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When I read the sleevenotes in the final Anarcho Punk Compilation series of CD's 'Anti-Capitalism' by Penny Rimbaud of Crass. I thought it was inspiring reading enough to feature it on here. I don't necessarily agree with everything Mr Rimbaud says but you have to admit he does have a point on most things he hits upon. This is important stuff and needs to be said and heard. Pity I was stuck in the US when the Wolverhampton Punk Conference took place as i'd like to have forwarded a few comments meself at some of those speakers.
Penny Rimbaud early 80's (DC Collection)
THIRTY YEARS down the line and Virgin Megastares are doing an extensive punk promotion and the display windows of London's swanky superstore Selfridges are bedecked with punk paraphernalia. But, where in all this are Crass, Zounds, The Mob or innumerable bands who, rather than buying into a shoddy pop past, helped create a powerful cultural movement?
In bookstores across the globe you can purchase your potted punk stories, written by music paper hacks spinning music business lies and published by corporate giants of whom Rupert Murdoch rules supreme. Or perhaps you'd prefer Top Shop's risque 'Never Mind The B*******" T-shirt, or maybe, if your imagination is as plastic as your credit card, a Vivienne Westwood original (she's the one who later consorted with Margaret Thatcher). Now, call me naive if you like, but as far as I am aware this isn't and wasn't what punk pertained to be about. 'Don't know what I want, but I know how to get it,'? Okay, so Rotten unwittingly made it clear from the outset that the first wave of punk was in fact drowning not waving, but what I found truly shocking was how few people seemed to realise that punk as promoted by Malcolm McLaren, Bernie Rhodes and their music biz cohorts was nothing more than a profit driven expansion of the tired old rock'n'roll pantomime: 'just another cheap product for the consumer's head'. Far more pertinent, potent and truly punk was the very real movement which grew in parallel to
The Pistols' posing and The Clash's cavorting.
In 1977, while the velvet zippies were snorting up the pay-offs of their latest hit singles, just across the river from trendy, spendy Kings Road,
Crass were playing regular gigs, kicking up the sawdust in the backroom of a seedy pub. By 1978, Crass were dominating the altemative charts, outselling the punk poseurs 15 to the dozen and challenging the supremacy of Tin Pan Alley and the arms dealing corporatioions who financed it. By the time The Clash were strutting the catwalks of the USA, which only months previously they had claimed to be so bored with, Crass had begun their blitz on ramshackle scout huts, youth clubs, backrooms and ballrooms across our not so green and pleasant land in the profoundly-held belief that punk, was about people rather than profit. And it was people that we touched. The albeit scant profits we made from gigs would always be injected into local alternative projects, be they a young band needing an amp, a fanzine writer needing paper, a rape crisis centre needing new chairs or a local peace group looking to manufacture a few badges. Through necessity it was all fairly small scale, but as the DIY culture which we helped to spawn knows all too well 'small is beautiful'.
By now we were receiving offers from the major labels and the armies of Armani-suited serfs who serve them. So blind were they to our radical commitment that one (while sipping a glass of microwave-warmed Claret in his Mayfair offices) even assured us that he could-market revolution'. Fortunately for him, I'd left the Luger at home that day, but I did tell him to stuff it, to which he retorted with threats: he'd see to it that we'd never play London again. Big deal! However, what was clear at the time was that both he and the ever-compliant music press were fast realising that a genuine revolution was in the air. They might initially have hoped that it was one which could be confined to the music industry, but hell, it was bursting out all over. Rather than coughing up for 'real thing' ersatz, the punks in black preferred their own real thing and, all in all, that had the ring of authenticity which commodity culture just can't abide. Forced onto the defensive, the cultural overlords resorted to their usual tactic: divide and rule. Enter 'anarcho punk'.
The media loves its labels: 'angry young man', 'bohemian', 'beatnik', 'hippy', 'peacenik' and 'punk', I'm old enough to have been them all, but anarcho punk? Frankly, because I've never much cared for labels, I'd never even wholly bought into the idea of being a punk, so finding that I was now being called an 'anarcho punk' got right up my nose. What I realised from the outset was that by labelling
Crass and bands who shared our commitment as something other than straight punk, we were being shoved out on to the economic and, more importantly, historic sidelines. At least as punks we had been in the position to challenge on their own ground those who liked to call themselves punks, but who were in truth no more than pop puppets being manipulated by grey-faced, cynical businessmen: 'CBS promote The Clash, but it ain't for revolution, nah, it's just for cash'. As it was, despite having been forced to work from the sidelines, anarcho punk created profound and long-lasting cultural changes.

Several years back I attended a punk conference at Wolverhampton University for which academics from all over the world had been invited to present papers on the 'punk phenomenon' - in other words to put it into little boxes and wrap it all up. I went along because I knew what was going to happen, and it did. Apart from one notable exception, there was not one mention of
Crass, nor of the powerful cultural movement that it had inspired. Academically speaking (and my god there was enough of that), punk was presented as little more than safety pins, glue sniffing and gob. Visiting guest, Caroline Coon, confirmed this view by quoting Sid Vicious' death as conclusive proof of punk's negativity, while Stewart Home was at pains to point out that it was all jolly good
fun until It 'turned it political' (unwittingly proving the point ttiat Rotten's anarchy in the UK and Strummer's white riot were about as political as a Barclays' bank statement, which, incidentally, both of them would have known a lot more about). The issue so studiously avoided by Coon, Home and our learned academies was that if it hadn't been for the politicisation of punk by bands like
Crass, the whole pathetic pantomime would have been forgotten long ago.
Punk as lauded by the media was no more than an extension of the already reprehensible history of rock'n'roll. Stolen in the first place from black culture, rock'n'roll is just another act of cultural imperialism: Elvis ripped off gospel, while later Mick Jagger crapped all over the noble heritage of the blues, after all, it was 'only rock'n'roll' and didn't we all 'like it'? let's face it,
The Pistols were no more than the Spice Girls of their day, glitzy. cheap and, dare I say it, downright crass, with The Clash coming in at a close second, like an ABBA with attitude. Ironically, what is today commonly referred to as the punk movement was from the very start inspired by and active within the political arena, but it is the commercially driven, self-interested Kings road coterie who continue to hog the limelight. You need look no further than Seattle, Reclaim The Streets, the ALF or the Road Protesters to see that the movement fermented by Crass was one of the most powerful cultural forces in late 20th century Britain. True, we never toppled any government, but at the time we gave them an extremely uncomfortable run for their money and to this day continue to do so through the deep cultural effects that we had. I don't suppose that Margaret Thatcher has entirely forgotten that glorious afternoon during questions in The House when she was asked whether she had taken time off to listen to the question posed in our Falkland's War single, 'How Does It Feel to Be the Mother of a Thousand Dead?' She declined to answer. And her agents, MI5? Thirty years on and they're still on the other end of the phone line and, ASBOs to the end, so are we.
What the Wolverhampton conference proved to me was the wholly collusive nature of the relationship between corporate capitalism, politicians, the media and academics. If history is to serve the interests of the dominant culture, in this case that of commodification, then its writers, most of whom inhabit the hallowed halls of Oxbridge, must toe the line - which isn't very difficult given that corporate capitalism finances most academic Institutions. Is it any wonder, then, that what the media labelled as anarcho punk, the politician's reviled as a threat to decent society and the corporate capitalists dismissed as unprofitably scruffy elements should have been so diligently left out of the history books?
Clearly then it is up to us to write our own histories and document our own achievements, which is precisely what
Sean McGhee set out to do with this series of CDs. It's a project that deserved to be done, needed to be done and now has been done. What we did then (and what many of us continue to do) was enormously impressive. We were all a part of a movement that radically changed the way people think - which, in the most positive way, is to change the world we live in. Listening to the CDs and reading the page notes I am again impressed by the degree of commitment shown by everyone involved in that revolution of the mind. I'm still surprised by the diversity, shocked by the intensity and inspired by the memory. However, more importantly. I'm overjoyed that people like Sean are still at it.
I first met Sean when
Crass played in his hometown, Cleator Moor, Cumbria, in the late 1970s. He was a very young lad rightly concerned about the proximity of the "Windscale Nuclear Reactor and had the courage to have formed a band to protest about it. which couldn't have been easy given that Windscale was the major employer for the area. His band played that night and I recall us all being somewhat worried that come closing time we could very well get a visit from drunken employees fighting for their livelihood, or at least willing to put one on us for not doing so. As it happens, it was a peaceful gig and after it we all went back to Sean's home where we shared tea and cheese sarnies and played with his pet rabbit (an aspect of punk which the media could never get to grips with, they preferring to believe that we'd be more likely to bite a pet's head off). Since that time, Sean and myself have remained In touch, occasionally sharing ideas and dreams. This series of CDs is the culmination of one of his dreams. I'm glad he had it. Dream on, and let the magic rabbits forever be drawn from the hat.

Penny Rimbaud 2006

You can obtain a copy of aforementioned CD plus the rest of the series at www.overgroundrecords.co.uk