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When Crass’ debut album was released, on their own Crass Records, in October 1978, punk was moribund; the frenzied chords, the gobbing, the swastikas, the safety pins and most of the bands had become footnotes of history. It had died a horrible death in San Francisco at the Sex Pistols’ final gig in January of that year, but in reality it had long since been a movement of the dispossessed, taken over by charlatans, the greedy and the downright opportunistic.

This was something Crass were well aware and alluded to on one track, Punk Is Dead.

“Punk became a fashion just like hippy used to be
And it ain’t got a thing to do with you or me.”

Singer Steve Ignorant was partly right, punk had become a fashion, but it hadn’t become “bubbelgum rock” as he proclaimed; punk had become something far bigger by 1978, partially experimental, and occasionally obtuse. It spawned PiL and the Gang of Four; the uber-DIY Desperate Bicycles, the confrontational Throbbing Gristle, and numerous others standing in left field. Punk had moved on, but Crass had faith in the original ideas and concept and weren’t for giving up on the idea of punk as a vehicle for radical change.

Crass are often regarded as an anarchist, shouty-shouty punk yob chant noise band. Uncompromising ‘we never sell out’ anti-capitalist, anti-Thatcher, anti-bloody everything actually. In some respects they were hard to stomach in 1978, and that remained largely so until their demise during the Miner’s Strike of 1984.

Feeding of the 5000 was a rallying call for the dispossessed, General Bacardi being a brutal assault on war and the album’s standout, Do They Owe Us A Living? was a bitter attack on class control. And then there were the attacks on religion, infamously on Asylum (later titled Reality Asylum) which was removed from the first pressing because the plant workers had problems with its ‘blasphemous lyrics’.

It is hardly surprising that repressed plant workers would have problems with the contents, with its juxtaposing of religion and Auschwitz.

I found this brilliant description from the Music, Musings and Miscellany blog, from a writer describing himself as someone who grew up attending Sunday school and a Church of England school, and who first heard Asylum as a 16-year-old.

“I considered myself a broad-minded young man, but this broke taboos by the score. Hell, in 1979 you got censured for saying “fuck” on the telly, and there had only just been a lengthy court case to determine whether the cover of Never Mind The Bollocks was obscene! But as I studied the lyrics, I understood the message. That the real obscenity was the notion that us mere mortals should seek forgiveness from a figure whose followers were responsible for 2,000 years of genocide, war, torture, rape, oppression and a never-ending crusade against knowledge, reason and enlightenment.”

http://dezji.wordpress.com/2007/10/22/song-of-the-day-crass-reality-asylum-1979/

There were more acerbic lyrics about faith, as Crass laid the boot into organised religion.

“So what if Jesus died on the cross/ So what about the fucker, I don’t give a toss/ So what if the master walked on water, I don’t see him trying to stop the slaughter.”

Religion has taken a hit in Britain, and in many western countries, over the past three decades, but back in the 1970s, there was still a reasonable attendance at Sunday school church and there remained a feeling that you had to be careful about what you said and thought about Christianity. Crass weren’t just taking risks, they were taking on the whole concept of religion and other sacred cows.

The lyrics were spat out fast and furiously and you need to be on your toes to catch it all. It was punk, but not as we know it. Even the ‘old wave’ of 1977 were caught out by this barrage of anti-conformity. While some people regard it as sacrilege to bash The Clash, Crass had no such reservations, accusing them of selling out by signing to CBS.

Listening to it now, with much time having passed, and societal changes haven taken an impact in the West, you can see Feeding of the 5000 as a testament of its time, a canon that launched the first offensive against an emerging monetarist, Thatcherite society that I explain in some detail in a previous blog:

https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/redder-than-red/

But, even now, Feeding of the 5000 sounds as confronting, independent, radical and thought-provoking as it did then. In fact, it is easy to imagine that if a band, punk or rap, or whatever, took on board some of the same subjects today, and wrote about them with a similar viewpoint, they would be on the end of a critical and conservative backlash. Alas, there are few such acts around and the tendency for musicians in the 21st century is to make music that skirts controversial issues, sells lots and keeps the controversial elements aside.  No wonder there’s a revival in interest in Crass.

  • Two years ago I reviewed this album as part of the Attic Dweller series when the site was in its infancy. I wasn’t entirely happy with that review, as it was partially flippant, hence this fuller review.
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Crass. Just the name makes you think.
And that was the intention: Crass were a punk group who would force you to consider your own ideals, and attitudes, even the way you approached life.
They are a band people tend to either love or loathe, and even those who admire Crass can find them in some way obnoxious, arrogant, musically unchallenging and who’s potential was limited by those very failings.
Personally, I come from the reasoning that as much as they antagonised many people, including those who would naturally lean towards their purist brand of punk, they paved the way for an alternative culture, re-igniting punk and leading to second wave bands such as Conflict, GBH and the Subhumans, as well as non-punk activist bands like Chumbawamba, Redskins and maybe even Rage Against the Machine.
Crass lived a lifestyle they espoused in their lyrics, being pretty much self-sufficient but also keep their distance from the mainstream, giving interviews to fanzines and the alternative culture. If they’d formed in this past decade, they would be the darlings of the non-aligned online media.
Without question is the interest they engender three decades after their peak, a period when questions were raised in the British Parliament about their anti-Falklands War stance and hatred of the Government.
In June last year I reviewed The Feeding of the 5000 in this blog, and have received a regular stream of hits since, in fact, it’s by far the most read thing I’ve done. Click on https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/lowdown-on-the-new-4/
This surprised me as I’ve reviewed plenty of albums and written features on a broad range of acts. Crass clearly have a fanbase built up through word of mouth and the internet over the years.
Southern Records objected to the term middle class in that review, but they operated out of Penny Rimbaud’s large Essex home, Dial House, and Rimbaud himself admits to being middle class in his book, Shibboleth: My Revolting Life.
Ignorant, on the other hand, was a working class lad, far younger than Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher, survivors of the hippy era and much mocked for their background.
The first album, Feeding of the 5000, was a rallying call for the dispossessed, tackling religion, on Reality Asylum (removed because of plant problems with its ‘blasphemous lyrics’), war – General Bacardi – and class control on the album’s standout, Do They Owe Us A Living?
It’s fair to say Crass would not have been the punk band they became without the Sex Pistols and The Clash asking pertinent questions and defying authority. But Crass showed little gratitude, deriding The Clash for supposedly selling out to CBS. White Punks on Hope is a song that really does not stand up on closer scrutiny, especially this line: “They won’t change nothing with their fashionable talks, their RAR badges, and their protest walk, thousands of white men standing in a park, objecting to racism like a candle in the dark.”
Quite why Crass objected to concerts supporting Rock Against Racism isn’t clear as they were instrumental in alerting the public to the threat by the nazi National Front.
But then anarchists, as Crass proclaimed to be, don’t like Socialists in any form so you wouldn’t expect any class solidarity in times of struggle. Anarchists had their own party and brigade in the Spanish Civil War so they were never going to take a unity platform in something as trivial as the Punk Wars.
They followed Feeding of the 5000 with Stations of the Crass (1979), Penis Envy (1981) and Christ – the Album (1982).
None of these were as good as Feeding … , and they had virtually dropped the punk style with something more experimental.
One track on Penis Envy was a brilliant wind up that wasn’t seen until it was too late.
Crass recorded a deliberately saccharine MOR love song called Our Wedding, which was stuck on a flexi disc with a cheesy label and given away free to readers of teenage girls’ romance mag Loving. The idea had been suggested to the magazine by an organisation calling itself Creative Recording And Sound Services (look at those initials).
The tabloids went ballistic at the subtle message, that marriage is about nothing more than control.

Back to basics


Things changed for Crass when the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, sent the troops in to defend a little island of less than 2000 people, the Falkland Islands, from Argentina, who had historically claimed them as their own.
They released two crucial back-to-their-roots singles, Sheep Farming in the Falklands/ Gotcha (the Sun tabloid’s headline when the Belgrano ship was torpedoed with hundreds on board apparently sailing in the opposite direction) and How Does It Feel (to be the Mother of 1000 Dead)? which brought the ire of the Government.
The latter song was particularly vehement, showing an unparalleled amount of anger towards Mrs Thatcher and her warmongering, right-wing Government:
“You never wanted peace or solution,
From the start you lusted after war and destruction.
Your blood-soaked reason ruled out other choices,
Your mockery gagged more moderate voices.”
Tory MP Tim Eggar described it as “the most vicious, scurrilous and obscene record that has ever been produced.”
He also said it went beyond the acceptable bounds of freedom of speech and was an insult to the country and the armed forces. This only added to the fire and How Does It Feel … sold 20,000 copies soon after its release.

The court battles and the barrage of criticism from the establishment around the record sapped the band’s strength and after N.A. Palmer left, they split, in 1984. They’d peaked, they had been given something to get their teeth into but they were gone by the Miner’s Strike of 1984-85 though they played some benefit gigs for striking miners, and their swansong was at one such event, in Aberdare, Wales.


Crass have left an impressive legacy, less so in musical terms – it was basically rehashed punk – but the way they played gigs, gave interviews, and released records, most of which was on their own label. They were part of a genre in which women flexed their musical muscles, that encouraged free expression, an uncompromising attitude and tackled ‘taboo’ subjects like feminism and religion.
I have a vinyl copy of Best Before, the posthumous double album compilation that features some unusual album tracks and infamous singles. It is abrasive, uncompromising, and while sometimes difficult to listen, has some great punk tracks such as Do They Owe Us A Living? and Yes Sir, I Will. Ignorant is at his brutal best on Gotcha and there are times when Crass sound like a truly great punk band.
The arguments for and against Crass could take a whole chapter and I would recommend going to punk77.com for articles both supporting and attacking the band.
For me, they left some classic records and paved the way for bands to release records and play gigs outwith the standard rock and roll way.
But in that review of Feeding of the 5000 I also said this:
“At times, Crass were over-the-top in their criticism of society and capitalism but were guilty of failing to back it up with solutions and alternatives, other than the vague notion of anarchist revolution.”

 

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SFA

 

 

Who? Super Furry Animals

Title: Dark Days/ Light Years

Label: Rough Trade

 

Tell me more: Since 1996, the Furries have been producing a series of exceptional, pyschedelic indie albums that have continually broken new ground. This is their ninth studio album.

Why the fek should I listen to this? Firstly, it has a song about trams and another entitled The Greatest Hits of Neil Diamond. I’ve seen them six times and crowdsurfed to them twice, which in Porky’s eyes is the ultimate in good gigs. SFA have tailed off a little with some previous albums, but there is little to fault this and it’s been on the stereo for the past week.

Or should I take it a stick to it and beat the shit out of it? It might contain truly mesmerising artwork that enduces hallucinations just by looking at at for more than 20 seconds, but the packaging is just shoddy and the disk keeps falling out from the slot.

Trivia: They once went to a festival with their own tank.

 

 

Scanned

 

 

 

Who: The Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band

Title: Polkapocalypse

Label: Monkey records

Tell me more: Eastern European gypsy music, played by an outfit fronted by Benka Boradovsky, whose real name is the far more mundane Ben Cragg and who hail from the capital of Ruritania: Auckland.

Why the fek should I listen to this? Crazed cossack dancing, wedding plate-smashing kind of thing. Is that really a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s Too Drunk To Fuck? Dance music to laugh at – quite an achievement really.

Or should I take it a stick to it and beat the shit out of it? Nah, just fucking great.

Trivia: Three of the tracks were recorded for Radio New Zealand, which for the uniniated, is a radio station … in New Zealand.

 

 

The Puddle

 

 

Who? The Puddle

Title: The Shakespeare Monkey

Label: Fishrider records

Tell me more: The Puddle formed in 1984 and were on the revered Dunedin label Flying Nun, which had, at the time, too many fantastic bands for such a small area as Otago.

Why the fek should I listen to this? They bear comparison to legendary New Zealand band the Chills (a Nun act too) with their beautifully languid pop sound that is not too far from the melodic heaven of The Byrds. The Shakespeare Monkey is their second album in a year after a decade away and has impressed Porky with its captivating tone and heartfelt lyrics, one of which, One Romantic Gesture namechecks poets Keats and (Thomas) Chatterton.

Or should I take it a stick to it and beat the shit out of it? George D. Henderson’s voice is infuriatingly frail. And at 17 songs, 62 minutes, some quality control was needed.

 

Attic Dweller

 

Crass 2

 

 

Who? Crass

Title: The Feeding of the 5000

Label: Crass

Tell me more: Anarchist shouty-shouty punk yob chant noise. Uncomprising ‘we never sell out’ anti-capitalist, anti-Thatcher, anti-female shaving, anti-bloody everything virtually. Feeding of the 5000 is from 1978, after the punk movement shot its bolt. Crass paved the way for 80s second-wave punk bands like Discharge and Conflict.

Why the fek should I listen to this? Crass are what punk is about. It’s not about playing fast like cartoon punks Green Day. Middle-class Crass may have been, and therefore, had less to lose, but they stuck the knife in on tracks like Do They Owe Us a Living and the anti-religious Asylum, (“Jesus died for his own sins, not mine”).

Or should I take it a stick to it and beat the shit out of it? Some people regard it as sacrilege to bash the Clash – but Crass accuse them of selling out by signing to CBS. At times, Crass’ were over-the-top in their criticism of society and capitalism but were guilty of failing to back it up with solutions and alternatives, other than the vague notion of anarchist revolution.

Trivia: Pressing plant workers refused to handle the record due to the content of Asylum. It was eventually released with the track removed and replaced by two minutes of silence. The re-release in 1980 (on Crass records, the original was on Small Wonder), included Asylum.

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