9162 words on The Mob by Lance Hahn
|Original art work for 'Let the Tribe Increase' by Wilf|
I have just been reading The Aesthetic of Our Anger. Anarcho-Punk, Politics and Music edited by Mike Dines & Matthew Worley which
explores the development of the anarcho-punk scene from the late 1970s, raising questions over the origins of the scene, its form, structure and cultural significance examining how anarcho-punk moved away from using ‘anarchy’ as mere connotation and shock value towards an approach that served to make punk a threat again.It is 325 pages long and gives the impression of being an authoritative text. However Matthew Worley has assured me that it is more of " a round-up of what people are currently looking at … such books are in part designed to reveal the gaps and encourage further research."
A gap which the book reveals is the absence of The Mob from current research on anarcho-punk. In the hope of encouraging further research and making it easier to access 'info' on The Mob, here is an extract from the late Lance Hahn's unpublished book on anarcho-punk which would have be titled 'Let the Tribe Increase'.
The Story Of The Mob by Lance Hahn
“No Doves Fly Here” is one of the most powerful musical statements to come out of what we’re calling anarcho punk and if you didn’t know any better you would have it all wrong. By traditional standards, it’s barely a punk song at all, dead slow in tempo with repetitive, hypnotic bass lines. In some ways, the music is gothic with roots in songs like “Hollow Hills” by Bauhaus. Lyrically, it’s poetic. Previously, anarcho punk had great difficulty marrying poetics into their music. Poetry was meant to stand alone serving as an introduction to the song. The faster tempos and aggressive chord progressions made poetry in lyrics difficult usually coming off as cartoon-ish. But with the down tempo of “No Doves” it worked. The Mob were hippie punks. But there was something dark and ominous about a lot of their music. They were death hippies, tripping on the apocalypse. And it was all coming from the unlikely area of Yeovil.
Mark, guitarist and vocalist, “When punk came along, me and Curtis were punks overnight. We went to watch bands like the Cortinas and Siouxsie and the Slits… anyone who played in the West Country. We would take our gear along and try to play. Occasionally (very) we would succeed. I remember reading of punk in the NME and I hadn’t got through the first paragraph and I knew it was for me. I remember praying I’d like the music that went with it. There were no punk records and none on the radio. It’s hard to imagine now, but we would buy any record as it was released if it was vaguely punk; Eater, Slaughter and the Dogs, Wreckless Eric, anything!”
Even before Mark discovered punk, he had been interested in playing music.
Mark, “We had a band at school called Magnum Force. We played old rock music at school discos. We only played easy songs as I’ve never been much good at playing guitar.”
Josef, the group’s final drummer, “Up until late 1976, remember, the nucleus of the band that became The Mob still played Status Quo covers under the name 'Magnum Force'. The first real influence upon Mark was the art school decadence and dynamism of The Clash and their ilk. The second was Here & Now. Neither of us ever forgot those early Clash records...”
Mark, “I didn’t like our early music much but it was of a time. And it’s hard to see now but 1976 was a long way from ’77 and by ’78 there were millions of so-called punks.(To my mind this early music of ours sounds crap now) but It was still somehow radical back then.”
With punk changing Mark’s musical interests overnight, the times were also affecting his political outlook.
Mark, “As with punk, radical politics were the only politics that ever interested me – as soon as I was aware of politics. I lived in Canada when I was young and was very aware of the Patty Hearst kidnapping, Black Power at the Olympics and the kidnappings in Quebec in the ‘70s. As I’m writing, people are massed in Genoa on the TV and the world is taking notice. My favorite band at the time of early punk was The Clash. I think the same would be true of Josef and Curtis although Curtis probably favored The Damned. We would get backstage at Clash gigs and chat with the band members. I was gutted when I realized they’d sold us all up the river in “Whiteman In Hammersmith Palais”. I remember listening to it over and over again. “Stay Free” was an anthem to the youth in Yeovil, Weymouth where we hanged at the time.”
With bass player Curtis and drummer Graham Fallows, Mark formed the Mob playing an anarchic form of punk completely autonomous to what was happening in London. A punk band with a unique and personal perspective, the Mob drew from local and outside influences. But like the most common story in British punk, they were largely driven to escape for boredom of daily life.
Mark, “The West Country is a totally tedious place to live when you’re young and boredom breeds bands. I remember the Buzzcocks singing ‘Boredom’ and I thought, ‘you’ve no idea – you live in Manchester.’”
More open to different ideas, the Mob were less antagonistic towards the hippies. A local performance from Here & Now proved to be something of an epiphany.
Mark, ““When we were doing our “trying to blag a gig job” we met up with Here & Now who were playing in Yeovil. We found we shared a lot of ideals with these people. They were doing tours, playing for nothings and passing the hat round after to get the money to get to the next gig. We tagged along and followed them to Holland where we indulged heavily in the “relaxed” atmosphere. If you listen to Gavin’s synthesizer or Steffi playing guitar you could hear so much of what today would be called “dance” music. They were way ahead of our times – we all were to some extent. We’re talking about at time where you would be beaten up in Yeovil for not wearing flairs and having short hair. This was all a brave new world to me.”
In general, it seems that the “Never Trust A Hippie” vibe was more Sex Pistols agit-prop than the reality of the times.
Mark, “I think when people talk of conflict between punks and hippies it was always more to do with student Genesis fans etc. Funny enough, these days I’m referred to as “Hippy Mark” by my Gypsy acquaintances. They mean it condescendingly but it amuses me to no end. In this country hippy has come to represent a wild spirit that lives in a bus and is at war with society (although the truth is probably saddeningly different).
“We called the album “Let The Tribe Increase” to reflect all this It was somewhat what I had in mind – but I’m not sure the reality lives up to the dream although it’s fair to say that it does for a great many people.
“I think that punks mixing with hippies was usually ok – we both wanted to change the world. We introduced hippie children to punk rock at free festivals. They would all dive on the stage and pogo along while the shocked hippies stood and watched. I like to think we appealed to the disaffected of whatever persuasion. We used to have hellish trouble at gigs in Somerset in the early days but that was mostly with bikers.”
Josef, “…Here & Now were far more radical and influential than any of the bands who came onto the scene through Crass Records. If it hadn't been for them, The Mob would probably never have left Somerset, and almost certainly wouldn't have followed the Anarchist line.”
Though not a direct connection to Stonehenge as with Crass, the Free Fest scene was both a vivid childhood memory for Mark as well as an inspiration.
Mark, “When I was at school, we had a day trip to London and we drove past what must have been about 500 hippies camped by Stonehenge. I don’t know what it was but I thought it was fucking fantastic – it was like a scene of outright “fuck you” defiance and celebration all at once. As soon as I was old enough to go out without my Mum, we would go to the festival and spend a week or a month towards the end of it camped out by Stonehenge. The last year of the festival, there were 30,000 of us for a month – un-policed and getting on fine – in my mind it was proof that we could govern ourselves. And the government seen it too – and they smashed it to pieces and replaced it with heroin.”
At this point, at the end of the ‘70s, DIY was a staple in the punk scene with self-published fanzines, indie labels and bands working without managers. In the country, it was set free to manifest itself in different ways. For the Mob, they were lucky enough to have made friends with Here & Now and gained access to their touring resources.
Joining Here & Now for a series of free tours, as Alternative TV had done previously, the Mob were able to develop their sound quickly putting together a set. It also gave them the chance to play abroad for the first time. Many of these early versions of their songs appeared in numerous cassette compilations sold at the performances through Here and Now.
Josef, “Seekers of unreleased Mob songs might look out for 'Weird Tales', a compilation of bands from the tours, which features 4 tracks from the band's tour in Holland with Here & Now. ‘Youth’, ‘Crying Again’, ‘Never Really Cared’ and ‘Frustration’. The latter written and sung by Graham.”
These free festivals were a testament to the groups adherence to the community’s cooperative vibe. Money and musical career were not part of the picture.
Mark, “We just played when we could and where we could. We were never driven to be big stars.”
This friendship with Here & Now would also bring them together with other likeminded punk bands like the Androids of Mu and Zounds. Eventually these support acts found themselves together on tour organizing their own free shows under the title Weird Tales.
Mark, “Weird Tales was like a tour of Here & Now support bands. Grant was along for the ride. It was organized by JB a legend of the Latimer Road squatting scene and the Acklam Hall in Portobello. We met up with lots of other like-minded people whilst on this tour and I think it’s where Zounds met Crass. It was interesting how Zounds underwent a transition from hippy “guitar solo” band to punk band overnight under Crass’ guidance. It always amuses me when people say about Zounds being a punk band. Although they were fundamentally the same songs, their entire set was “punked up” to go with the new image (Not that this matters of course).”
Josef, “Just before I joined Zounds, they were touring with The Mob and The Androids of Mu in an old bus. The tours were known as The Weird Tales, and the idea was that all the shows were free, and a collection was taken. Needless to say it was doomed to failure, as your average UK anarcho would rather spend money on cider.... The bands had all been support acts for Here & Now, who had started the whole thing up. One night they got a puncture somewhere out in Essex, and entirely by accident, some of Crass happened by and fixed it for them. They liked what the bands were doing and invited Zounds, and subsequently The Mob, to record for them.”
The tours weren’t without incident.
Josef, “Actually their was some enmity between Zounds and The Mob, stemming from the 'Weird Tales' tours. Zounds more mature rational perception of anarchism and politics didn't mix well with The Mob's 'vivid but vague' approach.”
‘Vivid but vague’ was certainly an accurate way to describe any overreaching ideology for the group.
Mark in Kill Your Pet Puppy fanzine, “I’d like to see a society built on trust, where everyone trusted everyone else until they couldn’t be trusted anymore, then carried on trusting them anyway. Eventually this would instill enough trust into people so they could give it back. I can’t do it myself yet. I’d like to. If this is anarchy we’re anarchists.”
After the free tours, the group was somewhat in the mode of DIY and by 1980 decided to do a record on their own. Rather than send off demo tapes to established record labels, the started their own label.
Mark, “I never had the slightest interest in mainstream success. It would be the easiest thing in the world to write popular songs with catchy tunes. But that’s no interest to me. Here & Now enjoyed small success probably along the same lines as ourselves. Like I said before, we were before out time.”
All The Madmen was the Mob’s label, though originally a fanzine and a way to release the super obscure “England’s Glory” 7” by the Review. Financing the initial operation was someone named Captain Max.
Josef, “No history of The Mob should omit Captain Max. Max was Mark's friend and ally throughout, and as far as I know is with him still. 96 Tapes released a cassette of Captain Max and the Flying Pigs, which was Me, Curtis , and any others who felt like it, with Max singing piss-take covers of old rock and roll songs.
“He also traveled as roadie for Zounds to Europe, and is a far more prominent figure in the Mob's personal legend than me - I think he put up the money for Youth/Crying Again. He was there all along. I was just the drummer for the last couple of years.”
Mark, “We borrowed the money off Max. There were loads of us that hung around at Geoff’s house, 20 Larkhill Rd in Yeovil. We made a fanzine “All The Madmen” there was a group of about 20 of us that loosely did everything together. Max was the only one who had a job. He kept us all in beer and drugs.”
Their rawest studio recording, “Crying Again/Youth” 7” sounds something like a really well done demo. The whole thing was recorded and mixed inexpensively through their Here & Now connections.
Mark, “We recorded the single with Grant Showbiz from Here & Now. He later worked with the Fall and the Smiths. I don’t recall a lot about it to be honest.”
Josef, “I wasn't around then, so I can't really say much about that. I think they made 500, but it was pretty dreadful. The best thing about it is Graham Fallows, the original drummer. He was absolutely the best - he started playing when he was about six. Listen to the way he plays ‘Witch Hunt’. I always hated trying to play tha
t song, because without him it just sounded limp-wristed.”
Not nearly as dire as Josef makes it out to be, the two songs capture a lot of the elements that would be key to the Mob’s sound. “Crying Again” is both an emotive personal song as well as a memorably catchy punk song.
Time spins around
The wall closes in
I think of the places I used to know
And I’m crying again
“Youth” is a quirky slower track with something of a dub rhythm. The creative drum work colors the repetitive bass line. The descriptive lyrics are sung somewhere between anger and disgust.
Mark, “This was very early days and “Youth” was our big number live in Yeovil. John Peel started playing it on Radio 1 at night. But he preferred “Crying Again” so that got taken on as the A side by most people. I don’t like either of them much.”
Using the little resources they had, they were able to sort out just one pressing of 500 copies.
Mark, “We released it on our own ‘cos that was the thing to do – it was what everyone was doing – you could put it out yourself for about 500 pounds.”
The 7” was also the beginning of their working with local artist Wilf who would do the rest of their cover art.
Mark, “Wilf hung around on the fringe of the Yeovil scene. He was a brilliant artist and I’d love to know how he’s getting on. I have a couple of watercolors that he did for “Let The Tribe Increase” that were never used.”
Josef, “As for the artwork, that was all done by a chap from Yeovil called Wilf. Most of the faces he drew are fairly accurate portraits of people from the town that he knew, and his specialty was accurate drawings of helicopters, which constitute the local industry at Westland's in Yeovilton.”
While there wasn’t an anarcho scene in their area at the time, they did find gigs with other local punk bands.
Mark, “The time we spent in Yeovil was previous to the anarcho scene. The bands we were around then were Bikini Mutants and Steve Rudalls Weymouth based Dead Popstars.”
But the London anarcho scene was still influential.
Mark, “We listened to a little bit of Crass but more so the Poison Girls. I was attracted by their politics much more than their music.”
The Mob quickly followed up “Crying Again” with “Witch Hunt” which would be one of their defining songs.
Mark, “We released “Witch Hunt” when we were still in Yeovil. It took months for us to raise the money to release it. I got in my girlfriend’s Dad’s car to get a lift home one night and it was on the radio. There were hundreds of minor classic songs released on obscure labels that never really got heard as much as they deserved. “Witch Hunt” was right up there with them.”
Not a hardcore song at all, not a normal garage band sound, it’s hard to exactly pinpoint what the Mob sound like especially at this stage. While it’s not at all your usual rock structure, it’s somehow catchy as hell.
“Witch Hunt” is also the first song from the Mob to really create the eerie atmosphere that has made them so fascinating to the goth crowd. While possible to find a political context to the song, it certainly can stand alone as evocative.
Stubbing out progress where seeds are sown
Killing off anything that’s not quite known
Sitting around in a nice safe home
Waiting for the witch hunt
By the time the record finally went out of print, they had gone through many pressings with foldout as well as glued sleeves.
Now wanting to find more likeminded people, Mark and Curtis decided to relocate to London.
Mark, “Me and Curtis were keen to spend more time with like-minded people which inevitably led us to London. I’d fell for a girl that lived in London and didn’t go back to Yeovil very often.”
Said Mark in Kill Your Pet Puppy fanzine, “(We) have drifted further apart through having more opportunity to develop our own individual things. In the sticks you’re tied together through isolation, in London you can spread out much more… Being with people of similar belief most of the time makes it easier to cope with things like loneliness, insecurity or these feelings like you think you’re the only person for miles around who doesn’t believe in the state, the police, fighting and football; which is how it was in Somerset.”
Despite great drum work on those records, the move to London was too important and Graham was out of the band.
Mark, “Graham was probably one of the world’s best drummers. But he had no ambition other than to play the drums. I’ll bet Graham – unlike most of us – has realized his dreams and is playing drums tonight in a working men’s club in Somerset.”
By 1981, the Mob and All The Madmen had relocated to London.
Mark, “Graham played drums on “Witch Hunt” but he never fancied moving out of Yeovil. Me and Curtis moved into a “commune” style house near Devizes with our new drummer “Adie” and several others. We bought a bus to tour on and the first time we took it out we went to London – and stayed. We landed in Brougham Rd. in Hackney which was a mad mix of squatters, hippies, lesbians, Spanish Anarchists, etc. Josef was living there – we knew him from Yeovil. He had moved to London and joined a Mod band – we had shared a house in Shepard’s Bush a year or so earlier with Josef and this was where we had done the Weird T
ales gigs from.”
Josef, “Bit of trivia - when they returned to London, in 1981 (they went back to the West Country for a few months in between) they moved into Hackney in a converted 40 seater bus. Zounds came back from a horrible gig in Middlesborough to find them parked outside my house in Brougham Road. Two kittens called Tai and Ching moved in with them. Eventually, once they'd fixed up the plumbing and the electricity, they moved in to number 74. Brougham road was a whole street of squats in E8.”
An oddity, the next release for the label was a one-off 7” by their friend, Andy Stratton.
Mark, “Andy Stratton was a mate of ours from Yeovil – he wanted to be a rock star.”
Josef, “'I Don't Mind' was released in about 1980, and was entirely funded, planned, recorded and everything-elsed by Andy. He just used the name for the label, and for all I know still has 500 of them under his bed… Tell your gumshoes that Andy Stratton's real name was Andy Barker… Andy took the name Stratton from the village of Over Stratton in Somerset, where his folks lived.”
It was just a matter of time before the Mob had recruited Josef, who was already playing in Zounds, as drummer.
Josef, “By the time I started playing with them, the band had been around for about three years. I had nothing to do with either the name or any of the writing - I was just the drummer. I'm not sure what you mean by a straightforward punk/garage band. You couldn't get much more straightforward than The Mob - Mark wasn't exactly a busy guitarist, and a lot of his songs only had two chords. I think Curtis' bass playing was a big feature in the band's sound. He was pretty good. Without him the music would have been featureless.”
Josef had been a friend and part of the music scene from their home town. He had played in a couple of groups previous to working with Zounds and the Mob.
Josef, “My first band was back in Somerset - Valley Forge - it was a ghastly punk band that played in local village halls. When I moved to London in 1979 I joined the first band with a vacancy, which was a Mod band called Attitudes. They taught me to play. I wasn't that keen on the music, but I just wanted a band, and they were the first ad I answered in Melody Maker. We did a dozen or so gigs, but rehearsing twice a week for a year with a disciplined group of musicians was really good for me.”
This was probably the most active period for the band. Now involved in a likeminded scene, the Mob got involved playing anarcho related venues like Centro Iberico and the Wapping @ Centre.
Mark in Kill Your Pet Puppy fanzine, “I feel the Anarchy Centre means/meant so much in that a community has developed and can grow (as it has) whereas a community like Crass’s is closed off and can only lead by example rather than through cooperation… I like the idea, as I said, of taking a highly colorful version of the Anarchy Centre around the country so that people who couldn’t get there when it was around could get exposed – this is my main dream anyway. Maybe not with The Mob but I’d like to see it happen…”
Josef, “Initially we were all from Somerset, but the year or so we were based in Hackney in London was the period that most people would remember. We were playing with a lot of the Crass label bands - Poison Girls, Dirt, Flux of Pink Indians and the like, but other bands that spring to mind are Blood and Roses, Brigandage, The Apostles, Flowers in the Dustbin and about a million others.”
The band also started making more trips to the continent.
Josef, “I went to Belgium and Germany with them in 1980/81. The response was pretty much the same – people took a lot of speed, drank a lot and looked intense.”
The next recording project wasn’t much of a recording at all. Recorded on the fly, the ‘Ching’ demo is your typical practice tape fair.
Mark, “I don’t know. But it was probably to do with having no money – our reality day to day in those days was absolutely skint and picking up food from the market floor at Spitalfields in east London.”
Josef, “The LP is much better. “Ching” was recorded on a ghetto blaster in a rehearsal room in my house in Hackney, and sounds like it. The band were very well received by people, on account of Mark's bottomless charisma. Not much interest from the music press, as we were tarred by the Crass brush, but we were getting on fine without them.”
While definitely rough sounding, the tape is still an interesting artifact as it’s the only appearance of the songs “What’s Going On” and “White Nigger”. The tape also features a simpler version of “No Doves” unlike the synth drenched version that would be released within the year. Otherwise, the tape is something of a preview of the Mob’s yet to be recorded LP.
Mark, “We had a cat called Ching. It just meant change – it’s what we wanted.”
Like Zounds had done the previous year, the Mob decided to work with Crass doing a one off 7” for the label. In September, they entered Southern Studios with John Loder engineering and Penny Rimbaud producing.
Mark, “It was quite hard working with Crass – you always felt you had to be on your best behavior. Penny was a perfectionist. I did that vocal one word at a time – it worked in the end. But the song was better live in a lot of ways. My singing voice was never very good. But he made me sound OK. I always thought it was over the top but I enjoyed the experience and Crass as people and a lifestyle remain a big influence on my life.”
Josef, “One thing about recording with Crass was the meticulous attention to detail. Penny was a great producer, but also liked to be in control, so bands were seldom at the mix, and you were apt to find your record coming out with unexpected overdubs of crying babies on them. I suppose the main difference was that working with Crass you weren't on so tight a budget as normal, and could take the necessary time over a project. I think they had shares in Southern Studio. I believe that some of their recordings took months.”
“No Doves Fly Here” is one of the most popular releases on Crass Records and it’s in no way hardcore punk. It’s moody. It’s atmospheric. It’s grim. There are huge synth parts making it sound totally unlike the previous releases.
Josef, “Funnily enough I have hardly listened to music at all since I started playing it. About the only tape I recall having back then was Patti Smith's 'Horses' - which rules - and a Glenn Miller compilation. All my punk 7"s, which I'd assiduously collected over 1977-78 had long since been sold or stolen by then. I don't think I ever really listened to much of the Anarcho-punk stuff. The Adverts, Clash, 999, Alternative TV and the like were my idea of punk bands at the time.”
Perfectly matching the tone of the music are the lyrics depicting what could be some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland.
The buildings are empty
And the countryside is a wasteland
It never was before
And we never asked for war
The playgrounds are empty
And the children limbless corpses
They never were before
And we never asked for war
No one is moving and no doves fly here
No one is thinking and no doves fly here
No one remembers beyond all this fear
No doves fly here
Mark, “I admired the Crass set up. We smoke hundreds of fags and drank thousands of cups of tea back then. One of the least mentioned secrets of Crass was the immense amount of tea they could drink.”
With a well received single on Crass, the Mob were finding they could draw a regular audience at decent sized venues around London.
Mark, “We were very popular in London and would fill nearly anywhere we played. But outside London we were more or less unknown. We had a very tight group of followers who didn’t necessarily love the music, but were drawn together by common beliefs. Our gigs were very passionate and I like to think much more than just music.”
The groups popularity saw their audience crossing with other subcultures.
Mark, “We had no connection to these bands except that a lot of our followers were fond of these bands also. We did some gigs with Poison Girls and Southern Death Cult. I think Chumbawamba must of played some of these dates at Leeds and Sheffield also… I loved the Poison Girls. Vi’s lyrics were fantastic and I learned to like Crass and went to a lot of their gigs.”
1982 saw Mark getting involved with other aspects of the London anarcho scene getting involved with the folks from the Kill Your Pet Puppy Collective.
Mark, “I lived for 2 years with Val Drayton, Tony D’s sister. They were the main part of the KYPP along with Alister and several others. They shared a lot of my philosophies. We believed we could bring about social change and have a fucking good time as well.”
At that stage, he was also making plans for what might have been some sort of circus.
Mark in Kill Your Pet Puppy fanzine, “I’ve got a vaguely formulated plan which involves getting a couple of converted buses, jugglers, fire-eaters, etc. and doing a tour that’s more like a circus… Cries of ‘hippy’ from the cheap seats… but who cares? Punk is individual. I’ll only consider myself punk if the word means individual. If it means leather and studs you can keep it.”
With Zounds splitting up in 1982, Josef still had instances of pulling double duty with them and the Mob.
Josef, “There were a few gigs where I played in both, as I was on-off stand in for The Mob for a year or so. It was never a problem.”
But he also found time to play music with Andy Stratton in the group Null & Void.
Josef, “Andy Stratton moved up to London with the others, and formed a band called Null & Void, who did the Zig Zag club gig, and were regulars at the various Anarchy centres. They toured with Zounds a lot. I was their drummer too until Andy threw me out - ironically for being too much of a po-faced Anarcho, a trait which Steve Lake never found very endearing in me either. I was as full of hot air as anyone else back then, but as all the quotes from me in this piece have the benefit of 20 years hindsight, my views have obviously changed. One thing that hasn't changed is my affection and respect for some of Mark's songs. The dead and dying children I can live without, and some of the imagery has dated, but 'Our Life Our World' still remains one of my favorite lyrics of all time. I wonder what Mark or Curtis would have had to say if you'd tracked them down.
“Andy Stratton was a brilliant songwriter. Null & Void released one 7" single 'Stay', and a tape called 'The Four Minute Warning'. They were due to record an LP on Corpus Christi, but some of the anarchos from the Mob camp managed to piss Crass off quite considerably over something, and it never happened. The first Blyth Power album was at one point mooted for the same label. Can't remember what happened about that either.”
Along with bass player Mark Hedge, the group played garage punk with something of a ‘60s garage influence. In fact, despite their interaction with the anarcho scene, their music, especially on the demo, is quite similar to early Subway Sect material. Songs like “Hide Away”, “Afraid” and “Tomorrow” at times are even reminiscent of the Mob. But there is definitely more of a pop songwriting structure throughout.
As mentioned, the Zig Zag squatted gig of February 1982 was a pivotal moment bringing many of the Crass related bands together.
Mark, “The Zig Zag gig was the last in a series of squatted gigs we put on around London over a couple of years. There were others at Meanwhile Gardens and the Bingo Hall at Highbury and Islington. The Zig Zag was big though. It brought together people from lots of different movements including the emerging New Age Travelers.”
Wrote Andy Martin in Smile fanzine, “The Mob provided a culinary service in the shape of the inevitable vegetarian stew (which was most welcome and actually quite delicious) and huge vats of tea. Flux Of Pink Indians, Dirt, Zounds, 4 Minute Warning and Youth In Asia provided much of the initial assistance, support and help to open, secure and prepare the venue, turn on the electricity supply and ensure that the fire-doors were operational and so forth. Of all the multitude of bands who played that evening, here are the ones I can actually remember from a list scribbled in multi-colored chalk on a large blackboard which gave the running order; Youth In Asia, Rubella Ballet, Hagar The Womb, Conflict, The Mob, Dirt, Zounds, 4 Minute Warning, Flux Of Pink Indians, Lack Of Knowledge, Rudimentary Peni, The Apostles (and by Pan, we were terrible that night and in front of five hundred people too... I thought my pants would never dry) and Crass, of course. The equipment for this event must have given someone an extreme anxiety complex from which they may still not have recovered.”
At the end of the year, the Mob went into the studio to record their one and only LP. Despite their last success on Crass Records, they opted to do the record back on their own All The Madmen.
Josef, “Crass had a policy of not doing more than one record with any single band, and a friend put the money up for the LP. Alistair was the guy who took over running it from us when we got fed up.”
Mark in Kill Your Pet Puppy fanzine, “The songs on the album, “Let The Tribe Increase”, were written over a space of three years… Some of the songs, like “Our Life Our World”, were written one line at a time over a few months, whereas songs like “Witch Hunt” took maybe 20 minutes… The ideas are conveyed by the music, which speeds up the process, but they’ll travel anyway it seems. Different people come into the audience; stay awhile and then new people come and go. It all carried on flowing, though sometimes it’s sad not to see old faces, everyone must move on. The ideas will survive long after the music stops.”
The eleven-song LP, “Let The Tribe Increase”, is one of the most affecting records of the time. While never breaking into hardcore punk and often opting for subtle, understated music, the record still feels somehow powerful and raw. An imaginative and tight rhythm section, beyond most punk bands, propelled the music along while maintaining strict tempos. Mark’s naked voice, somewhere between a wail and a shout, is unique, tuneful and emotive.
Mark in Kill Your Pet Puppy fanzine, “We’re not driven by any desire to attain success, we just do it because we enjoy it, we’ve got something to say or whatever. And because others enjoy it too. We recorded “Witch Hunt” three years ago, and there’s only been “No Doves” in-between that and the album. It’s likely to be another six months or a year before there’s another Mob record of any description… It’s highly unlikely we’d get into an album / single / tour / follow-up single etc situation.”
Josef, “The Mob never tried consciously to sound like anything. Basically we just did what we could with what we had. Mark wasn't too fussed about the music, other than as a backing to the lyrics. I've never thought of that record as particularly pretty. I like it - which is certainly not true of all the records I've made - but I don't think it's that different from any other Mob record.”
Mark, “If I listen to it now I am amazed how good it sounds now it’s all digitally remastered, etc. You’ve got to think this was recorded for less than 1000 pounds UK. I knew when I was doing the lyrics that some parts were special. Everybody takes something different from a piece of music and I know the music means a lot of things to a lot of different people. I hope I have inspired some people to go on and do great things or been some minor part in their personal journey and struggle with the world. When we sang “No Doves Fly Here” we were living under the shadow of Reagan’s weapons under our noses. Thousands of us combined to rid the country of those things. I hope we played a small part.”
In its simplicity, the Mob’s music was still quite proficient and solid. But it was this base that allowed for them to stretch out and come up with imaginative parts. The drums fit together like perfect and unexpected math while the bass seems to find every possible note to work out a phrase.
Mark, “I love Curtis’s bass at the end of “Our Life” – it always hits me every time I ever heard it. “Raised In A Prison”. “Dance On” – once again the bass is brilliant – it wants sampling and using again.”
Josef, “It does have its moments. I remember we had trouble recording a scream for the start of ‘Witch Hunt’. We all tried to do a convincing one, but they all sounded pathetic, so the engineer mutated them into that funny wind noise. Roger was fun. That found its way on mainly due to a shortage of real songs. Five of us had a mike each and just talked bollocks over it. Spaceward was great. It's an old school in a tiny village in Cambridgeshire, miles from anywhere. Getting out of London for a week was a real plus.”
At a time when many bands were going through the motions lyrically, the Mob were reaching deep and finding new means of expression.
Josef, “Personally I didn't have a lot to do with it. Mark wrote all the songs, so I can't really say much about that. There was a lot of rubbish being talked and sung by a lot of people at the time.”
Mark, “I believe that most musicians or songwriters have 1 or 2 great songs in them. I wrote very little songs in my life but the best of them are on this record. I felt I didn’t have any more and I’ve never felt like sitting and writing anything since. I wish I did but there’s nothing burning inside like there was when they were written. I must say, songs like “Our Life” were written from the gut with tears running down my face.”
The record features “Our Life Our World” where everything came together, all of the best elements of the group, making one of their most powerful moments.
Our life our world mapped out in scars
Carved on wrists and back of arms
Which paint in blood on sheets of white
Of children never quite at home
Our life our world flows down rivers in the street
Made up of blood, made up of meat
The cigarette burns on tortured arm
The cigarette burns into tortured arm
Slowly roasting in the heat
Mark, “I think it’s like even in absolute total misery there is always some light shining however faintly. The world was a very fucked up place at the time – obviously it sill is – but we were still in Thatcherism. Reagan was in charge in the US. It looked to anyone with any suss that we were headed for oblivion pretty fucking quickly. The hope of the song was that having managed to destroy everything that the children’s ideas should come through – like grass pushing through tarmac – whatever they do with the world there is still hope – there has to be.”
While never actually specifically referring to the sex/magick themes and archetypes of bands like Sex Gang Children or the like, the minimalist arrangements and foreboding vision of songs like “Our Life Our World”, “I Wish” and “Never Understood” could easily be interpreted as doom on the verge of irony.
My shadow falls across an empty floor
Discarded remnants of an age no more
And as I fight to find an empty place
The yawning gap among the bodies fit my face
I gave my life for something never understood
Those songs in particular marry the tone of the music with a bleak lyrical vision un-relenting and, ultimately, un-sympathetic. This creates a lot of room for upbeat and faster tracks like “Another Day, Another Death”, “Slayed” and “Gates Of Hell” to come across as defiant in the protagonists struggle for existence despite all lost hope.
I woke up screaming from the nightmare that’s begun again
Cold tears of sweat streaming down my face
I slipped up again
The radio it played
And sound was whirling in my heard
Another day, another death
Ice cold needle that splits my every breath
The cold and frigid wind that blows through every crack
The wild and tortured dream – the straw that broke the camel’s back
We slipped up again
And I wanna know why
Is “Another Day, Another Death” about being a junky or is that a metaphor for something less specific yet more personal? Either way, the songs are an example of doing a lot within a simple framework. They’re solid, though very basic, punk songs played by an imaginative rhythm section.
Subsequent gigs were a great time for the band.
Mark, “Ace. I thought a Mob gig in London was a brilliant thing when done well. We attracted a much more colorful audience than many of the Crass bands. The KYPP lot were a blaze of color at all times.”
All The Madmen began to branch out more releasing records by the Astronauts, Flowers In The Dustbin, and Mark’s girlfriend’s industrial group, Zoskia.
The Mob were also winding up helping other projects with dubious live recordings including a split cassette with Faction and D&V called “No No No Don’t Drop Yer Bombs On Us They Hurt” and a split live LP with the Apostles.
Josef, “Someone just thought it was a good idea, although we did try to get the live LP stopped, as the sound was so awful we thought it would just be a rip-off for people who bought it expecting something worthwhile. It just got bootlegged, and there was no way we could stop it.”
In 1983, the group went into the studio one last time releasing their final record, “The Mirror Breaks” 7”.
Mark, “I don’t think you’re ever totally happy with what you’ve written. But I liked the last songs we wrote; “Our Life”, “Mirror Breaks”. Like most kids in most places I was tearing myself apart emotionally. I was speaking to a girl not long ago who said that listening to my pain on some of our songs had helped her a lot when she had been suicidal. I don’t know how that works. I’ve always liked sad songs the best.”
Consistent until the last, the lyrics to “Mirror Breaks” paint a grim picture conjuring up different images from anyone who spends any time with it. I’ve heard people say that it’s about state sponsored terrorism. I’ve heard people say that it’s a metaphor for the anarcho punk scene. I’ve also heard people say that it’s about child abuse, which is certainly understandable with some of the wording not unlike a children’s song.
You may think I don’t know anything
You may think I’ve got it wrong
But I know what it means
When I hear the hangman whistling his song
And the knives so sharp in Whitehall
Are the knives they keep for us?
And the only weapons we’ve got
Are our hope and fragile love?
Mark, “We played the song mostly in just music form with no vocal whenever there was a lull in a gig for whatever reason – string snapped, stick broken, etc. We did play the same song with different lyrics early on in Yeovil. We would finish the set with it and smash everything up. We were quite a handful when we were younger. We had to develop a new venue for every gig as the place would always end up ruined and we’d be banned. So the general tune of “Mirror Breaks” has been with us always.
“A very good friend and on-off girlfriend of mine, Min (Zoskia) had been watching the news and was crying about something that had been on I was pissed off they’d made her cry and I thought of how no one thinks of the poor kids crying there eyes out at the misery they’ve caused.”
Josef, “Mark told me at the time he'd written the lyrics for Mirror Breaks after watching a documentary on Vietnam. The song in its original format dates from way back in the West Country.”
Recorded in August, it wound up being the groups poorest selling title since the first 7”.
Mark, “Several things contributed to the end of The Mob – I thought that record was the best I’d ever managed and was pissed off more people didn’t like it. I didn’t think I had any better to give them.”
Three months later, the group split up.
Mark, “Like I said, I was pissed off about “Mirror Breaks” – not a lot but a little. I genuinely felt that I didn’t have anything to say anymore. I would stand on a stage and look at all these people expecting me to say something profound – and I’d think I’m just a drunken, drugged up, fucked up prick like the rest of you.
“Another thing was we’d been offered a chance to tour Italy, which looked great to me. But Josef had already arranged for us to play in Doncaster, which is close to a train yard at Crewe, which for Josef is like heaven. I was really pissed about this as two weeks in the sun in Italy looked 20 times more attractive than a 4-hour trip in a transit to perform in front of three men and a dog. Josef was a bloke who had to have his own way – there wasn’t room for two of us in a three piece band. I could of left and formed a new band. But I’d lost it if the truth was known.”
Josef, “Mark got bored, and wanted to go off and live in a van somewhere. I haven't seen him for over 15 years. Curtis was in Blyth Power for three years, but no, we don't keep in touch.”
But generally speaking, it was an amicable split.
Josef, “Not really. There was some grief over the label, as the guy Mark wanted to run it was fucking things up, and I wanted it to be run by the chap who eventually took it over once most of its assets had been blown. I think The Mob had had its day - things were going really well, and if we'd wanted to cash in on it we probably could have. I think its best that it ended when it did.”
With Mark and the rest of the band having lost interest in the label, they passed it on and the All The Madmen would put out another dozen or so releases from groups like France’s Clair Obscur, Josef’s next group Blyth Power, Thatcher On Acid, ex-Hagar The Womb We Are Going To Eat You and female fronted punk band Dan.
Josef, “We didn't meet Alistair until years later. He had no involvement in the label until after Mark went off on his travels. Alistair was the guy supposed to be looking after the label, and basically ran it down over the next year or so. About the only involvement Mark subsequently had with All The Madmen was to return briefly to London to oust him, and pass it on to Rob Challice.”
Mark was finally able to indulge the dream he had first envisioned seeing the mob at Stonehenge.
Mark, “I spoke before about my Stonehenge experience. When I’d had enough of music, I retreated to the New Age Travelers – we lived in benders caravans in empty properties and farmyards.”
Mark would retreat from the capitol “P” politics to sort out the life he was creating.
Mark, “If I couldn’t change the world at large, I was determined to change mine. I had built a tipi in the house in London when I was still with The Mob. One of the people we lived with at the time taught me to make shoes. There was no money in it so it soon stopped. I lived in the tipi for about a year when I had my son, Danny by my partner Claire. He’s 15 now and I’ve two girls as well. I bring my children up to question everything and have a healthy disrespect for authority.”
Having possibly gotten out at the right time, he’s been able to look back fondly.
Mark, “I’m very proud of the things we accomplished and though I never took any interest in it for the best part of 20 years, I’m amazed that if I search for the Mob on the internet, there are still pages devoted to us after all this time.
“I think at the end of the day The Mob meant an awful lot to me and as I said earlier I think I left ‘cos it didn’t seem so important to others. I’m very pleased that someone cares enough to be asking me these questions 20 years on. I gave my life to The Mob for 7 or 8 years. There was probably a lot of us that gave our best years to the movement of anarcho punk or whatever you want to call it – Andy Martin, Tony D, Mick Lugworm – hundreds more whose names should be there.
“Our movement was certainly not naïve – we had loads of success. We formed housing cooperatives in London and elsewhere that still house people today. We did huge amounts of concerts and support for CND and Greenham Common, etc. – these movements successfully rid England of nuclear weapons at least temporarily. We never got any thanks for it but thousands of ordinary people like ourselves forced vivisection, blood sports, etc. onto the international stage. The struggle is by no means over. But there have been big successes. The forcing of issues onto G8 meetings by people today is directly linked to work we were doing back then.
“I feel myself and everyone else present has played a very small part in the freedom of Nelson Mandela. The fall of the Berlin Wall. All these things have been brought about by a snowball that we have helped to push and should continue to do so and inspire our kids to do the same.”
It’s quite a different view from Josef who still carries on performing with Blyth Power and other less punk affairs.
Josef, “I don't think there was much beyond a kind of fantasy. For me, any fond memories I have of that scene are very personal. It was so insular – how anyone can talk about an anarchist society that excludes anyone who doesn't have the right record collection is beyond me. There were a lot of sincere people, I don't deny it, but there was also a lot of hot air. Sure, we all did the same gigs and got interviewed by the same fanzines, but we were all just talking to each other. What is the point in trying to change the people who are already the same as you?. Yes, I felt very connected to something, and I loved it at the time, but looking back I can't quite see how it had any more real value than any other clique.”
For Mark, it’s still much more than a fantasy.
Mark, “If anything I’m almost more fucked up now than I was at 20. I still consider myself an anarchist and would defend personal freedoms to the death. The contradiction is I run a business dismantling and recycling commercial vehicles. We are quite successful and hence I have decent cars, etc. (Mind you they are all repaired damaged cars.) When I was about 25, I took a look around at my fellow anarchists, etc. and realized a fair few of them appeared to be from quite wealthy backgrounds. Though this shouldn’t matter it is obviously easier to be at war with the state if you have the financial backing that means you don’t have to work. I’ve always had to work and as I am quite hard working I have done reasonably well. I try to treat everyone we work with fairly and respect the environment etc but I can also see the contradictions.
“People sometimes ask how I reconcile Mark 2001 with Mark Mob 83 but in my mind I am the same as I ever was. I believe passionately in the same sort of causes. If anything I am more radical now as the people I mix with now in some ways are forced to listen to your opinions where they wouldn’t have gone to a Mob gig. We often get visited by the police because of the nature of our work – sometimes raided – sometimes not and I find them interesting to talk to, I have to talk to people at council offices, etc. It’s sometimes the similarities between ourselves that are more obvious than the differences. I live in a backwoods area on the edge of nowhere. The small mindedness of people hasn’t always changed. But on the whole, people are much more susceptible to change than they were then. In ’83 I would jump on a Mercedes at Stop The City and kick the three-pointed star off. I drive one now but I wish I still had the energy and every time I watch the news I want to be there at the demonstration. I can’t pretend to understand this sort of thing. But I still want to kick the fucking thing off.”