Sunday, 21 May 2017

Stiff Little Fingers


So, the war being waged in Nicaragua between the Sandanistas and the Contras was very much a politically straightforward one. If only the same could have been said of the war in Northern Ireland, if indeed what was going on there in that emerald isle could even be called a war?
According to the IRA, the answer to that question was a definite and unequivocal 'Yes'. It was their conviction that they were soldiers - paramilitaries - fighting for independence against the British occupation of Northern Ireland. They were the Irish Republican Army - it was all in the name - and they were at war with the British State.
According to the Thatcher government, however, the answer was 'No', there was no war going on in Northern Ireland in the slightest. Rather, the IRA were simply criminals committing outrageous acts of violence, intimidation and murder. Nothing more and nothing less. To some, the IRA were freedom fighters but to others they were terrorists.
In England, there were many sympathetic to the Irish republican cause but when it came to seeing innocent people being blown apart by IRA bombs planted in British pubs it somewhat clouded the issue, to put it lightly. And even if a significant proportion of British people were against the British military presence in Northern Ireland, it didn't exempt them from being potential IRA targets themselves. Confusing matters further, to the consternation of the Conservative government in particular, the IRA were being part-funded by donations from supporters in America - Britain's allied partner in the battle against all things communist and all things terrorist.

So, the Irish problem was a problem. Unlike Nicaragua, nothing was clear cut and very little was politically straightforward about it. Indeed, since Bloody Sunday in 1972 when unarmed civilians were gunned down in cold blood by soldiers of the British Parachute Regiment, the idea of 'normal' politics in Northern Ireland had completely ended. The H-Block hunger strikes of 1981 and the mass rioting in Belfast following the death of Bobby Sands and his comrades had caused the ante to be upped even further with the British State launching an unofficial 'shoot-to-kill' policy.
'The Troubles' were getting worse and the situation ever more desperate, all taking place in Britain's very own backyard. One of the consequences of all this - significant to some, irrelevant to others - being that one of the best Punk bands ever had been born from it all.

When The Clash first went over to Belfast in October of '77 to play a concert there, due to supposed insurance problems the gig was cancelled at the last minute leaving both band and fans bitterly disappointed. Being Belfast, almost by default a mini-riot ensued whereby the fans vented their frustration by smashing windows and throwing stones at the RUC. This time, however, there was a difference. Where as normally it would be Protestant and Catholic kids attacking each other, the two factions were now united under the banner of Punk and attacking a common enemy - the police.
The Clash, meanwhile, took a stroll down the Falls Road and posed for photographs alongside army blockades, barricades, checkpoints and British soldiers toting guns. Though accused of self-serving opportunism for posing against such a backdrop after failing to even play there, the resulting pictures of The Clash in their street Punk gear standing in the middle of what was essentially a war zone lent them and subsequently Punk a politicised, urban credibility that was somewhat lacking in any other musical genre.

The Clash at that time were prime motivators for the embryonic Punk movement, inspiring many a fledgling Punk Rocker up and down the land to start thinking about the world around them and to start expressing themselves accordingly. From a young Thomas Mensworth in Newcastle, for example, to a William Bragg in London, to a certain Steven Williams in Bristol. The Clash were inspiring them all to form bands, becoming respectively Mensi of the Angelic Upstarts, a Big-Nosed Bastard From Barking, and Steve Ignorant of Crass.
In Ireland too, having managed by the end of 1977 to play successful gigs in both Dublin and Belfast, The Clash were inspiring not only future members of U2, The Undertones, and the Virgin Prunes but also members of an inconsequential covers band called Highway Star, soon - after a quick name change - to be better known as Stiff Little Fingers.

If the economic, social and political situation of England during the late 1970s could spawn a band such as The Clash, it was almost inevitable that the far more intense situation in Northern Ireland during that same period might spawn a much more intense band. It made sense. If the social realism of London could be reflected by The Clash, then the urban realism of Belfast could also be reflected. Taking on that task was Stiff Little Fingers but just as it took manager Bernie Rhodes to urge The Clash to sing about what was 'important', so it took journalist Ian Ogilvie to urge Stiff Little Fingers to sing about their immediate surroundings.
By way of example, Ogilvie offered the band two sets of lyrics that after being put to music became the songs Suspect Device and Wasted Life. Not that Ogilvie was some kind of svengali moulding a band to his own vision in the way Bernie Rhodes and Malcolm McLaren had tried to do. Alone, Ogilvie's words were but scribbles - albeit interesting scribbles - on a page but when charged with harsh, metallic, twin guitar Punk Rock and delivered by raw, sore throat vocals the result was simply stunning.

Suspect Device became Stiff Little Fingers début single, bringing them instantly to the attention of a mass of Punk Rockers looking for something slightly more dangerous than the by that time increasingly America-fixated Clash. The sound they produced was a retreat into hard Punk, imbued with a spiky aggression born from lives in crisis.
Apart from the obvious meaning of 'potential bomb' - a relevant subject in a city like Belfast where such packages were the cause of constant chaos and disruption - the term "suspect device" could also be taken as a description of angry youth who at any moment might explode with frustration. A neat echo of Johnny Rotten's "potential H-bomb" of God Save The Queen.
Advocating a bomb as being more of a question than an answer, Stiff Little Fingers declaration of "We're gonna blow up in their face" left the very clear impression that something powerful and special was occurring in Belfast. Confirmation of this came with the release of their second single, Alternative Ulster, which with the assistance of John Peel and almost nightly airplay on his show, elevated the band into a position of major importance within the Punk world, underlining the fact that Punk at its best was political by nature.

After gaining further credibility points by signing to the independent Rough Trade record label, Stiff Little Fingers released their début album to widespread acclaim, receiving high praise from critics holding normally opposing musical tastes such as Paul Morley at the NME and Garry Bushell at Sounds. Entitled Inflammable Material - the name having been taken from the opening line of Suspect Device - it was immediately recognised as being on a par with the début albums of The Clash, the Sex Pistols, and the Ramones.
Whilst the music was pure and sublime caustic Punk Rock, it was the vocals of Jake Burns that elevated it to an entirely new level. Bespectacled, long(ish) of hair and dressed in plain jeans and leather jacket, to look at him it could never be imagined that his voice would be so torn, so jagged and so spectacular. His was the voice of coruscating Punk passion.

Practically every song on the album concerned itself with life as experienced in Northern Ireland, with even their version of Bob Marley's Johnny Was being turned into a Belfast tale. Like The Clash, it was obvious that Stiff Little Fingers were aligned with the Left although they were cleverly managing to avoid being pigeon-holed as either Republican or Loyalist. Instead, they were sitting somewhere in the middle - shot by both sides - crying out that they had simply had enough of the whole sorry situation.
"The solution to Northern Ireland's problems is 10,000 Punk bands," said Jake Burns, by this meaning not Punk bands as forces of political power but as individual and collective acts of creativity. Through their own creative endeavours, Stiff Little Fingers were breaking free from the restriction and repression of everyday life in Ulster. The beauty of Punk, of course, was in its advocacy of the idea that 'anyone can do it' so that even those who felt unable to articulate themselves might actually be able to do so through the expression of sheer rage.
"Anything you do creative is worthwhile," Crass would later say, recognising the importance of free expression in a world geared toward the eroding of individuality and the moulding of people into compliant consumers.

Stiff Little Fingers saw their opportunity and went for it, upping sticks and heading over to England just as soon as they could so as to follow their rock'n'roll dreams. In the process signing to major label Chrysalis and to cries of 'sell-out!' becoming a better than average Punk band but no longer the politically-charged force they once were.
To give them their due, they remained true to their word in only singing about their immediate surroundings but as their surroundings changed, subsequently so did the subject matter of their songs and soon they were no longer the conduit for the frustration born of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The significance of Stiff Little Fingers as a stepping stone towards the social awareness of a generation of Punk Rockers, however, cannot be overstated.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Sleeping Dogs - Beware


On their début album, Conflict took an unusual direction for a so-called 'street Punk band' and veered off at one point with the track Vietnam Serenade, touching upon the subject of American foreign policy in Latin America: "They say it's in the name of the law, will Vietnam be the forerunner to El Salvador? Another nine years of killings, injuries and rapes?"
To the stereotypical Vicious Sidney Punk fan, Vietnam and El Salvador probably meant at best Apocalypse Now and something to do with The Clash's Sandanista album. To those taking a keener interest in the wider world, however, it meant American imperialism and US military aid to an extreme Right-wing dictatorship.

America in the early Eighties was (and probably had always been and always will be) a vast, bubbling cauldron of gigantic contradictions. An immense patchwork quilt of staggering beauty, brilliance, ugliness and despair headed much like in Britain by an Establishment easily capable of cold and calculating wickedness.
If an intensifying stand-off against Russian communism in Europe via the stationing of Cruise missiles wasn't bad enough, perhaps soon to be superseded by the escalation of the arms race into space via the Strategic Defence Initiative, America was also at surreptitious war in its own backyard against the forces of communism in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Not wishing these countries to go the way of Cuba and become fully-fledged Marxist states bankrolled by Moscow, the US government was happy to channel millions of dollars in economic and military aid into propping up their corrupt but pro-American dictatorships. Turning a blind eye to human-rights abuses and (in Guatemala in particular) what amounted to genocide, America justified its support and its actions by perceiving it as front-line defence of its borders against the communist threat.

This whole subject was dealt with far more thoroughly than Conflict's acknowledgement of it in the next release on Crass Records. Beware was a 5-track EP by Sleeping Dogs, a three-piece band from San Francisco previously featured on Bullshit Detector 2 under the name of American Arsenal. Aided and abetted by Penny Rimbaud and Pete Wright on drums and bass respectively, most interestingly the band included as one of its two vocalists a certain Dave King, the artist responsible for designing the now iconic Crass logo.

In regard to all of the Crass personnel, nothing much was known about them as individual personalities. The work was all. From the start, this had apparently been the intention with the black clothes, the pseudonyms, and the collective voice in interviews all adding to the anonymity. An outcome of this, however, was a shrouding of Crass in a mystique and an arousing of possibly even greater curiosity. So successful was this 'wall of Crass' that not only did it eliminate each member's personal identity and personal history but it enforced, strengthened and accentuated the 'invented' selves - the personalities representing Crass via pseudonyms such as 'Eve Libertine' and 'Steve Ignorant'. It was an odd and wholly unexpected occurrence.
The person behind the design of the Crass logo was even more of a mystery. As Gee was the Crass member who designed all the posters and record sleeves it was presumed that it was her (or could 'Gee' have been a 'he'?) who designed the logo. It wasn't. Now, years later, the real culprit - Dave King - was emerging as a member of a band called Sleeping Dogs, though as might be expected, emerging under a pseudonym: 'BB' or 'Bad Boy'.

To angular, disjointed, industrial dance grooves, Sleeping Dogs sang of the passing on of fear and guilt from generation to generation, fucked-up relationships, the meaning of war, urbanization, and El Salvador. This being the first American band to appear on Crass Records, it made sense that they should focus on American current affairs as well as more universal themes, so in the track (I Got My Tan In) El Salvador a picture is painted of the situation in the banana republic of the song's title: "Death squads in the street, they do what they want... The military is suffering from paranoia, anyone not in uniform is suspect. They rape, they torture and then they kill. Unspeakable violence, unimaginable suffering. Too many bodies, too little land, decades of oppression by military governments - supported by America." It's not too unfair to say that Sleeping Dogs weren't the easiest nor the most happiest of bands to dance to.
Expounding further upon the same subject, newspaper clippings referring to the goings-on in South America crammed the record sleeve's cover that as per normal with Crass Records releases, folded out into a photo-montage poster, this time depicting the vast continent of America - the land of the free - mastered by industry.

Acting as confirmation of America's fears regarding a communist invasion, a few years earlier a popular uprising had taken place in Nicaragua that had overthrown the debauched dictatorship that had been ruling the country for over forty years and replaced it with a new, Leftist government. The Somoza dictatorship had been toppled but much of its old guard had not gone away and it was these counter-revolutionaries called the 'Contras' that the Reagan administration continued to support both financially and militarily. What with America then enforcing a trade embargo and mining the Nicaraguan ports, the new Sandanista government was under siege.
In response to this, thousands of Leftists from around the world flocked to the Sandanistas aid, offering support and solidarity in whatever way was needed. Whilst the Clash named their fourth album after the Sandanistas, hundreds of British volunteers made their way to Nicaragua to help the besieged economy by working on construction sites and on the coffee plantations. One of those volunteers being Rab Herman, one time acquaintance of Dave King, Phil (Wally Hope) Russell and Penny Rimbaud - and original guitarist in Crass before being replaced by Phil Free.

The Sandanista revolution was a beacon of rebellious hope against the forces of conservative power and control as represented by Reagan and Thatcher. On the surface at least, the issues were all very clear and easily understood: the Sandanistas were the good guys - heroic, brave, dignified campesinos committed to the redistribution of land and wealth; whilst the Contras were the bad guys - sadistic, CIA-sponsored thugs committing atrocities against their own people for the sake of the US dollar. If ever there was a black-and-white, politically straightforward war of ideologies then this was it...

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Conflict - It's Time To See Who's Who


The intention of spreading awareness was an honourable one shared by a good many bands at that time of which Conflict would happily have included themselves. Garry Bushell had from the very start spotted the potential of Conflict to be a bridge between the Crass camp and the Oi! brigade and from there spreading their Anarcho message to an even wider audience.
'We want to further people's consciousness. And we want to use whatever means are possible,' as Conflict stated in a pamphlet included with their Live At Centro Iberico EP 'We want to reach people by whatever means we can - papers, television, radio, music, the lot.'
Their ambition was evident as was their energy and passion as witnessed during their live performances, along with their commitment as shown by their solidarity with the DIY Punk scene. Conflict readily offered their support to anyone aligning themselves with Anarcho Punk and in turn the Anarcho Punk elders such as Poison Girls, Crass and Southern Studios owners John and Sue Loder offered their support to Conflict.

The obvious next step in maintaining their momentum was for Conflict to release their début LP which they duly did in April of 1983 on the Corpus Christi label. Affiliated to Crass, Corpus Christi had been set up to allow bands total artistic freedom regarding their records. In particular, this meant they were free from Crass label design 'restrictions' and that John Loder instead of Penny Rimbaud would decide on who and what to release.
For Conflict at that time, artistic control meant releasing their LP in a full-colour gate-fold sleeve, the artwork and lettering beautifully designed by one Bernard Chandler, future bassist of Poison Girls. Entitled It's Time To See Who's Who, the LP was essentially the live set that Conflict had been touring around with, finally rendered coherently audible by Crass bassist Pete Wright on production duties.

When playing live, Conflict would create a blistering vortex of noise with vocalist Colin Jerwood - eyes popping, veins bulging - shouting for all his worth at the centre. On initial hearing of the LP, what surprised was how tuneful a lot of the songs actually were and what with the lyrics transcribed onto the sleeve, what exactly Conflict were raging about.
One subject known to be very close to Conflict's heart was animal liberation, represented most powerfully on the track Meat Means Murder. Flux Of Pink Indians were the only other band who had ever really focussed on vegetarianism and animal abuse, and even then had still not quite managed to disassociate the subjects from hippy and middle class connotations. Being solidly working class and thoroughly unpretentious hard bastards, Conflict were endorsing vegetarianism with a credibility it had never had before: "Can't you see that juice is blood? From new born throats red rivers flood. Blood from young hearts, blood from veins. Your blood, their blood, serves the same."
This was a subject that Conflict would never abandon, encouraging many of their listeners to not only give up eating meat but to become militantly active against the perpetrators and beneficiaries of animal abuse, animal experimentation and animal exploitation.

Conflict's natural-born inclination towards anti-authoritarianism manifested itself in them shouting down officialdom and power in all its forms, whether it be the government, the police, the law, the Bomb, the music business, the media or whatever. Conflict were natural-born anarchists, with nothing studied about their anarchism, nothing scholarly or gleaned from text books just an instinctive, gut-level understanding of right and wrong.
Equally important, unlike a significant proportion of the Punk fraternity as represented by The Exploited, for example, Conflict weren't at all interested in numbing themselves to the world through drugs and noise. Instead, Conflict were very much Punks of a positive inclination, offering much needed inspirational attitude: "The Left-wing manifesto, the Right-wing sham, tell us we can't but I know we can. They tell us we can't but I tell you we can. Stuff your lies, I know we can. We can!"

In the track Exploitation, The Exploited and their fine but amusing appearance on Top Of The Pops with their song Dead Cities is referred to as an example of how unrepresentative such bands were of their actual audiences, serving in the end to be of service only to the music business: "Yeah, we live in dead cities and the streets are grey, but I don't need Top Of The Pops to make me think that way. I can see this rebellion on my tv screen, but no sign of a future for you and me."
Conflict’s intention was to set themselves apart and to actively oppose the machinations of the music business through both word and deed, taking the same stance toward politics and social justice. In this respect, demonstrating in protest marches and involvement in direct action was just as important as playing a gig or releasing a record - if not more so.

There were high expectations of Conflict's début album but when it came to it, the album acted more than anything else as a way of cementing their presence as a band. Conflict needed to forge their own essentially anarchist identity not only within the realm of Anarcho Punk but within a wider social context. So, not only were they rejecting both Left and Right-wing politics as any good anarchist might but rejecting also all ideas of historical English identity: "Great Britain thinks it leads the world so civilised, pure and free. Great Britain doesn't lead fuck all, Great Britain shit, you don't fool me. Smashing Argies, Falklands ours. Falklands ours, what a con. We ain't even got a place to stick our arses on."

Many of the songs on It's Time To See Who's Who seemed to be more about dealing with specific subjects so as to get them dealt with and out of the way, so as to enable the band to move on to other territory. Along the way a veritable storm of bluster and fury was being whipped up and this in turn was becoming Conflict's most prominent feature. Like all the other Anarcho Punk bands, Conflict were saying 'No' but in their own unequivocal and unerring manner: "Fuck you! Fuck off!" they were roaring "Fuck you fucking fuck off!"

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Omega Tribe - Angry Songs


Having previously graced Bullshit Detector 2 with the outstanding Nature Wonder track, Omega Tribe had been steadily raising their profile by playing support to bands such as Conflict and Poison Girls, providing a more melodious and approachable counterbalance to Conflict's Punk barrage and Poison Girls' brilliant oddness.
The Angry Songs EP, released on Crass Records, revealed a maturity beyond Omega Tribe's years, not only musically but in their grasp of protest politics where their desire for "a peaceful, happy, equal earth" was tempered by an unblinkered perspective. The opening track, Another Bloody Day, kicked off in healthy Punk mode but then almost immediately cast off its thrash cocoon to reveal the butterfly within. As an elegant piano motif took over, the sudden change of gear gave pause for reflection as vocalist Hugh in dulcet tones asked: "Angry songs and bitter words, have you heard it all before?"

When the Sex Pistols appeared on the Bill Grundy-hosted Today programme in December of 1976, television history was made as they and the idea of 'Punk' was propelled into mainstream public consciousness. Just as important though less acknowledged, however, was their very first appearance on television a few months earlier on the Tony Wilson-hosted So It Goes programme. This was the seminal moment when a combination of factors were joined together to define Punk as inherently a force of absolute relevance and uncontrollable energy. Moreover, it was the moment when utter anger became an integral part of Punk.
"Woodstock!" shouted Johnny Rotten by way of introducing his band, "Coming to get you!" Seemingly aimed not just at Tony Wilson in his soft denim and clogs attire but at the whole smugly satisfied, grim, burnt-out culture of early-Seventies post-hippiedom; it was a taunt brimful of contempt.
"Get off your arse!" Rotten roared, the hostility in his voice and the incandescent fury in his eyes warranting a sense of danger before unleashing a savage version of Anarchy In The UK, soon to become, of course, one of the greatest urban folk songs of the modern age.
As the song screeched to a halt in a blaze of feedback, the band along with leading uber-Punkette Rocker Jordan had already started kicking over mic stands and throwing chairs around the set as the camera zoomed in on Rotten, looking intensely into the distance as though surveying the battlefield of future wars to come.

"Bakunin would have loved it," said Tony Wilson in his summing up and indeed he might well have done; intrigued by the rage, the urge to destruction, the indignation and, of course, the anger. The die was cast. Anger and the feeling and expressing of it would forever more be an important facet of Punk, acting as an engine for action. "'A' equals action, 'T' equals time, 'V' equals vision," as Mark Perry put it, perceptive as ever.
Anger was a weapon for use in defence and attack, a motivating force and a wholly justified response to injustice. Without anger Punk could still be dangerous of a sort though far less potent as would be evidenced by the number of Punk bands over the ensuing years choosing Punk style over Punk substance. The arrival of Crass and (in the words of Garry Bushell) their 'full-frontal, screaming banshee attack' imbuing this Punk anger with an intelligence even fiercer than Rotten's, cementing it as an irrefutable virtue that would inspire legions of new Punks, Omega Tribe being among them.

"Angry songs and bitter words, it's all the same old stuff," advised Omega Tribe, and indeed they had a point. As Anarcho Punk flourished, it was apparent that a plateau had been reached and even though rage was being vented in a variety of ways from Disorder screaming blue murder to Conflict shouting the odds to Crass getting near-hysterical, it was crucial to remember that the medium was not the message, or as Omega Tribe put it: "Angry songs and bitter words, but words are not enough."

Another Bloody Day was a nod toward the same production values as exhibited on No Doves Fly Here by The Mob although a more typical example of where Omega Tribe were at musically was the song Profiteer, which served also as probably the best track on the EP.
If capitalism is cannibalism as Anthrax had pointed out, the engine driving capitalism to devour itself and everything else was the eternal quest for profit. As Conservative government policies prepared the ground for deregulation and privatisation, profitability was becoming the singular method of measuring the worth of anything and everything.
This was a hard and unforgiving ethic of Thatcherism that made a mockery of core human values such as empathy and charity. The profit motive bypassed all notions of collectivism and mutual aid, appealing directly instead to conservative individualism and selfishness. Not that this was any kind of new phenomenon for in one way or another it had always been in place but only now was it being magnified ten-fold. "Implanted from your childhood in your mind is to profit, not to love, to care, be kind," sang Omega Tribe.

Thatcher's advocacy of the free-market supposedly meant the democratization of capitalism and the birth of the stake-holder society but it also meant the social acceptance of exploitation and the sense that greed was a good thing. Thatcher was giving the green light to economics based on the survival of the fittest and then letting that idea bleed into civil society where it would manifest itself as neglect and basic dehumanization of less able people.
Omega Tribe's initial aim was to simply make people aware of aspects of the world such as this, sugaring their message in a tuneful, Anarcho Pop Punk style: "You are exploited from the very day you are born. You are paying them for the privilege of living. You are giving them their profit."
Coming from the same stable as Crass, their suggested solutions were familiar ones: "Why must we suffer to fulfil their positions of power and greed? If you stand out you are a start towards a change. Say 'No!'"
Omega Tribe's special talent was in conveying these ideas in a highly approachable manner, their Angry Songs EP being fine evidence of this, making it to be one of the most respected and loved records of that whole era.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Anthrax - Capitalism Is Cannibalism


Based in Gravesend, Kent, Anthrax had initially been featured on Bullshit Detector 2 and from there had gone on to have a record (entitled They've Got It All Wrong) released on the Small Wonder label, leading to airplay on the John Peel show. Pete Stennet, proprietor of Small Wonder Records always had a good ear for a good band, being responsible for the first independent label recordings of a plethora of classic acts including Cockney Rejects, Menace, The Wall, Cravats, Punishment Of Luxury, The Cure, and of course, Crass.
Among the large number of demo tapes sent to him, something obviously stood out about Anthrax to warrant doing a single with them as it did with John Peel to warrant giving them airplay. Could it have been perhaps the angry intelligence at work in their songs and the perfect jelling of sentiment to sound?
Crass too obviously picked up on it by the fact of awarding them the opportunity to put out a single on their label. In the process of doing so, however, something very unexpected occurred: In the studio with Penny Rimbaud on production, Anthrax were turned into an astonishing hybrid of Flux Of Pink Indians and a teenage Crass. With phlegmy, snarling vocals, pounding drums, rumbling bass and squealing, feedback-torn, fuzz-drenched guitar, Anthrax were imbuing the Crass formula with new life and vitality.

The title track of their EP, Capitalism Is Cannibalism, was a masterpiece of political Punk combining both anger and despair in equal measures: "What a fucking set up, what a real mess. I can't make sense of it, it doesn't make sense."
Casting a beady eye upon the world, vocalist Oskar was diving head-first into the maelstrom and letting rip with invective: "Raised from the cradle and teethed on possession, they reared you upon TV capitalism. They spewed you out of school, they gave you a nice job. You get turned on when you're on top."
To Oskar, society was a vicious circle in which positions of consuming and of being consumed become blurred, where roles are prescribed and what you get for what you give becomes ever more toxic: "You have to survive by producing crap. Can you call that life? With the very same crap you have to buy back displayed on the supermarket shelf, over a thousand varieties - to damage your health."

For all the sloganeering within Punk alongside the grappling with politics and the wrestling with economics, it was very rare that the term 'capitalism' was ever mentioned. Whilst 'communism' was a part and parcel of everyday language from Sex Pistols lyrics to mainstream news reports, 'capitalism' was deemed almost archaic as though it was a redundant word. When describing the nuclear stand-off between East and West, even, it was always 'communist' Russia against the 'democratic' West.
Professor of linguistics and intellectual political activist Noam Chomsky would argue that this was no accident and was all part of the manufacturing of consent. If this be so, then Anthrax were one of the very first bands to go against the grain by not only ripping the mask of democracy away and addressing the western world's political and economic system by its proper name but defining it truthfully also with one of the most precise Punk slogans ever: Capitalism is cannibalism.

Equally unequivocal was the track-cum-slogan Violence Is Violence, which found Oskar describing how the media condemns violence one minute then condones it the next according to whatever suits whatever agenda is being set at the time. Citing the way the tabloids glorified the Falklands war when only weeks earlier they had been deploring hooligan violence on Britain's streets, he makes a good argument: "The whole fucking affair seems the same to me, one minute they're deploring it the next minute adoring it. But violence is violence no matter who inflicts it, whether used in a street fight or a war caused by politics."

Probably without realising it themselves, Anthrax were actually years ahead of their time specifically in regard to the subject matter of their songs. As well as bare-naked capitalism, for example, they were even getting to grips in the track All Things Bright And Beautiful with environmental conservation. These being two themes that years later would become the focus of major protest movements.
Although the artwork on the sleeve of the EP was perhaps not up to the usual high standard of Crass Records covers, the bold statement on the main fold-out poster side offered final evidence if it be needed that their hearts were firmly in the right place: 'Capitalism gives opportunities in life - Anarchy gives life'.

The Capitalism Is Cannibalism EP along with their Small Wonder début would be the only records Anthrax would ever release in their own right during the Eighties (until reforming many years later and finally releasing two albums, the first a compilation of past glories and the second a collection of totally new material) which was a shame, for even though they were derided by some as being mere Crass copyists, Anthrax were in actual fact a very special band indeed.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Greenham Common


The Easter weekend of 1983 saw 70,000 people descending upon the county of Berkshire to once again congregate beneath the CND banner and stage another anti-nuclear protest. Having 'embraced the base' just a few months earlier, this time a 14 mile-long human chain was formed stretching from Greenham Common to Aldermaston nuclear research centre via Burghfield where the final assembly of mounted nuclear warheads took place. Highlighting the connection between the three establishments, it was a peaceful, symbolic demonstration keeping strictly within the law.

Back at Greenham that same weekend, stepping beyond the boundary of the law but still remaining resolutely peaceful, 200 women dressed as teddy bears stormed the perimeter fence of the base. Once inside the site a surreal protest in the form of a teddy bears picnic took place before being rudely gatecrashed by the police and the bears escorted off the premises.

Apart from the disparity in numbers, the main difference between the two protests was that one was conducted within the law and the other broke the law through trespass on government property. Not that this made any difference to newly appointed Defence Minister Michael Heseltine who accused all the protesters whether acting legally or not as being "misguided and naive enemies of the State".

Heseltine was to prove himself a formidable opponent of CND and indeed, even Thatcher would soon become wary of him and the threat he might pose to her own position. With his forceful character and striking appearance he cut an imposing figure who through sheer antagonism on his part would quickly become a politician to despise.
The problem with Heseltine's criticisms of CND supporters as being "misguided" and "naive" was that these were people whose only demand was that there be peace. It wasn't too much to ask for in life, surely? Heseltine may not have agreed with their advocacy of unilateralism but all he could offer instead was a constant state of fear, the constant threat of all-out war and a world edging ever nearer to nuclear destruction. It was a no-brainer.

And as for being labelled an "enemy of the State", what better accolade could there be? What better street credibility? Especially if as well as being a CND peace protester you also happened to enjoy playing in an Anarcho Punk band who had a record out on the Crass label...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Star Wars


Such determination as displayed by the Anarcho Punk bands was going to be much needed in the face of what one of the world's most powerful Christians was about to announce. Since his entry into the White House, President Ronald Reagan had been successfully proving himself a good friend to all his loyal supporters who had aided him in his election victory. For the rich he was pro-tax cuts, for the conservatives he was pro-family, for the Jewish lobby he was pro-Israel, for the Christian Right he was pro-life, and for all of them he was pro-national defense. In the eyes of all these people, the enemy of freedom and of all that was good was Russia and after 40 years of Cold War, Reagan was determined that it would be his Administration that would finally see the end of it with western democracy emerging triumphant.

Having already escalated the arms race to an unprecedented level, without any prior warning given to his allies Reagan suddenly announced the spear-heading of a programme of research into a new defense against ballistic nuclear missile attack - the Strategic Defence Initiative.
The basic idea was to develop satellites with the capability of firing deadly laser beams at nuclear missiles, either at their point of launch or before point of impact. Controlled by a sophisticated computer system on earth, the satellites would provide an ultimate shield against nuclear attack from Russia. In all but name, Reagan was advocating the future militarisation of space where science fiction would become science fact and where science fact would become science dystopia. Critics immediately dubbed the whole idea 'Star Wars'.

Whilst obviously escalating the arms race further, Reagan tempered this fact by suggesting the Strategic Defence Initiative would actually supersede nuclear weapons as a deterrent and ultimately make all nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete. As a firm believer in the 'mutually assured destruction' doctrine, Thatcher was appalled at the talk of a nuclear weapon-free world. According to her, it was absolutely due to nuclear weapons that there had not already been a third world war and the idea of a world totally free of nuclear bombs was neither attainable nor even desirable.
For their own (unspoken) economic reasons, Russia too was dead set against the initiative and for them the whole issue would soon come to dominate all talks on arms control. Due to the ultimate impact it would have on the nuclear arms race and Russian/American relationships, Thatcher would years later say that Reagan's original 'Star Wars' decision would be "the single most important of his presidency". At the time, however, it was yet another mad leap down the rapidly spiralling path to Armageddon.

Clearly, something was going very wrong with the world. The nuclear nightmare was growing ever more real, propelled by the Right-wing political agendas of both the Reagan Administration in America and the Thatcher government in Britain. In the name of peace - on land, at sea, in air, at home, abroad and now potentially in space - a war was being waged against all things politically left-of-centre. The forces of conservative power and control were on the march and no longer was there the option of ignorant bliss or of splendid isolation. The only question now being 'What to do?'.