as a punk band, their connection was one of camaraderie rather than of punk’s rank and file.

Steve, “We never saw ourselves as anything. But I personally felt very connected with the concerns of punk. The day Anarchy In The UK was banned and withdrawn by EMI I hitchhiked 300 miles to buy a copy. It changed everything and at last people had the courage and audacity to just get up and say, yea we are fucked up, but it’s our world too and we are going to do what we want, even if we’ve got no resources. It wasn’t unprecedented but at last people were sitting up and taking notice.

“I was never into the ramma lamma, identikit punk thrash sound that soon took over punk and was very tiresome and unimaginative. What was good about it was the scenes that started up all over. The metropolitan London glam-punk scene was nothing really. Just the usual old trendy, fashion crowd trying to get their pictures in magazines. That is the current official media history of punk; that it was all about these London trendsetters. But, there were more interesting things happening at the margins as usual. Us in Oxford, the Mob in Sommerset, The Astronauts in Wellwyn, The Instant Automatons in Hull… A whole load of weird, idiosyncratic bands creating their own lives and scenes and music.”

The Free Festival scene of the ‘70s in England was the perfect incubator for Zounds. Drawn to the scene both by the politics and the desire to play, they found themselves entrenched in that gray area of hippies, punks and activists. Through the free festival scene as well as Here & Now who were very involved in the regular details of those events, Zounds were introduced to the Mob, a band they would tour with and develop close ties with.

Steve, “We had met the Mob and had done a couple of tours with them and some other bands. And through them we met Joseph. We met the Mob at a thing called the Dursley Seventh Vale festival. And a guy called Jonathan Barnett put a tour together with us, The Mob, the Astronauts and the Androids of Mu. We all kind of were on the fringes of the Here & Now free music scene and were under the influence of their ex-drummer, a guy called Kiff-Kiff who was an amazing guy and went on to limited fame in England with a band called World Domination Enterprises. He and Jonathan Barnett put together this outfit called Fuck Off records, and us and the Mob put out tapes and stuff through them. We all hung out round Ladbroke Grove and Shepherds Bush. There were loads of gigs at the Acklam Hall and round West London. Then we did these mad free tours. During which we met Crass and Zounds dwindled to just Lawrence and myself.”

As much as with Crass, Zounds would forever be linked with the Mob from then on.
Steve, “I think we met in 1978. We toured with them, lived in houses and buses with them, had the same drug dealers and slept with the same people. Despite that we were never really close.”
Another band at the time were the Astronauts. More closely merging the musical ideas of punk and hippy, the band still maintains a bit of a folk edge mixed with anarchist politics.

An engine breakdown on the last free tour led them to their first meeting with Crass. While operating separately in the same small ideological and physical space, the two groups had never met despite similar ideas and practices.

Steve, “While on tour we kept playing places where Crass had just played or were about to play. And people kept saying we should meet them because they detected some sort of similarity in something.
“So we were playing near their house and we thought we would just visit them. But our bus broke down and we walked to their house across this weird submarine tracking station and they entertained us, we got on like a church on fire and they came and fixed our bus. They liked us, though I think they saw us as quite naive, naughty children who had their hearts in the right place.”

Whether or not that was the case, the meeting had a huge impact on Steve and Zounds. Crass deeply impressed him as people and how they lived. It ultimately would give Zounds a direction that had previously been missing in lieu of the comparatively casual path they had been organically following.

Steve, “Well I was tremendously impressed by all the people in Crass. They were really funny, very intelligent and had very powerful personalities. I admired their analysis and commitment and knowledge. But generally I remember just going round to their place and  chatting about stuff and having a laugh. I liked them a lot, and am very fond of my memories of them.”

That night ended with discussion of possible future projects together. While mostly talk, it left Steve and Lawrence with the idea that they would record a demo tape to send Crass. But by the end of the tour, they as well as the Mob were somewhat defeated by the grind of maintaining that type of idealistic free tour.

Steve, “Apart from meeting Crass that last ‘Weird Tales’ tour had been grueling. The Mob split back to Somerset and Zounds lost a guitar player (Nick Godwin) and decided to chuck out the drummer. After we did the demo we asked Joseph to join, he had followed the Mob up to London but didn’t follow them back. Joseph had been playing in a mod band at the time but we liked him and knew he was committed to playing music. He sort of looked like a punk too, which Lawrence and I didn’t. Anyway Crass liked our demo and asked us to do the record on their label.”

Joseph, “I joined just after they met Crass, and were presumably streamlining the band accordingly. I was drumming with a band called The Entire Cosmos, which featured members of Here & Now's road crew, and we did some of the Weird Tales gigs.”

With this new line-up, condensed to a three piece, the side of the band that lent itself to open-ended jams fell to the wayside and the more song-oriented material became the make-up of the band’s set. While in some ways it was turning the band into something new, it was also working on material more suited to the new line-up.

Joseph, “I moved to London to play music. I'd been drumming for Attitudes for about a year when Zounds asked me to join… All the jamming stuff ended then. It was pretty much down to short sharp songs, a lot of which were never recorded.”

At this stage, the band was living in the squatted area of Broughham Road. The block of squats would become home to them and eventually the Mob. But like many of these situations, it had a self-determined time limit.

With a new set of material worked out, the band met with Crass in the summer of 1980 to record their first single. Spending time with them out on their farm became an eye opening experience for Joseph who was still developing his own political ideas.

Joseph, “I had no intellectual concept of anarchism when I joined Zounds. I had a vague awareness of a lot of slogans, and a great fondness for cannabis resin. Steve on the other hand, while endorsing the latter, had a better grasp of the former. I didn't care. I just wanted to be in a band.”

Oddly enough, it was the discipline of Crass’ anarchism that made an impact on Steve.

Steve, “We were in a different scene entirely. Much more untogether. We were all a quite a bit younger than most of Crass. Us and the Mob, the Astronauts, the Androids of Mu, Here & Now, the Fuck Off Records crew, Grant Showbiz (who went on to produce the Fall and Billy Bragg and work for the Smiths). There were gigs on the Portobello Road, Ladbroke Grove. A lot of free festivals (which is another huge story in itself). Crass and Poison Girls were quite insular and very much in control of their scene.”

The recording process became as much Crass’ project as Zounds’. Their control over the production work on the record extended to having a session musician brought in to play Joseph’s parts!

Joseph, “Simple. I wasn't any good. While I was with Attitudes, they kept my drumming disciplined, but once free of that, and into the more laid-back atmosphere of Zounds, I regressed into a clattering nuisance. Penny, who cared passionately about production, didn't want to release a record with out of time drums on it. He was right.”

Years later, Joseph is surprisingly ambivalent about his replacement on their debut record.
Joseph, “None at all. It's one less gruesome skeleton in my cupboard.”
For their first proper recording session, the band was in for an odd experience.

Steve, “It was a bit weird. We did it at Southern Studios, which was owned by Crass’ business manager John Loder. At that time the studio was in his house and the control room was in the garage.

“Was there any pressure internally or externally to conform to a sound or style of Crass? They chose the songs from our repertoire. We played it and Penny and John did all the recorded and produced it. To some extent they directed the performances, particularly my vocals. Crass the band, and the Crass label were both Penny’s babies really. He was the man with the vision. They made us use a session drummer who played Joseph’s part. That was difficult to take as authenticity is quite important to me. After the recording they mixed it without us there and brought it to us for approval.”

The resulting record was “You Can’t Cheat Karma”. Released in early 1980, the three song EP starts with the mantra-like drone of “War”. It’s repetitious bass and guitar riff are more reminiscent of the first Modern Lovers record the UK punk. Like “Pablo Picasso”, the song becomes hypnotic and the list of war torn countries becomes a rhythm of it’s own.

This song leads directly into what could be the bands most known track, “Subvert”. Upbeat but with a very clever guitar part for a verse, the song is a cross between the Minutemen and “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” by the Cure. Lyrically, it’s a shopping list of small daily acts of subversion.

If you’ve got a job
You can be an agent
If you work in a kitchen
You can redistribute food
If you are a policeman
Ordered to arrest me
You don’t have to do it
You can refuse

The title track was probably the most unique song of the bunch. With a sing-song vocal pattern, the monotone vocals make for a twisted children’s song about ennui and paranoia.

But I just don’t know what I can do
You don’t trust me and I don’t trust you
I bet you wish you did
Cos I know I do
Why have you got secrets?
Well, I know you have
If you’ve got something to hide
Then it must be bad

The layout for the record was a simple black and white (like most of the Crass releases) with typewritten text and inked images including a fold out poster.

Steve, “Crass were a band who wanted things done a certain way. They had a vision and they were not into compromise. Which is not to say they were unreasonable, but if you wanted to work with them then obviously it was on their terms. Nobody forced us, or anyone else to do it. And anyway we liked them and dug what they were doing. We were happy to be associated with them. So they designed the cover, wrote the blurb and we wrote the songs and played them. Lets face it the main reason it sold so many was because of the association with them. If it had just come out anonymously maybe it would never have been heard.

“Ironically I think that Crass were an early example of what is now very fashionable and significant in western culture. And that is the whole total corporate identity. They were one of the first to have that sense of ‘total image’.”

With the release of their first record on the label run by one of Britain’s premier punk rock bands of the time, Zounds found themselves playing out to a much more enthusiastic crowd newly made aware of the band by the one single. The band also began connecting more with the young anarcho punk scene by playing gigs with Crass. The cross pollination would continue with the Mob eventually recording for Crass as well.

Steve, “After the record came out on Crass we did some gigs with them. They were great live. Especially when they had all the video monitors and banners and stuff. But actually it was more like a cross between some dubious political rally and a dark Brechtian theatre. Much better than on record.

“But our scene was less earnest and less developed. People coming to our gigs were kind of more bohemian than a lot of Crass’ audience. Other squatters and hippiefied punks. When we got our record out it expanded the audience, and outside of London there was a lot more working class kids who lived with their parents coming to the gigs.”

Joseph, “We didn't see them often, but they were always very friendly. I was too young really to understand most of what was going on then though, and probably too stoned as well to take it in.”
While always a bit cautious, Zounds found themselves apart from the traveler / hippy scene that they came from and in the middle of the anarcho punk scene. As is well documented, attempts at merging the two scenes had mixed results.

Joseph, “We almost played Stonehenge in about 1980 or 1981. We were just getting onstage when Bikers took over the generator, and decided to ban Punks from the stage. That was crap - that was the reality of Anarchy in the UK. Stonehenge was just about taking lots of drugs. That's the only reason most people went there.”
But even in their new scene, Zounds found themselves in a scene at times more anarchist by propaganda then by deed.

Steve, “Ironically there was a very strict hierarchy in the Crass camp that was acknowledged but accepted. Crass at the top, Poison Girls were their second in command and Zounds, Flux and the Mob were favored subjects. But in all honesty that was about right because Crass were phenomenally popular far beyond the Anarcho scene. Their significance has never been fully realized to my way of thinking.

“Outside of the Crass thing when we were gigging a lot with the Mob their was a lot of sharing and co-operation and working together. But I think there were definitely less benign forces at work below the surface. There were definitely jealousies and petty backstabbing going on. But I prefer to remember the good things, though that can be difficult sometimes.”

The band continued to exist mainly as a live act. Tours with Crass and the Poison Girls made them take more concern about their actual performance and the result was some of their best gigs.
Steve, “

With the one off single with Crass helping to establish the band nationally, they struck a deal with Crass’ old label at Rough Trade. This relationship would last the band through most of its recording career.

Steve, “Geoff Travis made all the decisions about who was signed and what was released. They tried to run all other aspects of the company like a workers co-operative. Which led to all the usual decision making problems most workers co-ops seem blighted with. Plus the banks wouldn’t deal with them in the way they would with a ‘normal’ client. Which led to cash flow problems. Geoff was an absolutely beautiful guy who I still admire and respect very much. I used to get a bit intimidated by the others though. Even the warehouse staff seemed far more trendy than us and use to regard us with something like disdain.”

Despite a lot of speculation about the Crass record being recorded afterwards (“I think when  I was putting the cover art together I was so stoned I put the wrong year on it,” Steve), Zounds then went into the studio to record their one and only full length LP. “The Curse Of Zounds” was recorded and mixed in five days, which, oddly enough, sets it apart from the Crass style of recording that often would go on for months.
These time limitations forced the band to work intensely on the recording. Despite the contrast in recording styles from that with the Crass camp, the band remained thrilled with the process.

Steve, “Weird but very exciting. We were pretty out of it most of the time but we worked pretty hard on it.”
Their one and only studio LP turned out to be a classic unlike anything else at the time. An incredibly dense and claustrophobic record, it captured the paranoia of the post-hippy counter-culture and feeling of outsider status and it’s personal affect on the human psyche. Songs like “Did He Jump” reinforced the specific nature of society’s reflected paranoia. It startles in its poignancy amidst the superficiality of most “punk” from that time.

Who was that on the window ledge
Did he jump or was he pushed
He left a note which no one read
In desperate hand the note just said
Didn’t turn my back on society
Society turned its back on me
I never tried once to drop out
I just couldn’t get in from the very start

“Dirty Squatters”, which was one of the more direct anthems on the record, was also one of the first direct acknowledgements of that scene and it’s connection with the underground.

Some dirty squatters moved into my street
With their non-sexist haircuts and their dirty feet
Their dogs and cats, political elite
They may have beds but they don’t use sheets
Furnishing their houses from the contents of skips
Things that decent people put on rubbish tips
They look quite harmless sitting out in the sun
But I wouldn’t let my daughter marry one

Steve, “Well paranoid is definitely a word that rings true with me, I think I have always been a paranoid person, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. I think I really do have clinical paranoia. For example I never fly (which means I will probably never return to the USA even though most of my family live there). I almost always avoid going in lifts, I hate the underground (subway) and many other things of that nature. I have always been terribly fearful of the police, though I have never really been involved in anything illegal. I am also something of a hypochondriac and worry like mad when my kids come home late. So in many ways it is no wonder that this tends to surface in my music.

“Claustrophobic is a great word to describe the album. And that’s the way I felt at the time. I think that is why I responded so well to going to Berlin. The way it was this small island surrounded and walled in by an ‘alien regime’.   I still have tremendous nostalgia for the cold war. I know Joseph does to. It’s not because I think the cold war was good, but because it echoes my state of mind. When we did the album I felt we were existing in our own little world, closed in and only in contact with similar scenes dotted randomly around Europe. I hated it when we were thrust into contact with the wider world. Everything seemed hostile to me. Not just the big global things like nuclear war, government corruption, corporate greed and media brainwashing, but even the everyday world of supermarkets, family life, little Hitler bosses, aggressive and insensitive teachers.

“I think that really comes through in the writing on ‘Curse Of Zounds’. The way in something like ‘This Land’ I try to take the narrative from the big global issues of ecology, pollution and environmental breakdown to the very personal, microcosmic, local world of the streets in which we walk and live.
“‘My Mummy's Gone’ is similar in that it is about the anguish and fiction of monogamous, nuclear family life expressed through a very personal experience.

“‘Target’ wasn’t just a tirade against nuclear war, but about the effect of the nuclear build up on people who had to live near the bases. It was a very significant feature of Zounds songs that the so-called political issues and social landscape was always related to the everyday ways in which we lived. I think that's the attraction for many people of Zounds, that it is not just sloganeering, but is born out of the frustration and powerlessness we actually felt (and still feel) everyday, and how that affects our personal behavior and personal relationships. I love the songs of American folk singer Woody Guthrie for much the same reason. Though of course I would never compare my own limited talents to his inspired genius. As Leonard Cohen said of Hank Williams, “he’s 100 floors above me in the tower of song”. Probably thousands of floors actually.”

Released in 1981, the record was like a film noir that starts off with unease and paranoia and ends with a collapsing world much worse and larger than first imagined. It was perfect that it would start with “Fear” and end with a re-vamping of “War”.

Steve, “Yes, we wanted it to be cohesive. We tried recording it in the order we wanted the tracks to appear, which is what happened with one or two slight changes. It had to start with ‘Fear’ as it set the whole context for the rest of the album. As you pointed out it is the worldview of someone blighted by paranoia, and the rest of the songs are very from the perspective of someone scared shitless by everything. It ends with ‘Target/Mr. Disney’ and a snatch of ‘War’ (re-titled ‘The War Goes On’). Because what ever was going on was existing in the shadow of the impending Nuclear threat and U.S. cultural and military imperialism, in particular the positioning of cruise missiles in the English countryside. At the time this was of massive significance in Europe and we all felt very close to the issue.

Many people believed that we were heading for a nuclear catastrophe and so it was very much an overriding concern at the time. Ending the album with the reprise of ‘War’ and letting it fade out in full flight was just to emphasize that war was not just an historical fact but an ongoing aspect of the human condition and that we shouldn’t forget that and needed to do something about it fast. The revised title refers to a song Scottish folk singer Donavon used to play called ‘The War Drags On’, I don’t know if he wrote it but I liked it a lot. It might be a Tim Harding song, I’d like to find out actually.”

Perfectly suited was the cover art by Clifford Harper. Known for his anarchist oriented woodcuts, Harper’s artwork both captured the urgency of the times as well as playfulness with the wrap around cover being utilized for comedic purposes.
Steve, “Love it. Love the joke and I have always been keen on comics so it was just right. Cliff had originally done it for a cover of a magazine called ‘Anarchy’ and redrew it for us. He did it during the fireman's strike of the late 1970’s. We thought fireman were heroic in that they did a dangerous and selfless job and were drawn from well-intentioned working class people. I think he ripped off the concept from a cartoon in the right wing London newspaper the Evening Standard. Lawrence and I helped publish a book of Cliff’s work and biography called ‘The Education of Desire’ which I still think is one of the best things I’ve been involved with.”

In the process of recording the record, the band involved themselves with Adam Kidron who was given production credits although his job was more a glorified engineer.

Steve, “We had a guy engineering called Adam Kidron, he was the millionaire son and heir of the Socialist publisher who owned Pluto Press. He was really funny and we were very naive and impressed by him. He talked us in to giving him producer royalties when we didn’t even know what royalties were and we thought we were producing the album ourselves. We recorded the album in the order we wanted the tracks on the final album, though we did revise the order slightly. I thought it was really important that it was a coherent record where the track order had some sort of internal logic. Adam hated guitars so we ended up with a far less powerful guitar sound than we would have liked. We were a guitar band after all.”

With Rough Trade behind the record, publicity and reviews were prevalent including a full color poster campaign in London.
Steve, “It got some good reviews and some not so good ones, but it didn’t get us known much beyond the anarcho scene.”
The band did their part by playing live as much as possible though they quickly went from proper channels to DIY methods.

Steve, “We just tried to play all the time. Rough Trade’s agents booked us some gigs but they were all wrong for us so we just got fans and likeminded individuals to book gigs at community centers and such places. We hated getting involved with music biz types and promoters and agents and the rest of the hangers on.”

Yet, by the time the record was released, the band had grown sour on it. Their concerns about the mix, they felt, were confirmed with the final product.

Steve, “We thought it sounded great when we did it, but as soon as it came out we went off it I think. We thought the guitars weren’t big enough and it was all a bit lightweight. When we first met Geoff at Rough Trade Joseph told him we wanted to sound like the Dead Kennedy’s and I think we would have been happier with that sort of powerful sound. In retrospect though I think it is probably better the way it is. But I’m speaking as someone who feels they have heard enough rock guitar to last several lifetimes. That’s why I no longer have a guitar in my band.”

Just prior to the LPs release, Rough Trade issued the “Demystification / Great White Hunter” single, recorded at the same time as “Curse Of Zounds”. At the time, they described the record themselves as “Velvet Underground meet white liberal guilt”.

Steve, “I can’t remember whether it was Joseph or I that came up with that, but we would both have shared that point of view. We were nothing if not self aware and self-critical. A lot of my songs tended to be about striving and failing and not making it, not being brave enough, not being able to live up to ones own expectations.”

Though recorded at the tail end of the session that produced the full length, the band insisted that the tracks from the single not be on the LP.

Steve, “We recorded ‘Demystification’ and ‘Great White Hunter’ at the end of the album sessions, by which time I think we were starting to get the hang of it. I would have liked to have started the whole thing again at that point. We never wanted the single on the album. Partly because of my slavish devotion to rock n roll folklore. When I was a kid the Beatles and Stones and such groups never put singles on albums. We associated it with the rip off tactics of the music biz. Selling the same thing twice. I always thought singles were cool and something different from albums. I don’t know why it came out before the album. Probably something to do with Rough Trade’s clever strategic marketing policy, which also remained a mystery to us.”
As strong as anything on the LP, ‘Demystification’ in this context does stand out as a single. Almost reminiscent of an even more depressed ‘She’s Lost Control” era Joy Division, the record is quick paced with an effectively memorable chorus. The b-side, which they described as a “hot dance number”, took advantage of the rhythm heavy mix using it to sparse advantage. If anything, it was more reminiscent of Quine era Lou Reed than the Velvets. In some ways, it was the band’s most accessible record. But that wasn’t necessarily a plus when coming from a scene that mostly drew hardcore punks.

Joseph, “(the anarcho’s reaction was) blank incomprehension.”
The record cover wasn’t your typical anarcho fair either instead using a black and white photo staged to convey the song’s idea rather than constructed, message oriented collages.

Steve, “Lawrence is very visually oriented and the concept was his. Just the idea that we are all ‘mystified’ and can’t see what is really going on in the world. So everyone is blindfolded except for the central figure who is tearing off their blindfold and has a look of horror at the harsh reality of life. We trooped off down to Kings Cross Station with a friend of ours called Googy Pete who was to be the Demystified star. We stood him on some sort of plinth and took the shot. When Lawrence did the artwork painting the blindfolds on to the crowd it became apparent that Pete didn’t have the right expression on his face. But in the corner of one of the shots was me making the right sort of face in an effort to will Pete to do it right. So Lawrence got busy with the paste and scissors and put my head on Pete’s body. A situation neither of us would have liked in real life.”

While a greatly underrated record, the songs still stand the test of time especially well.
Steve, “Well there was no peak for me. We never made a record I was really happy with. Our live gigs in Berlin were the experience that has stayed with me more than anything else from the Zounds period. My favorite Zounds record is ‘Demystification’.”

1982 started with the band still gigging and touring on the continent not knowing that it would be their final year as a band. The touring motivated the band as well as eventually, like so often is the case, burned them out.
Joseph, “It was fun most of the time. Playing in Holland allowed us to binge out without fear of arrest, which was pleasant. Low points must include a tour of the UK in which the only cassette in the van was the first UB40 album.”

The year also started with the release of their third single. ‘Dancing / True Love’ marked the first use of outside instruments on a Zounds record with the addition of keyboards. On ‘Dancing’, it introduces a Brechtian circus bounce that would make Kurt Weil proud.

Steve, “Well I wrote Dancing on a friend’s keyboard. It wasn’t even meant to be a Zounds song. Jonathan Barnett from Fuck Off Records asked me to do a solo thing for a tape he was putting out called “Folk In Hell”, which I’m told is quite sought after now.

“When Lawrence and Joseph heard it they wanted to do it with Zounds and thought it would be a good single. When we played it live though it was very different. More like a kind of Neil Young and Crazy Horse tune. When Geoff Travis of Rough Trade heard us play it at a gig he was keen for us to do it as a single. We got Brian Pugsley, a friend of ours who lived in our house in Brougham Road, to play keyboards on it. We were keen to develop our musical ideas so we approached it completely differently and got him playing all that nice piano. As he was in the studio with us we thought he might as well play on ‘True Love’ as well. I have to say Joseph was completely against the whole thing. He was much more of a purist punk than us. We could have carried on churning out 300 mph guitar stuff like ‘Subvert’, but we were more adventurous than that. I’m not saying we were adventurous in the way Can or Faust were, but we didn’t want to be an identikit punk band. ‘Dancing’ is a very dramatic song and we wanted to conjure up that dramatic, dark, nightmarish and sad world of living in a fascist state. We wanted it to be Teutonic with a whiff of Berlin Cabaret about it.”

‘True Love’ on the other hand was an upbeat track with enough detached irony to find its place welding Gang Of Four’s ‘Anthrax’ to any of the Buzzcocks’ singles going steady. The song was as much a critique of the process as it was a reflection of the protagonist’s predicament.

Steve, “As with most of these things it was a bit of both. It was a difficult time because we were all intellectually against sexual jealousy and possessiveness, but emotionally we were not very good at handling it. So while there was a lot of sexual freedom and experimentation going on, people were getting very fucked up about it. This coincided with my girlfriend getting pregnant and me having to face up to the fact that I was going to be responsible for another life. I wasn’t really mature enough to handle it, and in fact I am still not, and I’ve got three kids now.”

The recording, especially on ‘Dancing’ was especially creative. The open-ness of that song and its minimal percussion can directly be linked to some of the dub ideas brought in by producer Mikey Dread. Known for his work with the Clash on ‘Sandinista’ as well as his work as a DJ in Jamaica, what on the outset seemed like an odd choice for a producer worked to the record’s advantage at least in the mixing stage.

Steve, “It was bizarre because it was going to be produced by Mickey Dread, a Jamaican DJ who was quite well known at the time and worked a lot with the Clash. He hardly ever turned up and when he did he spent the whole time on the phone. I didn’t know that many Jamaicans at the time and I don’t think I ever understood a word he said. His accent was so strong. We wanted to build up the drum track by laying one drum at a time so it didn’t sound like traditional kit playing. Joseph despised this approach and walked out before we even got to doing “True Love”. In the end the drums on “True Love” were played by a guy called Tim who at the time was playing drums for the Mob, he was Mark’s sister’s boyfriend.

He just came down the studio to check it out and ended up playing on it. It was an incestuous little scene at times. I wasn’t there for the mix. My girlfriend’s pregnancy meant she was under a lot of pressure from her parents to get married. So I did the decent thing any working class boy with my upbringing would do and ended up getting married on the day we mixed “True Love”. No wonder I was writing an anti-love song. I don’t think Joseph ever got it, it was supposed to be an anti-love song that sounded like a conventional poppy love song.”

Not having played on half of the record, Joseph still involved himself with the cover art drawing of a scene somewhere between a ball and a battle.

Steve, “That was great. Joseph drew it. I love Joseph’s drawing. I don’t know if he did it especially for the cover or whether I just saw it and thought it was great and really appropriate. We use to give out these posters that Lawrence and I made up by cutting up loads of covers and sticking them back together like a big collage. I ended up with thousands of the posters and I tried to get my kids to use the back of them as drawing paper. The trouble was my kids were frightened of the picture and wouldn’t use them. In the end I threw them all away.”

The follow up single would be their last for Rough Trade. ‘More Trouble Coming Every Day / Knife” came out that summer and Joseph calls it his favorite “by a mile”.

Oddly enough, this record represents the only documentation of the five-piece line-up. Keeping Brian on as keyboardist, they decided to also keep Tim on as bassist with Joseph back on drum duties. But the mood was already sour.

Steve, “Deteriorating. In an attempt to save the band Joseph suggested we get Tim in to play bass and I move on to guitar. So we did that and Tim was promptly sacked by the Mob for being in both bands. And then they asked Joseph to drum for them, it didn’t seem to matter that he was now in both bands. Tim was a great drummer though, really powerful, not to take anything away from Joseph but Tim was a virtuoso musician who was great on loads of instruments. He was not only better than Joseph on drums but he was better than me on bass and better than Lawrence on guitar. He did that one record with us and a couple of tours and then we split up. I never really considered him part of the band. He was just along for the ride. Zounds was just me and Lawrence and Joseph.”

‘More Trouble’ was a great juxtaposition of anguished lyrics with upbeat, pop music. The infectious, tune mixed with the brood was a great mixture that was more reminiscent of the old New York punk scene especially Television or the Talking Heads. The coarse rhythmic structure and almost funk bass part of ‘Knife’ put that song way ahead of it’s time preceding certain musical ideas utilized later and across the ocean by the Minutemen on ‘Double Nickels’.

Steve, “Well we got Brian to play keyboards on it again and it made it a lot lighter than the way we played it live. I liked the 60’s pop feel of it. It’s a bit of a clichéd chord sequence based on quite a common 4-chord turn-around. We probably did think it was commercial, but we didn’t concoct it to be. It was just teenage angst really. I wrote it because I loved the phrase ‘more trouble coming everyday’. The line ‘the smell of burning...etc’ refers to the riots that were going on in England’s major cities at the time. More knowledgeable listeners would know immediately that I ripped off the title from a Frank Zappa song, which I think is on Freak Out, his first album.”
Again, Joseph supplied the cover art.

Steve, “Joseph drew the cover to “More Trouble” as well. I thought it really complemented the song, a scruffy bored teenager. The P.R. people at Rough Trade hated it. Joseph really should have stuck with the drawing; he’s good.”

By October of that year, the band was just about done. With one last tour of Europe, the band released a final record that had all the signs of a band split. A mish mash of different recordings, the record seems like a last effort to collect some remaining songs.

Steve, “’La Vache Qui Rit’. By the time that came out I had pretty much lost interest in Zounds. It is undoubtedly our worse record, I wish in some ways it had never come out. Its genesis and history is actually more interesting than the record itself.

“It was put out by a very, very good friend of mine who is a beautiful guy and still a close friend. Originally it was supposed to be a double release with us on one side and The Mob on the other, and it was supposed to be a benefit record for a draft resistance campaign in Belgium (my favorite country by the way). The Mob was going to do a version of “No Doves Fly Here” in French. That would have been good; Mark always had a lot of style for a farm boy. (In fact as I perform a lot of songs in French myself now I have considered covering it that way).

“Anyway the Mob never got it together and I don’t know what ever happened to the draft resistance angle. We went ahead and did it anyway.”
‘Biafra’ starts the record off on a promising note. Its upbeat and catchy tune again, is undermined perfectly by a much more sordid lyrical tale. It could have been seen as advancement on the idea that sparked ‘More Trouble’.

Steve, “No, sadly the band had lost all direction at that time. We always had a bit of a pop sensibility. It was a fun song to play but I don’t think it was so much fun to listen to. It was basically the riff from the Elvis Presley record ‘His Latest Flame’ married to my synopsis of a short story by one of my favorite authors Kurt Vonnegut.”

‘Not Me’ follows with a relentless riff that is reminiscent of the opening Coltrane-derived sequence on the Byrds’ ‘Eight Miles High’. The noise could easily also be equated with a ‘White Light, White Heat’ outtake.
Steve, “Yes that is an interesting observation. The riff was one of Lawrence's and I just put lyrics to it. I had never noticed the similarity to “Eight Miles High” before but I see what you mean. “Eight Miles High” is one of my favorite records and the Byrds are still one of the groups I listen to. I was really in to 1960’s psychedelia, in all its forms. A lot of people involved in Punk were into that. When Caroline Coon (ex manager of the Clash and founder of Release) said Punk was the hippie’s revenge I don’t think she was far from the truth.”

The flipside of the record features an updated version of ‘Fear’ and an old track called ‘Wolves’ both recorded live.

Steve, “It wasn’t planned. On our final European tour someone recorded the gig in Leiden in Holland. And the guy who was putting the record out asked if he could put two live tracks on and make it an E.P. We just said do what you want. So he did. I was really ill at that point. Just exhausted by everything. We were cold all the time. We were staying in squats with no water and inhabited largely by speed freaks who never slept. The van kept breaking down. The whole Zounds/Mob scene was riven by petty jealousies, conspiracies and bad blood. I had just about had enough of it all. The song ‘Wolves’ on that EP was a really old song we had done before Joseph was in the band. Tim who played bass with us on that last tour and persuaded us to play it. God knows why. I was past caring.”

In that kind of atmosphere, it was obvious to all parties involved that there was little remaining interest in the band internally. Burned out by the grind of touring in harsh conditions was becoming a drag. The high points of touring at that stage were equalled by the lows.

Joseph, “Cheap and Nasty, from Leiden in Holland were pretty unforgettable. The Androids of Mu were friends - I think - of Here And Now. I know their drummer, Susie, was one of Here & Now's singers at one point. We also toured with Theatre of Hate, which was pretty awful…”

Steve, “On that final tour of Europe. Lawrence just said to me one day that he thought it was all a bit of a drag and he and I should do something else that was musically a bit more adventurous and a bit more fulfilling than churning out “Subvert” for ever more to people who really didn’t want to hear anything different. Anarchists can be a conservative lot I’ve discovered. Flux Of Pink Indians had the same problem. I went along with Lawrence and when we got back we spoke to Joseph and it was clear he didn’t want to do the same kinds of things as us and was much happier playing with his old mates from the Mob.”
Steve’s growing disaffection with the anarcho scene or any of Zounds’ audience for that matter was also a heavy factor.

Joseph, “Basically, Steve's measured and intelligent approach to anarchism, and life in general, was lost on the anarchos, who didn't understand Zounds at all. I think Steve got fed up with that. My involvement with The Mob was turning me into a bit of a prat as well, and in the end I think we were all relieved when he decided to call it a day.”

Steve, “I seemed to be getting older and the audience seemed to be getting younger. The whole Zounds trip had been so exciting and brilliant for me in the beginning but it was becoming a dull routine, and very unpleasant. We never had any money, my girlfriend was having a baby and I was musically very unsatisfied. I always liked loads of music, pop, country, psychedelia, Krautrock, just loads of stuff. The thing about the punk scene in the beginning was that it had been really open and fresh and interesting. But it had become stagnant and formalized and predictable. I had to move on in my life.”

The band finally just ceased one day at the end of 1982.

Steve, “We were supposed to go to a gig in Colchester and none of us could raise the enthusiasm to actually go. We phoned them up and said the band had split up and we were not coming. Our name is still mud in Colchester. There was a bit of a falling out with Joseph after that, but it all got sorted out and I have nothing but respect and admiration for him and loads of fond memories of the times we had together. We still do the occasional gig together, in fact the last time we were on the same bill I sang “Dancing” with Blyth Power, which was great.”

By 1983, the band was completely done. As a last release, Rough Trade encouraged them to license some songs for an Italian only singles collection. Base Records released the LP using much of the same dubious practices they’ve used for years with punk and jazz records.
Steve, “Just after we split. Rough Trade suggested we do it and they arranged the licensing. Joseph refused to have anything to do with it, which is why he is absent from the cover. It was supposed to be limited to 1500 copies, though I know a couple of distributors that took as many as 4000 each. They do things differently in Italy. It goes without saying that we saw no money from it.”

At the same time, Steve and Lawrence had started a new band called The World Service. Something of a continuation of Zounds, the band was quick to record for Rough Trade.
Steve, “It was the name of a band that Lawrence and I formed with original Zounds member Nick Godwin. This was immediately after Zounds split up. We released one record called “Celebration Town” on Rough Trade. The B-side of that record was fantastic actually, it was called “Turn Out The Lights” and would probably been the next Zounds single if we had continued.”

But that band soon collapsed leaving Steve on his own. Before the end of the decade he had put out two solo records as well as numerous compilation and live appearances. It wasn’t until the ‘90s that Steve played music in a band again, this time with a group called the Relatives.
Steve, “That was a band I was in in the 1990s. It started off as a drab anonymous indie band but after a while we went acoustic and became England’s greatest ever country band. We had Eric Mingus (son of jazz legend Charles) on bass for a while. A very beautiful guy.”

When that band ended, Steve went back to being a solo artist though his coming to terms with his musical frustration did allow for him to want to do the reunion gigs in ’98.
Steve, “I’ve always been artistically unsatisfied. Though what I am doing now is finally getting close to what I want to do. For years I found Zounds cringing-ly embarrassing, but I have come to terms with it more now.”

While a remaining benefit single for the McLibel camaign is still in the works as well as a possible live record, there’s no looking back or nostalgia with Zounds.
Steve, “No. That is it. It would not be possible. I am a different person. I’ve learnt to love Zounds but I can never go there again, it just fucks it up.”

“…Mind you our life was like a 24-hour art workshop. When we were not playing we were painting, writing, clay modeling, making ecologically unsound plastic structures that we would set fire to and pollute our lungs, brains and living environments. People would come round to our house in Oxford and be amazed that every bit of space was covered in  paint, paper, clay and musical instruments. It was such a groovy scene. Our life was our art, but we would never have seen it like that at the time.

“…Well in a lot of ways it was the most exciting time of my life. We just had such great times. It all got a bit much by the end but generally it was a great time. Essentially I still believe most of the stuff and ideas that informed those records. I still am deeply suspicious of capitalism, Christianity and religion, consumerism, the family, the education system, the whole thing that in my childhood was called the military industrial complex. I wasn’t as good a lyricist then as I am now. But the words had a simple, naive charm and they were from the heart. The music I am less sure about. There are some good moments, but we didn’t really have much clue. If you stand it next to Can or Tom Waits or Captain Beefheart or the Byrds or whatever it doesn’t really stand up for me. But it touched a lot of people so something must have got through. John Lennon said he was never a Beatles fan and I guess I am not a Zounds fan.”