Archive for the ‘AL’ Category

Everyone is an Anarchist

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

This is the second draft of a talk I will be giving to an Anarchist Seminar at Glasgow University’s Dumfries Campus on April 9th 2014.

I am posting it now so I can include feedback / comments in the final draft. I have written a lot about the punk side of anarcho-punk, but this is the first time I have written from the perspective of the anarcho side…

Thanks to Tony B for supplying the Autonomy Centre poster and Penguin for the KYPP bits and bobs. Thanks to Chris Low for supplying the Stop The City flyers.

On 3rd January 1979, in the middle of the so-called ‘Winter of Discontent’ I arrived at the London Rubber Company’s east London factory to start a new job as a trainee draughtsman. I had started working for the company in one their factories in Gloucestershire in 1977. The year before, while I was briefly a student, I had joined an anarchist group at Stirling University and started buying Black Flag. I had also signed up to Stuart Christie’s Ceinfeugos Press paying £2 a month to receive copies of the books they published.

A few months after arriving in London I was invited to a Black Flag / Ceinfeugos readers meeting above a pub on the Kings Road. This turned out to be a support group meeting for the defendants in the Persons Unknown Anarchist Conspiracy Trial which was to begin in September, so as well as Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer I met Iris Mills and Ronan B and I think Dave Morris of later McLibel Trial was also there.

Iris and Ronan were acquitted and after the acquittal, Ronan had the idea of setting up an anarchist social centre in London. To raise funds for this social centre, the notionally anarchist punk groups Crass and the Poison Girls were approached to make a benefit record for the centre which was released in 1980. As a result of this connection, at one of the planning meetings in early December 1979 I met a group of punks.

The meeting was held in the Conway Hall in Red Lion Square and after the meeting we all went to the nearest pub where I got into conversation with them and found that they produced a punk fanzine called ‘Kill Your Pet Puppy’. Tony Drayton of the Puppy Collective as they called themselves had started his first fanzine called ’Ripped and Torn’ back in 1976. This was a very well-known punk fanzine. We had a lengthy conversation and when I got back to my bedsit in Ilford I bashed out a letter to Tony inspired by our conversation.

At the next planning meeting in January, Tony gave me a copy of Kill Your Puppy number two which had my letter in it. I was impressed, as it was a very long letter!

I then started visiting the Puppy Collective at weekends and became a regular contributor to the fanzine as AL Puppy.

To backtrack a little before moving on, Tony had started ‘Ripped and Torn’ while he was living in Glasgow. He then moved to London in early 1977 and lived in various squat in west London which later that year declared themselves the Independent Republic of Frestonia. In one of the squats, which had been a bookshop Tony found a collection of underground magazines – issues of OZ, Frendz and International Times from the late sixties and early seventies. At the time most punk fanzines were photocopied in black and white, but, when Kill Your Pet Puppy was being planned Tony was able to do a deal with Joly McPhie of Better Badges to use their colour photocopiers to print the new magazine. Joly had been part of the late sixties, early seventies west London counter-culture and encouraged Tony to make Kill Your Pet Puppy into a punk version of OZ or International Times.

1978 – 1979 also saw a skinhead revival and the skinheads began attacking punk squats and disrupting punk gigs, including Crass ones.  Rock Against racism was very big in 1978 and overlapped with the Anti-Nazi League which was a Socialist Worker Party organisation. The National Front tried to counter this by setting up Rock Against Communism gigs which were popular with skinheads. In an attempt to distance themselves from what they saw as the politicisation of punk, Crass decided that they would become anarchists. This new stance was reflected in the lyrics of ‘White Punks on Hope’ written in early 1979.

 Pogo on a Nazi, spit upon a Jew

 Vicious mindless violence that offers nothing new

 Left wing violence, right wing violence all seems much the same

 Bully boys out fighting, it’s just the same old game

 Boring fucking politics that’ll get us all shot

 Left wing, right wing, you can stuff the lot

 Keep your petty prejudice, I don’t see the point

 Anarchy and freedom is what I want

This did not solve the problem of violence at their gigs. This led Leigh Kendall, an Australian anarchist, punk and member of the band Last Words, to write a short article in Kill Your Pet Puppy number one, titled ‘Peaceful Pro- Crass- tination- a critical look at Crass peaceful anarchy stance ’ commitment to peaceful anarchism in relation to violence at their gigs’.  Crass then invited Leigh and Tony Drayton to discuss the problem- which they did. It turned out that Crass had very little knowledge of anarchism. Penny Rimbaud of Crass was later to say [in The Story of Crass by George Berger]

“In all honesty I wasn’t aware of anarchism until about year one into Crass …We had got a peace banner to tell people we weren’t interested in kicking shit, and we had put up the circled A banner as something to get the left and right off our backs. It was then that we started getting people asking what we meant by that. I realised that outside of my own libertarian stance, I didn’t know what the fuck it was about. It was then I started looking at what it actually meant in terms of its history. I hadn’t had much interest in it and I can’t say I have now to be honest”.

In 1984, Andy Palmer of Crass told Radio Free France

“There were both left wing and right wing influences who were trying to co-opt what we were trying saying, which is largely why we adopted the anarchy symbol. Then we came up against the established anarchists, and their establishment idea of what anarchy meant, and as far as we could see, putting anarchy and peace together was a complete contradiction to the idea of what they had of what anarchy was, which was chaos and no government, general violent revolution, which was the opposite of what we were trying to say. So we put the peace banner together with anarchy banner”.

Crass’ symbolic appropriation of ‘anarchy’ was already present at the very beginning of punk as Jon Savage explained several years later.

“There was a lot of talk about anarchy in the summer of 1976. John Lydon was working on a set of lyrics to one of Glen’s tunes which became ‘Anarchy in the UK’. Vivienne set about making a parallel item of clothing. The resulting ‘Anarchy’ shirt was a masterpiece. Taking a second-hand sixties shirt, Westwood would dye it in stripes, black, red, or brown., before stencilling on a slogan such as ‘Only Anarchist Are Pretty’ . The next stage was to stitch on more slogans, hand painted on rectangles of silk or muslin. These made explicit references to Anarchist heroes and to the events of 1968: ’Prenez vos desirs pour la realite’, ‘A bas le Coca Cola’”.

“The final touches were the most controversial. Small rectangular portraits of Karl Marx (from Chinatown) were placed on the side of the chest, and on the other, above the pocket or on the collar, was placed an (often inverted) swastika from the Second World War. To ensure that the message was received, the whole shirt was finished off with an armband which simply read ‘Chaos’. The intention was the group should not be politically explicit, but instead should be an explosion of contradictory, highly charged signs”.

The Sex Pistols single ‘Anarchy in the UK’ was released in November 1976. The Crass and Poison Girls benefit single for what was to become the Wapping Autonomy Centre was released in May 1980 and raised £10,000. The money was used to convert a space in a Victorian warehouse beside the Thames at Wapping into a social centre. After discussion the more neutral ‘Autonomy Centre’ was chosen over ‘Anarchist Centre’ as its name. It opened in early 1981 but was a rented space without an entertainment licence or a drinks licence. The rent was £680 a quarter and by November 1981 the lack of committed support from the traditional anarchist community had created a financial crisis.

To bring in some cash, it was agreed to put on punk gigs on Sunday nights at the Autonomy Centre. Over the next three month these brought in £700 but as Albert Meltzer sadly observed

“With the punks’ money came the punks, and in the first week they had ripped up every single piece of furniture carefully bought, planned and fitted, down to the lavatory fittings that had been installed by Ronan Bennett from scratch, and defaced our own and everyone else’s wall for blocks around. In the excitement of the first gigs where they could do as they liked, they did as they liked and wrecked the place. Loss of club, loss of money, loss of effort. End of story”.  

The problem was that the majority of the punks who came to the Sunday night gigs were teenagers, some as young as thirteen. For many of the audience and groups, the Autonomy Centre gigs were a continuation of gigs that had been put on in a squatted, derelict ‘Grimaldi’ church on the Pentonville Road through 1980 and 1981. These stopped after one of the homeless alcoholics who also used the church accidentally set fire to it.

While the end of the Wapping Autonomy Centre in February 1982 marked the end of one connection between anarchists and punks, a different connection soon emerged.

The new connection was with a group of Spanish anarchists who had squatted an abandoned school on the Harrow Road called the Centro Iberico. The Spanish anarchists lived in the classrooms upstairs and allowed us to convert a former assembly room downstairs into a performance space. A stage was built using old cookers from the kitchens covered with carpet retrieved from skips. Although the Centro was evicted at the end of 1982, for a few month during the spring and summer it was used once a week for anarchist punk gigs. After that a series of ’Anarchy Centres’ were squatted in north London over the next few years, one of which evolved into Molly’s Café on Upper Street in Islington.

A spin-off from these activities was the setting up of the Black Sheep Housing Co-op in Islington in 1982, which by 1983 had been given four derelict houses to convert by Islington Council. After the failure of a building co-op to convert the houses, we had to do the conversion work ourselves. This venture provided an alternative to squatting for co-op members over the next ten years, although many of the original Black Sheep went on to become ‘new age travellers’. I moved into one of the Black Sheep houses in 1983 while I was still working for London Rubber. Mark Wilson of the Mob, a well-known anarcho-punk group lived in the same house and in 1984 Mark asked me to take over the Mob’s record company called All the Madmen which I ran for the next couple of years and which I am still involved in a small way, thirty years on.

Politically, the most interesting actions that took place in in 1983 and 1984 were the Stop the City actions. Unfortunately, my partner Pinki who was involved in the planning and organisation of these protests died in 1996, but while we lived together she did pass on various snippets of information which I will now try to piece together.  As soon as she was sixteen in 1978, Pinki left home to become a punk Squatter in London. Then in 1980 she returned home to Gloucestershire and became involved with Stroud CND. In late 1981, Stroud CND visited the newly established peace camp at Greenham Common. The others went home but Pinki stayed at Greenham on and off for the next three years. In 1982 she took part in a protest against the Falklands victory parade in London, which was organised by London Greenpeace.

In early 1983 Pinki was involved in the planning of the first Stop the City protest also organised by London Greenpeace where she was arrested and swiftly released since she was nine months pregnant. Her son Sky was born four days later. This became the first Stop The City which was held on 29th September 1983. Three more Stop The City actions followed in 1984.

The full story of the Stop the City actions has yet to be written, but last year Rich Cross wrote about them for Freedom in September 2013.

Called on 29th September 1983, to coincide with the quarterly calculation of the City’s profits, protestors were encouraged to take part in a ‘carnival against war’ and deliver ‘a day of reckoning’ for the warmongers and racketeers of the Square Mile. Around 1500 anarchists, libertarians, punks and radical peace activists descended on the City to occupy buildings, block roads, stage actions and swarm through the streets.

Cumulatively these efforts were designed to snarl up the operation of the capital’s financial hub. In an analogue era, long before the City’s ‘Big Bang’, when files and paperwork still had to be physically couriered between companies, the impact of mobs of unruly demonstrators filling the City’s narrow streets could be dramatic. Estimates differed, but the occupation of corporate space interrupted scores of monetary transactions, and drove down the day’s profits. The cost to those demonstrating was significant too: more than 200 arrests at the first Stop The City; nearly 400 at the March 1984 event; and close to 500 in September 1984.

Support for Stop The City came from two principal directions: from elements within the radical wing of the nuclear disarmament movement (which had been looking for ways to generalise and extend action beyond military bases) and from within the ranks of anarcho-punk (a sub-culture eager to test out its collective political muscle). But the audacity of Stop The City struck a chord with activists and militants from many other movements and campaigns.

Pinki was arrested on the first Stop the City but released since she was nine months pregnant. Her son Sky was born four days later.  She was arrested again at the second Stop the City and held overnight. A crèche had been arranged and fortunately Dave Morris took Sky home with him after it closed. Pinki was arrested again on the third Stop the City, but this time we were in a relationship so she arranged that I would look after Sky for the day. Over the next twelve years, apart from 1990 when I almost stood for election as an anti-Poll tax Green Party councillor in Hackney, Pinki was the activist of the family while I kept the home fire burning. Pinki’s last and twenty sixth arrest and was in June 1994 at a road protest in Bath.

Compared with the Stop the City actions, the Poll Tax riot on 31st March 1990 in Trafalgar Square was a mega-event. We weren’t there, but myself and Pinki had been present when an anti-Poll tax protest in Hackney turned into a minor riot a few weeks earlier. On a wet day in January 1990 the Livingston family set off from Hackney to Blackheath in south London. We were going to the launch of the English Anti-Poll Tax Campaign. Blackheath was chosen because of its link to the 1381 Poll Tax Uprising. The revolting Kentish peasants camped on Blackheath on 12th June 1381 before joining with the Essex peasants to occupy London the next day.

I don’t recall it being a very impressive event. There were a few banners, a few hundred political activists trying to sell each other their revolutionary tracts and perhaps some stalls. It did not seem much better organised than Stonehenge Campaign events we had attended a few years earlier.

We did pick up an anti-Poll Tax Green Party leaflet which inspired us to join the Party. I started going to meetings of the local Stoke Newington and Hackney North branch and put myself forward as candidate for the local elections due to be held later that year. Our ward was mainly made up of the huge Nightingale Estate plus our Estate and few surrounding streets. I went to hackney library and checked the stats from the previous election- turnout on our ward was very low, less than 20%. I worked out that I only had to persuade a couple of hundred people who hadn’t bothered to vote before to vote for me as an anti-Poll tax candidate to win.

It seemed do-able, but just to make sure, I got in touch with the Hackney Tenants and Residents Association, based in the old Shoreditch Town Hall to see about setting up a local branch. The local community centre was on Brooke Road and was where our children went to playgroup. I went along one day to see about hiring a room in the community centre for a first meeting and to get some flyers printed.  In a slightly surreal co-incidence the new community worker there was Ian Bone. Ian was very enthusiastic about the tenants group, but quickly headed me off before I started discussing politics by saying ’Of course, I am an old Labour Party man, myself’. This puzzled me at first, but then I realised that the rather thin partition walls in the community centre meant that our conversations would be public rather than private…

As it turned out, the Green Party decided to lead their local election campaign on the dangers of irradiated food rather than the Poll Tax and at the two tenants meetings I organised the problem of how to get rid of some squatters from our estate and how to get Hackney Council to carry out a long list of essential repairs were the main subjects discussed. No-one at the time seemed very bothered about the Poll Tax.

Meanwhile, Hackney Council had set 8th March 1990 as the date when they would vote on what level to set the Poll Tax. As a Labour controlled council, it was unlikely (impossible) that they would refuse to impose the tax. Even if they did, I found that central government would then appoint an Auditor to set a Poll Tax rate for Hackney anyway. As the date grew closer, and as people in England started to catch up with Scotland, where the tax had been brought in the year before, things got more interesting.

I went to an anti-poll tax meeting on Southwold Estate, but although it had been organised by one of the tenants – a young woman- she was flanked by four non-local Militant members. This annoyed me, since it looked as if they were trying to take over our Hackney campaign. I asked if Militant were working with the Socialist Workers Party who blitzing Hackney with posters stating ‘HACKNEY POLL TAX £475’. This caused consternation and the muffled reply “No we aren’t” but fortunately for the Militants, one of the Southwold tenants then accused me of trying to split the campaign by asking the question…

Then came the day…  On 8th March the council met to set the poll tax rate for Hackney in a boarded up town hall surrounded by a wall of police confronting an increasingly agitated 1000 strong crowd. Three days earlier, Harringey had set their rate and there had been a minor riot. Now everyone was expecting a riot in Hackney. The whole scene was unreal. It didn’t look or feel like every day Hackney at all. I half expected helicopters to come in and rescue the councillors like what happened when Saigon finally fell to the Vietcong in 1974.

I had, rather naively, planned to give an election speech to the crowd so was wearing my wedding suit. There was a BBC London film crew there and I was chatting to them when they suddenly got busy, anticipating trouble. So I moved on to the steps in front of the town hall to get my speech in before the trouble started. I managed to say “If you want to get rid of the Poll Tax, don’t get mad get even and vote Green” before the police suddenly moved forward from behind me to push the crowd away from the town hall. The only response I had from my election speech was a young punk woman in the crowd shouting back at me “It is too late for that now”.

I then went home then but my wife stayed on to report later that a riot had broken out. McDonalds burger bar was smashed up and Paddy Ashdown, who had been giving a speech in the Assembly Rooms behind the town hall, had his car attacked by the crowd and thirty eight people were arrested. One of our punk friends told us later that he had got close enough to Paddy Ashdown to give him a punch…

Compared with the major Poll tax riot which took place in and around Trafalgar Square on the 31st March when there were three hundred and fifty arrests, what happened in Hackney was a minor affair. However, not wanting to be arrested for giving my speech in Hackney, beforehand I had contacted the local police, the council, several UK and foreign journalists and even Paddy Ashdown’s office. All the people I spoke to realised that there was going to be trouble, but seemed helpless before the rapid movement of events. That the massive 31st March Poll Tax rally would lead to a major riot now seemed a certainty. An unexpected outcome of the Trafalgar Square riot was the enforced resignation of Margaret Thatcher in November 1990.

My enduring memory is of the few moments that I was stood between the police and the protestors, trying to give my political speech. The sheer intensity of the anger of the crowd was like a physical force, their rage, built up over eleven years of Thatcher governments waging class war was like a blazing furnace. It was not what I had expected at all. Like the young punk woman said “it was too late” for my ‘vote Green’ pitch. Way too late. The only coherent thought I can recall from the experience was ‘Fucking hell, there is going to be a revolution’.

Reflecting on the dramatic events of 1990, it is possible to see in the very different reactions to the Poll Tax north and south of the Border the first signs that Scotland and the rest of the UK were beginning to move apart politically. In Scotland the economic hammer blows of Thatcherism re-forged a powerful sense of Scotland as a civil society. Across most of England, the same hammer blows fractured the post-war consensus and fragmented civil society. In Scotland, the Poll Tax gave rise to a popular movement of collective resistance which also focused Scottish civil society on the need for constitutional change. This led to the creation of a devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999. In England the Poll Tax led to riots.

A key theme of the Scottish Enlightenment was the idea of a ‘civil society’ existing between individuals and families and the state. If there had still been a Scottish state with Edinburgh as its political centre, this idea might not have arisen. Scottish intellectuals would, as members of a privileged elite, have been part of this Scottish state. But with the new Union state of Great Britain centred on London, the dispossessed Scottish professors, lawyers and ministers had to re-invent themselves as members of their own stateless civil society.

Since they viewed the new Union state as a continuation of the English state English intellectuals did not face this problem so had little interest in ‘Scotch philosophy’. The Scottish Enlightenment was more favourably received in France and Germany. Immanuel Kant claimed that David Hume ‘roused me from my dogmatic slumber’. Georg Hegel was another German philosopher who was influenced by Scottish Enlightenment thought. Hegel, however, developed his political ‘Philosophy of Right’, published in 1821, after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. In Hegel’s version, civil society emerged out the disintegration of the family as the focus of ethical life and in turn a rational state will emerge out of civil society as the ‘actuality of the ethical idea’.

What Hegel hoped was that Prussia would be able to modernise and become a rational state without having to undergo a bloody revolution. But by the time he wrote an essay on the English (that is British) Reform Bill just before his death in 1831, Hegel was less optimistic. He feared that the forces unleashed by industrial capitalism would lead to revolution rather than reform in Britain.

Hegel’s fear reminds me of a question Tony Drayton asked one of the veteran Spanish anarchists at the Centro Iberico in 1982. Tony asked him “How did you manage to have an anarchist revolution in 1936?”. The reply was “Everyone was an anarchist”. Hegel also once said that what is rational becomes real and what is real becomes rational. It is forty years since I became a ‘self-confessed anarchist’. Over those years I have had plenty of time to change my mind. But I still believe that of all the varieties of political theories and practices, anarchism is the most rational and hence most real and so I look forward to the day when everyone is an anarchist.

Al Puppy – March 2014

Read more on the Wapping Autonomy Centre and hear downloads from bands on this KYPP post HERE

See the full set of photographs from the Wapping Autonomy Centre HERE

See the full set of photographs from the Centro Ibrico HERE

Punk- an aesthetic

Thursday, September 27th, 2012


Punk-an aesthetic. Edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage.

Buy, buy the damnation of your soul, here at last is the mechanism to destroy your old, ordered and worn out mind. Welcome frenzy and darkness with out stretched hands, become the person your parents’ warned you against. Do it now! (etc) … YES!!! Who else churns out those old and yellowing surrealist manifestos and delivers them to your door like a black rose, and they were right THERE IS NO TOMORROW so lets just say it all now and as loud as we can… [Kill Your Pet Puppy 4, September 1981]

Fuck this is annoying. I get bored saying the same thing over and over again. But here is another book about punk and this one even has a photo of the cover of KYPP 2 (on page 281) . So here we go again… Note- the book goes with an exhibition of punk graphics/ images first seen in New York in 2011 , now on show (until 4 November 2012) at the Hayward Gallery in London. Tony D. (who wrote the above quote from KYPP 4) was one of the members of a panel discussion on 13 September which

…explore[d] the provocative graphic art that developed alongside punk rock. Panelists [included] Tony Drayton, editor of Ripped & Torn, one of the first UK punk fanzines, and Kill Your Pet Puppy – arguably one of the most aesthetically interesting anarcho-punk fanzines of the ’80s; William Gibson, award winning writer and seminal cyberpunk novelist; John Holmstrom, writer, cartoonist and legendary editor of the iconic Punk magazine; and artist Gee Vaucher, whose record covers and newsletters for anarcho-punk band Crass in the late 1970s and early ’80s influenced graphics for political protest as well as for music.

So where did punk’s ‘provocative graphic art’ come from? The book has a few illustrations of punk style graphics from the sixties counterculture plus a few Situationist images and even one from the pre-Situationist Potlatch from 1954. What is missing from the origins section are any Surrealist images. This is strange since some of the most striking graphics in the book are collages/montages by Linder Sterling (page 259) and Jon Savage ( page 262) which can be compared with ‘Parfum Greve Generale Bonne Odeaur’ by Jean-Jacques Lebel, a 1960 surrealist collage directed against the Algerian War.

To push the boundaries of the punk aesthetic back even further, its origins can be traced back to Dada, which was a response to the calculated insanity of World War One. This gives a sequence dada, surrealists, situationists, punk. But if punk was a music based youth subculture with a creative lifespan of two years (1976/7), then that sequence doesn’t work. Yet even if the focus is just on punk as a musical style, a bigger picture emerges. This has been aurally illustrated by Kris Needs through the two volumes of his ‘Dirty Water- punk as attitude’, which documented the diverse range of musical influences which fed into punk. ‘Punk- an aesthetic’ does a similar job, documenting the visual influences which fed through into punk.

Punk design with its ransom note lettering, acidic pinks and yellows and torn national flags had a directness, rawness and energy that most left-wing fine art lacked. Nevertheless, a collage aesthetic, an aesthetic of revulsion and shock value were also elements punk and avant-garde art movements such as dada and surrealism shared. [‘Left Shift- Radical Art in 1970s Britain’, John Walker, 2002, p. 188]

So what? Well, both the surrealists and the situationists put a lot of time and effort into their work with the intention that it would be ‘revolutionary’, that it would shake the existing social structure to its very foundations. Both groups tried to disrupt the smooth flow of an everyday life which is taken to be normal and natural rather than the artificial product of capitalist exploitation and alienation. Their texts and images were designed to shock us out of passivity and into action.

With punk, what happened is that Malcolm Mclaren hired is old mate Jamie Reid to help promote the Sex Pistols. Both were former art students rather than music business types so when they looked for ways to draw attention to the group, they tried to short-circuit the process of promotion by re-cycling the shock tactics of the surrealists and situationists. Which they managed to do quite effectively. However, an unintended consequence was that UK punk (unlike the USA model) from its conception contained strands of the revolutionary DNA acquired from dada, surrealists and situationists.

Picked up and amplified in the echo chamber of tabloid outrage, punk went viral. As it did so, the strands of revolutionary DNA were also reproduced and multiplied. While the shock of the ’new’ soon passed, the DIY aspect of the punk aesthetic took root. For those who engaged with this aspect of punk, it became an enduring culture of resistance. But resistance to what?

In the noise and confusion of the time this was not always clear. On one hand, at the popular/ tabloid/ mass media level, punks were civilisation threatening folk devils who sparked a (manufactured) moral panic. On the other hand, punk also challenged and threatened the existing counterculture :- ‘never trust a hippy’. For all the ‘filth and fury’ headlines, civilisation survived punk. More significant and long lasting was punk’s impact on the counterculture. Although the impact was delayed rather than immediate, the effect of punk was to deliver a big and necessary kick up the arse to the hippie counterculture.

The hippie counterculture had emerged in the sixties as an essentially optimistic vision of the future in which the advance of technology would bring about an age of leisure. Inspired by their acid trips, the counterculture’s psychedelic visionaries were convinced that a new age was dawning. Punk fell like a dark shadow across these dreams of sunlit uplands. ‘Escapism is not freedom’ as the Pop Group proclaimed.

With the benefit of hindsight, punk’s distopianism was the more realistic response to the rise of ‘neo-liberalism’ -a major right-ward shift in the political, social and economic landscape. Yet, through the eighties and nineties, the bleakness of punk’s initial nihilism was tempered by interaction (through free-festivals and the new travellers) with the anarcho-utopianism of the hippie counterculture. George McKay’s 1996 book ‘Senseless Acts of Beauty’ traced this process.

And now? Since 2008, the global economy has been in crisis, a crisis which shows no signs of ending. The global economic system depends on growth. With growth money can be borrowed to invest in production or property. As production increases or property gains in value, the borrowed money can be paid back out. When growth slows or stops, the system freezes up. This happened in the 1930s. Then the Great Depression was only ‘solved’ by the outbreak of World War 2. Since, thanks to nuclear weapons, World War 3 is not an option, no-one knows what to do. To make matters worse, any return to economic growth will lead to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions, thus speeding up the rate of global warming. [This may already be happening. The summer melting of Arctic sea ice is occurring faster than climate change models have predicted.]

It is 35 years since punk proclaimed ‘no future’. The Sex Pistols ejaculation was premature. The anticipated apocalypse was delayed and history did not end. With the passing of time, punk’s convulsive immediacy has passed and its yellowing manifestos have become the stuff of sociology lectures, exhibitions in art galleries, coffee table books and collectors’ guides. And yet, just as the current crisis of capitalism has led to a revival of interest in the works of Karl Marx, so the absence of a future for the children and grandchildren of the punk generation has the potential to unleash another wave of anger as an energising force.

Punk is an Attitude

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Dirty Water- The Birth of Punk Attitude 1 & 2 – selected by Kris Needs.

Available from Year Zero /Future Noise Music.

Volume One.

Volume Two.

I have spent many hours arguing about what is or is not punk. Then I discovered these awesome collections of proto-punk songs. They are an essential purchase.

First up – major thank you to Mick Baxter for sending me these. Second up, thanks to Kris Needs for assembling such a boundary/ mind expanding collection of tunes. There are 72 tracks altogether, ranging from Woody Guthrie to Sun Ra, from Gene Vincent to Tapper Zukie…and about a thousand points in between. Or maybe even an infinite number, like a mathematical paradox in which no matter how many extra tracks are added, the Yero Zero of punk can never quite be reached.

Listening through the whole 72 tracks as I have just done, one minute you are swooping down on a wave of sound which is punk as fuck and the next you are whooshing off into some other musical universe. But then as Kris defines/ describes it ‘Punk was an attitude born of either struggle or limited means, which could exist in anything from rooftop doo wop crooners, circuit abusing alchemists or bands picking up guitars and recording themselves with little idea of tradition in their chosen musical genre.’

One way of listening to this sonic assemblage is to hear it as a range of possible/ potential ‘punk’ styles, any one set of which could have become actualised as punk in Year Zero. From the perspective of Year Thirty Six, we know what punk really sounds like so certain tracks jump out as being ancestral to punk. But right up until Year Zero itself this would have been impossible. Only after Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren had commodified/fetishised the punk attitude was it possible to do so. Once punk became a product, a saleable commodity, then distinctions between what was and was not punk could be made.

In February 1977, the front cover of International Times (launched in 1966) announced ’Punk is Dead’. By June 1977, Kris Needs was having conversations with various (well known) punks ‘who all bemoaned, in their individual ways, the predictable cliché mentality sweeping a movement supposed to be injecting freshness and destroying old orders. By that summer, punk was increasingly dominated by an ever-swelling army sporting the requisite leather and studs uniforms behaving how they’d read about the Sex Pistols doing in the tabloids, seemingly destined to go the way of the teddy boys….’

One way of visualising this is to imagine an upside down funnel. The broad end of the funnel represents the various potential forms of punk as illustrated by the ‘Dirty Water’ tracks, the narrow end the actuality of punk in 1977. Then imagine a right-way up funnel to represent the post-77 explosion of diversity as creative experimentation began pushing against the boundaries of actualised punk. Mark Perry’s movement through punk as potential, punk as actuality and then on to the possibilities of post-punk illustrate this movement through the phase-spaces of punk.

And then? It all falls apart and what seemed so solid melts into air. In his book ‘England’s Dreamimg’, Jon Savage exhaustively documented the origins of punk as Year Zero. It is a weighty, compelling and compulsive text which seems to explain everything and has the creative tensions of the relationship between Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren at its heart. By giving birth to the Sex Pistols, Westwood and Mclaren gave birth to punk through ‘Sex’ (their shop) and stamped their DNA all over it. It is a still powerful myth- but is it history?

The more I listen to ‘Dirty Waters’, the more it begins to wash away the encrusted mythology of punk to reveal the outlines of a more confusing and complex history of punk. This is simultaneously disconcerting and exhilarating. Jon Savage and many others who have written about the origins of punk in the UK focus on the economic crises of the mid-seventies – the shocks caused by the oil price rise which followed the 1973 Arab-Israel war and the conflict between Ted Heath’s Tory government and trades unions/ miners – which led to the 3 day week and power cuts over the winter of 1973/4. Which was then followed by two general elections in 1974 and a minority Labour government which experienced a financial crisis in 1975 when the UK had to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund.

This creates the impression that punk was in some way a response to these immediate crises- which get mixed up in hindsight with the 1978/9 ‘winter of discontent’ when dead bodies piled up in mounds in the streets. [Allegedly]. This ‘broken Britain’ narrative leads on to the election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979 and a political/ economic/ social lurch to the right which has lasted down to the present. Punk then becomes a signifier for major social change.

But if the origins of the punk attitude extend further back in time than 1974/5 this narrative loses some of its immediacy. As revised by Kris Needs, punk becomes less unique and its boundaries become blurred. What starts to emerge is punk as part of a long tradition of popular resistance/ opposition to the dominant/ruling structures of society. The music has its origins in the anti-establishment ballads of folk song and the fanzines in the similar broadsheets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Dig beneath the surface of any historical era and you will find evidence of radical countercultures and of upsurges in political activity which lead to riots and occasionally even civil wars and revolutions.

In the particular case of punk, the deeper historical dimension can be traced back to Malcolm Mclaren and Jamie Reid’s 1970 attempt to document the history of Oxford Street via an unfinished film. ‘The film ends with a grand parade of London stores. In the middle of this spectacle is a scene straight from Situationist demonology: Smoke seen coming from a building, a restaurant is on fire. Procession stops’. The Gordon Riots of June 1780 are also included. Mclaren and Reid’s account begins ‘ The middle class started it against the Catholics. Then hundreds of shop keepers, carpenters, servants, soldiers and sailors rushed into the streets. There were only a few Catholic houses to smash. So they started to smash all the rich houses. The middle classes did nor want anything to do with this. The rioters then burned down all five London prisons. They wanted to knock down everything that stopped them having fun and made them unhappy. They wanted to set all the mad people free and free the lions from the Tower of London’. [ From Jon Savage, England’s Dreaming, 1991, page 41]

The Gordon Riots were just that. No revolution followed them. But nine years later on the 14 July 1789 in Paris a similar explosion of unrest led to the storming of the Bastille prison and the French Revolution. 1793 became Year One of the new French revolutionary calendar and thus the historical origin of punk’s ‘Year Zero’. If the events of May 1968 in Paris/ France had (as the Situationists hoped) led to a new revolution, this would have been another Year Zero. The mythology and rhetoric of the Situationists, if not their critical analysis of modern capitalism, was recycled into punk as a vaguely anarchic sensibility. As punk music mutated into post-punk in 1979/80, the anarchic aspects of punk attitude gave rise to anarcho-punk a few years later. The evolution can be traced through the pages of Ripped and Torn and its successor, Kill Your Pet Puppy.

The last issue of KYPP, No. 6, was published in 1983 and described a (fictionalised) journey to Stonehenge Free Festival. Musically and culturally, this journey marked the re-convergence of punk with the pre/post punk counterculture, with the broader narrative of punk as an attitude which Kris Needs has so effectively presented in the two volumes of ‘Dirty Water’.

.

Acid punks and Albion Dreaming

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011
Orange sun LSD blotter

Orange sun acid blotter

Review
Albion’s Dreaming the History of LSD in Britain by Andy Roberts (available from Housmans for £9.99)

I got this book after Nic Bullen asked me about the Brew Crew recently

I first remember experiencing ‘Brew Crew’-esque behaviour when we were trapped by police on the road in Wiltshire near Stonehenge in 1985 when a few (maybe 5 or 6) swarmed up and down trying to scrounge anything they could (in a manner which would be called ‘aggressive begging’ now). I don’t remember any of them at the Westbury White Horse festival a couple of days later though…

My interest is in just HOW it developed: how did the ‘Peace’ dream slip very quickly into the nihilism and ‘medieval brigand’ mindset of the ‘Brew Crew’? Was it something to do with the climate within the ‘Peace Convoy’ (and environs), or to do with the surrounding political / economic climate? 

The Brew Crew don’t get mentioned, but Chapter 12- Coming Down Again , pages 203- 211, covers the period from punk to acid house. There isn’t much on punk directly, apart from a mention of LSD (‘the most unfashionable drug in Britain at the time’) being taken at the Liverpool punk club Eric’s and how Julian Cope / Teardrop Explodes were on acid when they played Top of the Pops in 1981.

Since it is unlikely to surprise readers of KYPP that the UK government really did test acid on ‘volunteers’ (who weren’t told what they were being given) at Porton Down in the fifties, the most interesting aspect of the book is about the social impact of acid. For example (page 134) that acid inspired an upsurge of interest in whole foods/ organics/ vegetarianism. Another impact is connected to the ‘set and setting’ theory that the difference between a good trip and a bad trip depends on expectations and environment. Chapter 10 Bring What You Expect to Find shows how the first free-festivals emerged out of the desire to create spaces /environments which would facilitate good trips.

Night clubs and commercial rock festivals did not appeal to the sensitivities of acid sensitized hippies who were questioning the ideas of profit and control; wanting to be more than just consumers of entertainment industry product. There was a demand for events self-generated by the counter-culture, which would provide hippies with gatherings where they could live out their life-style with like minded people in a spirit of celebration and purpose.

The first such free-festival was Phun City held in 1970. Stonehenge became the most well known and Castlemorton in 1992 was ( I think) pretty much last.

At this point I was going to say that the reason there is not much on punk in the book is because punk was an anti-acid subculture. That punk was a counter-counterculture in which, to quote the Clash, that ‘hate and war’ rather than ‘love and peace’ was the reality/ currency punk had to deal with ‘today’.

I even had a quick look through the index to Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming (1991) and found not a trace of acid nor LSD. But then I realised the index had no entries for any drugs at all. The book then fell open at page 187 … and there was John Lydon talking about going to Louise’s (a Soho lesbian club) in 1976. ‘ We used to take acid at Louise’s. It heightens the enjoyment’ …

So acid was there right at the beginning of punk. Which means that the argument that I was going to make – that it was only after becoming entangled with the acid orientated free-festival/ traveller culture that punk subculture became part of the counterculture- doesn’t work.

On the other hand, the fact that a neat distinction between acid- taking hippies and acid- rejecting punks can’t be made is significant. What Albion Dreaming re-emphasises is that the sixties ‘revolution in the head’ had a profound impact on society. Briefly, it seemed that the imagination really had seized power and that it was realistic to demand the impossible. What drove this revolution was the potential of LSD to radically restructure perceptions of reality. The acid revolutionaries had a vision of a new world in their hearts and minds and were determined to realise their vision in the everyday world. Despite the best attempts by the forces of reactionary conservatism to force the genie back in its bottle, thanks to the acid inspired counter culture we still live in a more open and liberal society.

Albion Dreaming can therefore be read as struggle between open and closed minds. It can also be read as a struggle between idealists and realists. In this reading, punk emerged at/ out of the ‘come down’ from the counterculture’s collective acid trip. Punk’s scepticism towards the hippie counterculture was not a conservative reaction, nor (as the Lydon quote above shows) was it because punks didn’t do acid. Rather, it was a reality check.

Since Albion Dreaming is a history of LSD in Britain rather than a history of the counterculture, it would be wrong to criticise the book for failing to engage with punk. Yet, perhaps because of its scepticism of ’psychedelic dreams’, punk was able to renew and revive the counterculture as a culture of resistance through the eighties – for example the Stop the City protests of 1983/4- and on to the present where ’anarchist punks’ are still the folk devils blamed by the media for sparking trouble at demonstrations.

Or did all the acid at free-festivals turn punks into hippies? Maybe. But compared to the first wave of visionaries who thought acid would start a new religion, the hippies who travelled the free-festival circuit were pretty punk already.

AL Puppy

Punk as counterculture

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force… The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar… as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, [they] rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.

Karl Marx 1845 The German Ideology

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01b.htm

I thought I’d throw the Marx quote in to illustrate how tricky it could get if I follow Gerard’s suggestion (see his comment on previous post below) that I should write a book. I spent 18 months sweating over a 50 000 word academic thesis on a suitably obscure historical incident and got conditioned to the style and the footnotes and bibliography, sources and references. So a book could end up pretty indigestible.

In the meantime here are some thoughts on punk as counterculture. One starting point is the ongoing global economic crisis. This could be capitalism’s final crisis, sparking a wave of revolutionary actions. Or it could be the beginning of a long recession which will create mass unemployment and force wages down far enough to ensure capital once more prevails over labour…

Complicating this crisis are two new factors. One is global climate change and the other is peak oil. Both are fiercely argued over because of their implications. These are the need for a global to shift to a low / no growth economy which is not based on burning fossil fuels. The problem with taking any steps in that direction is that capitalism requires continuous growth – usually measured as gross domestic product – at a minimum of 3% per year… every year for ever and ever. Without this continual growth, there is no point in re-investing capital in the economy because over time you would end up with less capital than you started with – due to loss of value through machines wearing out, buildings needing maintenance and such like.

For a proper explanation try David Harvey’s book the Enigma of Capital £8.99 from Housmans

So we really could be getting close to the end of the (capitalist) world as we know it. So it would seem sensible and rational to start planning for what will happen next. Lots of people are and have been doing so for a long time. But – so long as the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class – the capitalist class in our era- the ideas cannot get turned into actions. It would mean the ruling class planning their own downfall, making themselves and the whole social/ economic system they rely on for their power, redundant. Which is impossible for them to imagine so nothing new happens or can happen.

Wearing my woolly Green hat, I know that back in the early seventies there was a branch of the counterculture which ’talked about windmills and psychedelic dreams’ [Crass, General Bacardi]. There was more than talk, people tried to built their own wind generators and even attempted to a company- Lucas Aerospace- to adopt such alternative / radical technologies. For a brief moment, sparked by the 1974 oil crisis the ideas almost became mainstream. [The 1975-78 Good Life tv sit- com was a popular culture response to this.]

Although it was mainly a rural phenomenon, there was an urban dimension which involved the reclaiming and transformation for community use of buildings (through squatting / housing associations) and also derelict spaces. Meanwhile Gardens, established in 1976, is an example which should be familiar to readers of KYPP. The radical technology movement had a strong DIY ethic, which included how to guides to setting up your own pirate radio station.

There was also a global dimension. For years, until I passed it on to some folk living in a tipi in the back garden of a squat in Lewisham, I had a copy of Victor Papanek’s book Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. The book included a description of a transistor radio, made from ordinary metal food cans and powered by a burning candle, that was designed to actually be produced cheaply in developing countries. Papanek also came up with an innovative method for dispersing seeds and fertilizer for reforestation in difficult-to-access land.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Papanek

While parts of the Radical Technologists’ vision led on to the Ecology Party, later Green Party, some of the DIY aspects were adopted and adapted by punk. Which is where things get tricky.

A central part of punk’s self-definition was that it marked a distinct and definite break with the immediate past – with the preceding hippy generation. ’I hate Pink Floyd’ as one well-known punk said on his t-shirt. Musically, punk’s short sharp statements could not be confused with prog rock’s 20 minute meanderings. Punk was a revolution, and 1976 was Year Zero.

As a music and style based sub-culture, punk was new and different and nothing like what had happened before. It was also, on the same grounds, dead by the end of 1977, to be replaced by something now called ’post-punk’. Such journalistic definings of punk are the first draft of history. Second and later drafts of history are also available. Just like 1984, history is always being re-written.

But who is writing the history? Usually it is the victors who get to (re)write histories, recuperating the past so it always conforms to the (ruling) ideology of the present. Ah, but what if the ruling ideology is bankrupt and about to be consigned to the dustbin of history? What if all that is seemingly so solid is about to melt into air? Well, then the countercultural historian can reconstruct an other version of what really happened. Not ‘the’ version, just one amongst many other possible versions.

Such a countercultural approach might look for continuities rather than breaks. It might see punk as part of rather than apart from a turbulent undercurrent of idealist / materialist opposition to the material ideas of the ruling class. This would involve recognising a process of constant/continual challenging and questioning of the ruling ideology, the ruling class. So long as the ruling ideology can keep fracturing and fragmenting and suppressing these challenges, they can never achieve the crucial breakthrough to become the ‘thought’ or ‘consciousness‘, of a revolutionary class.

Through divide and rule -through the Brew Crew strategy- every challenge gets defined as isolated and unique, as a one-off. To get beyond this victor’s version of history, we have to step back and see the bigger picture. [Edward Thompson’s The History of the English Working Class is useful tool for learning how to do this.] Applying this countercultural approach to the history of the counterculture itself – as Ken Goffman did with his Counterculture Through the Ages, 2004 – punk ceases to be an isolated fragment of resistance to the ruling ideas of the age, but becomes a particular instance or moment of the counterculture.

So punk drew on / defined itself against, the range of oppositional strategies available at the time to create a ’new’ set of oppositional strategies which then became available to/ were recycled back into – the ongoing counterculture.

It may appear that the counterculture has more recently died or otherwise ceased to exist / resist. It hasn’t. Its apparent absence from the present is a sign of the immanent demise of the ruling ideology. So profound is the crisis of the dominant culture that it can no longer effectively function as the ruling ideology – it is now splintering and fragmenting and so can no longer write the history of what is happening right here and right now.

To live outside the law you must be honest

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Just woken up at 4 20 am by the early morning light, still close enough to the solstice so not much darkness. Usually I would try to get back to sleep, but Nic asked me a question on Facebook about the Brew Crew which has burrowed its way down into the depths and re-emerged as a dream about people fighting at a gig which has woken me up.

Half- asleep it seemed to make sense but now half-awake in the greyness of dawn mist, it is more difficult. I think the answer to Nic’s question is ‘To live outside the law you must be honest’…Mick (Luggy) came up with it when we – the (Kill Your Pet) Puppy Collective- were looking for vaguely situationist style slogans to print on stickers to stick on bus stops or to send people who wrote in asking for ‘info’.

It is a Bob Dylan quote, but along with Mark (Mob)’s description of anarchy as being about trusting people, it summed up our approach to living outside of society. You could say that put us in the same political space as Margaret Thatcher and her ’there is no such thing as society’ – but she then said ’there are only individuals and families’. But what we were trying to do was find an alternative between the (often intolerable / abusive) constraints of family life and extreme isolation as individuals surviving in a city.

Punk was not an answer. As originally constructed by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren, punk was a reaction to and rejection of the collectivist values of the preceding counterculture and its failure to turn dreams of an alternative society into reality. But as punk was propagated as a moral panic and punks became folk-devils, it attracted thousands of alienated teenagers to London. While many soon returned home, for others the enforced individuality of being homeless in a hostile environment led them to squatting. It was a steep learning curve and the pressure of survival forged connections with the pre-existing squatting scene. Some of these connections e.g. between the Clash and the big west London squats – had been there from the beginning. Others developed organically as punk squatters had to learn the same skills as hippy squatters.

By the beginning of the eighties squatting had become part of the punk subculture in London. At the same time punk was emerging and developing, the free-festival and travelling subculture was also emerging and developing. The Windsor Free Festivals which began in 1972 and ended, after violent police actions in 1974, were a major influence and inspired the Stonehenge Free Festivals which ended in similar circumstances 11 years later. While rock music festivals influenced Windsor, over in East Anglia folk-music and the tradition of medieval fairs inspired a different type of free-festival, more of a Green gathering than a rock music event.

Although the distinction between a small free-festival and a large fair eventually became blurred, their different origins meant there was always a tension between fairs and free-festivals. While the tensions came to a head in the mid-eighties and involved punk as a scapegoat, they had their origins in the early seventies and divisions within the sixties counterculture. As the optimism of the sixties counterculture began to fade there was a ‘back to the land’ movement’ which involved attempts to set up rural communes and adopt a more self-sufficient and ecologically sustainable lifestyle. The East Anglian fairs came out of this movement, but there were communes and back-to-the landers scattered across the countryside – including Wales and even south-west Scotland where a commune (now a housing co-op) was set up in 1972.

Others within the counterculture stayed in the cities, especially London, and became active squatters and/or engaged with the feminist and gay liberation movements. The Angry Brigade were the most dramatic manifestation of the post-sixties urban counterculture. Apart from the free-festivals, groups like Hawkwind, the Pink Fairies and the Edgar Broughton Band frequently played benefit gigs for political causes and also free gigs underneath the Westway or on Parliament Hill Fields. John Robb [Punk Rock an Oral History, 2006] quotes Brian James, Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible and Mick Jones as going to and being influenced by these events. International Times, which was started in 1966, revived itself in the seventies and reported on punk. If the 1976 /Year Zero version of punk history is demystified, what emerges is an aspect of punk which was the next-generation of the seventies urban counterculture, urban guerrillas with guitars instead of guns.

According to Brig Oubridge [in George McKay, Senseless Acts of Beauty, 1996], 1976 was also the year the convoy was born- as a means of moving from one site to another from May through to September. Don Aitken lists the festivals and fairs – May Hill in May, Horeshoe Pass, Stonehenge, Ashton Court, Inglestone Common, Cantlin Stone, Deeply Vale, Meigan Fair and various in East Anglia and finally the Psilocybin Fair in Wales in September.

Before 1976, people had started using trucks and old buses to get to and stay in at the Windsor Free Festivals. But it was only once there were enough festivals to go to that the idea of swapping squatting for full time travelling could take off. It was a gradual process and required learning a new set of skills, although previous experience of squatting no doubt helped. Since the idea of travelling round festivals was contemporary with punk, it was first adopted by members of the pre-punk counterculture who had been teenagers in the late sixties and were now in their mid-twenties or older.

Most of the festivals and fairs listed by Don where not very well known, but as Stonehenge festival got bigger, it became a media spectacle, introducing thousands of people to the travelling scene, including punks. These punks confused their elders. ‘When I first saw punks at Stonehenge, I thought they were aliens’ I was once told. But by the time of the last Stonehenge festival in 1984, some of the punks has already become travellers. Looking back in 1989, John Pendragon told me that it was the influx of punks onto the travelling scene which ’destroyed it’.

Yet in 1982, too early for the punks to be blamed, an alternative community newspaper from Waveney in Suffolk was worrying about the impact of the ‘Peace Convoy’ on the fairs of East Anglia and how far the tolerance and openness of such alternative gatherings could be extended. A year later a different reality intruded, with a ’picnic not a fair’ to be held at the Lakenheath Peace Camp. McKay [1996, 42- 44] links the two together, pointing out that to blame the Peace Convoy for the demise of the Albion Fairs is to confuse symptom with cause. Brig Oxbridge’s 1976 convoy became the Peace Convoy when a group (including KYPP’s Tony D) moved from the Stonehenge festival to Greenham Common Peace Camp in June 82. In contrast to 1976, in 1982, ‘ everything vaguely or coherently alternative was more difficult to achieve under Thatcher [and] became more extreme in its response.’

Given the political climate – with mass riots in 1981 and the miners strike, mass arrests at Nostell Priory, eviction of Molesworth peace camp and battle of the Beanfield – even if no punks had become travellers, John Pendragon would still have been affected by the culture of repression.

To get back to Nic’s original question about the Brew Crew. Part of the answer is in George McKay’s summary of the Albion Fairs / Peace Convoy conflict-

If the Peace Convoy turned up at green fair, its members would intimidate punters out of money, rip other fair goers and organisers off, squat the land a month after everyone else had left and when they did go, leave burnt out cars and piles of rubbish behind…soon the Peace Convoy put people off holding fairs altogether. [1996, 43]

So behaviour attributed to the ‘Convoy’ in 1982 was attributed to the ‘Brew Crew’ a few years later, and (at least by John Pendragon) blamed on the influx of punks to the travelling scene. A few years later again, when there were mass raves similar problems arose.

By way of a conclusion, the Dylan quote is useful. Where ever you have a group of people ‘living outside the law’ the problem of self-policing arises. Where such an alternative society is even vaguely anarchist in its form, there is a real difficulty of adaptation. Without obvious signs of external authority, an attitude of ’I will do what the fuck I want’ can emerge which is often destructive. Given time, so long as there are no underlying mental health difficulties, a form of mutual self-respect emerges – the honesty of the Dylan quote. With honesty comes trust and a sense of solidarity. Which is fine a for relatively small group working / living together for long enough to become self-organising. But when the there are suddenly thousands of people at a free festival, or hundreds deciding to become anarcho-punks or travellers – it gets much much harder.

In late summer 1985 I was at a gathering to discuss the future of Stonehenge festival. There was a lot of discussion about how the festival could become self-policing, how to create a minimal order out of the chaos. In 1975 the feat was managed with the semi-official Watchfield free festival – see

http://www.ukrockfestivals.com/watchfieldfestival-menu.html

But in 1985 there was no way the Conservative government would adopt an idea used by a Labour government ten years earlier. Instead they id their best to make life as hard as possible for ’new age travellers’ and conflicts over Stonehenge became a annual event for many years afterwards.

Finally – in the early nineties there was a re-radicalisation of travelling and squatting through the road-protest movement- with large scale squatting on the M11 protest and ‘new age travellers’ active at Twyford Down. One of the travellers (who called themselves the Donga tribe) was Donga Alex and George McKay quotes her complaining about the protest being plagued by ’young people on dodgy chemicals who leave their rubbish and literally crap everywhere’… At Claremont Road (a row of squatted houses on the route of the M11) the protestors practiced some self-policing – evicting a group of ‘lunch-outs’ from the street…

Al Puppy

Increasing The Tribe

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

The Mob – Meanwhile Gardens 1983 – photograph by Mark Palmer

In about 24 hours and 300 miles away the Mob will be taking to the stage at the Fleece in Bristol. Zounds, Rubella Ballet, Insurrection, Andy T and Steve Corr will be playing as well – altogether it will be quite an event for the 300 folk who will be there. It will be the first time the Mob have played in 28 years, even longer since Graham was the drummer.

Over the years I have had a few shots at trying to explain why the Mob were… I was going to say important, but that doesn’t sound right. Maybe interesting and significant is a better way of putting it. Ok then, lets try ‘Why were the Mob so interesting and significant?’.

First up- context. The immediate context was the sheer jolt of first hearing Witchhunt. I first heard the song at [Kill Your Pet] Puppy Mansions in 1981 although it came out in 1980. This was a few months before we (the Puppy Collective) saw the Mob play a free gig in an adventure playground on Parliament Hill Fields. In the midst of an economic crisis brought on by the Tories voodoo economics, the lines about the ‘idle rich knitting the economy without dropping a stitch, destroying anything that doesn’t quite fit’ hit the mark.

Then there was the wave of riots which hit the UK. I remember being round Puppy Mansions one night listening to the radio reporting as city after city went up in flames. KYPP 4 came out in September with a cover using a pic Tinsel had sent us, an editorial which started ‘Buy, buy, the damnation of your soul…’ (from a surrealist text) an interview with Charge, a piece on Gay Punx and a Mob page using cut-ups from Witchhunt… and then came the Wapping Autonomy Centre where the Mob played.

I know that ‘anarcho-punk’ has now become inextricably intertwined with Crass, but at the time it was more about the dozens of other bands that jumped up on the six inch high stage at the Metropolitian Warf in Wapping. Or, even before then, who played at the Parallel Universe (a squatted church, St. James) on Pentonville Road – where I first saw Rubella Ballet. Then after Wapping came the Centro Iberico on Harrow Road in west London where the punk part of the Autonomy Centre relocated in spring 1982. Which was just around the corner from Meanwhile Gardens where the Mob also played.

What also happened then was a blurring of boundaries between audience and performers, between organisers and organised, between bands and fanzines. The result was a colourful and creative chaos utterly at odds with the retrospective construction of anarcho-punk as a bunch of black clad Crass fans. We even have the photographs to prove it!

Out of this creative chaos emerged many things. One was a housing co-operative, the Black Sheep Co-op. The Co-op survived for many years. In 2007, the Islington Archaeology and History Society published a book ‘53 Cross Street Biography of a House’ by Mary Cosh and Martin King. In 1990, Martin King moved into 53 Cross Street and began documenting its history – including (page 34) a door painted by Todd Hanson, one of the original Black Sheep. 103 Grosvenor Avenue was another of the four Co-op houses. Mark and Joseph of the Mob lived there in 1983 and it was there that Tony Drayton wrote the last issue of Kill Your Pet Puppy.

The Mob’s album ‘Let the Tribe Increase’ was another product of the creative chaos, the possibility first floated by Mark Wilson in the kitchen of Puppy Mansions and made practical when Mick Queally offered to help finance the recording and Rough Trade the pressing costs. The unexpected success of the album provide the finance for All the Madmen records and releases by the Astronauts, Zos Kia and Flowers in the Dustbin.

Unexpected success? Yes, it was unexpected.. The exact figures are lost in the mists of time, but the idea was to sell enough copies to break even -say 10 000 copies. But then far more -say 20 000 – were sold creating an unexpected profit which was re-cycled into the other releases. If the Mob had continued rather than calling it a day in 1983, the next album might have sold even more…

But they did not carry on. Through the winter of 1983/4, Mark began making himself a tipi, sitting in the front room of Grosvenor Avenue with yards and yards of cloth and a sewing machine. He also had a truck which converted into a travelling home. The spring came and he was off on his travelling adventures which lasted for many years.

It wasn’t just Mark though. For a while it seemed like the whole tribe formerly known as anarcho-punk had gone on the road. The last issue (number six) of Kill Your Pet Puppy reflected and anticipated this mass migration. While previous issues had been a surrealist/ situationist collage of cut-ups laying out in an almost random confusion of events and musics from glam to goth via anarchy and punk, number six condensed the chaos into a narrative which resolved/ dissolved itself at Stonehenge festival.

Even with the benefit of thirty years worth of hindsight, the creative chaos is still hard to comprehend, yet in the still bright colours of Joly McPhie’s Better Badges printing Adam and the Ants rub shoulders with Crass, Bauhaus with Charge, anarchy centres with a Sid Vicious Memorial March, the Illuminatus trilogy with the Floodgates of Anarchy, gay punks with Donny Osmond…I loved every minute of it.

The Mob were just one colourful thread of the psychedelic tapestry, but they do help make some kind of sense of it all. Their movement through the chaos illustrates a dimension lacking from the big bang version of punk, that somehow the long hot summer of 1976 was a year zero out of which exploded a brand new subculture disconnected from all that had gone before. This version is punk as media spectacle of the filth and the fury as if no group of young people had ever outraged common decency and threatened civilisation before. The moment of shock and awe didn’t last long, but the front page headlines became the stuff of a thousand media studies textbooks and sociology lectures. Punk generated a minor academic industry endlessly repeating year zero, year zero, year zero…if punk hadn’t existed, Greil Marcus would have had to invent it.

But there was no year zero. As several of the first generation of punk bands mentioned to John Robb (in his Punk Rock an oral history), before punk they had already been influenced by groups like the Pink Fairies and events like the Windsor Free Festival (1972-74). Beneath the shimmering banalities of the spectacular society, the UK counterculture survived the Schoolkids OZ trial of 1971 and was still a dynamic and evolving entity before during and after the punk eruption.

Both the Stonehenge Free Festival and the related traveller/ free festival (counter) culture emerged simultaneously with punk. Since Stonehenge was almost on the doorstep (next county) of Somerset, youths like the future members of the Mob found their way there and one of the first Mob gigs was at the festival. Meanwhile, Mark Perry was struggling to prevent the ossification of punk. In 1978, his ATV joined Here and Now on a tour which took in Stonehenge festival. There is a classic photo of their combined forces (including Grant of Fuck-Off Records) posed in front of a traveller bus taken at Stonehenge in June 1978.

In 1979 (or was it 1980?), the Mob were part of a similar travelling (Weird Tales) tour with Here and Now and Zounds and the Androids of Mu. So even before Wapping in 1981/2, two of the bands at the heart of anarcho-punk had already connected punk with the existing UK counterculture. Hegel would have loved it. If punk was the negation of hippy, then anarcho-punk was the negation of the negation…

So what? It is all history now. Except it isn’t. If it was all history all this should be written down somewhere, should have been picked over an analysed and theorised into extinction. As Guy Debord said “what is really lived has no relation to the official irreversible time of society and is in direct opposition to the pseudo-cyclical rhythm of the consumable by-product of this time. This individual experience of separate daily life remains without language, without concept, without critical access to its own past which has been recorded nowhere. It is not communicated. It is not understood and is forgotten to the profit of the false spectacular memory of the unmemorable.”

But since what is really lived defies the manufacture of history, so what is really experienced ‘remains without language’, remains silent between the moments of excess aka the event which will kick off at 8 pm on Friday 8 April 2011 in the Fleece. Then, for the briefest of moments, the false spectacular memory of the unmemorable will be put on hold and life will be really lived -again.

But now is not then. Thirty years ago we were at the beginning of a rightward lurch which only now is ending as (today Portugal) a series of banking crises threaten to unravel a global economy which had seemed so well knitted. Beyond the banks, the consequences of Japan’s reliance on nuclear power are turning a natural disaster into a catastrophe. No-one yet knows when or how it will end. Even as Fukushima melts down we are told with out more nukes in the UK the lights will all go off. Even as the global temperature rises we are told we must keep burning more coal and pumping more petrol to keep the wheels of industry turning and hold back a new dark age/ stone age.

It is difficult not to hear lines from Mob songs echoing the headlines. It is also hard not to recall, as Protag told me did at Heathrow Climate Change Camp, Hawkwind’s song ‘We took the wrong step years ago…’ As the sixties counterculture’s psychedelic dreams crashed against the oil crisis of the seventies, a few of the more thoughtful hippies imagined a future full of windmills and solar power as an alternative to nuclear power and fossil fuels. But as they knew, such alternative technology on its own was not enough. What was needed was a cultural revolution which would make a break with consumer capitalism which needed more and more power to keep churning out the ‘new and improved’ stuff without which life was just not worth living.

The home-made windmills never quite worked, but the idea of a DIY culture did. By demystifying (thanks Zounds!) the means of production, the radical technologists/ alternative engineers started to undermine the fetishism of commodities. I had the theory from reading magazines like Undercurrents in the seventies (‘a journal of radical technology’) but didn’t get the practice until I went with Mark of the Mob down to a record pressing plant off Mare Street in Hackney (?) to collect a 1000 copies of Witchhunt and then spent an evening (2 September 1983 to be precise) with him and Min stuffing 500 of them into their sleeves in the front room at Grovesnor Avenue. That evening a circle was completed. From hearing Witchhunt two years before at Puppy Mansions to reproducing the record for others to hear and (hopefully) be inspired by.

Twenty eight years on and that revolutionary moment of insight still seems relevant.

AL Puppy 7 April 2011

PS don’t forget that ‘May inspire Revolutionary Acts’ and ‘Let the Tribe Increase’ are still available on Overground Records.

1976: year zero

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

1976 : year zero

In year zero I left school in Scotland and went to work on a small-holding in Gloucestershire. I helped look after the goats and geese, ducks and chickens while rebuilding a derelict cottage. Only one room was habitable so I stayed in caravan. The summer of 1976 was ferociously hot. The cottage was built up against a hill. My main job was to dig out a six foot wide by 15 foot deep cutting between the cottage wall and the hillside. The hot weather meant the red clay soil was dry, which made the digging easier, but it was full of large lumps of sandstone rock. These were used to build a retaining wall against the hill. The spoil was tipped at the front of the cottage. Even for a physically fit teenager it was hard work, but I enjoyed it. I imagined I was a Victorian navvy, making a railway cutting. There wasn’t a flushing toilet and there was no bath. I could get a bath nearby, but due to the drought had to syphon the bath water, red with clay dust, out of the window onto a vegetable patch. Cooking was done on a coal fired stove. The cottage was in the Forest of Dean. Under laws dating back to the middle ages, people born in the forest had the right to dig for coal. So when coal was needed, it came from one of these ‘free’ mines. The mine was tiny, just a long sloping tunnel (a drift mine) into the ground with an ancient electric motor to pull tiny trucks of coal up a narrow gauge railway up from the coal face. The coal was tipped into a heap and every so often a lorry would take it to a power station in Wales. I was given a pile of sacks and told to fill them up from the heap. Each sack held about a hundredweight (50.8 kilos) so twenty sacks made a ton of coal. So the next time I had a bath the water was black, not red.

In the middle of the summer of year zero I went to London for a few days. I went via Stonehenge, I had heard about a free festival there. It was advertised on Radio Caroline, a surviving offshore pirate station. The festival was long gone though . He heat at midday was intense, the stones shimmering and dancing I the hot air. The land was parched and dust dry, more like Egypt than Wiltshire. There were dead elm trees everywhere (Dutch elm disease) which made the countryside look like winter. In London I wandered around Notting Hill and Portobello Road. I ‘d been sending Hawkwind science fiction stories and had a reply from Nik Turner. I was hoping to find Hawkwind’s office but didn’t. I did find some old copies of Oz and Frendz and Forbidden Planet where I bought an International Times, which was still going. If there were punks about, I didn’t notice them.

Then one night I I saw flashes of light and thought it was a nuclear war. Then it rained, only a violent thunder storm. Went back to Scotland to Stirling to university and joined an anarchist group. Most of the group were older, post-grads. We sold Black Flag on the anarchist stall, but they were more green, selling a magazine of ‘radical technology’ called Undercurrents. There was a book as well, called Radical Technology which came out in in 1976. In these days of peak oil and climate change it seems very sensible stuff –

Industry can expect to be taxed according to energy units used. Since goods imported from far afield will bear the tax incurred through energy used in transporting them, local materials will be more attractive. Similarly, since finished products sent to distant markets will bear the tax incurred by transport , manufacturers will cater chiefly for local markets. [Rad Tech p.227]

1977: year one
But I didn’t carry on, instead, by late 1977 I was back in Gloucestershire and working in factory. It was down by Lydney docks on the Severn. I worked in the engineering department , in the drawing office between the machine shop and the assembly shop. My job was to keep huge lists of all the parts, right down to each nut and bolt, for a rubber glove making machine which we were building. It was huge great thing. As each section was erected it was checked and the parts numbered then put into containers and sent off to Malaysia. It took a year to construct then deconstruct. The photo below was taken in late 1978 as the last load was shipped.

You can see the engineering shop on the right. I am in the front row, kneeling down, third from the right. As you can see it was an all male crew, although most of the 1000 workers on the site were women who worked packing the rubber gloves we made. It was a family affair, with wives and daughters/ husbands and sons all employed by the J.Allen Rubber Company – which was part of the London Rubber Company group. It is a sad photo really. The whole factory site was shut in 1981/2 and a thousand people lost their jobs. But more about that later.

1979: year three.
After the rubber glove machine had been shipped, my job was over. Luckily I was offered a job in the engineering department at the main site/ headquarters in London. So on 2 Jan 1979 started work there. It was a huge sprawling place on the North Circular Road near the river Lee near Walthamstow/ Chingford. There were four rubber glove machines, two household ( Marigold), two surgeons gloves plus two Durex condom making machines and the condom testing and packing lines. On top were a set of offices where all the managers worked. I worked down in the bowels in the engineering foremen’s office. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I got there, the Conservatives got elected. By 1980 their monetarist economic policies were devastating manufacturing industry. The claim was they had to attack inflation but Alan Budd (who was an advisor to the Thatcher government) said in a 1992 tv documentary [Pandora's Box by Adam Curtis] –

The nightmare I sometimes have, about this whole experience, runs as follows. I was involved in making a number of proposals which were partly at least adopted by the government and put in play by the government. Now, my worry is . . . that there may have been people making the actual policy decisions . . . who never believed for a moment that this was the correct way to bring down inflation. They did, however, see that it would be a very, very good way to raise unemployment, and raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes — if you like, that what was engineered there in Marxist terms was a crisis of capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since. Now again, I would not say I believe that story, but when I really worry about all this I worry whether that indeed was really what was going on.

Quoted in New Statesman March 2010
The full episode of the documentary plus comment by Adam Curtis can be watched here
[Thanks to Nick Hydra. Documentary also in ten minutes sections on youtube.]

In 1979, this was still in the future. In the even more distant future there was global warming/ climate change. With the benefit of hindsight, I now regret not going along to the editorial meetings of Undercurrents magazine which were held in London and open to readers. I might have become greener sooner, joined the Ecology Party as it then was (now Green Party) and … done something useful? Instead I went to a Ceinfuegus Press readers meeting which was also a Persons Unknown support group meeting … which led to the Crass/ Poison Girls Bloody Revolutions / Persons Unknown single and the Wapping A Centre and – at another meeting towards the end of 1979- meeting up with the Kill Your Pet Puppy collective.

To be continued.

The Crassical Collection – The remastered Crass CD out now!

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Crass performing at Acklam Hall, Ladbroke Grove March 1979 ‘Free All Prisoners Now’ benefit gig –  photograph taken by Tony Barber c/o Terry Smith archive.

Crass poster – Acklam Hall, Ladbroke Grove March 1979 ‘Free All Prisoners Now’ benefit gig – Toby Mott archive

It’s official!

News of the release of the re-mastered Crass material is now available on the Southern website HERE.

The Feeding Of The Five Thousand tracks plus a heap of bonus material on CD yours for £12…

AL Puppy

Southern Studio notes below:

The Crassical Collection is finally here, and the first release is the newly remastered “The Feeding Of The Five Thousand”. After many years of being out of print, this legendary album has been been restored from the original analogue studio tapes, repackaged and bolstered by rare and unreleased tracks, and stunning new artwork from Gee Vaucher, who has lovingly created what could only be considered a real artefact. Included in this package is a 64-page booklet featuring all lyrics along with extensive liner notes from band members Penny Rimbaud and Steve Ignorant, which shed light on the making of the record. Also included is CD-sized recreation of the iconic original fold-out poster sleeve.

‘Five thousand’s a crowd (four thousand nine hundred and ninety nine more than I imagined were going to buy the record), but two’s company (I knew for certain that my Mum would want one), so it was on the plate, ready to serve, The Feeding of the Five Thousand’.
‘We were setting out as purists: hard, uncompromising and utterly bemused’

‘On one thing we were very clear, in bringing a prosecution of Criminal Blasphemy against us the authorities would have been giving us the kind of publicity which overnight would have made us a household name. They were aware of this, and so were we. It was a situation that allowed us carte blanche to say pretty much whatever we wanted without any real fear of incrimination, a situation which over the next seven years we exploited to the hilt’.

‘Easy listening? You ain’t heard nothing yet’.

First released in 1978 on Small Wonder Records, and later rereleased on the band’s own Crass Records, “The Feeding Of The Five Thousand” showed Crass as an anti-establishment and highly uncompromising act, and one that would influence countless other bands to follow. This signals the first in a series of remastered versions of each of Crass’ now legendary albums, each one including bonus tracks and brand new artwork.

Crass flyer Colombo Street Community Centre Waterloo July 1979 – Terry Smith archive.

Universities Are Factories…

Monday, May 10th, 2010

I was going to write about this occupation / protest by Middlesex University students since I love the situationist style of their banner ‘The university is a factory. Strike! Occupy!’. Instead I have been busy with the Gary Critchley campaign. So it goes.

What I was going to do was connect the occupation / protest to David Harvey’s new book The Enigma of Capital which I have just finished reading. And put in a link to Housmans online bookshop and say ‘buy this book’ for £14.99 .

Why? It is a damn good read and takes Marx’s critique of capitalism / political economy and applies it to the ongoing ‘credit crunch’ as the latest in a 300 year old sequence of economic crises -one of which (1974-1985) gave accidental birth to punk. Harvey argues that the current global credit crisis can be traced back to the one which (my point, not his) spawned punk.

Although Harvey is an expert on Marx, he is not a tedious Marxist. A fair chunk of his analysis overlaps with and supports the situationists’ / Guy Debord / Society of the Spectacle update of Marx – but with the added benefit of forty plus years of extra hindsight. To quote the product profile

For three centuries the capitalist system has shaped western society, informed its rulers, and conditioned the lives of its people. Using his unrivalled knowledge of the subject, Harvey lays bare the follies of the international financial system, looking closely at the nature of capitalism, how it works and why sometimes it doesn’t. He examines the vast flows of money that surge round the world in daily volumes well in excess of the sum of all its economies. He looks at the cycles of boom and bust in the world’s housing and stock markets and shows that periodic episodes of meltdown are not only inevitable in the capitalist system but essential to its survival. The essence of capitalism is its amorality and lawlessness and to talk of a regulated, ethical capitalism is to make a fundamental error. The Enigma of Capitalism considers how crises of the current sort can best be contained within the constraints of capitalism, and makes the case for a social order that would allow us to live within a system that really could be responsible, just, and humane.

But, as David Harvey mildly explains, to achieve a responsible, just and humane social order will require a proper revolution…


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