taking the revolution to the people



Angst and anarchy, Crass’s Penny Rimbaud looks back to ‘76
Report by The Shend

1977 saw a revolution in music. Punk smashed its way into our lives aided and abetted by a salivating and sanctimonious media coverage. Many, seeing the opportunity to change the system and have fun at the same time, embraced this new rage with enthusiasm, while many, naturally enough, embraced it for the prospect of financial reward. The Sex Pistols spawned a change which, in turn, producing bands by the thousand, some merely clones, some innovative, some who are still with us and many who appeared, made a few noises and then disappeared again!

Crass started in 1977 as a band but quickly grew into something much greater and by the time of ceasing operations in 1985, had become a powerful voice for anarchy in Britain and abroad. The Crass label was responsible for releasing works by nearly 70 other artists, while they themselves issued eight LPs and eight singles, all of which were at odds with the ideals fed to us by our stagnating society. They also adorned a million leather jackets.

Rarely interviewed because of continuous misrepresentation in the past, Crass soon became an enigma to the press, always seeming to create extreme reactions whether good or bad. Penny Rimbaud, other than being drummer and later a frequent producer, is a spokesman for their ideas. I asked him why they started in the first place...

"We set up for two reasons: one, to get up and change things for ourselves. We thought the Sex Pistols and The Clash were saying it, before we realised that they had been set up by the music biz and, two, to counter the negative ‘No Future’ of punk as we believed there was a future and we wanted to demonstrate this in a creative way."

Do you think you achieved those aims?

"When we started we simply wanted to join in the fun but as time went on and we were seen more as the mouthpiece of a political attitude. I think we became more confused and self-doubting. None of us envisaged ourselves becoming the voice of British Anarchy, which is what we became."

When Crass became successful, do you think it worried the institutions much?

"Well, for example, a circular was sent around the Tory Party telling them not to respond to anything from The Crass camp and a similar circular went around the offices of EMI. So, yes, it did. It annoys me that in the press and TV when an article is done on punk we rarely get mentioned and although we probably didn’t contribute immensely to the rock and roll circus, in a cultural and ideological way we were the most powerful band in the country. You couldn’t go anywhere without bumping into Crass graffiti on walls or on people’s jackets. In fact, this was true worldwide and we still get letters from all over the world saying how they saw the Crass symbol while climbing Mount Everest or somewhere equally inaccessible."

Typical dramatic Crass live pic


Crass seemed, at times, to confuse politically and in other ways. Why do you think this was?

"One of the major elements that people missed in us was the tradition of Dada in a way. We used confusion and confrontation in much the same way as the Dada movement did. We wanted to create the shocking response that their early exhibitions had created in the past and we did it by translating art into the street. We were a clever but not contrived combination of people with a highly developed art background and people with a more street level approach rather like Baader Meinhof, who started as street theatre and turned into direct ‘terrorist’ action. Certainly, towards the end we thought, we’ve done the records, the gigs and the label, we had then started directly promoting things like ‘Stop The City’. Where do you go from there? Do you start blowing things up?"

And do you?

"Well, we looked at all these possibilities but in the end — and the failure of the miners’ strike helped us realise this — you can do a load of direct action but so what? You end up hurting people. The media prints what it wants even if it can get the information and the system remains intact."

By this time you were not pacifist, obviously?

"It started with the Falklands. A lot of people were pacifist when there was nothing to be pacifist about but afterwards we came out of it certainly more dedicated to direct action — such as ‘Stop The City’ and promoting sabotage and violence to property, which many pacifists would disagree with. We even considered, then, use of controlled violence, whatever that is, against people who wouldn’t get out of the way. It’s not far from that that you say ‘blast the bastards’ and you lose your own sense of direction."

The last Crass release came out in 1985. Why?

"One of our greatest acts of responsibility was pulling out at the paint where we thought we were no longer contributing positively. Crass was a good media, putting out a lot of information and counter information. The network that the label created provided a massive feedback between often isolated individuals many of whom still continue to work on things of worth."

And yourself?

"Although I am no longer involved in anything such as Crass, I find it impossible to relax because I am still haunted by the fact that I live in a world of hideous inequality and terrible injustice. I may not be able to change that, but I am certainly willing to spend a large amount of time thinking of ways I can change it."

And now?

"At present it is important to regain my own insight and vision which became badly blurred by the Crass era...and then, perhaps, come in from a different angle completely."

This interview is not enough. Try the records — they would help. They’re still available on the Crass and Corpus Christi labels and can be ordered through your local indie record shop. They’re cheap to buy but lavishly presented, produced with a quality of commitment rarely, if ever, seen now. Try the album Stations Of The Crass. Or the boxed double Christ The Album — the enclosed booklet will explain more than any interview can. Crass created an important exhibition which some will find shocking, same will find offensive and some will find inspiring. Revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll? Be revolutionary.., make you own mind up.

From Offbeat issue 3, page 38