Back in the early '80's, amongst those with something more than a passing interest in music, the black and white double headed serpent that formed the Crass logo was almost as ubiquitous, but a little way short of the black and white Madness 'M'. However, whilst Madness were a media friendly, hail fellow well met ensemble, Crass certainly were not.
Within and yet without the punk scene, Crass set a new course for what could be, fiercely independent they sought a means by which the better ideas of the punk train of thought could be harnessed. Records were produced with 'Pay no more than' instructions printed on sleeves that offered affordable product to fans that were suffering under the very same Government policies that the band were railing against. Such stated pricing instructions prevented subsequent mark up by retailers. A master stroke.
Personally, I missed the heyday of Crass and was too young to see the band before they fulfilled their stated intention to split in 1984, but I was aware of them in 1983/1984.
Formed in 1977, Crass took a year or so to find their feet but with their debut on Small Wonder Records, 'The Feeding of the 5,000' they found a ready audience of people appreciative of their no-nonsense approach to punk. Their stripped down, angry roar pinned down by Penny's military drumming brought things back to what appealed too many in '76/early '77.
Crass's early material took no prisoners and the old guard of Strummer and Rotten were very much in the band's sights. But then again The Clash of '77 that so inspired Steve Ignorant were a very different proposition to the polished outfit that they had become by 1979.
In the period of '78 to '81 they were a continuous thorn in the side of the music business and the music press, who it appeared either hated them or could not fathom them. However, come 1982, the trivia of the music business took a backseat as Crass became a thorn in the side of The Establishment, which was a far bigger deal for all of the band.
At the beginning of April 1982, under the direction of the military Junta then in power, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, two small islands located several hundred miles from the Argentine coast, the sovereignty of which had long been a mater of contention between Argentina and the UK. Three days after the invasion Margaret Thatcher order that a task force be sent down to the South Atlantic to assert British control over the Falklands and South Georgia. The conflict was concluded with the surrender of the Argentine forces, made up to a large extent of young conscripts, within 10 weeks, but the sacrifice was significant and bloody. 649 Argentine and 255 British soldiers died in the fighting.
In April 1982, I was 13 and this was the first time in my lifetime that the UK had been involved in a war (Northern Ireland was something rather different to this, at least in terms of how I perceived it) and the images being served up on the evening news throughout those 10 weeks of Spring was truly shocking! As was the nasty, jingoistic reportage served up by the British gutter press, best exemplified by the 'Gotcha' headline that accompanied The Sun newspaper's reporting of the sinking of the Argentine vessel, ARA General Belgrano, on 2nd May with the loss of 323 crew. Misplaced patriotism quickly evaporated just two days later when HMS Sheffield was sunk with the loss of 20 crew, the first of six British vessels lost in the conflict.
Not intending to get bogged down in the details of the war, it is the impression that it made on me that is important here. Crass were equally perturbed by the events of that 1982 Spring, releasing two singles that were highly critical of the role that Margaret Thatcher and her Government in their handling of a diplomatic situation that escalated into a bloody conflict with remarkable rapidity.
At this juncture I would just like to add that I know several veterans of the conflict and and have the greatest respect for what they did and the sacrifices that they made as members of the Armed Forces. But I do think that there is a case to answer as to why it turned out as it did.
Crass's response was to release two singles, 'Sheep Farming In The Falklands' and 'How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of A Thousand Dead'.
Oh, it was all happening back in the day in Bishops Stortford, there was also a related record label 'Stortbeat' but that's another story for another day and another post.
Post Crass, the many members have gone on to pursue their own specific interests be it graphic art, poetry, spoken word or a continuation in music. Steve, as previously mentioned, joined the ranks of Conflict for a while before forming the Stratford Mercenaries. Collaboration with Paranoid Visions followed, not to mention a stint as a crew member with the Sea Palling independent Life Boat, before the current and rather good, Slice of Life. Sadly, Steve's 'Ignorant Tour' has been the subject of several COVID-19 related postponements, now out to 2022! But again, it is a tour of Crass material, another potent reminder of that band's influence on the music and politics of a generation!
Love them or loathe them, Crass and the bands that formed part of that particular DIY scene, in the same way that Billy Bragg and The Newtown Neurotics did, engaged youth to take an interest in politics. At the end of the day whether you are left wing, right wing or an anarchist, there is no escaping politics so get involved, for or against, but be never indifferent.
Not Crass, but on theme and I am sure a sentiment that Crass would concur with, The Newtown Neurotics comment on politics in their 'Get Up & Fight' sums it all up rather nicely:
Over the next week I will be posting a number of anarcho gigs and articles.