Thursday, 8 December 2011

News At 11

First up I’d like to mention a couple of new CDs that have arrived and left me feeling very excited. First Mr Tadpole sent me the new Burnt Cross CD “Mankind’s Obiturary”, and Captain Oi have released another of their singles boxsets, this time featuring the Skids. Both are great in their own way; Burnt Cross are perfect for the current climate, angry anarcho punk rock that pulls no punches. While the Skids have always been favourites for me and their timeless tunes have remained constant companions over the years. Reviews of both are up on the Suspect Device website now.
I ordered the Sudor LP from La Vida Es Un Mus after hearing a couple of tracks on-line.  They are another great Spanish band whose noisy yet tuneful basic punk rock has elements of UK82 punk and early US hardcore. It’s rough and ready and really very good indeed.
In something of a contrast, I downloaded the Pet Milk EP “Philadelphia Punklife” from their bandcamp page. If you don’t know, they have Paint It Black’s guitarist Josh Agran playing drums, but they don’t sound at all like PiB, instead they dish up a wonderful selection of C86 style indie pop. It’s glorious stuff.
I’ve also stumbled across a band from Brazil called Onde Eu Me Encaixo? who I’m really liking right now, and I will be trying to track down a copy of their self titled LP very soon.
I recently watched a film called I Need That Record, about the plight of independent record shops in the US, it made me realise that what I want to do when I grow up is work in a record shop. Not HMV or anything like that, but a proper record shop, with real records. Sadly I think the realisation has come 25 years or so too late. However it has planted a seed and I’m seriously considering starting the SD distro up again, but concentrating on vinyl. 
Right, with the admin out of the way I think I may have a little ramble...
In 1979 I was 13, the punk bug had bitten and my record buying habit was just starting to take hold. At that time I didn’t have much money, so records would have to be begged for or bought when a few week’s pocket money had been saved. To keep me happy I’d make do with borrowing and taping records from friends or my cousin, recording the John Peel show onto cassette or searching out the few music shows on TV (One day I’ll tell you the story of how a chest infection, a trip to Lymington and 1970’s daytime TV caused me to became so attached to The Clash’s “Give ‘em Enough Rope” LP). 
A friend had an older step brother who was going through his “punk phase”; he had a cool leather jacket with X-Ray Spex painted on the back, which I coveted and dreamed about nicking (I never did though). More importantly he’d buy records, and when he was out we’d sneak into his room and listen to his new purchases. One afternoon we discovered that he had two new singles, “In To The Valley” by The Skids and “Reality Asylum” by Crass.
I knew of The Skids, and had heard “In To The Valley” on the radio, so we gave that a spin and we loved it. At that time I hadn’t heard Crass, so “Reality Asylum” was a bit of a shock and we quickly flipped it over to listen to “Shaved Women”. I didn’t understand it at all, at that time I wasn’t ready for Crass’ message and didn’t grasp what this record was about at all. On that afternoon it certainly didn’t measure up to the punky greatness of The Skids, and pushed Crass to the back of my mind for quite a while. Little did I know that they, and the DIY philosophy they championed, would have a huge influence on me and what I’d spend a good part of my life involved with.
I can’t remember when I next listened to Crass, it was certainly a while before I bought any of their stuff. I have “Feeding Of The 5000” on Small Wonder, but I got that a couple of years after its release in a second hand shop. I did buy the first “Bullshit Detector” compilation when it came out, and I bought other bands’ records that Crass put out, I particularly remember getting, and loving, the Flux Of Pink Indians EP, but it was records by bands that Crass inspired that I was buying at the time, particularly Subhumans, Rubella Ballet, Hagar The Womb and then Lost Cherrees, Conflict and so on.
If initially the music of Crass didn’t inspire me, their DIY punk ideals certainly did, I loved it and both Gaz and me threw ourselves into it, leading to us starting Suspect Device zine and becoming involved with the local DIY punk scene.

Over 30 years later I found myself rushing up from Southampton to Shepherds Bush to see Steve Ignorant play Crass songs for one last time. I never saw Crass, they did play in Southampton, but only once and way before I’d caught up, and anyway I didn’t find out about the gig until long after it had happened.
I know some questioned why this Steve Ignorant gig was happening at the Shepherds Bush O2 Arena; playing anarcho punk songs in a corporate arena does seems strange at first, but seeing as the venue was packed it’s difficult to think of exactly where it could have been held to cater for that many people. Also, if this was Crass then I’d have had more of a problem with it, but this wasn’t Crass, and it was never billed as Crass, this was Steve Ignorant playing songs he’d sung while he was in Crass; I saw BIll Stevenson sing Black Flag songs in the same venue but I didn’t think I was watching Black Flag play.
I got there late after getting the 6pm train from Southampton, and rushed from the tube station to the venue, texting both Gaz and Pete Zonked to see where they were. Once I was in the venue I ran into the first security guard of the evening. Oddly enough he was friendly and good humoured. That negotiated I went into the venue to catch the last song and a half from Paranoid Visions, meaning I’d missed Andy T. 
When they’d finished I ran into a couple of familiar faces, none of them had seen Gaz, so I wondered around avoiding the numerous old punks walking around slopping beer all over the place. It was good to see the Sea Shepherds stall at the back, sadly that sort of thing happens so rarely at gigs these days.
I finally saw Gaz with Spud at the Bar (surprise surprise). Pete had replied saying he was stuck upstairs, and wasn’t happy about it.
While talking to Gaz and Spud The Cravats started up. Spud wasn’t into them, but I quite liked them; they aren’t a band I listen to a lot at home, but they were pretty good live.
Nath and Michelle were the friendly faces we saw after The Cravat’s set. Gaz and Spud were telling beer induced nostalgic stories, and after getting another load of beer slopped all over me I started to wish I could swap places with Pete. 
Then it was time for the main event.
It was odd to hear the loud cheering when the band took the stage, it was like going to see bands before a DIY scene had sprung up in Southampton, when Stiff Little Fingers, Siouxsie & The Banshees etc would play to huge crowds in a “proper” venue and the crowd would be chanting the band’s name and cheering loudly as they took the stage. For that one moment it seemed I was a million miles away from DIY punk rock. But, when the band started I forgot all that as they played a superb set. Steve Ignorant’s voice was sounding a little horse, but I think the emotion of the occasion was getting to him. Carol Hodge, on the other hand, belted out her songs in a strong confident way and sounded really great. 
As the set drew to a close members of Steve’s volunteer Lifeboat crew came on stage in full rescue gear while the band played “(West One) Shine On Me”, the old Ruts song. It  was done so well that it was almost my favourite moment of the night. The lifeboat crew looked a little ill at ease, but then I guess none of them had ever stood on stage looking out a thousands of old punk rockers jumping up and down.
A further surprise was instore for everyone when Penny Rimbaud walked on stage and sat down at a little drum kit to play “Do They Owe Us A Living” with Steve, just vocals and drums they way it was played originally. Following that Eve Libertine walked on for a powerful rendition of “Darling”. Eve also returned during “Shaved Women” to sing part of it with Carol, and that was probably the highlight of the set for me as these days “Shaved Women” is one of my favourite and most played Crass songs.
 In the end it all over ran, and although I’d arranged to meet Gaz at the back I kind of got caught up in a throng of people leaving and found myself heading for the exit. As Sarah was going to have to get out of bed to come and pick me up from the station in Southampton (engineering works meant trains didn’t go any further) I wanted to get a train back as quickly as I could. I sent Ga a text telling him I’d meet him on the station and hurried away. I got back to waterloo with enough time to grab a takeaway tea and got on the train. With minutes to spare Gaz arrived and we headed off home, both agreeing that it had been worth all the effort to get there, and we’d seen something special.
I still prefer smaller gigs, but I can’t deny that it was good to hear those songs played live, and played so well. I have to say I don’t think Crass ever played these songs as well; I know that wasn’t the point and that Crass were about much more that the music. Tonight was all about the songs and the performance, and the band Steve had put together were superb. 
I don’t think it tarnished Crass’ name or message at all. This was a celebration, an evening for everyone there to think about what Crass meant to them while having a good time. 
In the days following the gig I found myself thinking about how Crass influenced me, and how from that moment in 1979 when “Shaved Women” took second place to “In To The Valley” Crass had gradually, if indirectly, set a course for my life. I think even the people around me as I grew up were influenced by Crass, even if they never knew anything about them. My parents couldn’t tell you any of Crass’ songs, but I think that I was so annoying and self-righteous as a teenager that things slowly crept into their consciousness. They’re not ever going to be out on the street waving a black flag, it’s a little more subtle than that. They didn’t bat an eyelid when I became a vegetarian, they slowly turned into fanatical recyclers, had solar panels installed on their roof and my dad now drives a hybrid car. They’ve moved their money out of a bank and into a building society and this week my dad even spent some time searching the internet for vegan recipes so my mum could make me a cake. Anarchy and Piece (of cake).