Sunday, October 3, 2010

Shaved women and bald punks - its Crass the album


Ex-Crass frontman and Irvine Welsh lookalike Steve Ignorant brings the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to support him on vocal duties at Edinburgh's Liquid Rooms. Its The Last Supper and hundreds of balding paunchy middle-aged punks bounce and scream along with 'screaming babies, shaved women collaborators...'. And it looks like Steve is trying to stifle a grin.

Comparisons with Teddy Boy conventions are easy. This however brings back all kinds of vivid memories of the time - the early 1980s. A dark age that it seems will soon be revisited upon us by the new twin-headed ConDem Thatcher of Cameron-Clegg. In 1984, Crass finished their career by closing their set at a striking miners' benefit gig in Wales with the song 'Do They Owe Us a Living?' and by revising their pacifist views in the face of increasingly brutal state attacks on both striking miners and Stonehenge hippies. At the time, I was a young teenager who travelled to Hearts' games on a supporters bus half full of striking miners from one of Midlothian's pit villages. At a time when local communities were fighting against Thatchers' cops, the black communities in inner-city England were doing the same and everyone from Crass to the BBC film Threads warned of impending nuclear annihilation, the chances were that this stuff would shape your life.

Crass were and still are an institution. They lived the real message of punk - Do It Yourself. They had no or little truck with managers, record companies, promoters etc and relied on themselves and a network of ordinary people to propagate their 'music' and message. As far as punk music goes, this aint Green Day. Yet, despite the absence of nice tunes, major record company and professional distribution networks, their debut album 'Feeding the 5000' went gold. They were more than a band - they were a collective that produced music, artwork, anarchist propaganda, political pranks that saw the Whitehouse, Westminster and Kremlin involved and spawned thousands of imitators. They kicked started the dormant CND movement and gave new energy to issues such as feminism, animal rights and anarchism. In contrast to the simplistic nihilism of other but still relevant punk groups of the time, Crass became seen as po-faced and were followed with an almost religious zeal by some.

This lead to Crass influenced bands berating others for not following the 'true path' of the DIY punk ethic. Chumbawamba threw paint over Joe Strummer because his CBS record label were a subsidiary of an arms dealer. Chumbawamba then signed to EMI - another company with dirty fingers in dirty pies. Chumbawamba did though distribute much of their fee to local community groups. Chumbawamba in turn were criticised by other bands such as Oi Polloi - who in turn neglect the DIY ethic and use Rupert Murdoch's MySpace, though unlike Chumbawamba, have no money to show for it. Should people still care about these baw-hair issues? Or should we just stop pretending to care and accept imperfections, especially in well-intentioned individuals?

Whatever, thousands of middle-aged men and women who may not still clad themselves in black are still living the ideals of Crass. They are still involved in challenging independent music, they are nurses, they are teachers, artists, bicycle engineers, they fight against racism and for diversity, they learn and use minority languages, they open up animal sanctuaries, get involved in community land buy-outs, reject the shackles of religion, involve themselves in community education, write real investigative journalism and much more. The roots may be anarchist, socialist and libertarian but there's more sustainable enterprise come from this movement than anything our bankrupt and corrupt financial institutions and MPs have inspired.
But back to the Last Supper... there was also irony in songs that are more than 30 years old such as 'Banned from the Roxy' still being relevant today. In the week when all of Scotland's main parties presented the London government with their case for retaining the manufacture of aircraft carriers in Scotland, we can only wish that these politicians had Crass' simple - but not incorrect - message drummed into their skulls:  

"Defence? Shit, its nothing less than war, and no-one but the government knows what the fuck its for".

Likewise, the anti-war anthems  'Sheep Farming in the Falklands' and 'Mother of a Thousand Dead' could easily apply to today's perma-war adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The influence of Crass is far reaching. Bjork, the Shamen and One Little Indian Records. Artwork and ideals for Tackhead. Banksy can be seen in the pre-Photoshop collages of Crass' graphic artist Gee Voucher. Even smooth crooner Sade was a friend. In recent years both David Beckham and Angelina Jolie have been photographed in their t-shirts. Ironic too as Crass never produced any of their own merchandise though obviously others lined their pockets with the symbol that shows the snake of capitalism eating itself.

There was plenty of merchandise on sale last night though. Crass polos, T-shirts and a new autobiography of Steve himself. Times change though and ideals can mellow without being forgotten. In 'The Story of Crass', Steve talks about one typically vicious tirade that he wrote as an angry idealistic punk rocker in which he talked of how parents fuck you up. Years later, he regretted this after seeing his folks through mature eyes as just two ordinary working class human beings who tried their best. If Steve Ignorant makes some kind of living out of this tour, then good.
Thanks for the memories.

For a richt guid read, try The Story of Crass, here at Amazon.
Steve Ignorant's new book The Rest is Propaganda, at his own website.

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