“Yes that's right, punk is dead...It's just another cheap product for the consumers head.”
From anarchy to the nostalgia circuit in one fell swoop -the ultimate paradox certainly.
This gig was bizarre in every way. The former front-man for the most overtly political punk band EVER in the UK, the scariest, most committed, DIY, anarchy & peace promoting, veganism advocating, blaspheming, unmusical, multimedia propaganda unit was flying in the face of (some of) his former bandmates – and no doubt a whole lot of their more fervent supporters – by taking a band on the road playing “Crass songs from 1977-1982” under the moniker of The Last Supper. This is to signify that the last time he sings these songs with a band in public. It’s the unimaginable, the ultimate sellout surely, the final nail in the coffin for a movement some would argue died thirty odd years ago. From anarchy to the nostalgia circuit in one fell swoop -the ultimate paradox certainly.Times have changed.
Fuck it – fifty is the new twenty-one...
I have no shame when it comes to seeing the vintage bands of my youth retreading the boards. Fuck it – fifty is the new twenty-one in my book and if the the old has-beens and never-weres are getting a buzz out of it (and doing it for their audiences too) then good luck to them, that’s what I say. To put it bluntly, when it comes to the increasingly decrepit class of ’77, I’ve pretty much seen them all - from the Pistols to Penetration, Buzzcocks to The Boys, Slaughter to The Stooges – doing their thing with varying degrees of success. This however would be something different altogether.
Or would it? Rewind back to 1981 just for a second. I was working as a rent collector on Maggie’s hilariously titled Youth Opportunities Program. Do a forty hour week for six months for a couple of quid more than your dole and then get turfed back out on the streets at the end of it. Do they owe us a living? Course they facking do. Anyway, I was aware of Crass and those records they had produced with the most jarring of music and the most lengthy lyrics I’d ever seen. Their releases always had a deluge of words crammed in an almost illegible typeset (most of which I struggled to make sense of if I’m honest) across fold-out A2 sleeve art cum posters with amazingly provocative imagery. In truth, I was a little in awe of them. So it was some degree of nervousness I toddled along to their gig at the Music Hall. Maybe it was these nerves that led to my drinking a wee bit too much in The Grill before the gig but details of the night are bit vague in my memory. Some things stand out though. I remember got lifted by the cops for taking a piss in a close up the side of the Music hall (and threatened with a beating in some lonely place when I didn’t give my real details….ACAB!). I remember the smell of glue that permeated the hall. I remember giving a wide berth to the skins prowling around in the half light. I remember being completely bowled over by the Poison Girls who were so not-what-I-expected for an anarchist band. And I remember Crass played a rock concert. Sure they had the banners and the TVs and movies and the polemic but at the end of the night it was still just a rock concert....with audience participation and milking the applause and saving the “big” songs for the finale – all the usual stuff. My feelings about Crass changed after that.
But I digress. Fast forward to 2010 again. Igs and his band are to play in the recently reopened Liquid Rooms. The support band is to be Goldblade. I couldn’t have been more surprised unless it had been Take That. An unlikely pairing to be sure. Eight of us make the trip down from Aberdeen together on the train and by mid-afternoon are checked into our budget-priced, cupboard-under-the-stairs sized Easy Hotel rooms and are checking out the eateries and drinkeries along Rose Street. We finished up in the Black Bull where the rather decent jukebox keeps us till nearly gig time. A brisk walk over the bridges and up the Mile takes us to our destination and we make our way inside. There’s not many in yet and we quickly get drinks, check-in coats and scope the merch stall. How very punk of us. Times have changed.
As the venue slowly fills up the audience is a broad cross section of humanity. From pink Mohicans to the men at C&A. Teens who couldn’t have been born when these songs were hammered into the public consciousness mingle with middle-aged hippies. T-shirts home-sprayed with the Crass symbol and their assorted accompanying slogans stand side by side with the latest designer logos. Tellingly, there are no glue-sniffers and the only skinhead haircuts in evidence are I suspect because nature has made them that way. Times have changed.
I’ve seen Goldblade play out a lot, maybe a dozen times or more. I always kinda think I’m getting fed up with them then within a few minutes of their first song I’m grinning widely and tapping my brothel creepers in time with their terrace-chant rockabilly anthems. Because tonight is a support slot, they’re crammed up at the frontmost edge of the high Liquid Room stage. Despite this and the early kickoff time, their irrepressible front-man John Robb wastes no time in bridging the not-inconsiderable gap between band and audience, jumping into the photo-pit and encouraging participation in the mob-handed choruses. Again cos of the support slot I suppose, the set is confined to the most pleasing of crowd-pleasers. Fighting In The Dancehall, Jukebox Generation, Strictly Hardcore, Riot Riot. If you’ve seen them before, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t seen them, then you really should. It’s 100% committed, dirty, sweaty punk rock ‘n’ roll tunes with choruses as big as the Telecom Tower. Only during the excruciatingly drawn-out “confessional” section during The Power Of Rock ‘n’ Roll does the intensity begin to flag but they soon pick up the pace again and finish the set to a better response than I expected from the anarcho audience. Times have changed.
Punk in its entirety is a mass of contradictions. Always was, always will be. I guess that’s partly what keeps it interesting
Once the stage has been cleared to make way for the main event, there’s a noticeable feeling of excitement rather than tension in the air. There’s not long to wait though as a familiar montage of crackling radio interference and cut-up political speeches and news stories cuts through the PA as the band take their places. Clad unsurprisingly all in black in an update of the army surplus gear of the 80s, the band’s shirts all sport the Crass symbol on the breast, like an anti-designer label. Steve Ignorant, who was never as ignorant as he’d have had you believe, takes his place centre stage and smiles briefly, perhaps acknowledging the cheers from the crowd, perhaps acknowledging the irony of opening with the anti-anthem Punk Is Dead. The smile vanishes quickly though and the old, familiar snarl returns to his face as he spits out the scathing words that could as easily apply to himself these days as to the contemporaries he sought to undermine back in the day.
I’m not going to labour over the contradictions of this gig though. Punk in its entirety is a mass of contradictions. Always was, always will be. I guess that’s partly what keeps it interesting (to me anyway) after all this time. No, it’s a review of a gig you’re after and that’s what I’m gonna do.
The stage set is stark, black, sparse lighting, no frills just as you’d expect. It’s a little underwhelming to be honest. The video screen (which is showing old photos of band and audience members interspersed with Crass type imagery) is virtually unnoticeable on one of the side walls and does nothing to enhance the show. An additional problem came when someone nicked the huge Crass symbol backdrop at the end of one of the earlier gigs on the tour. That’s anarchy for you!
Steve himself is an engaging frontman. ..you
can sense that he still believes in the words he’s delivering.
The sound is full and powerful, despite former Prodigy man and English Dog Gizz Butt providing the solitary guitar this time out. The benefits of modern and professional equipment compared to the broken and borrowed bits and pieces used to host many a Crass gig back in the day. The beefy bass takes away the harshness of the militaristic drum patterns the dominated the Crass recordings giving a more satisfying sound throughout the set. Only once or twice in the set did I think a second guitar would have been handy, a couple of times when Andy Palmer’s shrill fret runs were somewhat missed.
Steve himself is an engaging frontman. He doesn’t say anything between tunes, instead letting the songs speak for themselves, using his hand gestures and facial expressions to accentuate the words he sings. You can sense that he still believes in the words he’s delivering.
On the songs with a female lead, he stands motionless at the back of the stage, staring at the floor so as not to divert any attention from his counterpart, Beki Straughan. She is a revelation. She dashes off her vocal lines in a remarkable facsimilie of the Eve Libertine wail but that’s where any comparison ends. Whereas the Libertine delivery would have been fairly static, as necessitated by the small and crowded stages they were playing on, the flame haired Ms Straughan whirls and thrashes her way around the roomy Liquid Room stage. It makes for quite an impressive sight as evidenced by the huge volleys of applause that follow her every song.
Before the tour, Steve said he’d be playing Crass songs from 1977-1982 because that’s the period during which he believes the band released their best material. Given the setlist aired tonight, I really can’t argue with him. There were no avant-jazz meanderings tonight, no blasphemous poetry readings. Just punk music at its most hard-hitting, at its most direct, at its most pointed. There was very little on offer that would merit the tuneless racket tag that was bandied about by their many detractors. In fact we got the singalongs (Owe Us A Living, Rival Tribal Rebel Revel, Securicor), we got the polemic (Fight War Not Wars, How Does It Feel), we got the classics (Banned From The Roxy, End Result, So What?), we got the chilling (Shaved Women) and we got the downright brilliant (Big A Little A, Bloody Revolutions). 30 songs in all – not bad by anyone’s standards.
There was no trouble, no fighting at all. In the pit, which got pretty wild at times, people were looking out for each other. There were no glue or cider casualties, no-one scranning change off you. As I looked around, there was only smiling faces everywhere as people soaked up the atmosphere of the gig, singing along with the songs that had affected, maybe even shaped their lives. Even the odd heckle I heard was tongue in cheek, jokey. When Steve returned alone to the stage before the encores, he talked a bit about his reasons for doing the tour and that one aspect of the Crass legacy that’s often overlooked is the sense of community, the fellowship that being associated with the band brought with it. Sure the gigs were about nostalgia, there’s no denying it. But as he said they were also a chance for us all to celebrate that community and what it stood (and in some cases stands) for.
They encored with Major General Despair, a thrilling, chilling Shaved Women and then finally Bloody Revolutions. What a remarkable song. Even without the string section that had accompanied the band at the London 5000 gigs a couple of years back, the cheeky arrangement still tickled me and the power of those wonderful words being shouted out by several hundred voices in unison was breathtaking. As the song reached its ending – “The truth of revolution brother” – all the stage lights went out on the final word save a single white spotlight which lingered on the face of Ignorant for a few seconds before it too shut down leaving the stage in complete darkness. As dramatic an ending to a gig as I’ve witnessed in my 30 odd years as a punter.
There were no avant-jazz meanderings tonight, no blasphemous poetry
readings. Just punk music at its most hard-hitting, at its most direct,
at its most pointed.
I don’t know if Steve will be true to his word and whether these gigs really will be the last time these songs are aired. In some ways, it might be the right time to close things out once and for all. On the other hand though.......
One final thing. When we left the hall after the show, we all made our way to the pub and then eventually back to the hotel without being chased by gangs of marauding skinheads or being huckled by the cops.
Times really have changed.