Saturday, 24 March 2018

CND - Hyde Park '83


October 1983 saw CND's much vaunted national demonstration take place in London coinciding with other similar-sized demonstrations in West Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and France. 'Oct 22 Where will you be?' asked all the many CND posters distributed and published in newspapers and magazines throughout the land. Come the day, over 250,000 people answered by turning up for the start of the march at Victoria Embankment from where they would wend their way to the mass rally in Hyde Park.

There was no denying, it was an impressive turnout that sent a clear message to the Thatcher government. Not that they were ever going to listen, of course, but if nothing else it must have taken them by surprise to actually see the sheer amount of support that CND had garnered. If only those same numbers had turned up for Stop The City?
For the more clear-sighted, however, it wasn't so much about communicating any message to those in power but more about communicating with each other. Those out marching that day were communicating to the people next to them, letting them as well as themselves know that they weren't alone.
Peace and a world free from nuclear weapons wasn't some strange, naïve notion but something that thousands upon thousands of people from all walks of life both believed in and sought. The problem being that the communicating and the dialogue needed to be extended and moved up a gear because however loud the plea for peace was, it was falling on deaf ears and for all the marching, it was getting nowhere.

As the protesters poured into Hyde Park, the focal point was the stage from where various members of the CND leadership spoke, all giving each other a mutual pat on the back for the huge and successful turnout. The overriding message was that the nuclear madness had to end but there was no evidence the leaders of the Western world or their counterparts in the East would ever be swayed no matter how many people CND might gather under their banner. Whether it be 250,000 or 500,000 people marching on the streets, there was no tipping point in sight.
On that day it became apparent that the solution lay not in talking to politicians and leaders but in talking to each other; to family, to neighbours, to the people marching next to you. Power lay sideways not upwards. Change would come horizontally not vertically.

The keynote speaker at the rally should really have been the Hiroshima survivor who was there in attendance but was instead newly elected Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, whose proffered solution to the siting of Cruise missiles and the end of the arms race was the voting in of a Labour government. Put your faith in him as elected leader, he advised, and nuclear armageddon would be thwarted.
The very idea was not only preposterous but insulting and the gathered Punks and anarchists at the front of the stage – many of whom had been at Stop The City – let Kinnock know it by pelting him with clumps of mud, sticks, bottles and cans. Teams of police and CND stewards rushed forward to protect Kinnock from the missile throwers, resulting in a near-pitched battle between the two sides.

The missile throwers were predictably condemned by many of the peaceniks for attacking Kinnock though it wouldn't be too long before Kinnock not only stopped being a signed-up CND member but also changing his stance on nuclear weapons from outright ban to 'negotiated reductions', therefore proving the missile throwers perfectly correct in their appraisal of him and their hostility perfectly justified.

As first indicated by The Apostles on their Blow It Up, Burn It Down' EP earlier in the year and then evidenced at Stop The City, something was stirring in the Punk ranks, underlined on that day at Hyde Park not only by the bottling of Neil Kinnock but also by a fanzine-styled newspaper being sold there entitled Class War; its front cover depicting a field of crosses, emblazoned with the headline: 'We have found new homes for the rich.'....

Monday, 19 March 2018

Cecil, Cecil, Cecil...


Wondering if something altogether very different had been worth it was Conservative government minister Cecil Parkinson, who after details were released to the press of his extramarital affair with his secretary and a subsequent unwanted pregnancy, was forced to reluctantly resign from office.
Parkinson had somewhat inexplicably been a member of Thatcher's select War Cabinet during the Falklands crisis and had been the architect of the Conservatives' election campaign earlier in the year. Viewed by some as having 'matinee idol looks' and for some reason a firm favourite of Thatcher, at heart he was little more than a bounder and a cad. And a right fucking bastard.

Parkinson chose to scorn his secretary lover and their unborn child and stick instead with his wife, supported in his decision by Thatcher who had suddenly forgotten all about her Victorian values. His lover, however, was not going to be so casually denied and launched a scathing attack upon Parkinson, telling of his promises to marry her which in the end caused his ministerial position to be untenable. From that day on he chose not to take the slightest interest in the child, not once even casting his eyes upon her.

Cecil Parkinson was a prime example of Tory hypocrisy whose Lotharion antics would always hang over him, leading even to a whole new chant made on marches and demonstrations: “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Out, out out! Cecil, Cecil, Cecil! In, in, in! Cecil – out! Cecil – in! Cecil, Cecil, Cecil! In out, in out, in out, in out, in out...
Well, on a wet Saturday afternoon trudging through the streets of London on another protest march it seemed amusing, at least.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Subhumans - Time Flies... But Aeroplanes Crash


Over in Wiltshire, the Subhumans were showing no sign of a let up in their productivity with the release of yet another record from them on their Bluurg label. Time Flies... But Aeroplanes Crash was a 12” EP containing a mixture of live and studio-recorded songs that if truth be told was a bit of a hotchpotch.
Playing live was where the Subhumans were still on their peak form so it was understandable that they'd wish to capture that on vinyl. The original aim of Time Flies was that it be a totally live recording but when it came to it, the intended recording of the concert wasn’t very good so they instead entered the studio and bashed out newer versions of some songs from their guitarist's first band – Stupid Humans – to use alongside a few of the live songs they managed to salvage. The end result, however, wasn't quite as good as they might have hoped and out of the eight songs just three stood out.

The obvious first stand-out track was Susan, in which Dick recited a tale of domestic depression over the sound of a piano, an instrument not ever associated before with the Subhumans.
The second track was Work, Rest, Play, Die; a catchy sing-along that chewed over the subject of conformity, sung almost as though it was an advertising jingle.
The stand-out track, however, was People Are Scared, which contained what was possibly Dick Lucas' most keenly observed and insightful lyrics to that date:
Nobody says anything on buses, it's not the noise the engine makes. You can watch them all staring nervous, sit at the back, it's the safest place. People are scared to say 'hello', the flick of the fag, the shifting eyes. Stare in amusement then look away, the conscious battle of who to despise. Self-restriction and paranoia, self-belief and the silent laugh. The inner conflict between one and other, when you're all the same it seems so daft.
Half-spoken, half-screamed, the words are delivered over an almost Jefferson Airplane-style rock piece, Punkified yet shorn of any typical Subhumans thrash.

What was it about situations such as being on a bus or on a tube train that caused people to put up defensive walls of silence? Was it due to being in a confined space with strangers, or that it was simply dead time to get over with as quickly and as hassle-free as possible whilst journeying from one place to another?
Was it but a question of appropriateness and etiquette? Why was it okay to talk to strangers in some situations and places but not in others? In confined spaces, were people afraid for their personal safety and for this reason were suspicious of others' motives? In some cases, yes, but clearly not in all.
Were people wary of talking to strangers on a bus through fear of being judged or misjudged by them? Or was it a case of it actually always being like this and in a confined space it being simply magnified and laid bare? If so, then it was arguably to everyone's detriment but might it also be to anyone's or anything's advantage?

People are scared underneath their silence. People are getting more afraid. They turn to their leaders for help and guidance and then the system wins again and will carry on winning til god knows when. Til people start to talk to each other, everyone just like a brother. Til the morals and fear that divides us all are no longer the excuse for the system's rule.

The Subhumans and Dick Lucas with his lyrics in particular were touching upon something of huge significance but did they even realise it? If so, then why the decision to release what was one of their best songs only as a live version tucked away amongst seven other songs on what appeared to be a hastily-produced, almost throwaway mini-album?
People Are Scared was an anomaly but then Time Flies was a record full of anomalies, ending up as it was more through accident rather than design. It wasn't the best thing that Subhumans had released by any means but for the inclusion of nothing other than People Are Scared, it was worth it.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

D&V - The Nearest Door


Equally interesting but in an altogether different way were D&V, who after gracing the stage at the Zig Zag squat gig the previous year had their début 7” EP released on Crass Records. Entitled The Nearest Door, as with most other Crass label releases it was produced by Penny Rimbaud, engineered by Jon Loder, and came wrapped in a black-and-white fold-out sleeve adorned with photomontage artwork by Gee Vaucher.

D&V were just two people, Andrew Leach on drums and Jeff Antcliffe on vocals; hence the name, D&V – drums and vocals. Hailing originally from Sheffield, they had upped sticks and moved to London, bedding down in the large squatter community in Hackney whereupon they had become actively involved in the Anarcho Punk scene.

In a similar fashion to Annie Anxiety and Andy T, they would often appear at gigs as a support act; one moment suddenly being there on stage doing their thing and the next moment gone like an urban guerilla hit-and-run outfit. Though a lot less avant garde than Annie or Andy T, they were still an unusual proposition due to not being a band in the traditional sense.
As shown on Bullshit Detector 1, Penny Rimbaud and Steve Ignorant had at first started out as being just drums and vocals themselves, before adding guitars, additional vocals, art, film and everything else. Penny and Steve's drums and vocals incarnation, however, was but a preamble to fully-fledged Crass whilst D&V were the whole deal. To a point, at least.

Though being developed enough to have their music committed to vinyl, it was obvious that there was a lot more potential for growth in what D&V were creating. In many ways, The Nearest Door was the bare bones of what could be done with just the combination of drums and vocals, particularly when considering what was being done with Rap music in America at that time. 
It was embryonic.
Whilst being totally immersed in the Anarcho Punk scene, D&V weren't actually singing about the Bomb, the government, animal rights or anything of the like either but instead were looking inwards at themselves: “Life's what you make of it, lay back or get up and go. What you want and where you go, only you will ever know.
It was the stuff of thoughts and feelings. Or as Shakespeare put it, such stuff that dreams are made on...

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Omega Tribe - No Love Lost


Of course, being good musicians is not without some value, a case in point being Omega Tribe whose début album No Love Lost was a veritable Pop/Punk explosion, sounding like a bastard love child of early The Jam and Crass. Released on the Corpus Christi label, the album's cover was a curiously simple black and white drawing of a sea of hands grabbing at butterflys fluttering overhead that gave no hint of the musical contents within.

Omega Tribe had all the credentials to be a perfect Anarcho Punk band. They were thoughtful, generous, naturally anarchist and that summer of '83 had even been one of the headlining bands at the Stonehenge festival. Guitarist Pete Fender was also the son of Vi Subversa and they were good friends of both Crass and Conflict. Whilst being very capable of thrashing it up with the best of them, Omega Tribe's unique contribution to the party was their pop sensibility and an ear for a good melody as evidenced on the opening track of the album, Duty Calls.

Starting with a simple drum beat and a rather more intricate bass line, a vocal harmony of the kind not heard since when the Buzzcocks or the Undertones were at their best immediately elevated the song to a grander height where dual guitars careered around and teased each other like stunt kites zig-zagging in the sky.
Omega Tribe had a message to impart and were trying to do so to the best of their abilities. That message being that the world didn't have to be the way it was, that it could be far different and much, much better. Duty Calls was almost an inversion of Crass's Do They Owe Us A Living, where instead of Steve Ignorant arguing for the living that is owed to him, it is 'they' or in other words 'the system' that was demanding recompense for what it has given: "We've given you your whole life, your mortgage, car and wealth, we gave you lots of make-up to cover your real self. We gave you a loving husband, made you a passive whore, and now we think it's right for you to fight our futile war."
Omega Tribe's response might well have been predictable but not so in the way it was delivered: "System! System! We're not your pretty boys. System! System! We're not your little toys," sung with female vocals, and "System! System! We're not your pretty girls. System! System! We're not your little pearls," sung with male vocals.
Omega Tribe were refusing to accept their given lot in life and declining all that was on offer to them in terms of role play, consumerism, education and work. They were rejecting what Crass had called "the corporation deal" that had long ago been brokered and to which they were now meant to abide. Omega Tribe were saying 'No!': "Total war, it's in our minds, reject their dirty power."

Reiterating the fact that profit and greed are motivating forces behind all those in power, a re-recorded version of the track Profiteer, from the Angry Songs EP takes over the strings to fly the stunt kite guitars ever higher before gliding into a calmer jet stream in the form of the track Aftermath: "You can't do anything new, you've left it much too late. Now there's only earth and sea." Painting an end of the world scenario, the point being made in the song is that after nuclear war there are no winners. We all lose.

With guitars sounding as though they'd been plundered from the Siouxsie And The Banshees début album but with vocals of the Steve Ignorant variety coursing over them, another nightmare scenario is depicted on the track Freedom, Peace And Unity: "They'll spread nuclear power and use the waste to make a bomb, and when a war's declared they'll find a foe to drop it on. And the dying, ruined world will say 'My god, the State was wrong'."
Realists they may have been but Omega Tribe were also optimists who were all too willing to snatch victory and hope from the jaws of defeat and desperation: "Well, it hasn't happened yet, we've still got a choice if we stand up all together, unite and use our voice. Oppose all bigot leaders. Oppose all State violence. Oppose all those deadly bombs, stand up and break the silence. Anything can change if enough people shout. Freedom, peace and unity is what it's all about."

The nub of Omega Tribe's dissatisfaction with the world lay in it being demanded of them and everyone else to accept that violence and war were facts of life which of course, was an absolute lie. The truth of the matter was that humankind got along extremely well together when all things considered and without even thinking about it practised (as anarchist philosopher Prince Peter Kropotkin had pointed out) cooperation and mutual aid. It was the natural state of things. Violence was simply a question of power and semantics.
Most people (apart from possibly a few skinheads still and your common or garden psychopaths) chose not to go around hitting or threatening others and in the main it was only those holding positions of or lusting after power that were actually violent or even really capable of actual violence. For some reason this seemed to be mainly politicians and other authoritative types such as police, army and certain bosses. Violence is violence as Crass had correctly pointed out but there was a world of difference between fisticuffs at a Punk gig and the capability along with the willingness to destroy all life on Earth at the push of a button.
So, violence was not a fact of life at all and the lust for and the sanction of ultimate violence in the form of world destruction as an example, was a perversion. A twisted deviation from the norm. Who in their right mind would want to hold such power? Who in their right mind would want to support such power? Who in their right mind would want to threaten others? Who in their right mind would seek out the capability and have the will to murder? Practically every politician of every stripe and colour for sure but certainly not Omega Tribe: "Leaders lie and children die, we're dreaming of freedom in a nightmare world. Now we can't take much more. What the hell are they fighting for?"

Omega Tribe's strength lay in their ability to communicate such thoughts and ideas through an inviting and easily accessible Pop/Punk medium, given added impetus by their obvious convictions. With this in mind, it was rather strange that they chose to include a slightly clumsy spoken-word piece entitled Mother Of Cultivation as a way of opening up side two of their album. Not that it took anything away from the album as a whole but it didn't exactly add anything either, unlike the following track entitled My Tears.

Already viewed by their 'fan base' as a favourite when played live, My Tears stood out from their set due to it not being weighed down by any Punk trappings. It was the song in which Omega Tribe flew free, enabling them to fully come into their own. Pirouetting as though it was dancing with itself before a mirror, the song's joyful tunefulness and uninhibited emotion was infectious. Concerning itself with the Falklands War, it was proof positive that such subjects could be sugar-coated without losing any seriousness of intent: "I've shed my tears, I've voiced my fears and now it's up to you. Stand down from war and all it's for, show what you can do. Show that callous, brutal lot who sit and make our laws, that we don't need their vicious rules and we don't want their wars."

It was clear right from their first appearance on Bullshit Detector 2 with the track Nature Wonder that Omega Tribe were on an upward trajectory. If they were that good in demo tape form then what might they be like after further rehearsals? Where might they possibly end up going? A re-recorded version of Nature Wonder on the album suggested that whilst rehearsing and playing live had obviously helped to polish their sound and make them more tighter as a group, the real achievement was in the expansion of their musical palette.
Nature Wonder was a fine example of political Pop Punk of which from the start they were clearly very good at but it was the following track on the album, entitled Pictures, that showed their horizons were in no way limited. Incorporating folk-tinged British psychedelia with fuzzboxed Punk thrash, their chiming guitars soared over and collided with 1980s Anarcho realism in a display of endearing enthusiasm and hope.

Whilst a band like Conflict were undoubted masters of their Punk domain and chose to remain firmly within it, the musical ambitions of Omega Tribe lay somewhere else over the rainbow. The essential point being, however, not the differences between Conflict and Omega Tribe but the commonalities.
Both bands were interested in ideas and in ways of changing the world, and both bands were supportive of all kinds of good causes as well as being supporters of each other. As Omega Tribe had declared earlier on the album: "Freedom, peace and unity is what it's all about. Freedom, peace for you and me."
The album ends on a final high note with the track Man Made, with Omega Tribe doing what they did best in the form of a tuneful, uplifting Anarcho Punk workout, wearing their Crass influence and their hearts very much on their sleeve.

No Love Lost was another classic album of its age that like the début albums from The Mob and Zounds would stand the test of time and invite repeat listenings. What Omega Tribe's lasting influence might be was hard to predict but in the here and now they were a very welcome member of the Anarcho Punk ranks.
Only time would tell if they might eventually move toward a more mainstream audience but in possibly doing so would it mean them losing their original audience? Would a more mainstream audience even want them if it meant having undiluted Anarcho politics bound tightly in with pop tunes?
It was a very interesting question but then Omega Tribe were a very interesting band.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Apostles - Rising From The Ashes


Inspirational in their own way were The Apostles, who with their second EP - going by the title Rising From The Ashes - helped to further demystify the whole process of making a record. In amongst the various essays on the multiple fold-out covers that the record came in was a description of how they came to finance their first EP (which basically involved the selling of Andy Martin's record collection, along with working at various jobs and going without tobacco and new clothes for a year) plus a complete breakdown of studio costs. It was neither easy or cheap as the Desperate Bicycles had once exclaimed but it was possible, with a need for any musical talent not entering into it at all.

There were six tracks in total on Rising From The Ashes dealing with subjects such as racism, disability, the Stoke Newington Eight (otherwise known as the Angry Brigade) and class war.
'We support lock glueing, bricking, arson and rioting and yes, we do practice what we preach,' said the sleeve-notes but for all that, arguably the best song on the EP was actually a sort of love song. Swimming In The Sea Of Life, sung by Apostles guitarist Dave Fanning was a naggingly memorable, roughly-hewn gem with more than a nod to the Velvet Underground at their despondent best.

Did it matter that the whole record was badly played and badly produced? Up to a point, yes, because if the songs had been better played and better produced then the whole record would have been far more satisfying. But then if The Apostles had actually waited until they were accomplished musicians or until they had more money to spend on studio time then they may never have released anything ever? On top of this, in all likelihood The Apostles would also have been far less creative, far less productive and probably far less interesting...

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Kronstadt Uprising - Unknown Revolution


Through the Stop The City action, Punk had for the time being redeemed itself but how it stood in the Autumn of 1983 was as a very different beast from that of the summer of 1977. A telling sign of just how much it had changed coming with the announcement in September that Mick Jones had been thrown out of The Clash. Even though Joe Strummer was going to continue with a Mark 2 version of the band, to all intent and purpose it meant that The Clash had split up but the real point was that it didn't actually matter.
Without any doubt, The Clash were one of the most iconic Punk bands of all time but by late '83 they were of little relevance, least of all to Punk. As proto-Oi!/Punk band Cock Sparrer had asked on their 1983-released Shock Troops début album in regard to Strummer, Rotten, Jimmy Pursey, Julie Burchill et al: Where are they now?
The true worth of Punk was now only to be found far outside the mainstream where the possibility of commercial success was not even a consideration. Punk was once again and probably further beyond the dictates of the media and any other Establishment-sided or would-be authority than ever before, explaining perhaps why so many (Anarcho) Punk rockers had connected so readily with Stop The City.
Punk's core had hardened and in many ways had returned to it's roots, or rather, it was becoming what it had always promised to be.

For the music industry, Punk was of no value and had long ago moved on in search of the next big thing but for those not in thrall to the music press and its attempt to foist the likes of Aztec Camera, Echo And The Bunnymen, and Sade upon 'the market', Punk was still the most honest, immediate and up-for-it culture around. Populated by drunkards and ne'er-do-wells it may have been but when it kicked in with a certain record, gig or fanzine there was nothing else to compare.
Out in the sticks and in backwater towns in particular, when a local group formed and released a record the buzz, hope and inspiration to others that it often gave was incalculable. Such was the case with Kronstadt Uprising and their Spiderleg Records début release, Unknown Revolution.

Taken from an event in Russia in 1921, the name of the band in itself was even a pointer to an education. Kronstadt was the name of a Russian naval base, the sailors there being some of the most loyal and resolute supporters of the Bolshevik revolution who twice already had rescued the revolution by helping to defeat and see off counter-revolutionary forces both internal and external. They were, as described by Trotsky, the "pride and flower of the revolution".
Having helped make their homeland safe after years of conflict and civil war, the Kronstadt sailors could see no reason to not return to the original 1917 program and carry the revolution through to its ultimate conclusion. All they were met with, however, was a new political and social elite holding sway over a starving population being kept in check by State terror.

"What has happened to 'Power to the people'?", they asked. "What has happened to 'equality'? To all the promises of destroying privilege?"
By turning such slogans against the Bolsheviks and calling for free elections and freedom of speech, the Kronstadt sailors immediately marked themselves out as a threat to the new ruling Party. Trotsky commanded the rebellious crews to lay down their weapons and submit to the orders of his government or face being shot "like partridges", an ultimatum the proud sailors could only refuse. Trotsky kept his word and after launching huge forces of his Red Army against the city of Kronstadt, the sailors were slaughtered.
To this very day, there are many on the Far Left who argue that the quelling of the Kronstadt rebellion was a necessity to safe-guard the greater Bolshevik revolution but for others - particularly Anarchists - it was the nail in the coffin of the Russian Revolution; the proof that the revolution had failed and had thrown up instead just another set of rulers. Or as Crass put it: "Just another set of bigots with their rifle sights on me."

In terms of Punk, the Kronstadt rebellion could be applied metaphorically to the Anarcho Punk movement and its desire to carry through and make good the original promises of the Punk 'revolution'. Kronstadt Uprising, then, was a brilliant name for an Anarcho Punk band.
Based in Southend-on-Sea, in Essex, they had first appeared on the Bullshit Detector 2 LP with the song Receiver Deceiver but by the time of their Unknown Revolution release, not only had their guitarist taken over lead vocal duties - in itself precipitating a huge change in their sound - but they had also somehow transformed into a burning bright ball of coiled intensity.
With the assistance of Flux Of Pink Indians and Jon Loder at Southern Studios, Kronstadt Uprising had harnessed their natural energy and delivered it to the world in the form of four perfectly crafted songs of raw ferocity. Southend-on-Sea should have been proud to have bred such sons capable of creating such a record able to vent such anger.

The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long, however, and before many people actually realised how good their record was, Kronstadt Uprising tripped and fell forwards into playing a more traditional Johnny Thunders-style of rock'n'roll that sadly never touched the same heights as the Anarcho Punk displayed on their début release.
Not that this was of too much importance because what they had already done with Unknown Revolution was to create something that would forever stand as being inspirational in a variety of ways: From getting kids to form bands, write fanzines, put on gigs or even to pick up and read a book on the history of the Russian Revolution. Which was a lot more than what Aztec Camera, Echo And The Bunnymen, or Sade ever did...