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

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Subway surfing anarcho-goths.

Legend has it that when Tony D. First saw Jeremy Gluck of The Barracudas, he was carrying a surfboard down an escalator at Holborn tube station in 1978. The Barracudas were a surf-punk band, celebrating early sixties California in late seventies London. They even had a hit in (?) with 'I want my woody back'. Jeremy joined the Puppy Collective and wrote an article in praise of 'stupid songs' for KYPP 1 featuring Abba, Boney M, the Village People and Blondie.

Fast forward to early 1981 and the Puppy Collective are surfing the subway to see The Barracudas play rock n roll heaven, the legendary Hope and Anchor pub halfway down Upper Street, Islington. It was a venue I had never visited before. The pub was upstairs, the bands played downstairs in a tiny basement on a stage which must have been all of six inches high. It was hot and sticky. Sweat evaporated instantly and then condensed on the ceiling to fall back down like rain on the audience.

At some point in the eveing's proceedings, most of the Puppy Collective vanished, leaving only myself and Tony to re-create obscure dance moves from the Sixties as our tribute to The Barracudas.
Gay Punx and a Parallel Universe

The lost puppies returned a few days later, full of strange tales. They had apparently entered a parallel universe and found a lost tribe of gay punx living in a squatted corner shop in Islington. They even had the evidence to prove it. On closer inspection, the evidence was revealed to consist of an article about gay punks in Gay Noise magazine (swiftly cut up and retourned for KYPP 4) and flyers for gigs at a squatted church on the Pentonville Road called "the parallel universe". From here on in, any coherent linear narrative breaks down. All that remains are a jumble of dubious 'recovered memories'.

The Mob on Parliament Hill

The gay punx/ Gay Noise was written by Pip. Pip lived at 51 Huntingdon Street in Islington, a former corner shop with its windows breeze blocked in. H. Street as it was called for reasons which will become apparent later, was part of a punk squatting scene which had diverged from that of the Puppy Collective a few years earlier. It is all somewhat confusing, but from 1977 onwards, as more and more teenagers were drawn to London by punk, punk squats began to emerge as the squatting scene of a previous generation (i.e. Frestonia/ Freston Road W 11) decayed.

For a while, members of the Puppy Collective lived in a squat at Covent Garden. later they lived in a derelict fire station at Old Street, right on the edge of the City of London. After this squat was evicted, some occupied an abandoned hospital, St. Monica's, in north London. Other punks moved to Campbell Buildings near Waterloo. Campbell Buildings gained a reputation as 'hell on earth'. As Bob Short of Blood and Roses put in an interview with Tony D. , published in Zig Zag magazine, "It was like boredom for weeks, then there would be a murder".

What happened in 1981 was a re-connection between these divergent strands of punk. Pip invited the Puppy Collective over for a meal (vegetarian lausange) and the next morning we trekked back across notrth London to search for magic mushrooms on Hampstead Heath. None were found. What we did find was The Mob playing a free gig in an adventure playground on Parliament Hill Fields.

The Mob. Though we did not know it at the time, The Mob were to become inextricably entwined with the Kill Your Pet Puppy Collective and the Centro Iberico, with 'anarcho-punk' and the Black Sheep Housing Co-op and with our magickal mystery tour to Stone(d)henge and beyond. Through Min, who I met that afternoon, another series of connections emerged, leading from Throbbing Gristle to Psychic

The Mob. West country punks. John Peel (of sacred memory) picked up and played their second single "Witch Hunt", which is how we knew of them. "Still living with the English fear, waiting for the witch hunt dear". Not sure when they moved up to London, but by 82 they were mainstays of 'the scene'. The connection with the Puppy Collective was briefly intimate (Tony's sister Val ' I am not a Puppy' and Mark Mob were an item for a while). Plans for The Mob's album 'Let the Tribe Increase' were made on the back of a shopping list in the kitchen of Puppy Mansions. My contribution was to ask how much it would cost to make an album (such a quaint word these days). Mark jotted down some figures and then went to Rough Trade who offered to pay the pressing costs if he could raise the recording costs. Thanks to Crass, who had released their single 'No Doves Fly Here', The Mob were able to build on the strength of 'Witch Hunt' to become, thanks to 'Let the Tribe Increase', a major influence on anarcho-punk.

Their very success became a problem, at least for main Mob person Mark Wilson. Inspired by an encounter with uber hippy travellers the Ukrainian Mountain Troupe, who had occupied an abandoned bus garage near Brougham Road in Hackney. ( Brougham road was (a row of squatted houses where ex Bader Meinhof person Astrid Proll biefly lived. Her sojourn there inspired a song by Nik Turner of Hawkwind fame). Mark bought a truck and made himself a tipi over the winter of 1983/4 whilst living at 103 Grosvenor Avenue, part of the Islington based anarcho-punk Black Sheep Housing Co-op. As Tom Vague would no doubt point out, members of the Angry Brigade had lived on the same street a decade earlier. Black Sheep's anarcho-punk credentials were established by managing to acquire Andy Palmer of Crass as an active member. But on a point of information, the original inspiration for the Black Sheep Co-op came from anarcho-communist Andy Martin of The Apostles.

To cut this part of the saga short, by 84, an idea first expressed by Mark P's ATV/ Here and Now tour of 1978, which took in a performance at Stonehenge Free Festival had become a reality. First a trickle, then a surge of the punk generation became 'hippy travellers', much to the discomfiture of tribal elders like John Pendragon.
Thelemic punk- Blood and Roses.

Back to 81. Clissold Park, Stoke Newington. One of London's 'lost rivers' ran through here, down from Seven Sisters and on past Abbney Park Cemetery, along part of Brooke Road, thjrough the edge of Hackney Downs (with a ford on Mare Street) to the river Lea. I didn't know that then.

What I did know was that Bob Short had been one of the Old Street fire station squatters and then the last survivor at Campbell Buildings. Now Bob had a band and they were to play on the outdoor stage at Clissold Park. I remember going with Puppy Collective, but not much more. Did we end up back at Bayston Road? Or not?

Bob's group evolved into Blood and Roses. The name came from a vampire film by Roger Vadim. Bob was and still is a movie buff. Thanks to Bob I saw Blade Runner and Assault on Precinct 13, Alien and ET. Blade Runner still haunts me, Alien still scares me. Blood and Roses created an evocative and powerful version of the theme to assault on Precinct 13 for John peel. Still got it on tape somewhere. Safely back in Australia, Bob is still making music and making movies. Just seen a couple. Makers of the Dead and a spoof Christian tv show. Makers of the Dead is a fascinating and brilliantly subversive re-writing of Bram Stoker's Dracula set in present day Oz. The spoof religious tv show is perhaps more directly subversive and just happens to be side-splittingly hilarious.

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, love is the law, love under will..." . The chorus of a Blood and Roses song, which is also they key mantra of Thelemic magickians. Or followers of mad, bad and dangerous to know Edward Alexander (Aleister) Crowley to get tabloid. If The Mob were the dayside of anarcho-punk, Blood and Roses were the evil twin , the anarcho-goth nightside. Although The Mob and Blood and Roses occasionally played on the same bill, their worlds did not collide. They just overlapped a wee bit.
At the Centro Iberico for example. But that came later, so I will have to return to the Hope and Anchor. Discovering the Parallel Universe opened up fresh set of possibilities, allowed a movement away from straight venues, created opportunities for a punk underground to develop as an alternative to the overground represented by 'oi!' punk as promoted by Gary Bushell , then of Sounds, now of the Sun. But ... it also meant a gradual retreat into an ideologically pure ghetto, a return to the pre-Grundy period when the Sex Pistols were an underground group playing to a self-selected elite of hip dudes and dudettes. It was a slow death, but it was a dying none the less.

Like all squats, the Parallel Universe was physically only ever a temporary space. A gang of 'dossers' hung out there and resented their space being taken over by a bunch of spotty punks. Eventually the church caught fire and lay derelict for years before being tunred into trendy offices. Bit of psychogeography - a famous Victorian clown was buried in the attached graveyard which remains a place of pilgrimage for the clowning community. [From memory- haven't fact checked that info. but it ought to be true even if it isn't actually].
Fortunately the Autonomy Centre set up post Persons Unknown trial with the help of Crass/ Poison Girls became our new church. The original idea (Andy Martin's?) was just to have a few benefit gigs to pay the rent, but they turned into a regular Sunday feature over the winter of 81/2.

On John Eden's website there is a whole chunk by Andy Martin about the Wapping Autonomy Centre, complete with lists of the bands who played. The Puppy Collective's contribution was to buy crates of cheap lager to sell alongside fanzines and anarchist literature in a back room.

Didn't last though. According to Albert Meltzer's online autobiog, the punks trashed the place and then the landlord threw everyone out. Which is true. What is also true is that the Autonomy Centre was never a viable economic proposition. There just weren't enough straight anarchists around to keep it going without the punk gigs, but the punks gigs broke the lease agreement (no music, no alcohol)... echoes of similar sixties ventures. Except instead of Crass and the Poison Girls, places like the Indica bookshop were financed by the Beatles [ see In the Sixties by Barry Miles : Jonathon Cape: 2002 or All Dressed Up by Jonathon Green].
Aside - Tom Vague has done an excellent job by creating a seamless narrative for West eleven/ Notting Hill which firmly puts 'the sixties' in a before and after context - see www.historytalk.com and numerous Vagues.

Centro Iberico 421a Harrow Road W9

Knit your own anarchy centre. It was an old school on the Harrow Road. Brick built circa 1900, similar to the one my kids later went to in Hackney and again in New Cross. Real Spanish anarchists lived there, some were veterans of 1936. There was a proper assembly hall with a stage on the first floor. We got the use of the ground floor and built a stage out of old cookers ( I had a photo, used in Punk Lives, of Tony hard at work building the stage). It was a bigger space than Wapping and its active life as Anarchy Centre lasted through into the summer of 82.

Still have a bright yellow double sided A 4 flyer Tony produced for it.

National tragedy 23 million people still employed!
The Autonomy Centre in Wapping has now officially closed after being largely unused in its year long existence- apart from the gigs there every Sunday from November to Feb 21st 9till the landlord found out)
As the gigs were the centre's only form of income it was inevitable it had to close (£680 rent every three months, next payment would have been made on March 22nd)

Around £700 was paid into the bank from concerts, another £50 used to repair the drum kit that was used almost every week and to buy materials and keep running the Centro Iberico. As this is written there is £89 in the kitty, but there is also a list of things that are needed quickly:
Microphones, chemical toilets (what people in caravans and things use) tape recorders, a plu board (not enoughj sockets in hall) paint/brushes to paint banners to decorate the place, food/tea/coffee that you eat and drink free each week (or pay a little for the food)...

This isn't just a gig venue run by an elite clique of people. As we said in our last Sunday Supplement "A kick up the arse", if you don'tput energy into the centre well all get pissed off and put none in ourselves and then where will you be? The Lyceaum? The Clarendon? the 100 club? Twice the cost, half the bands and bouncers = no fun.Thieves, no-one paying, no participation = no A centre. Its your centre, use it, don't abuse it ...etc. etc
When a new, permanent place is found that we can use during the daytime for more than just gigs, then these gigs now should have raised enough to pay for facilities and things that can be used by and for all. If you have any ideas about what should be there, come along early and discuss it.

Crass have shown interest in helping out but they don't want to be used as a money source (the way Iris Mills and crew did in the setting up of the last place) - this place has to be finacially independent...

£1 entry, doors open 4.30pm, first band on at 7pm, finish at 10.30pm

21st March 12 Cubic feet/ apostles/ Lack of Knowledge/ Replaceable heads
28th March Rubella ballet/ Action Pact/ Dead Man's Shadow
4th April Subhumans/ Organised Chaos/ Locusts/ Hagar the Womb
11th April EASTER -no trains? no bands? probably a free mind boggling weird and wonderful day
18th April Flux/ Cold War/ Screaming Babies
25th April The Mob/ Bikini Mutants/ D-notice

Dotted around the text little Situ quotes "Authority is the Negation of Creativity", "Dis-obey your Jailors- Smash the Spectacle", All power to the imagination/ imagine no power", "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act"

Anarcho-punk, anarcho-goth - and Crass had fuck all to do with it. Got a single recorded by Conflict there, but probably belongs to Tinsel. Got a tape with Blood and Roses going nova with Curse on You live at the Cebntro ... and didn't they play Sister Ray there once? The first Sunday there was nothing so we banged bits of wood and metal together and sang Patti Smith songs "We shall live again..."

It was the kind of atmosphere which the previous underground turned into legends - like Pink Floyd playing the IT launch party at the Roundhouse/ Hawkwind and Pink Fairies playing under the Westway... or the stuff of 76/77 punk mythology. But by 82 a few hundred crazy-coloured anarcho- gothic punks were? What? An invisible sub-sub culture and the whole scene has been re-written 1984 style as if it was Crass what done it.
But Crass were out in Epping, not there on the streets and in the squats. If anything, as their influence grew, the walls closed in. Or was it the politics? Re-election of Thatcher in 83 and the unfolding consequences? Another angle is the failure of 'anarcho-punk' to become class conscious and engage with real political struggles.

But I reckon the average age of anarcho-punks was about 17 - working class/ middle class = parents. I worked in a factory all the way through the period - there was no point of contact between the worlds. Oh, apart from when the Black Sheep Housing Co-op made the front page of an outraged Evening Standard (thanks to my soundbite!) and into the daily Mail...

"Was that your bunch Alistair? " I was asked. My subsequent move from a bed-sit in Ilford to a Black Sheep house in Islington was met with incredulity.

"You don't want to move there. I was brought up in Hoxton, bloody awful place full of darkies now, you want to move out to Romford like me" . Or Epping, where my boss lived... no niggers there.
I sometimes wonder how many lefty politicos have ever actually worked in a factory.

More Anarchy Centres, Acid Houses and City Stopping

There were dozens. Even the Hope and Anchor got squatted. The Black Sheep managed to open up half a dozen in and around Islington and Mick (Luggy) was head-hunted to go and help open up Peace Centres in places like Leeds. Even Pyschic TV played a gig in a briefly squatted synagogue - but by then the scene had mutated, with ex anarchos becoming born again Psychic Youths and some carrying on even furthur to become 'hippy' travellers.

The Mutoid Waste Company took to creating situations in squatted warehouses, which evolved into acid house parties and years later fused with the free festival scene which in turn inspired the Dongas of Twyford Down to start the road protest movement.

On a different tack, how about Stop the City? Dave Morris of London Greenpeace/ Maclibel trial was instigator there, but a certain Pinki aided and abetted him. 29th September 83 was first Stop the City... and the idea came around again through Reclaim the Streets in 1999 and is still live as in 2005 G8 summit protests. Which is a very brief summary of a lot of things going on, but trolling through the internet, I have found enough links and connections to take it all back to the Parallel Universe in 81. Sort of. Trouble is there is too damn much stuff. I haven't even mentioned the Peace Convoy from Stonehenge Free Festival to Greenham Common in July 82. It is like some weird inverted conspiracy theory in which everything connects - or at least it does if a bit of disbelief is suspended.

The Personal as Political

Not so sure about this, but some of it is public domain. All the Madmen, The Mob's recorded company, funded by profits from 'Let the Tribe Increase', released a single called 'Rape' by Zos Kia in 1984. It is a harrowing pieceof music. It is a bleak and graphic description by the vocalist Min of her experience of being raped in the Australian outback on a family holiday whilst she was a young teenager. It is not easy listening.
I was 'manager' of All the Madmen at the time. I knew the story behind the song. Min had told me it a couple of years before. It had shocked me. To know that women are raped is one level of knowledge, is the stuff of hundreds of news stories, court cases and tabloid tales. But to hear a woman quietly describing her experience of a rape before breaking down in tears... it disturbed and confused me deeply and profoundly.
I could say nothing, do nothing. It was freezing cold in her room. We lay side by side in bed, fully clothed. The City of the Dead. All courage gone and paralysed.

There is no easy path back from such depths. Other voices echo the question "How could anyone do that to a young girl?". It was not only Min's experience. I heard then and have heard since many others. Not just in the city either. A school friend only recently recounted her experience of childhood sexual abuse here in this small rural town in the early sixties.

How deep was the politics of 'anarcho-punk'? How shallow were the gothic-punk images of 'the horror'?
But then... for Min at least, the Zos Kia single was an excorcism. She only listened to it once, it was enough. Maybe this one piece of music alone can stand as justification, as and end point. It came out of genesis P. orridge's psychic TV experiment, but was also part of punk, 'our' punk.

Who are we now? We are the future, your future.... not in any obvious way, not like the sixties generation, or even like the 76/77 punk generation. Rather we have vanished into the world as if we had never been, yet (from what I can see) are still somehow shaping and shifting the world. Really? Of course not! We were just a bunch of mixed up kids having a bit of fun pretending to be situationist revolutionaries. Now we are all grown up and much more mature and sensible. Well, some of us are. Min is a Speech and Language Therapist. Can't get much more sensible than that, can you? Tony is an all round family entertainer. Tom is a local historian. Not so sure about Bob though. And... well lets just wait and see what happens next.


Saturday, March 26, 2005

Taking on Tesco

All gone busy. For the past year been 'spearheading' a campaign to stop Tesco building a superstore on the edge of town. The consensus was nothing could be done to stop it, especially since it seemed to have the support of key figures in local council.

What was also annoying was that the Food Town committee ( see www.cd-foodtown.org ) had been advised that there was nothing they could do. So they have sat on the fence for the past year. I even managed to get thrown out of their AGM by tying to raise the Tesco question...

All came to a head on Friday 11th march. There was a planning meeting which lasted from 9.30 am to 6 pm. The local area committee agreed to give planning permission, but the full regional committee deferred their decision until April 8th.

It was all glorious chaos, with Tesco's suited-up team negotiating away a petrol-filling station at the last moment, police being called, accusations and threats to sue flying around. My daughter came along just to watch the fun - a bit of town hall theatre. Almost as much fun as meetings of Hackney Council were in the late eighties. I remember one occasion (to do with the eviction of Stamford Hill estate) when protestors occupied the Council Chambers, whilst councillors tried to break the door down using a table as a battering ram...

Quite why there is such institutional enthusiasm for Tesco puzzled me- until I did a bit of investigative research. "It is about sewage not shopping" was the soundbite I came up with for a local radio station.

It turns out that the outfall from Castle Douglas sewage works runs into a drainage ditch behind the town's football pitch. It then winds its way through a bog until it reaches a river 1 1/2 miles away. Scottish Water can't upgrade until 2010 at earliest, but it is worth big private developers stumping up the cash to get the work done. A health centre and housing development are already under construction on this basis.

There is a snag though. The bog is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. This means the original plan to build a pipeline through it from the sewage works direct to the river is being blocked by Scottish Natural Heritage. The alternative route is twice as far and will be much more expensive to build.

I reckon that without Tesco's little bit of help, the whole project will stall. But if the project stalls, the new health centre and 63 luxury houses will have to remain empty... much egg on face all round plus buck-passing and lawyers arguing over who should pay - Scottish Water or private developers?

Hence the sudden and desperate need to get the Tesco plan agreed. It could even be the Council have left theselves open to a judicial review by trying to cut procedural corners.

So I am busy. Will get back onto the punk track soon though.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

In the beginning there was punk

The summer of 1976

It was the summer of 76, the summer the earth stood still and burnt.. I was living in a caravan on the edge of the Forest of Dean. By day I toiled in the sun helping to re-build a derelict cottage. At night I sweltered in the heat, door and windows open. Looking out east over the Severn, by day I could see pillars of smoke rising up over the Cotswolds. At night the the flames of scrub fires lit up the darkness.

For a few days I visited London, travelling via Stonehenge. The route was marked by the skeltons of dying elm trees, so many it looked like winter in the summer. Stonehenge looked like a painting by Dali, the stones fusing into glass in a desert. There was no green, only the dead dry stalks of grass dancing in the furnace heat.

The London I searched for beneath the Westway was not the London of punk, the only punk I knew then (and that but little of) was that of New York and Patti Smith. Rather I was searching for the spirit of a previous age, of Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies. I found a few traces. In a headshop somehwere near the Portobello Road I found a stash of old magazines, OZ and Frendz and a newly (briefly) revived IT/ International Times. The counter-culture gone so far underground it had become invisible.

I don't recall the return west. All that I can recall is waking up one night in the caravan and seeing flashes on the horizon over towards Bristol. For a few brief/ eternal minutes I thought "This is it. They have dropped the Bomb on Bristol. It is the end of the world..." . And then came a breath of cold air and the first fat drops of rain began to fall. Was there thunder? There must have been. "Waiting for the summer rain..." Even then, felt more like a Jim Morrison moment than the birth of punk The punk moment didn't come until much later, until I heard White Riot played at a student disco as winter took hold. Only then did the geological shift happen. Only then did punk happen for me. Only then did the Westway become part of the present of the Clash not the past of Hawkwind. Except it is not so simple as that.

Just posted off a wodge of colour photocopies of a punk fanzine from 1980 -Kill Your Pet Puppy - to Ian who is writing a book about "anarcho-punk". To get in the mood, listened to The Mob "Stubbing out progress where the seeds are sown... still living with the English fear, waiting for the witch hunt dear ... "

How did it happen? Here is the short version. It was 1981. I was living in London and working in a factory making Durex condoms, but also a member of the (Kill Your Pet) Puppy Collective. Don't worry. No puppies were ever killed, it was a metaphor. We went to see the Barracudas play at the Hope and Anchor pub in Islington. Some Puppies were persuaded to go to a rival attraction, a squatted church on the Pentonville Road called the Parallel Universe. Somehow, via a gay punk squat on Huntingdon Street in Islington, this Parallel Universe later fused with a search for magic mushrooms at dawn on Hampstead Heath and seeing The Mob play a free gig in an adventure playground on Parliament Hill Fields.

Thanks to John Peel playing The Mob's "Witch Hunt", they were already a Puppy fave rave group. But was all this talk of magic mushrooms (none were ever found) and free gigs in adventure playgrounds hippy or punk? Hawkwind or Clash? I suppose, since the last KYPP (no. 5) ended up at Stonehenge Free Festival in 1984 it was more hipy than punk. But then primal punks ATV played at Stonehenge with primal hippies Here and Now in 1978. What you see is what you get.

Nothing lasts, things change. The KYPP stuff I photocopied today was mainly about Crass and SWP/ BM conflicts acted out at their gigs. But as we all know now, Penny Rimbaud of Crass was a mate of Wally Hope who had the idea for a free festival at Stonehenge back in 1974. Crass may have sounded more punk than The Mob, but The Mob were more punk than Crass.. . and if one route from the Hope and Anchor Barracudas gig via the Parallel Universe and the gay punks of Huntingdon Street led us to The Mob, the same route also led to Blood and Roses and thelemic punk.

But to reconstruct that link will have to wait.