to 71! Alpha to 71! Over.”
God I hate this job! I’m weaving my way through Berwick Street
market, which is staffed by Neanderthals, it’s been drizzling
since morning and I’m soaked through to the bollocks! The cretins
from City-Link, with whom we share a radio frequency, have been more
than usually brainless and clogged up the airwaves all day with the
most astonishing parodies of radio procedure, and Karen, the obnoxious
horse-faced twat at ‘Video On,’ has been more offensive
than I thought even that stuck up bag of shit capable of. Pardon my
language, but this job brings out the worst in me.
“Alpha to 71! Alpha to 71! Wake up 71! Where are you? Over.”
“71 to Alpha. I’m in Berwick Street. Over.”
“Roger 71, can you take a Silk Sound to Saatchi’s and Euston
Red Star? Over.”
“Roger Alpha. Silk Sound to Saatchi’s and Euston. Over.”
“Roger 71. Over and out.” Alpha disappears in a storm of
white noise and the hysterical cries of lost motorcyclists shouting
for help from somewhere in the wastes of Shepperton. Silk Sound. Ha!
Now there’s a useless bunch of brain-dead wankers for you! If
a more stupid woman exists on this planet than the one on the front
desk at Silk Sound, I’d count myself privileged to meet her!
Permit me to explain. I am 71 - that’s my radio call-sign - I
am a bicycle messenger, working for the ‘Ixion’ courier
company in central London, and I am having a bad day.
For starters, there is the rain. I was drenched by the time I got into
the office this morning. Dispatch riding is an all-weather job, as the
precious cargoes we carry brook no delay. Ixion’s clients are
almost exclusively small service companies working in the advertising
industry, so everything has a deadline, everything needs to be delivered
by five minutes ago, and everyone we work for is neurotic, inflated
with an artificial sense of self-importance, and extremely discourteous.
Take Karen for instance. She’s the boss of this little film company
off Great Marlborough Street, who take sub-contract work from the big
guys like Declan-McManus-Masius, Jerome-Walter-Thompson and Carter-Unger-Nasser-Taunt.
I was sent there this morning by Alpha-control, the all-knowing ones
who dish out the dockets from their warm office on Beak Street. Alpha
are kind and benevolent in themselves, but can neither control the weather
nor the whims of their nasty clients, who must be humoured at all costs.
I arrived at Video-On, dripping and surly after a ride back in from
Westbourne Terrace, and presented myself at the reception desk.
“Bike!” roared the well groomed telephonist into her intercom.
“Bike at reception!”
Like all these silly, pointless little places, Video-On has delusions
of grandeur. Reception is decked out with large framed posters of Hollywood
greats, and artefacts from the great days of the silver screen like
the director’s canvas chair in one corner, and the massive old
cine camera on a varnished wooden tripod next to the big photograph
of Charlie Chaplin. They like to think they’re making movies,
but all they are really doing is selling bog roll or tampons or whatever.
One essential characteristic of these places is the plethora of awards
on the most prominent wall - no one likes advertising people, so they
have to spend a lot of time giving each other prizes for creative genius
to bolster their desperate egos. Bastards the lot of them!
“Ah, Bike!” Karen emerges from a distant office and regards
me with distaste, “You’re here then.” I drip more
moisture onto the nice carpet and refrain from telling her that she
is a buck-toothed harpy and that not only is my name not ‘Bike,’
but that I have more creativity in my tightly clenched ring-piece than
she can ever hope to squeeze out of the sorry minions over whom she
“I am having a reception this afternoon for some clients,”
she continues, talking to a section of the wall somewhere behind and
to the right of me. “I need some sandwiches.” She hands
me twenty pounds. “Go to Marks & Spencers on Oxford Street
and spend this on an assortment, and be as quick as you can!”
With a rustle of ineffectual nylon waterproofing I stow the banknote
in a zip-compartment and assume an anxious-to-please expression. “Any
particular flavours?” I don’t want to take any chances as
Karen is the most arrogant cow in the whole of the West End, and will
be on the phone whining to Alpha at the slightest provocation. I require
instructions. I am every bit the empty vessel she believes me to be.
A donkey, an ass, a beast of burden. I am merely a piece of outdated
machinery as far as she is concerned, and as such I require programming
in order to function correctly. “Any particular flavours you’d
like me to get, or not to get as the case may be?” I ask innocently.
“Use your imagination. Gamut!” Karen struts off back to
her den to harangue her toadies. I use my imagination to envisage her
boiling in a vat of acid, surrounded by jeering ‘bikes’
as I pedal unenthusiastically off to do her bidding.
But the bitch still complained. She was on the phone to Alpha an hour
or so after I’d returned bearing twenty pounds worth of St Michael’s
finest assorted sandwiches. Once again my radio crackled into life.
“Alpha to 71! Alpha to 71! Over.”
“Roger Alpha, 71 here. Over.”
“Alpha to 71 - Karen does not like salmon, repeat Karen does not
like salmon. Over.”
“Roger that Alpha… Salmon assure me feeling mutual. Out.”
As if life weren’t hard enough, trying to keep these arseholes
happy, we also had the ever-present voices of City-Link to contend with.
Most of the Ixion cyclists were artists of one sort or another - actors,
dancers, musicians, all down on their luck, and like me, financing their
struggling careers with whatever thankless casual jobs they could pick
up that didn’t require any commitment. The motorcyclists from
City-Link were all hardcore bike enthusiasts of a much less sensitive
nature, and frequently seemed to have trouble holding their A-Zs the
right way up. Long conversations would clog up the radio as some helpless
dunce called in for directions from his controllers, one of whom was
unfortunately named Roger. Only one voice could effectively use the
radio at a time, so dozens of riders would be left fuming on street
corners awaiting instructions while Kev or John or some other loveable
cockney would howl in the wilderness. I’d hate to have played
Monopoly with them - they’d never have found their way past GO:
“....Rog’...Rog’...come in Rog’....John here
Rog’...I’m in a big square Rog’.... where’s
the drop Rog’....come in Rog’?..... Roger John..... Rog’
here.... where are you going John?.... Oxford Street Rog’...where’s
Oxford Street?...Rog’?.... John... I didn’t Roger that...come
again?...Oxford Street Rog’... O-X-F-O-R-D Rog’...I’m
in a big square with a tower Rog’....with a guy on top in a funny
hat Rog’.. did you Roger that Rog’? Lot o’ pigeons
too ....Roger John ...I Roger you now...go north John...go North....you
want Charing Cross Road John......that’s C-H-A-R-I-N-G John...go
North John...and Oxford Street is a right...that’s right John....off
Charing Cross Road...Do you Roger that John?...Roger Rog’...
I Roger you loud and clear......”
Setting off again through the dribbling rain, the spray from the wet
road tickling my inner thighs and the sweat rolling down my spine inside
the layers of soggy clothing, the same old tired refrain spun round
and round inside my head as I dodged between the honking taxis and homicidal
spins on his wheel
Forever ‘til he’s burned or wastes away
Is he ever gonna learn
That it’s never gonna pay
He’s gonna be turning round in circles forever and a day.’
X. The Crow And The Beanfield
midsummer 1980, it should have been obvious that some stimulation was
required to sustain the momentum of Zounds’ meteoric rise. 20,000
sales in the first week of release, the glaringly prominent number one
slot in the independent chart listings, and yet not one spark of interest
from the music press. “Who,” wondered reader M. Blackwell
of Staines, and doubtless countless others, is this Zounds that has
suddenly appeared from nowhere? What do they do? What do they sound
like? How can it be that the Indie Charts are suddenly topped by a band
whose very name we have never heard - surely an oversight on the part
of those wise magazines whose pleasure and duty it is to keep their
readers informed, the better that they may draw their own conclusions?
But these questions remained unanswered, not only by the media but by
the band themselves, whose devotion to having a relaxed and pleasant
time on distant mental planes far outweighed any unscrupulous desire
they may have had to turn rebellion into money. Zounds had no skill
in the market place, beyond a pretty good idea of what a decent eighth
of Leb should look like, and consequently spent the long solstice weekend
not in the glare of the music business’ attention at Glastonbury
(or Pilton as we have seen), but in getting stoned under flimsy canvas
The annual Stonehenge free festival had not yet degenerated into the
series of running battles that it became in later years. 1980 was something
like the tenth illicit occupation of the site, and the event was still
a fairly good-natured orgy of public drug-taking. Safety in numbers
guaranteed immunity from prosecution and the police presence was low-key
and responsible. Although the festival was unsanctioned, the official
attitude seemed to suggest that the authorities were quite content to
have all the bad eggs squatting in the same field together, killing
themselves with narcotics - as long as they confined themselves there,
they couldn’t be getting up to mischief elsewhere! Why they didn’t
just build a big fence around us and throw in some bread every other
Thursday is one of life’s mysteries. As long as the drugs didn’t
run out we’d have been quite happy.
Some claimed to have attended the event on religious grounds, and could
be heard muttering nonsensical gubbins about earth spirits and ley lines,
but these were dismissed as harmless cranks by the majority, who were
only there to have a party. ‘Sod Glastonbury’ was the smart
attitude, at Stonehenge the bands played for free, and Anarchy was here
and now, wallowing in the mud and giggling like idiots under the influence
of our chosen drams.
Anarchy or not, it promised to be fun. I hitched down almost two weeks
before the solstice weekend to find several hundred people already established
in the large field immediately to the North of the stones. The army,
who lived nearby, had obligingly bored deep holes in one corner for
us all to shit into, and thereafter confined their involvement to low-level
strafing attacks in Gazelle helicopters, to the approval of the stoned
fools on the ground who cheered their progress with imaginary machine
gun fire and flak.
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” sighed Mark
the Hat, alias Mark the Hitcher, emerging from his big blue teepee,
roll-up in hand, “Oh hello.” But it wasn’t the smell
of napalm, it was the smell of me and Lawrence and the rest of the Ceylon
Road crew, who had turned up to darken the travelling people’s
doors with our city ways. I was just about to pitch camp in the lee
of the teepee (never ‘wigwam’ remember) when I was hailed
from across the field.
“Joseph! You evil smelling little wankpile!” came the comradely
shout. “Long time no see!” Once again my old friends from
The Mob had turned up just when I needed them most. I abandoned the
teepee - identical in all respects to the all-too familiar living room
at Ceylon Road, except for the lack of Gregor’s horrible record
collection - and hurried over to the squalid circle of unstable looking
tents where the tribe had installed themselves next to the fence for
“Got any drugs?” I demanded, dropping my bags by their campfire
and pulling out my tobacco tin.
“Of course” said Curtis, “What else would we be doing
Our bivouac consisted of a few sorry looking little nylon tents, of
the sort that wouldn’t keep out a gnat’s piss, let alone
the English climate, and a dubious looking bender made out of a huge
sheet of looted polythene draped over a series of crudely lashed blackthorn
branches. I added my borrowed hovel to the others, minus a fly-sheet
and half the pegs, and settled down to the serious business of getting
a chillum on the go. Everyone from my Acorn Records days was there,
gathered around the blasphemous icon that had been erected in the centre
of our circle. We set to in earnest and all was well for a couple of
Reality intervened briefly. I had to return to London to sign on, and
when I got back to the site, armed with a fresh influx of government
sponsorship, it was to find that both fire and flood had run amuck in
The campsite was saturated. The relentless rainfall was just limbering
up for its annual performance at Pilton. My tent had collapsed and was
full of puddles, with some oblivious squatter buried in its clammy folds.
The bender had proved more weatherproof than most of the others, and
was crammed to bursting point with damp punk rockers, and the largest
of the tents, which had hitherto been party HQ, was charred and abandoned,
and looked as if one of the vengeful Gazelles had scored a direct hit
on it with a TOW missile.
“What happened there?” I asked, looking in curiosity at
the collection of grubby bandages and blisters that now decorated the
hands and faces of some of my colleagues.
“We blew up a gas canister” explained Mark, who seemed to
have escaped unscathed, “We were tripping, and we tried to light
the burner but we lost the matches. By the time we found them again
the tent was filled with gas. Geoff went to light it, and the whole
thing went up.”
“We had to take Geoff and Kinnock to hospital,” added Curtis.
“Geoff was in a right state - the ambulance men asked him if he
was one of ‘the happy people.’”
“I was tripped out of my brain! I told them I wasn’t very
happy at the moment,” said Geoff, with an unrepentant smirk. “They
stuck us all back together, but Martin went off home without any eyebrows.”
Geoff spent the rest of the festival staggering around in an old purple
granny coat trimmed with black fur, his blistered hands and piebald
face a walking testimony to the evil of drugs, but no one was put off.
My first action was to spend 60% of my hard-earned giro on a round of
acid for my closest friends: little yin-yang blotters. Down the hatch
they went and the shameful debauch continued unabated.
the beginning of the second week the festival had swollen to huge proportions.
The pyramid stage was up and running, I’d lost about a stone in
weight and had diarrhoea alternating with bouts of rigid constipation.
It was a punk day on the pyramid stage. Crass and Poison Girls were
due to play, with Zounds humbly doing a set beforehand - we always knew
our place in the anarcho-hierarchy. I had crawled out from the questionable
shelter of my tent to greet the first rainless morning since the dawn
of time. I was chilled and damp, crumpled and hungry. I loudly bemoaned
my lot to passers by.
“Joseph!” came the foghorn voice of Grant Showbiz, from
a neighbouring tent of superior quality, in which he was no doubt warm,
dry, drugged to the eyeballs and not alone. “I think that there
are one or two people on the other side of the field who are, as yet,
unaware that you are wet, cold, and the owner of a voice that sounds
like a discontented smurf. Stop whining and go away and find some firewood.”
The surrounding tents sniggered.
“Wake us up with tea,” called someone from the tattered
bender. “Get a fire going, it’s fucking freezing!”
I stalked off in search of drugs and sympathy, cursing Grant and his
big mouth, the weather, the whole festival, and my own stupidity for
not having stayed at home in the first place.
But later that day we all had good cause to be grateful for Grant’s
The day’s bill had attracted an unusual amount of punks to the
site who normally wouldn’t have been seen dead at a ‘hippy’
festival. This caused a degree of resentment amongst the large contingent
of bikers who regarded the festival as their personal property, and
viewed the intrusion of a sub-culture less loveable than their own as
an act of criminal trespass. Having heard punk bands doing their ‘thing’
with tuneless enthusiasm all afternoon, by teatime they were beginning
to get restless.
Grant, an old hand with a microphone, was acting as compére.
As the light began to fail The Epileptics were onstage, with Zounds,
Poison Girls and Crass to follow in that order. Towards the end of their
set, The Epileptics’ singer had a bottle bounced off his head,
which decked him. I wasn’t aware of much else happening at the
time, but I think they finished their set - I was eager to get onstage,
and assumed it was just an isolated incident - besides, Zounds weren’t
exactly hardcore, and I was confident that Lawrence’s fretboard
technology could sooth the savage beasts and restore their good humour.
I was just in the process of adjusting the borrowed drumkit to my satisfaction,
when a hail of bottles came soaring out of the twilight and burst upon
the stage, upon the power amps, and most significantly upon the drumkit.
The power cut out, then came back on again. Grant came running over
in a state of some agitation.
“Joseph! Get off the stage! Get out of here as quickly as you
can before they kill you!” More bottles burst around us, “The
bikers have seized the generator, and they’re going to lynch you
if you play a note!” The power died again. I remember looking
round and seeing Grant leaning down and gesticulating desperately at
some huge hairy folk in filthy denim, then we legged it off the front
of the stage and didn’t stop running until we had reached the
comparative safety of our distant encampments. In the distance I could
hear shouts and more breaking glass. I stumbled into the protective
shelter of the leaky bender and stayed there for the rest of the night.
“OK,” I said to myself, “it was their festival, they
could keep it! Country roads take me home to the dear old Hammersmith
Drug Squad, who at least have the decency to call you ‘Sir’
when they violate your human rights.”
The following morning I heard how Grant had used his considerable mouth
to talk things down a little. From somewhere he found a dreadful blues
band who jammed for six hours and managed to calm the slavering fiends
enough to prevent a general riot, but not before a number of punks had
been pretty badly beaten up, and any pretence of anarchy, peace and
freedom smashed into the dirt, alongside them with tyre levers.
I was disillusioned by the whole affair. I had naively assumed that
Stonehenge was different; a place outside society in which we could
all do what we wanted without having to look over our shoulders. I was,
it seemed, mistaken. I’m sure there are others who witnessed more
of what went on than I did, just as I’m sure there are others
besides Grant who deserve credit for bringing the situation back under
control, but I was not a warrior born, and being both small, and having
a silly haircut, were two very good reasons for not sticking around
Zounds never did play at Stonehenge. Neither did Crass nor the Poison
Girls. The bikers were rewarded for their pains with a monotonous diet
of crap blues and heavy rock bands for the rest of the week. I slept
through the solstice, and couldn’t have cared less, my initial
enthusiasm for free festivals having been considerably dampened.
Since 1980, Stonehenge has had a chequered history and given rise to
many apocryphal legends. Strangely enough I’ve never heard anyone
refer to this particular incident, which for me made a farce of the
whole affair. The heavy handed police actions of subsequent years have
been condemned from both sides of the fence as over-reactions on the
part of the authorities. No rational attempt at justification has ever
been offered for these tactics, and the reasons given for their employment
remain questionable. Likewise the reasons given by their victims for
wanting to take the police on in the first place. Of all the muddy fields
in England to sit and take drugs in, why did they opt for the one surrounded
by Marius and the XIIth legion?
“And it’s One! Two! Three! What are we fighting
Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn!”
know nothing about these later conflicts. They were of no more relevance
to my life than the squabbles of rival football factions calling each
other names on the station concourse at Euston on a Saturday evening.
What were they all after? Freedom? Licence? Or just that elusive sense
of self-importance which we all seek at one time or another in our efforts
to make some sense of the big questions? After all the blood and gas
that has been spilled, is the only legacy of the Stonehenge ‘free’
festival to be the sure and certain knowledge that Might was Right?
And did it take either the police or a beanfield to show us that?
if Zounds were destined not to play at Stonehenge, then at least we
did get to play with Crass, which proved to be much more exciting, and
nearly as disconcerting.
We were invited along that Autumn to play three towns in the North West
with themselves and the Poison Girls, whose unique Brechtian influence
made them one of the most interesting bands around at the time. Like
Zounds they were still in the ‘Ignore’ file as far as the
press were concerned, and to a large degree destined to stay there,
but we didn’t care. These were great days, and we still had no
idea that we were doomed.
In fact we still had a long way to go, and the prospect of touring with
the great ones had an optimistic feel to it - all the more so as our
first tour of Europe was now confirmed, and due to commence as soon
as we returned from the frozen North. I felt that I was keeping myself
‘on the road’ to no uncertain degree, although who was actually
pulling the strings remained, as ever, a mystery to me.
Ceylon Road was on the eve of destruction. We’d had the LEB OFF
for some time now. Workmen had dug up the road outside and poured concrete
over the company head. We’d been living out the eviction notice
by candlelight, cooking thin gruels in dirty enamel saucepans over an
open fire, and discovering just how much fun squalor can be if you smoke
enough dope. But West London was beginning to lose its appeal to a certain
extent. Haggai had been living with us for a while, and though both
charming and generous himself, he had some very dubious acquaintances
with whom he would meet ‘Dahn the ‘Dilly’ and occasionally
bring home if it was unavoidable. Nearly as unpleasant as these hardened
losers had been the constant drone of the house record player, which
only the LEB’s timely action had put a stop to. The household
had become addicted to reggae music which, like anything, is fine for
an hour or so a day, but can become irksome to the uninitiated after
eight hours or so.
I took up the offer of a spare room in a large almost empty squat in
Albany Street NW1, a crown estate property just off Regents Park, which
had no electricity but was considered secure. By the time I moved in,
the only occupants were a friend of a friend called Patrick, and his
wife Emma. Being by now used to living without electricity, the prospect
of not having to creep around in the darkness breaking into a new house
outweighed any disadvantages that the lack of LEB might suggest, and
moving away would free me for good from the torments of ‘passive
71 Albany Street was a six storey Victorian edifice: a veritable Gormenghast
of a place entirely filled up with the vast piles of junk collected
by Patrick, who was possessed of the same eccentric genius as my old
master, Roddy Disorder.
Patrick collected ‘stuff,’ most of which he gleaned from
the front door porch. The ground floor of the house was occupied by
a conservative party second hand shop, whose generous patrons kept it
well stocked with donations of clothes, furniture and household goods,
and whose blue triangular bunting fluttered heroically outside my bedroom
window to my considerable amusement. The best of these donations Patrick
would loot, and re-sell at Camden market, all in all a most satisfactory
state of affairs.
“It’s just rent”, he told me “They share my
house with their little shop, and I exact my tithe.”
“That seems fair enough,” I agreed. “Besides, we must
be owed some compensation for the stigma attached to those flags - people
might think they belong to us!”
“That would certainly be unfortunate...”
Besides petty larceny, Patrick introduced me to a number of useful skills,
not the least of which was the art of cycling in London. He gave me
the first bicycle I’d owned since I was twelve, gleaned piece
by piece from skips and market stalls, and this machine stood me in
very good stead for a number of years. London opened up for me like
a book.Where before I had become familiar with small areas of the city,
and linked them together with the tentative strands of my old walking
tours, now I spent days in the saddle, exploring the different routes
across town, getting to know the short-cuts and the one way systems,
and learning to ride in the traffic stream until even the multi-laned
roundabouts at Hyde Park Corner and Hammersmith Broadway held no terrors.
I always felt safe on a bicycle. It was like being invisible. No one
noticed you, no one could touch you, and no one ever stopped you to
demand your name and address and to go through your pockets in search
He taught me how to cook better on an open fire, or overnight on a paraffin
heater - a sure way to get the most out of a cheap neck of lamb. In
the evenings, tomorrow’s dinner was always stewing slowly in the
smoky lamp lit kitchen, while by day we would go out in search of salvage,
or to marvel at the lesser known sights of North London: the secret
MOD shelters and the Yankee Marines jogging round Regents Park’s
outer circle, where Patrick had worked as a gardener.
Patrick was a friend in need once when I foolishly decided to take one
last trip for old times sake. Someone had given me a handful of potent
magic mushrooms, and I took them while alone in the house one afternoon.
All was going well until the police came round looking for Patrick’s
brother Sean, whose diminished responsibility was always landing him
in trouble for petty crimes. The worthy officers subjected me to a discourteous
grilling on the doorstep, which left me a gibbering paranoid wreck until
Patrick came home and found me in bed trying to sleep off the powerful
effects of the fungi.
He insisted we go out for a long walk to restore my frazzled brain,
and took me up to the top of Primrose Hill where we looked down upon
a cityscape transformed into a giant chessboard; the Post Office Tower
a white king, glaring across the heads of the lesser pieces towards
the black queen towering above the square mile; St Paul’s was
a bishop; Centrepoint a rook; my imagination warped and twisted into
a chaos of mad adventures that swore me off acid for life.
We wandered home via Camden Market, where to both my amusement and horror,
several members of Crass were handing out badly printed anarchist propaganda.
To my deranged consciousness they looked like a bunch of huge, identical,
dusty black bears with grave expressions. They greeted me cordially
and I tried not to disgrace myself with a fit of hysterical laughter.
“Hello Joseph,” someone said, handing me a leaflet. “How’s
it going?” I stared at the illegible document, mesmerized by the
intricate patterns formed by the spaces between the words, and hoped
I was holding it the right way up.
“Do you want to give us a hand?” asked another. It was all
too much. They all looked the same. I hadn’t a clue who I was
talking to. Patrick rescued me before I blew my cover completely, making
our excuses and dragging me off to catch an imaginary train.
“Who and what were they?” he asked in wonder. “Are
they of this world?”
They were, of course, very much of this world, and only a couple of
weeks later I was travelling North in a more responsible state of mind,
to help them fight the good fight. I made my way to Ceylon Road, then
in its last week, where we all met up with Mark the Hat, who had come
back from his campsite on May Hill in Gloucestershire to drive us off
to battle in a borrowed Ford Escort. We packed guitars and tired old
sleeping bags. I was to use Poison Girls’ drums, and brought only
my snare. There was barely room for Lawrence’ legs, let alone
his Marshals, but Steve’s compilation cassettes were a welcome
change from the misery of Gregor’s wretched disks, so once we
were past Scratchwood, safely submerged in the anonymity of the M1’s
Northbound traffic, we reached for the skies:
.....Now it’s a mighty long way down Rock and Roll.....
“Hey! Don’t Bogart that spliff!”
.....From the Liverpool docks to the Hollywood Bowl.....
“You’ve bumsucked it again! Why do you always do that!”
.....And you look like a star.....
“Just stop complaining and pass it on!”
.....But you’re still on the dole.....
“Never hurry a Humphrey!”
....And so on and so on - all the way to Memphis!
first of the three shows took place at an unlicensed community centre
in Winsford. The sight of spiky-haired anarchists, some of them surely
as young as eleven or twelve, doing the conga round the hall to the
malevolent strains of So What and Banned from the Roxy remains one of
the most beautiful things I have ever seen. This to me was typical of
Crass’ approach to anarchism and music: taking pains to play to
the under sixteens, in a venue where glue and brew were not on hand
to disrupt the proceedings. The atmosphere was considerably more pleasant
as a result, and I was able to enjoy my first live impressions of Crass
without fear of being knocked into a puddle of sick by the ‘grown
They looked and sounded like La visage de la Guerre: stark, black and
white, flanked by video monitors showing scenes of oppression and atrocity
and looming large with menace in front of the collection of flags and
banners,. Everything was perfectly stage managed; everything was just
right - they were even more daunting onstage than on acid at Camden
The banners were particularly imposing: the all-powerful cross-and-snake
symbol predominated, sitting in the middle like a fat black spider in
the web of subversion; ‘Man made power Man made pain’, ‘Fight
war not wars’, ‘Anarchy Peace and Freedom’. Poison
Girls’ black and red crow flew proudly, like the sail on some
ancient dragonship, and heroic demands to ‘Abort the System’
and ‘Take the toys from the boys’ hung alongside. High up
and to the right of these battleflags, painted in black Dulux on a pink
fitted bed sheet was Zounds’ contribution to the show: incongruous
but impenitent; Mickey Mouse caught in the crosshairs of a gunsight.
I thought he looked rather cool up there myself.
Crass always hired in the same P.A. company on their British tours,
and so in Winsford we made the acquaintance of Alex, the monitor mixer,
who shared our allegiance to a combustible god and was otherwise oblivious
to the great affairs by which he was surrounded. For this leg of the
tour, all the bands, the sound engineers, and sundry camp followers,
stayed in an empty house in Sale, Manchester, that belonged to the brother
of one of Crass’ guitarists. Late that night, in the privacy of
our allotted chamber, Alex introduced us to his ‘portables’
- a sawn off milk bottle, a tiny camping stove, and two dinner knives,
blackened with use. We consumed ‘hot knives’ far into the
night, in the company of certain furtive Poison Girls, while downstairs
in the drug-free atmosphere of revolution, the talk was no doubt of
By contrast to the Winsford gig, the following night in Manchester was
a seething pit of all the worst aspects of the punk scene at the time.
The Mayflower was a vast old cinema, and on this occasion was filled
with a brutal heaving mass of humanity bent on both inebriation and
destruction. By the end of the night the toilets were demolished, and
three feet under water; people were standing on the top step and peeing
into the dark interior, into which the occasional lost soul would trip
with a splash and an oath. When Crass played I got the impression of
seeing human bodies piled up towards the front of the stage to an impossible
height, breaking in waves and crashing down in tangled heaps of thrashing
And they gobbed! Oh how they gobbed! This media-inspired inovation of
the 1977 punk explosion was still revered by the arse-ends of punk in
Manchester. Zounds walked on stage to a furious shower of phlegm, and
were bombarded throughout their set with snot of a greenness and elasticity
that I have never since encountered. Drumming at the back, I was more
or less protected. Only those hurled with considerable projectile force
reached me. Of course any lumps that did make it that far were generally
pretty big, and the drumkit became festooned with great dangling ribbons
of the stuff; it would glance off the cymbals and richochet off into
the wings to my horror and appalled fascination.
Up front, Steve had it pretty bad. Grolleys scored constant direct hits
on his face, his hair, his guitar, and even in his mouth as he sang
- an inevitability in the face of such a sustained fusillade. We walked
off the slippery stage after 45 minutes disillusioned and disgusted
with our supposed comrades in the great struggle.
“Never mind blowing up the houses of parliament,” grumbled
Steve, wiping the slime from his bass strings. “I wish they could
learn to blow their noses in a nice hanky like normal people!”
I hope that night had something to do with anarchism. I was just intent
on survival. Somehow one of the girls from Crass sustained a black eye,
the place was trashed and the whole event seemed to me to be a pointless,
nihilistic exercise in futile vandalism. Manchester null point!
Crass shunned the use of drugs - although alcohol in moderation seemed
not unacceptable - so we tactfully confined our smoking excesses to
either the upper reaches of the house, or outside ‘behind the
bikeshed.’ Lawrence, emboldened one evening, skinned up in the
living room in which the twenty-five or so members of the entourage
were gathered drinking tea, smoking roll-ups and talking sedition in
the aftermath of the Manchester gig. True to the demands of dope etiquette,
Lawrence smoked his share and then shuffled round the room on his knees
offering the fuming reefer to the whole company in turn. Fully twenty
times his offer was politely declined until he returned, abashed, to
where we crouched, below the salt, in the corner of the room nearest
the door. Shamefacedly and treacherously, myself, Steve and the secret
dope-fiends in the Poison’s camp declined to smoke in the presence
of our masters. No one bogarted the joint, and Lawrence was obliged
to smoke it down to cardboard.
Shortly after we slunk guiltily upstairs to reacquaint ourselves with
I myself had committed a similar gaff that afternoon. Huge quantities
of tea were consumed in that great circle of black-clad dissidents,
and to this end a teapot of daunting capacity was employed. To my terror,
Penny announced to general approbation that “It’s Joseph’s
turn to make the tea,” and my doom was sealed. Being then a coffee
drinker, I knew little of the ways of tea beyond an old adage which
claimed one should employ one spoonful per person, and one for the pot.
Weighing up both the size of this vessel, and of the thirsty company,
I decided to err on the side of caution, and applied eighteen generous
spoonfuls of tea, plus one for luck, to the king-sized china kettle.
Crawling around the living room in a series of hectic manoeuvres I eventually
managed to furnish all twenty-something persons with a cup of tea, correctly
milked, sugared and stirred. There was an expectant pause as Penny,
undisputed master of the tea ceremony and chairman of the board, lifted
his cup to his lips and sipped at the steaming treacly brew.
“Joseph”, he pronounced. “This tea is undrinkable!
What on earth do you think you’re doing?”
“I did put in one for the pot.....”
“Take him outside and shoot him!” decided Penny, to general
assent. “I forbid you ever to make tea again!”
The entire company threw their tea away, and I, to my immense relief,
became the subject of an ordinance denying me further access to the
teapot. The mental scars have never healed.
The last of the three shows was in Liverpool, and passed off comparatively
peacefully after the shameful scenes at the Mayflower. For me, one of
the most interesting and ironic spectacles was that of the audience
fighting for badges at the end of the night. After their final song,
members of Crass would return to the front of the stage and, like medieval
sowers of seed, throw out handfuls of slogan-toting pin-on buttons to
the frenzied horde, who would scrabble and trample on each other to
collect this largesse.
Zounds woke up to find themselves alone late the next morning. Crass
and Poison Girls had set off early to cross the Pennines for the next
gig. We ate a leisurely breakfast, smoked a few guilt-free spliffs for
the road, and set off back to London.
more or less marked the end of Zounds’s involvement with Crass.
Initially we had hoped that they would release an LP on Crass records,
but they decided - and quite sensibly I’m sure - that they didn’t
want to build up a label of exclusively ‘Crass’ bands who
would be identified with them solely. They were aware of the automatic
credibility gained in some quarters by any band associated with them,
and considered it both counter-productive and contrary to their aims.
They wanted to be able to give limited assistance to a number of bands,
not be depended upon by a few, and even I could appreciate the logic
in this argument, although I was disappointed at the time as there seemed
no alternative option open to us.
Crass offered to help us release a record on our own by offering to
act as guarantors for a bank loan, and armed with this promise, Steve
and Lawrence made an appointment with the manager of the Hackney branch
of the Co-op bank, where Zounds had a joint account. Needless to say
we were flatly refused. We fondly imagined that the whole thing was
a set-up, and that Crass had secretly videoed the meeting for their
private entertainment. The spectacle of Steve and Lawrence trying to
borrow a stack of cash from a man in a suit would have been well worth
the effort - I wasn’t there myself so if they did tape it, I’d
love to have a look....
Doubtless there exists somewhere a fully documented history of Crass
and all their works, compiled by someone who was in a better position
than I to understand what they were really trying to do. Should such
a document exist, I cannot hope that my insignificant involvement will
warrant so much as a footnote, but I am happy to be able to say that
I met them, and to have witnessed their phenomenon at first hand. If
by some horrid accident, any of them end up reading this story, I hope
they will not be offended if I finish this chapter with a joke, which
at the time gained some currency. I was not responsible for its inception,
but since I shared their enthusiasm for dressing in black for some years
after the events described, I took much delight in repeating it on many
subsequent occasions, and derive as much satisfaction now in telling
it one last time before consigning it to the oblivion it so rightly
white and can’t climb trees?
A: A fridge.
Q: What’s black and can’t climb trees?
A: Crass’ fridge.
I thought it was hilarious.