Friday, 4 September 2009

Favourite Gig Fridays: Crass

The early 1980s: Punk as a "movement" is over, the Pistols have split, the fashion victims have moved on to the New Romantic scene, subgenres like Oi! and Goth have appeared, creating tribalism which only fractures the scene further. Probably the most significant development in Punk is the rise of the Anarchist bands, anti-capitalistic, anti-vivisection, pro-direct action, a nihilistic and confrontational underground scene boasting the likes of The Subhumans, Conflict, Dirt, The Mob, A Flux Of Pink Indians, The Poison Girls and ( as they say ) many more. But the prime movers, the inspiration, the most loved and reviled are the band / collective / record label known as Crass.....
It's September, 1981. I'm 14 years old and at probably only my second or third ever gig. And I'm bricking it! The venue is The Marshall Rooms in grotty, recession-hit Stroud. A dingy, fag-smoke blanketed hole, packed with Stroud punks on one side of the venue and Gloucester skin'eads on the other side, glaring at each other and waiting for the first signs of provocation. Crass member Annie Anxiety stands up to read some feminist, anarchist poetry, which doesn't go down too well with some of the neanderthals in the crowd, scuffles break out, I keep my head down.
Black curtains shroud the stage while TV monitors spew out white noise and images of car-crashes, abattoirs, 1950s commercials, nuclear explosions, and other fun stuff. The curtains part to reveal Crass the band, standing motionless, intense, ignoring the crowd. This carries on for some time as the crowd gets louder and angrier until, at some pre-arranged moment, the band suddenly scream into their first song, a wall of discordant noise smashes over the crowd, a mass fight instantly breaks out.....
To be honest, I wasn't a great fan of Crass. The only album of theirs I owned was Stations Of The Crass, a virtually unlistenable howl of anger against society, the government, the armed forces, Garry Bushell (!) and other obvious targets. I preferred bands like The Subhumans or Conflict who sounded a bit more like proper rock bands: you know, with actual tunes and things.
Crass as a live band was a different prospect. It may be because I was so young and inexperienced back in '81 ( a lifetime ago! ) but they seemed an almost physical force as I was pushed and pummelled in that audience. A black wave of energy, intensity and ferocity. They meant it, maaaan! It was a Hell of a gig: the charged atmosphere, the violence, the peacemakers in the crowd trying to calm the situation, the exhilaration of being part of something, the police waiting outside, the sheer noise assaulting your eardrums.

You don't get that at Travis gigs, I can tell you!

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ah the first gig I ever went to (aged 12), and still one of the best. Your words describe it absolutely.

cerebus660 said...

Thanks for the kind words Mr / Ms Anonymous :-)

I've been to countless gigs and seen something in the region of 180 / 190 bands in my life... but this gig was really something special. Exciting, frightening and bloody loud, absolutely unforgettable.

I take it you're from Stroud? Did you see many other gigs there back in the day? Feel free to comment on any other posts on here :-)

cerebus660 said...

And... 12??? Bloody hell! :-)

John Serpico said...

Not sure how I've stumbled upon your blog but I've just spent the best part of this evening reading through it. The fact that it's held my attention proves (to me at least) that your blog's a good one. And now I come upon a review of an old Crass gig which prompts me to write a comment. I'm of the school of thought that when people are writing about Punk and they leave out Crass and Anarcho Punk then they didn't understand the full picture. Even if they hated Crass and Flux and all those bands, so long as they at least mention them then they're okay and their Punk credentials are sound.
I like your blog and I'll be coming here again.

cerebus660 said...

Well, I'm glad you did stumble across it :-)

I was never a huge fan of the Anarcho bands, apart from Conflict and the Subhumans, but they did make for an interesting scene. Another band who I never really got into but did enjoy when I saw them play live was the Poison Girls. I was sad to see that their singer Vi Subversa had recently passed away. She was truly a unique front-person back in the day.

Thanks for commenting, John, and please stop by again. And comment some more. You could even become a Follower.
How desperate do I sound? :-)

Brandy Moses said...

"You don't get that at Travis gigs, I can tell you!" Why would you? People don't go to country shows to fight. Randy hasn't played a show since being taken ill in 2013. His recovery is ongoing.

cerebus660 said...

Thanks for the, er, interesting comment Brandy. Unfortunately I think you've got the wrong ends of various sticks here...

The "Travis" mentioned in this post is a Scottish indie band from the '90s, not any country singer. They played in a very inoffensive, tuneful but often bland style and had very little in the way of rock 'n' roll "spirit". This is something I heard their singer, Fran Healey, actually admit to when I saw them play live back in the day.
Like, I would guess, the majority of British people ( I'm guessing you're American, Brandy? ) I've had very little exposure to modern Country music. I know the name Randy Travis but don't really know who he is and certainly couldn't name any of his songs. I'm sorry to hear the guy's been ill but he's really nothing to do with this post...

"People don't go to country shows to fight." True. Most right-thinking people don't go out with the intention of fighting at all, at gigs or anywhere else. Let me be absolutely clear here - I don't condone violence at gigs ( or anywhere else ) and, luckily, it's a problem that's very rarely encountered today. My post was about a very specific type of gig at a very specific time - Anarcho-Punk gigs of the early '80s. As unpleasant as it was, violence was often present in youth culture in those days - in the case of this Crass gig it was due to a long-standing feud between various factions who would use these shows as an excuse to settle grudges and indulge in some mindless violence. But, for all that, the whole atmosphere of such events was electrifying for a 14-year old who had grown up in a fairly sheltered environment. The violence was frightening but part and parcel of the whole experience, in a perverse "rights of passage" kind of way... but I'm glad it's in the past now...

So, thanks for commenting, Brandy, and I hope you've got a better idea of what I'm talking about now. But... please... if you want to jump to conclusions without knowing the facts... do it somewhere else.

rat said...

i was at the first crass gig in stroud, with poison girls, june 16th, 1980, i have the poster right beside me!
i was also at the second crass gig, with dirt, which, i think is the gig you are reffering to.
im assuming the picture youve used wasnt actually one from the marshall rooms, was it?

rat said...

oh, just read more about you, we played a gig or two with your band, i was in la masque.
pretty sure i have a flyer of one of the gigs somewhere! i think it was a hunt sabs benefit.

cerebus660 said...

Hi Rat! Thanks for the comments. Yes, it would have been the second of the two legendary gigs Crass played in Stroud. I've met so many people since who went to those gigs - they were a massive influence on the local music scene. No, the photo wasn't from the gig, but I think it's from a poster given away with Sounds magazine ( remember that? ) which I'm pretty sure I used to have on my bedroom wall.
I definitely remember the name La Masque! I'm sure our paths must have crossed back in the day. We played four gigs for the Hunt Sabs at Coney Hill Hospital social club - a strange venue but we had some fun! It was certainly an unusual experience to drive through the gates of a psychiatric hospital and then see patients wandering the grounds and corridors in their pyjamas while we looked for the social club! And now it's a housing estate, of course.


Helen said...

Sometimes I love how the internet takes you to the most strangest of journeys that freaks you out with it's weird connections.
Backstory: In 1995 I went to the KOB with Poison Girls (I was Agent Orange's GF at the time), met her for the first time & she made a lasting impression on me. I moved to Stroud nearly 2 years ago. During the past year I worked at the nearly refurbished Marshall Rooms. The last couple of days I've been working on a new project to do a satire/punk/anti-anything zine for Stroud & randomly thought of Vi Subversa & maybe putting a photo of her in the zine somewhere. I had NO IDEA they played at the Marshall Rooms til I stumbled here.

Rat, is there any chance you could send a pic of that poster to me, that would be brilliant if you could? - Foxy

cerebus660 said...

Thanks for commenting Helen. As I mentioned above I saw the Poison Girls play live just the once - at Stroud Sub Rooms. This was probably a couple of years after the Marshall Rooms gig. Vi Subversa was definitely a unique performer and the band were, as far as I can remember, a cut above the usual Anarchist thrash. Another Anarcho band I saw at the Marshall Rooms back in the day was Omega Tribe, who I really enjoyed, probably because they were one of the most melodic bands of their kind, but still with that Punk edge.

It's a shame the recent resurrection of the Marshall Rooms was so short-lived. I did manage to see legendary Stroud band Ronald Rim Ram & The Rim Ram Rammers when they reformed there for one night only, which was great fun. I don't know if you're aware of Stroud's premier Punk band, the mighty Chinese Burn? It may be worth getting in contact with them via their Facebook page. I'm sure their singer Ben went to those two Crass gigs ( and probably some of the other guys too ) and he's got an encyclopaedic memory for old Punk stuff, so may be able to help with your zine. Good luck!

cerebus660 said...

BTW ( if anyone's reading this and is interested ) there's an article on Crass in this month's Uncut magazine which, I believe, features the very same photo I used in this post :-)

RobinFT said...

I have photos of that Crass gig - I was there too!

cerebus660 said...

Really? That's so cool. I'd love to see them! It seems very few people took photos at gigs in those pre-smartphone days... I certainly never did. Any archive material like that is like gold dust...

What did you think of the gig, RobinFT? Were you a regular on the Anarchist Punk scene?

rat said...

yes, i remmebered after id posted that it probably wasnt la masque that played with you guys. there is a flyer for one of the hun sab gigs you played at coney hill, i "designed" it haha

rat said...

helen, do you wnat a digi copy or physical? either way, how do i get it to you?

my emial is unborn@btopenworld.com

cerebus660 said...

Rat, I'm sure I saw La Masque play at the Marshall Rooms. Maybe at a Battle Of The Bands -type event? Would you say the band were part of the proto-Goth "Positive Punk" movement? There were some interesting bands around for that brief period but it all devolved into endless Sisters Of Mercy clones...

rat said...

no, we never played there. only battle of the bands we did was in churchdown.....or was that a different band i was in? hmm, no, pretty sure it was la masque.
i would have labelled us anarchopunk.
judge for yourself https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwOrYE0mJ7c

this is a re-recorded version i did last year, i did an 8 song cd

Tracy said...

Was there too, would have been 15 years old, they blew my mind, best introduction to live punk rock ever

cerebus660 said...

Thanks for the comment Tracy! Funnily enough, I was just talking about Crass on Twitter this morning :-)

I've talked to so many people who went to those Stroud Crass gigs - it's like they were Ground Zero for the local Punk scene.

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