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

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Crass questions.

From Daragh: hi again,

i'll have more specific questions over the next while.

In the meantime i'd be curious as to your opinion about Crass as individuals as opposed to Crass the all dressed in black propaganda machine. I'm trying to get a picture of them as individuals at the time. Which is difficult as it was something they (and still to a certain extent) resisted. I didn't know for instance that Andy was not living at Dial House in 1983.similarly i've got a good idea of Josef Portar from his Genesis to Revolution but your impressions of the Mob and Zounds as individuals would be more than welcome.

Also, your Punk Is Dead critique of Crass (... interestingly sounds like it could have been written by Penny. I know that Gee was very much a fan of Patti Smith). i'm trying to place your stance. Even though Crass did not do everything themselves, and have been given credit for maybe more than they did (the squatted venues and anarchy centres were run, sponsered and frequented by others as you pointed out), and even though there were important counter threads in anarcho-goth-punk at the time, surely it was all given impetus by Crass.

I'm being vague here. I'll try and be more specific?- Were Crass resented by fellow anarcho-goth-punks, such as the Mob? Or those involved in the Anarchy centres. The comment you made about the chant that accompanied the launching of the new venue. you imply it was an anti-Crass thing.- Would your dislike for the sub Crass-clone hoards extend to a dislike for Crass as an aesthetic cultural project, and/or to a dislike for them as individuals.- would that thread of protest through the 1980s (Stop The City, animal rights, direct action) that is seen as having continued through to the current anti-globalisation protests, have been just as strong without any of Crass's efforts

.if and when you get time, thanks, daragh

Crass anwers.

Dear Daragh,
thanks for your questions. I will have a first bash at answering them. I will also wade through my archives and see what else I can summon from beyond the grave of the eighties...

1. I never met Crass. They lived out at Epping on the Central Line and although lots of people trailed out there, it never occurred to me to do so. I did meet Andy Palmer, but that was in 83/4 via Black Sheep Housing Co-op and even then I don't recall ever having a non- Co-op conversation with him.

I never knew Crass as individuals. So, apart from Annie Anxiety, who I did chat to a gigs a few times, Crass were just there in the background as 'the group' not as real people..

With The Mob, it was a totally different situation. Mark Wilson in particular was a frequent visitor at Puppy Mansions and squatted at various places in Islington/ Hackney before living at 103 Grosvenor Avenue in 83/4. I didn't know Joesph so well until he also moved into 103. Curtis I did not know very well at all.

Zounds? Saw them play several times, but did not know them.

If you look at my 1983 diary, it reflects a pattern which lasted for me from 1980 to 1984. To recap - in late 1979 I met Tony D, Val and Brett at a meeting in the Conway Hall to discuss setting up an 'anarchy' centre. I had been going to meetings at the Conway Hall through 1979 - but the people there were 'old-school' anarchos - Stuart Christie, Albert Meltzer, Ronan Bennet, Iris Mills and folk from 121 bookshop. The initial focus for these meetings was the Persons Unknown trial - I still have a booklet produced for it and will scan some bits in and post here.

The main thing is: there were no punks involved then. After meeting the Puppy Collective, I started hanging out at Puppy Mansions (Westbere road) and going to gigs and all night films at the Scala etc - and meeting a whole load of people - like Bob of Blood and Roses and Min and Tinsel etc etc. I found this a lot more fun than hanging out with a bunch of 'proper' anarchists.

The point where things got interesting was at the Parallel Universe on Pentonville Road - which was 1981. It was a squatted church and Rubella Ballet played there (can't remember who else). I don't think Crass ever played there - but I could be wrong.

Compared with going to gigs in straight venues -like the 100 Club etc, the whole atmosphere of the Parallel Universe was so much more exciting ( if occasionally dangerous) - so when Andy Martin (allegedly) started putting on Sunday afternoon gigs at the Anarchy/ Autonomy Centre in Wapping - the place created with money from the Bloody Revolutions/ Persons Unknown Crass/ Poison Girls single - and which came out of the Conway Hall meetings- the 'energy' of Parallel Universe seemed to find a new home there.

Having funded the space, Crass were not (from memory) too keen to subsidise its continuing survival so were not directly involved - although they played there at least once. And when the next move was to the Centro Iberico, they had no involvement at all. I don't think they ever played there.

But by then there were enough groups to put on half a dozen groups each Sunday through the spring/ summer of 1982. For me those few months were 'anarcho-punk' - or, to be more precise 'anarcho-goth-punk' since it was such a diverse scene - even Daevid Allen of Gong once played there and Throbbing Gristle had previously.

After the Centro Iberico died there was the nearby squatting of the Zig Zag Club - which Crass were involved with and set up. But that was a one off. There then followed a whole string of squatted venues - the ones I mainly knew were in Islington, but the 'anarchy centre' idea happened in lots of places across London and the UK.

How much of that impetus came from Crass?

I am not sure. There were hundreds of people squatting in London. Squatting has its whole own history, which got a big boost in the late sixties/ early seventies - and critically carried on into the late seventies so it crossed over with punk. Like San Francisco in teh sixties, thousands of young people were drawn to London by punk - and kept on doing so after the initial 76/77 phase was over. Most went home again, but those who had no homes to go back to stayed and ended up living in squats. Most squats fell apart very quickly, but enough people learnt how to do it for a semi-stable punk squatting scene to develop.

The move from squatting a house to live in to squatting a larger space to put on gigs etc was a logical next step. It probably would have happened anyway. What Crass and the Poison Girls did - along with the old school anarchos [ Wapping Autonomy Centre] plus the Spanish anarchists of the Centro Iberico - was provided a stepping stone along the way.

It was an evolutionary development which would have happened anyway, but its development was helped by the existance of Wapping.

Crass played a similar role to that of the Sex Pistols or other 'known' punk groups - they made a noise which drew some people to it - for most people it was just an incident, a moment, for some it changed the direction of their lives.

The attractive power of the Pistols or Crass or the early Adam and the Ants etc etc was based on a strong, powerful and simple 'message'. Such blasts of energy are great for grabbing attention - but not really much use when it comes to dealing with the complexities of trying to live 'outside of society'.

To go to a gig, to be blasted by the noise and spectacle and then go home again is fine. But the punk I encountered in London back then was a punk created by people who never went home again after the gig. By young people, mostly teenagers, who ended up living in scummy squats and had to survive violence and drugs.

The given ideology of punk - that of Crass included - was useless in such realities. Yet somehow out of the chaos a fearful beauty was born. It didn't last long, it moved on and changed again - to Stonehenge and beyond, to Greenham, to other lives in other places.

Nothing lasts.

For some, for many , Crass may have been a critical factor, may have been the key influence. But not for me.

For me, punk / anarcho/ goth/ whatever was not about being a vegan and wearing black. It was about the day the world turned day glo back in the long hot summer of 1976 - for whcih see the very first blog on this site.

I clambered over mounds and mounds
Of polystyrene foam
And fell into a swimming pool
Filled with fairy snow
And watched the world turn day-glo
you know you know
The world turned day-glo you know
I wrenched the nylon curtains back
As far as they would go
And peered through perspex window panes
At the acrylic road
I drove my polypropolene
Car on wheels of sponge
Then pulled into a wimpy bar
To have a rubber bun
The X-rays were penetrating
Through the laytex breeze
Synthetic fibre see-thru leaves
The I fell from the rayon trees


Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks I am happy to be nostalgic for once.
a punk suvivorxxxxx

5:29 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

I found the elder members of CRASS very aloof (groan)
Richard Hell was the polar opposite,
Pauline Murray (avoid!)

9:20 am  

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