Genesis To Revolutions

Part Three - South By Guile

“Why did you say you came here?”
“On God’s Orders, sir.” It was the standard response to the standard question. Both John of Lyons and myself and indeed the whole of the squadron knew that I had been bored, curious, and born too late - second son of a man with land, money and family enough to have no qualms about paying for my equipment and training and putting up with my Mother’s tears for a week or so until the next new grandchild came along to divert her. Besides, I wasn’t the first to carry the name De Haace into the order. John of Lyons knew that too and for my Great Uncle’s sake had decided to make sure I learned hard and well all he had to teach about fighting and killing for the Temple. He’d started with the basic rules of humility and worked slowly upwards through the drillbook until if I wasn’t exactly the ruthless natural-born killer my new position required me to be, at least we were both able to fool ourselves that when it came down to it I might stand a sporting chance of survival.
So it was that by the time I found myself patrolling the coast road between Acre and Tyre, where I took my first, last and possibly only blows in anger, I was firmly convinced that I was ready, willing and able to do the job that was required of me. Fair exchange, it seemed. The Order provide me with action, travel and adventure, and I’ll do their dirty work for them. Give me God’s orders and I will carry them out! What actually happened to me was vastly different from the role I had imagined. Months of wearisome training, drills, litanies, endless prayers and the scourge of John Lyons’ tongue; not to mention his boot, his elbow, the flat of his sword and, most regularly, his steel enforced shin flying up under my feeble guard and almost breaking my thigh with deftly placed hammer blows. Then there was the monotony of the journey to Tyre, then the heat and the vermin and the ceaseless complaints of the natives; the endless watches, the numbing fatigue of garrison chores and yet more drill in full kit up and down the rocky slopes, until my eyes stung with sweat and my sword hung limp from my wrist. Acclimatisation they called it. No one goes out on patrol until they can do their worst under local conditions. The honour of the Order was at stake if we fell out with heatstroke or failed to cut an adequate figure of disciplined authority. No commanderie could afford to lose face before the locals, and least of all before our rivals, the Hospitallers.
Anyhow, I’d been engaged upon patrols for some weeks along a twenty mile stretch of the road North from Acre. We’d go out for a few days at a time, sleeping rough, bivouacing within sight of the road and keeping a constant cautious eye on the high ground that rose up to some fifteen hundred feet five miles inland. Sporadic forays took us up into the lower reaches of these hills where we would come upon traces of recently abandoned campsites, or the occasional murdered peasant, throat cut and stripped bare. The chief problem in this sector was a loosely connected group of robber bands known amongst themselves as ‘Untouchables’, and indistinguishable from the local populace unless actually caught in the act. They generally worked to the East of the ridge unless they were feeling particularly cocky because with Acre and Tyre both well manned, by ourselves and the Hospitallers, mounted patrols were strong enough and frequent enough to discourage all but the most determined marauding along the coastal strip. We referred to them as ‘Deviants’ and regarded them with scornful contempt. They, doubtless, viewed us in much the same way.
We saw more of the Hospitallers, who patrolled the same roads as us, although our respective commanders did their best to prevent their troops from encountering each other too often as unpleasantness inevitably ensued. Eventually, in a rare moment of cooperation, an arrangement was made whereby in the event of patrols meeting head on, whichever troop was riding South, would leave the road and ‘investigate deviant activity’ in the foothills, thus allowing face to be saved and strife averted. It was upon one such occasion that my moment finally came.
We’d been out about five days. Five hot boring days of choking dust, flies, dried rations and the puerile banter of my comrades, when the pointman wheeled off the road to the left giving the familiar obscene hand signal. We followed suit and soon after saw the dust of what could only be a Hospitaller patrol galloping up from the South. We were somewhere near Ya’ara, I believe, overlooked by the heights we referred to as the Montforts. At this point they rose to well over two thousand feet and were preceded by a hazardous screen of broken hills amongst whose labyrinth of valleys and ravines scattered peasants kept goats and scratched a living from the land. Here also the Deviants were wont to lurk, moving between the villages on the lower slopes and the higher passes unhindered by either us or the Hospitallers, whose brief extended only to Christians.
By some stroke of good fortune fate directed us straight onto a band of armed men, who we had surprised by our sudden diversion in the act of scouting the small fishing settlement to the seaward side of the road, which here lay only half a mile behind us. Recognising them instantly as bandits - basically anyone conspicuously armed and without the safeguard of a white face was fair game - we fell upon them with a will and a furious hand-to-hand combat ensued. As part of their band tried to retreat through the scrub, our Captain told off a section, myself included, to pursue them on foot, which we did with zeal, driving them through a gully and flushing them out onto open ground where they were forced to turn and fight.
I marked my man and engaged him. He was taller than me - most men are - bald, and his eyes were wild with a mixture of fear and excitement, anger, whatever, combined with the inevitable kif which they all chewed constantly and which contributed largely to their inability to formulate strategem of any subtlety. Although he was larger and no doubt had more direct experience of killing than I, he was probably more used to fighting unarmed peasants while I had the advantage of the Order’s reputation on my side and coupled to this my unshakeable arrogance. This was it! This was my moment and I was going to take him down!
I remember it so clearly. How almost with detachment I automatically parried his blows and it was just like being on the drill ground back at Templecombe: block right; watch his eyes; block left; use your feet; watch for the opening; the mistake. I was completely calm, it felt like I was reading instructions from a manual of arms. I was going to kill him. He couldn’t touch me and by virtue of his size, his weapon , and his obviously aggressive intent I would put him down with absolute righteousness. I would kill him. On God’s orders.
My concentration was rudely shattered when a huge mounted Hospitaller charged in from the right and hacked him down right under my nose with a vicious blow to the back of the skull. My man dropped like a stone and before my astonished gaze proceeded to empty his bladder, swallow his tongue, and then to lie twitching like a landed trout while a steady pool of blood spread out beneath his head. I became suddenly aware of my surroundings: the skirmish over, the dead men on the ground; the mounted knights, summoned up from the road by the prospect of swordplay, laughing and joking as they regrouped; my fellow Templars, wiping their swords clean and my own, notched but unbloodied. I cursed and turned to stare out to sea. So near. So close. Would it ever be as easy again?
I never found out. Shortly after, I was posted to Tarsus and remained in the city garrison growing bored and embittered until, news arriving of my elder brother’s death, my Father called me home to learn to be a farmer.
Do not go gentle unto that good knight, but rage! Rage! Rage!

IX. Let's Go To Spiral's

By early 1980 the stringent political system that was later to become known as Thatcherism was still in its infancy, and the squatters and anarchists of London’s underground still laboured under the belief that ‘if voting changed anything they’d make it illegal,’ and that ‘Whoever you vote for, a government gets in.’ This is quite true to a certain extent. If you’re on the dole, don’t want a job, and have either hot-wired your electricity meter or have a convenient Mr Giles to pay the bill for you when you do a runner, then of course, under such idyllic circumstances, the vagaries of government policy are of no matter at all. Unfortunately, Thatcherism began to encroach slowly upon the welfare state, to a point at which even we lotus-eaters had to sit up and take notice. We yawned and rolled another spliff as each successive privatisation threw more of people out of work. As railway workshops and pits closed we grumbled that the price of dope had risen to £15 a quarter, not sparing a thought for the devastated communities in Durham and Fife, and only when the sale of council houses began to hint at an end to the ready supply of empty properties to squat did we get an inkling that something was going wrong.
Then came Restart, a wicked scheme to try and sort out the benefit scroungers and get them back to work. We groaned and concocted ever more unlikely letters from fictional would-be employers, and as legislation followed legislation, we finally found ourselves staring down the barrel of the Poll Tax, and the sheriff’s men wanted their money.
Now this wasn’t funny. We’d put up with the new DHSS regulations because there were ways round them; and who gave a toss if the industrial base was smashed to the ground? Who wants to work for the fascist state anyway? But the poll tax was different - it was so simple. They were going to shake you down for a fat wad of cash, and everybody had to pay up. Ooops time to move.
Don’t vote it only encourages them. They’re still saying that after all these years of grief; after the NHS has been stripped bare, the transport network is a hostage to the lorry drivers, and Scargill’s head has been impaled on Temple Bar. Don’t vote, it only encourages them. If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal. I didn’t vote. I didn’t vote for a very long time, and that didn’t change anything either, besides which, to equate the works of Baroness Thatcher with those of, say, Aneurin Bevan or even Harold Wilson, is as naive as lumping together the anarchist theorem of Bakunin and Mark the Hat.
Far from being concerned with such mundane matters of the world, I was entirely preoccupied with my new job. I was still in the basement of 30 Ceylon Road, the welfare state still cared - even for a shameless bum like me - and Leb, far from being off, was still only £14 a quarter from Tess up in Roxwell Road:

“Hello Tess?”
“Oh, Joseph - hi. How’s things?”
“Oh fine.” I adopt a nonchalant tone. “Do you think I could borrow some cassettes off you this week?”
“Sure, no problem, I have them here now.”
“Great! I’ll be round later.” We hang up. Somewhere in a sinister underground bunker a Special Branch surveillance officer turns to his superior.
“It’s the yokel again sir. After more cassettes.”
“What again!” the superintendent snorts in contempt. “Every Thursday he rings up to borrow bloody cassettes! That’s no good to us - call me again when someone tries to buy some drugs....”
Thank God Alan Turing wasn’t with the Hammersmith DS.

Spring was in the air, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the field were all frantically giving birth. So were the bands. The Mob, now securely back in Yeovil on fortnightly postal signing, were about to release their first single, Youth/Crying Again, and Zounds, now my own popular beat combination, had met up with the mighty Crass empire, and fortune was, allegedly, about to smile.
The Mob’s effort had been on the boil for sometime. Initially their manager was going to finance the project by dealing dope, but that plan went up in smoke at Woodstock Grove. Subsequently they had managed to borrow enough hard cash to record and manufacture 1000 7-inch records with blank white labels and a drawing of a depressed punk rocker at Yeovil bus station on the front. These, despite the 12 inch re-release are now priceless collectors items, and sell for prices as lofty as £7 on the secondhand market. At the time they were going for 60p, or the equivalent in combustible barter. I blagged one and lost it. MAD 001 it was called, after the self-styled All the Madmen Records.
Crass, in the security of whose bosom Zounds were about to nestle, were a cult phenomenon of an almost religious nature. As a band they were frequently underrated - by themselves as much as by any. As a political force, they were misunderstood by the bulk of their followers as they in turn chose to ignore the implications of the latter’s fanaticism, and as people they were a splendid bunch whom I liked and respected immensely, although I too was largely ignorant of their real aims and intentions, being nothing more myself than an ambitious musician.
Crass took an Anarchist standpoint, and their watchwords were Anarchy, Peace and Freedom. Their records were stark homespun political collages, sales of which generally went into six figures without any support from the music press, and little in the way of advertising beyond the leather-clad backs of the party faithful. The music business at large, resenting the success of anything in which they had neither a hand nor a financial stake, pretended they didn’t exist, which was mildly amusing, as the massive record sales kept the band more or less permanently in the indie charts. Crass had nothing to say to them anyway.
But they did have a lot to say to the unwashed army that devotedly bought their records, attended their gigs and dutifully stencilled their slogans all over the country. ‘Do they owe us a living?’, ‘Reality Asylum’, and a host of other gems that were lapped up by the impressionable rebels. Slogans are always good for sales, and particularly so in the case of Crass, whose cast-iron integrity kept their record prices as low as possible.
I found the prospect of becoming involved in this vast underground anarchist network hugely satisfying. Any record released on the Crass label was guaranteed instant sales, and I fondly imagined that I was going to become a pop-star.
I have neither the right nor the inclination to make fun of Crass. They were deadly serious about their work, and I can only try to describe it through the eyes of an ignorant little impostor who cared for little beyond getting stoned and playing the drums. I was way out of my depth with the politics, but some of the music was so intricately constructed, and so dynamically produced that I fell a prey to the slogans myself, mouthing them parrot-fashion and painting them on T-shirts with as much enthusiasm as the rest of the Crasstafarians. The presentation of both the live show and the record sleeves was likewise inspiring, and irresistible to one such as I.
To meet Crass in person was to enter into a piece of expert but informal theatre. They made a point of always dressing in black, and when encountered en-masse, gave the impression of all being much taller and more intelligent than oneself (which they probably were in fact). Almost without exception, they came across as well-spoken educated people. In private they didn’t use the bizarre stage names with which they were credited on the records, but even at their most informal I was never able to see them as anything other than ‘Crass, the pseudo-terrorist anarchist brigade’. To so many of us, their disciples, they were our leaders and their word was law - in total contradiction to the doctrine they were preaching.
It is impossible for me to say what they really believed in. I never knew them well enough, but their songs were usually straightforward enough; anti authority; anti-war; anti-police; anti-religion - anti everything you’d expect really. They could have made a fortune out of it, as others had before and have done since, but they were anti-profit and ploughed all their money back into ‘the cause’. The upside of this was that a lot of impoverished punk rockers were able to buy their records at exceedingly low prices. The downside was that the miserly bastards never expected to have to pay full price ever again. Since Crass first put ‘Pay no more than 45p’ on a record sleeve, the average punk in the street has refused to recognise the fact that inflation affects the cost of vinyl, just as it does cider and glue, and any band with a Crass skeleton in their cupboard are condemned to a lifetime’s experience of pissed crusties whinging about the cost of a CD, which they can’t afford to buy because they’ve given all their giro to the fascist state via drink and tobacco taxes. To quote Crass: ‘The Bastards! Fuck ‘em!’
How a dedicated collective of artistically inspired genius like Crass got itself mixed up with the dope fiends of Zounds is something of a mystery to me, as I wasn’t there at the time. I am told that on the second Weird Tales tour, the bus burst a tyre somewhere in the vicinity of Epping Forest, and some of the Crass people turned up, quite by chance, to lend a hand. Mutual ideologies were discussed, and Zounds were invited to submit a demo tape for consideration. How much of their sudden transformation into a three-piece punk band is due to this contact, I neither know nor care. Suffice it to say that a tape was submitted, featuring my predecessor, and met with approval. Three songs were planned for the record: War, Can’t Cheat Karma and I Just Wanna Be Loved. By the time I arrived, this latter (which was a brilliant song) had been replaced by Subvert, which was certainly more in keeping with the anarcho-orthodoxy of the moment.
Stripped, then, of synth, congas, and second squiggly guitarist, Zounds commenced rehearsals at a studio in Bristol Gardens, W9, with only a week or so to go before our next engagement at the Triad leisure centre in Bishops Stortford. The line-up was a nice simple bass, guitar and drums affair, with two vocals and no buggering about. Tight, concise and economical, that was to be the new formula.
Not a chance.
My fellows in Zounds were guitarist Lawrence Moor and Bassist Steve Marsh. Lawrence, all six-foot-something-and-a-half of him, had moved into Ceylon Road prior to our rehearsals, so I knew him fairly well by now. He was amiable, long, and master of a singular style of guitar playing which seemed rooted more in notes than in chords. Lawrence aspired to a Marshall stack, and was easily at home on any stage. Of the plastic sandals he favoured, which made his feet smell so dreadfully, I will say nothing. He played a Les Paul, wore long coats, and had unashamedly curly hair.
Steve Marsh was a more unknown quantity to me. Likewise tall, he came from Reading, via Oxford, and was a veteran of squats, dope and psychedelic jams. Steve, the band’s founder member and main songwriter, played a short-necked Fender Jazzmaster bass while he sang his songs, which were invariably tuneful and boasted a lyrical content of some inspiration. Zounds’ ultimate failure to win over the anarchist punks was partially as a result of Steve’s lyrics, which refused to pander to cliché, and consisted of strange narrative tales of normal people being confounded by their environment. You can’t sell normal people to anarcho-punks. They assume they’re all nazis. Steve had a natural affinity for both informality and leisure and owned a dog called Bambalay, much to the delight of the brats on the estate in Kings Cross, where he was squatting at the time. “Bambalay! Bambalay!” he would summon the absent beast.
“Bambalay! Bambalay!” The neighbouring balconies would echo with their evil cockney jeers.
If I could have knuckled down and continued to behave myself, as I did initially, the band’s sound would have prospered sooner. My new colleagues were an easygoing pair, and had no definite theories on drum techniques, so they left me to my own devices. Had I been a more experienced musician, I would have quickly realised that Lawrence’s unique open style of playing needed a rock-solid rhythm section behind it in order to achieve its desired affect. Steve’s bass playing was always solid, and posessed of a simplicity that was only partially due to the need for him to sing at the same time. Lawrence’s chosen style, while highly original was far from simple, and as my drumming gradually began to grow more chaotic, the overall sound of the band suffered, with only Steve’s bass keeping to the straight and narrow path. I’m not saying that we sounded awful, but from a musician’s point of view, I don’t think we were playing as a team, and that can make a world of difference to the way the music feels to those involved, as well as to the way it sounds.
Those early rehearsals were both hurried and relaxed. Hurried, because we didn’t have long to prepare a set for the first gig, and relaxed because everything Zounds ever did was accompanied by a haze of toxic smoke from the obligatory eighth of Leb that had to be scored before we could even contemplate working. An exotic assortment of dealers were patronised over the years. Oddly enough most of them were orange people, and were selling dope for the greater glory of the mysterious bearded Bhagwan whose picture they inevitably carried around their necks on a string of black beads. We started off working on a bunch of Steve’s older songs - rearranging them to suit the stripped down line-up: Can’t Cheat Karma, War, and Subvert, I Made It Happen, I Just Wanna Be Loved, The Ballad Of Ugly Vomit (a composition of Lawrence’s that no one could think of a name for, but which deserved better) and a couple of others that elude me now. Some chunks of the old serious-drug jams eventually resurfaced in other forms at a later date, while I Made It Happen and I Just Wanna Be Loved vanished without trace as soon as Steve had some new material ready to replace them with.
I remember little about the first gigs I played with Zounds, except that they were both low-key and chaotic. Towns like Letchworth and Stevenage, and venues like High Wycombe polytechnic, failed to impress themselves upon me as citadels of rock experience, and we were all anxious for the Crass connection to bear fruit in the hope that it would lead us on to better things. We played Chat’s Palace in East London, and a couple of obscure venues in W11 with the still-striving remnants of Weird Tales. Steve moved to a new address in Islington and we gained a regular rehearsal space courtesy of a friend of his from the housing cooperative of which he was a member.
So it was that we first came to Wapping Wall.
We were allowed space to store our gear, and one evening a week to practice in the workshop of the Little A anarchist workers printing co-op. There, surrounded by piles of revolutionary posters and inflammatory pamphlets filled with small close-set print, and not many pictures, we set about enlarging our repertoire with Steve’s latest compositions: Dirty Squatters, Little Bit More, Target, and a number of others were painstakingly brought to life under the stern gaze of the urban guerrillas and clenched-fisted peasants whose likenesses studded the walls. Clifford Harper woodcuts and brooding, scalped, Ulrike Meinhofs glared disapprovingly from all sides as we squatted among the manifestos and argued over who had bumsucked the roach on the last joint, and who was most likely to Bogart the next one.
In spite of our frequent ‘tea’ breaks, we got things done, and the set expanded and improved at a steady pace. Zounds were at home in Wapping, which was still a wasteland of old brick warehouses and abandoned dockyards. The only sore point was the lift at the tube station, against which we were obliged to race in order to bunk the fare. A seemingly endless winding staircase led from the platform up to streetlevel, and we often had to tear up its eternal spirals toting a heavy piece of equipment between us. A hundred yard vertical sprint to the surface at the rear end of a bass cab was not conducive to good humour, and such cruel labours would take much soothing with the Bhagwan’s finest to put us in the mood for creative endeavour.
“Don’t Bogart that spliff Steve.”
“What? What? Nonsense! I’ve only just laid my hands on it! You’re the one who passes on hot cardboard.....”
Whether we owed our stamina to these toils, or whether it was the frequent and regular exercise we took at expanding our lung power is debatable, but I’d have backed Steve and Lawrence against the Royal Marines display team any day of the week after a few months of Wapping’s stairs.
And what of my political consciousness?
By the time I found myself on the fringes of the Crass empire my awareness of the world and its ways was little more sophisticated than that of the beardless youth who first stared in wonder out of the train window as it rattled under the flyover at Westbourne Park and beheld the words of the anonymous prophets sprayed on the fabric of what was for the very first time his hometown: ‘Far away is close at hand in images of elsewhere’; ‘I am an angry passionate soul, crying out in this tortured mediocrity’; ‘Arise ye ungood proles! Big Brother is watching you!’
Since my initial bemusement at these battle cries, vivid but vague, I had gained a few modest impressions of urban life, but little real politik beyond the immediate concerns of my daily needs. Oppression to me was a far cry from the struggles of the South African blacks, or the political prisoners in Chile and Argentina - oppression to me was what the state did when its servants ‘lost my claim’, or when the ‘pigs’ stopped me in the street and ‘hassled’ me. I had a number of ideas about what I believed was wrong, but not the slightest interest in considering how they might be put right. Anarchy, in as far as I understood it, meant demanding answers to lots and lots of awkward questions without ever considering what my own solutions to the problem might be. There was a poster, popular at the time, which epitomised my whole position, featuring a photograph of a soldier in the process of being shot dead, caught in the moment of the bullet’s impact, and superimposed above the single word ‘WHY?’ “Why?” was our answer to everything - “Why war?” “Why work?” “Why hate and fear and oppression?” “Why can’t we smoke dope without getting arrested?” “Why?” “Why?” “Why?”
But “Why?” without “What? Where? and How?” stands little chance of ever achieving “Because!”
At Wapping, under Ulrike’s baleful stare - there was another popular poster showing her in Stammheim prison, hands on head, looking every inch the martyred warrior, which impressed me no end - I found that I believed in nothing beyond the gratification of my senses, through drugs, music, and the ever elusive possibility of sex which lurked just around some, as yet unseen, corner. One of the senses that demanded fulfilment was self-importance, and the powerful images on the printshop walls, along with the record sleeves of our new-found mentors, provided a satisfactory way forward as far as this was concerned. Piece by piece, week by week, and joint by joint, I acquired a comic-strip system of political beliefs that I was able to spout in parrot-fashion, without the need for any tiresome background reading, becoming in the process a self-righteous little prig without any real understanding of the philosophy I was expounding. I was a March Violet as far as the Crass phenomenon was concerned, but that didn’t stop me from adopting the full regalia, and putting on all the airs and postures of a hardened revolutionary.
Fortunately for me, no one ever asked me for any opinions.

As adopted by comrade Porter on his Ascension to anarchist grace.


THE GOVERNMENT: Don’t vote, it only encourages them. All politicians are crap, and are oppressing the people. There is no difference between the political parties. They are all mad and want to drop the bomb. Only the police and the army are keeping them in power: e.g. why are their several regiments in central London, if not to keep the people down. All governments are fascists, which is why you shouldn’t vote, because whoever you vote for a government gets in. If we had Anarchy, then things would be much better, as no one would oppress anyone else. We are against the government.

THE POLICE: The police will beat you up and kill people, especially the SPG who are murderers, e.g. Blair Peach. The police are only there to keep the government in power. If we had Anarchy we wouldn’t need police, because crime is caused by the government and advertising, which makes people feel inadequate. We are against the police. They are big brother, and soon it will be 1984. You must always be careful when dealing with the police, as if you wind them up they will plant drugs on you. It’s a well known fact that weights of dope have been found with fingerprint dust on them, which proves that the police are selling on the drugs they confiscate.

THE ARMED FORCES: Like the police, the armed forces are only there to help the state keep control. We don’t really need an army as the Americans have enough for everyone. All soldiers are fascists and really stupid, if they get killed in Ireland it’s their own fault as they shouldn’t have joined the army in the first place. They are only there to keep the people down. We are against them.

THE CHURCH: The church is only there to keep the people in their place, by telling them what they should do. Religion is the opium of the people. If we had Anarchy we wouldn’t have churches, as the people wouldn’t need false hopes. The government and the church work together to keep the people down.. All servants of the church are fascists. We are against them.

THE ROYAL FAMILY: This is just another sop to keep the people down. Every time it looks like things are getting bad for the government, they have a royal wedding, or a baby, and it keeps the people happy. We are against royalty.

WORK: Work is just another way in which the government keeps the people down. Work is crap and wears people out so they don’t have any energy to fight the system. People who work are all blind sheep and wage slaves who are helping to keep the government in power. People shouldn’t do crap jobs for rich bosses. If we had Anarchy, people would only have to do the work for themselves, so they wouldn’t mind it. Not working is an act of revolution against the state. We are against work.

WAR: We are against it.

AGRICULTURE: Everyone should grow things, and you shouldn’t keep hens on battery farms as it is cruel. We are against it.

THE DOLE: “Do they owe us a living? Of course they fucking do!”


IRELAND: We should get the troops out now, as they have no right to be there. It’s really good that the IRA blow things up as they are oppressed. Being English is really crap. We are against it. We recognise no nationality, which is just a way in which the governments keep control. Like national insurance numbers which are all linked to police computers. England is oppressing Ireland which is wrong. We support the Irish against the British, unmindful of the contradiction inherent in lending our support to nationalists.

THE MIDDLE EAST: It’s all the fault of religion and the CIA, who are probably in control of the American government, and hence the British government, which is just a puppet. We are against Israel, because it oppresses people, but guardedly as we don’t want anyone to suspect that we condone the holocaust. Anyhow, if we had Anarchy, then none of it would have happened in the first place, as there would be no religions and nationalism and stuff. NB. The CIA caused AIDS by having sex with pigs in Africa actually.

SOUTH AFRICA: This is really bad as the blacks are oppressed, and it’s their country. We (the British) invented concentration camps in South Africa in the Boer war, so we should be careful what we say about the Russian labour camps. We have them in Ireland too.

RUSSIA: Of course it’s really bad that there is oppression in the Eastern Bloc, but we’re just as bad (see above) as we oppress the Irish. The cold war isn’t as bad as the government makes out, but it’s a good way of keeping the people down by making them scared. Also, it enables the government to justify the presence on English soil of American troops, who are really here to keep the state in control. While not agreeing with governments and armies, and being against the soviet system, we have a secret fascination with their uniforms and tanks, which look really cool on the News at Ten - in fact we haven’t quite gotten over our childhood love of military hardware, but will endeavour to suppress it as it is not Anarchist: thus, when we see news reports on foreign wars, we resist the temptation to blow our cover by saying things like “Oh look, there’s a Phantom/Harrier/Mirage”, or whatever warplane it may happen to be. This is occasionally frustrating, as we are still very much children in some respects, but we are against war.

AMERICA: “I’m so bored with the USA,” but don’t quote The Clash if Crass are listening. America, of course, wants to rule the world, e.g. Vietnam etc. and we are against it.

IRAN: They have had a revolution and kicked out the Shah, which must be a good thing, also they are against America, which we are too. We don’t know whether to support them or not, as they cut off people’s hands, so we will wait until we hear someone else, maybe Crass, talking about it, and then decide what our policy will be.

TERRORISTS: They are against state control, so we support them. We don’t condone violence, but sometimes it has to be done, and things blown up: e.g. Guy Fawkes who was the only person ever to enter parliament with honest intentions - even though he was a mad religious extremist, which we are against, blowing up the houses of parliament was a good thing.


FOOD: Crass are vegetarians - so is Steve - we’ve never met one before, and it seems a bit extreme. Apparently there are people called ‘vegans’, who are even worse. We see no reason to stop eating meat, but we are united behind the idea that white bread is crap.

MUSIC: This is an important tool for social change, and our endeavours should reflect this. All songs should be against the state, and everything else is just rubbish used by the government to keep the people down.

CLOTHING: Crass dress only in black, and so shall we.

DRUGS: More people die from Aspirin actually. Besides, they are illegal, so taking them must be against the state.

RACISM: Although we don’t know any black people, and do not understand their culture, we feel guilty because they are oppressed by white people like us, so we will support them.

SEXISM: As above. We feel guilty because we are members of the oppressing gender, so we will support women and hope that this will make them want to sleep with us.

GAY RIGHTS: We support this - but not, you understand, because we are in any way gay ourselves (we are not doing this, we stress, because we want them to sleep with us, but because they are oppressed).

STRIKES: Even though we are against work, and write fanzines about what a bunch of hopeless blind sheep the people who do it are, we support strikes as they are against the government, even when people are on strike to save their jobs, which we can’t see why they would want. If we had Anarchy people wouldn’t want to strike as they would be working for themselves and have everything they want. When the dole office goes on strike it’s really good as they just send you cheques without having to sign on.

NEWSPAPERS: These are all crap as they are all run by the government and tell lies to keep the people in their place - or so we have heard: we’ve not read one for years, as they are boring.

TELEVISION: Telly is the opium of the masses! It keeps the people brainwashed and in their place. While they are watching rubbish on the telly, they are drugged into senselessness and present no threat to the system. Television is also the insidious means by which the state implants its propaganda into the people’s brains. We only watch telly to jeer at how crap it is. We will watch it until closedown, and then we will stay up and play backgammon until the dope runs out, because we don’t have to get up in the morning, unless it is giro day.

THE SYSTEM: We are against it. We will smash it.

That’s about it.

Before my first visit to Weald House, country seat of the Crass Empire, I had a crash course in essential studies at Steve’s flat in Islington. I learned enough about the band and their work not to disgrace myself on our first encounter. I discovered that Penny Rimbaud was not a woman, that the first two LPs were Feeding of the Five Thousand and Stations of the Crass, and that their close comrades and fellow travellers were a band called Poison Girls, only one of whom was female. Poison Girls were Crass’ regular support act, and had released several records on the Crass label. The most recent release had been a double A-sided 7-inch, featuring both bands, the proceeds of which were to go to the establishment of an Anarchy Centre in Wapping Wall, two doors down from Little A. Crass’ contribution was the magnificent Bloody Revolutions, while Poison Girls provided a minor epic called Persons Unknown.
I was impressed by these records, not so much by the political content - which went in one ear and out the other - as by the intricacy of the arrangements and the pin-point accuracy of the production. The artwork was evocative and beautiful, and a lot of the songs sublime. To dismiss it as three-chord punk garbage is both ignorant and untrue, but I was never able to summon as much enthusiasm for the message as I felt I ought. Most impressive of all was the Poison Girls’ chosen emblem - a black silhouetted crow with outstretched wings, which I envied them immensely. Its simple eloquence seemed to say everything about the band that was neccessary, and had a dark association with both death and the lady that appealed to my impressionable nature. The crow: the outsider; the dark survivor crying carrion across the battlefield. If only I’d thought of it first.
Steve lived in a state of sin with a girl called Sarah, who owned a massive Bedford ambulance, in which Zounds were wont to travel. It was a beautiful beast of a vehicle, with a long bonnet, enough space in the back for both the backline gear and our personal comfort, and a little hatch in the floor through which one could jettison spent roaches, and even pass water if you took care not to hit the prop-shaft, which was spinning just below, and liable to send the liquid splattering back up into your face. Sarah, who taught primary school children, and so was no stranger to the misinterpretation of doctrine, had an ironic curiosity about our involvement with Crass, and was always happy to drive us out through Epping Forest to meet them on the occasions we were summoned to HQ to talk tactics, or to rehearse for the forthcoming recording within range of the critical ear of Penny Rimbaud, the mainspring of the band’s impressive studio production.
Weald House was as singular in its fabric as it was in its occupants. Lost somewhere in the wilds of Epping and North Weald, it was an old but spacious farmhouse which the collective had been renting for peanuts off a sympathetic farmer for years - since long before Crass, the band, had been formed. I always looked forward to visiting, as it was the most beautiful and well-organised house I had ever seen. Everywhere there was varnished wood and shelves of books, well chosen wall-hangings and rugs. Everything reflected the good taste and manners of a bunch of cultured people who had put down roots of a kind and made the place their own. Most of their hardcore followers would have hated its stability and sense of discipline, and been seized with an instant desire to destroy it utterly, but that was the very thing that made their politics sound so plausible to me. How could any mind fail to rationalise in such serene surroundings? This was not a place that could inspire chaos. Surely any idea borne from such order must have been thought through with as much careful deliberation as went in to the polishing of the richly stained wooden floors and the husbanding of the borders in the well kept garden?
I have only the greatest of respect for the people I met at Weald House, and nothing I write here is intended to suggest the contrary. I believe they were, and doubtless remain, sincere and committed - sincere and committed to a degree I have never been able to achieve in great matters of state - and it is not my intention to make fun of their beliefs, only to make fun of my own, and other’s, failure to live up to them. In fact, so greatly impressed was I by Weald House and its people, that after my first visit I would have done anything they asked me - which was just as well as it turned out, as they were about to ask me to do something which, although not unreasonable, I would have found quite unacceptable had I been anywhere else.

“The thing is,” said Penny, with his customary disarming honesty, “is that Joseph’s drumming, although doubtless filled with potential, and no doubt perfectly fine in a live situation, is not quite up to scratch for the studio.” Outside birds sang. Above our heads a mobile of Japanese dragons slowly circled in the gentle breeze drifting in through the open sash window. A glamour settled down over us. Penny rolled another cigarette from the communal tobacco tin and leaned back against the bookcase.
This was my favourite room out at Weald. It was a kind of thoroughfare between the kitchen and the hallway that led to the stairs, the dining room and the rehearsal studio. Lined with books, its centrepiece was a large wooden cable drum which had been varnished until it shone, and provided the house with its own round table, about which the black knights would gather to talk treason, smoke endless roll-ups and drink endless cups of tea. Central to the table were the tobacco tins in which wholesale quantities of Sun Valley and acrid Black Boar shag were mixed and blended to taste. The hub of the drum was the pivot around which the whole household revolved, and here, at the very heart of his conspiracy, Penny’s word was about to be law as far as I was concerned.
“What do you want to do then?” I asked, prepared for the worst.
“Well,” said Penny frankly, “I just want us to make the best possible record that we can, and I’m afraid that at the moment we can’t do it with your drumming. I’m sorry, but it’s just not up to the close scrutiny of studio production - and without that solid backing, the whole thing just won’t hang together. What I would suggest is that we use a session drummer for the recording. We can’t possibly proceed with things as they are.” He paused, and the distant sound of a passing Central Line train drew a line under the embarrassed silence. “It’s all down to the fact that you’ve not been in the band long, and haven’t had enough time to get used to the songs,” he added tactfully.
“Is there no way round it?” asked Steve, who was not entirely happy at the idea, but didn’t want to compromise the band’s prospects.
“Sorry,” said Penny. “Unless we do it this way we’ll just have to scrap the project.”
“That’s OK,” I said, with reluctant gallantry. “Go ahead with the session drummer, I’m sure it’s for the best.” In fact I was sure of no such thing, but though bitterly disappointed, was anxious to put a bold face on it. I was also anxious to please (genetic disease) Penny, who was entirely genuine and immensely likeable. I wanted him to respect me, and would probably have agreed to anything to achieve this end.
There was also no getting round the fact that he was absolutely right, and probably saved me from making a fool of myself in the studio. The punk rockers wouldn’t have minded, they’d have bought - and indeed they subsequently did buy - any old rubbish if it was released on Crass Records. Penny minded. He was a perfectionist in the studio, and as critical of his own performance as of anyone else’s, hence the precision with which each note, each drumbeat and each sound byte of crying babies was placed on Crass’ own recordings. Penny was a good twenty years older than myself, and had age, wisdom and charm on his side. He had also given me the cracked Paiste 2002 18-inch crash, which was the best cymbal I’d ever owned, so I wasn’t about to deny him anything. The possibility that this princely gift, flawed though it was, might have been some kind of consolation prize for my disappointment never occurred to me at the time, besides, he was so obviously a better drummer than I, that I was bound to respect his opinion.
Sarah was outraged. “You should tell them to stuff their record!” she fumed as we rolled home through the forest. “Of course Joseph should play on it - he’s the band’s drummer, it isn’t right.” We excused ourselves vaguely and settled down to enjoy the stench of fox shit, in which Bambalay regularly took delight in rolling during his walks in the woods.
Sarah herself entertained us with a priceless social gaff one evening, while dining at Weald House. “Do you play any instrument yourself?” enquired Eve Libertine as the vegetable crumble made its way round the multitude gathered at the dining table.
“Oh no,” replied Sarah. “I’ve never had any desire to go on the stage.” The black-clad diners, shocked at the implication that they might in anyway be considered entertainers rather than agitators, lapsed into silence, while Lawrence squirmed and Steve kicked Sarah under the table. Penny changed the subject. Only I, in my beatitude, had to have the faux pas explained to me later.

“Banned from the Roxy OK
Never want to play there anyway
Said they only wanted good little boys
Do they think guitars and microphones are just fucking toys?
Fuck ‘em! I just want to make my stand
Against what I think is wrong with this land”
(Crass: ‘Banned from the Roxy’)

Sarah, who did think guitars and microphones were ‘just fucking toys,’ was unrepentant.

I was present at the recording of Zounds’s first single, and I was credited on the sleeve as the band’s drummer - which was true in itself, even if I didn’t play on the actual record. This happy instance resulted in my receiving royalty cheques for the next five years or so, but had I known at the time that Penny was going to credit me, I would have stopped him. Fortunately, for those cheques often came in handy when the dope was running low, Crass were in the habit of exercising total control over the projects under their umbrella, a fact that may seem at odds with their anarchism, but which is understandable considering the scrutiny they were under from a number of quarters on account of their extreme views. The music press in particular, would have relished the opportunity to ridicule them had not editorial policy imposed a D-notice. Crass could not afford to be compromised by the ill-informed or idiotic, so we were obliged to shut up and let them do as they saw fit.
There was one tabloid report on them at the time that was so at odds with the truth that I think even some of the bands themselves, who had no illusions about the integrity of the press, were surprised. They were portrayed as a new horror cult that was sweeping the country, and whose shocking behaviour on stage was a threat to all decent sensibilities. The reporter assured his readers that the band vomited onstage, and urged satanic rites upon their drugged and deranged followers, that they hurled filth and abuse, and were “sick! Sick! SICK!”
Comparing this twaddle to the gentle image of Penny tending his shrubbery, or Steve Ignorant reading Oor Wullie cartoons in a comfortable armchair made me angry, and made me hate the gutter press with a sincerity that was missing from most of my other vociferous protests. These were the most incredible lies I had ever read in a newspaper, and while I had never lent much credence to the rubbish they habitually printed about prominent persons, this was the first time I had ever witnessed such an abuse of journalistic integrity directed at anyone I knew personally.
“They’ve just made the whole thing up!” I spluttered, aghast. Penny just laughed.
“Don’t be surprised - they’re hardly likely to tell the truth about us.”
So this was the house that Crass built. Zounds’ debut was recorded at Southern Studio in Wood Green, in which Crass I believe, were partners. The drums were played economically and with little problem by Ed, the session man, who looked more like one of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers than Johnny Thunders’. I think that on the day I was more pained by the length of his hair than at the fact that he was doing my job. I still had a vague idea that anyone who was neither conspicuously an anarchist, a punk, or at least untidy, was the enemy, and the sight of his beautiful blond hair and clean flared jeans trespassing in the domain of my household gods was disconcerting indeed!
Penny produced and directed the whole show. The artwork was compiled in secret by the Crass collective, and we didn’t argue. One part of the gatefold sleeve contained a lengthy anarchist tract, which commenced: “Anarchy is a state of the mind, not....” but I never got beyond that point, as it was crushingly dry. The only time I ever heard it read in its entirety was some years later, when a friend inhaled the contents of a helium balloon, and recited it in a voice like an angry Pinky and Perky. It came over much better.
This tract, which was a common feature of Crass releases, was, I believe inserted without any prior consultation with the band. Not that we’d have argued mind you. Likewise the quotation from Proudhon (whoever he or she was) which bordered the poster we included in the package.

“He who lays his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant.
I declare him my enemy!”

The kids liked that one. It’s still selling.
Subvert retailed at 75p. NME reviewed it briefly and contemptuously, declaring that Zounds were ‘wallowing in the post-punk anarcho-hippy bullshit of their mentors., It sold over 20,000 copies in the first week and went straight to number one in the alternative charts, even lurking around the lower seventies in the Hit Parade. Thanks to the Crass connection, Zounds became instant punk rock legends, and our stock grew accordingly - people began to come to our gigs. Royalty money came through and enabled Steve to buy a long-overdue new bass stack. I got some drum cases at last, and Lawrence’s elusive Marshal stack crept ever closer to his fingertips, and our eardrums.....
Being by far and away the junior partner in the enterprise, I had then, and still have now, no idea by whom or how our affairs were arranged. I presume that Steve handled it all. My role was just that of drummer and occasional chillum mixer - I was getting quite good at this under the tuition of the Shivites - I would just turn up to meetings and rehearsals and find out when and where we were next playing and it never occurred to me to wonder who was responsible for the donkey work, how I could help them to do it, and what would become of our collective fortunes if it wasn’t done properly. All I really did was to drop annoying little spanners into the works, and as I have subsequently discovered, no organisation can function properly under these circumstances. Annoying little spanners should be exorcised swiftly and with finality, without recourse to niceties!
But my uselessness aside, Zounds rose initially to eminence on a tidal wave of Crass’ rhetoric. The first single had all the right ingredients for the party faithful. It had the right logo, the right artwork, the right slogans, and above all, the right kind of marketable naivety in the lyrics and message of the main song, Subvert. It is a sad irony that this song, so different in style and content to most of Steve’s writing has outlived its contemporaries even to the extent of a cover version by a latterday anarchist band. It would be both cynical and uncharitable to suggest that Subvert was written with Crass records and their diehard anarchist following in mind, but it certainly came along at the right time as far as Zounds were concerned. The bulk of Steve’s lyrics were about ordinary everyday people confronted by confusing and uncomfortable situations: the protagonist in Target, a quiet unassuming individual, suddenly confronted by the prospect of Russian missiles aimed at his hometown; Demystification, about alienation from both theology and technology, the old man in Dirty Squatters, betrayed by the system he believes in and forced to adopt the anti-social tactics of his unwashed neighbours. These were songs about normal people trying to cope with normal life - the very normal people that I in my ignorant manifesto had cast as the enemy, and wanted nothing to do with.
Subvert calls upon its listeners to ‘Work for revolution in your place of employment,’ a sentiment guaranteed to appeal to an army of believers who were in no danger of having to practice what was being preached. Perhaps the weary officials at Spurstowe Terrace could have fuelled the anarchist uprising by Sabotaging the distribution of a few thousand giro cheques, that would have got us up in arms and out onto the streets.
I, along with so many of the naughty children of the early eighties’ anarchist circles, didn’t want to be confronted with reality, or with the possibility that my anarchism had to encompass the lives of all my fellow beings. We were narrow minded and isolationist in our outlook. Many of us just wanted to be assured that we were part of an embattled tribe of beautiful people standing up to tyranny and working to save the world, and it was the failure of Steve Marsh to pander to this need - was he too old or was he too intelligent - that guaranteed Zounds’s ultimate failure to prosper in the anarchist market, when songwriters of far less ability were able to flog their dead and dying horses for all they were worth.
The only issue seemingly taken to heart by many of the Crass punks was the price of records. “Pay no more than...” was their battle cry, and by far the most frequently quoted of the slogans that appeared on the records they bought - grudging every penny that they had to spend on something other than Special Brew.
So it was that despite the huge initial sales of the single, Zounds were unable to capitalise on their success, and their rapid rise from obscurity was to prove a flash in the pan. At the same time, the music press, embittered by the hardcore indifference of Crass, and the sheer audacity of their continuing commercial success in the face of journalistic hostility, seemed to adopt a policy of punishing all who came into contact with their clique.
Secure for the time being, their cover not yet blown, Zounds stood ready to be rejected by the anarchists for not toeing the party line, while at the same time tarred black with the Crass brush - a colour which was not to prove helpful to their future career prospects.
Serves us right for trying to jump on the bandwagon.