Aural Sculptors - The Stranglers Live 1976 to the Present


Welcome to Aural Sculptors, a blog aimed at bringing the music of The Stranglers to as wide an audience as possible. Whilst all of the various members of the band that have passed through the ranks since 1974 are accomplished studio musicians, it is on stage where the band have for me had their biggest impact.

As a collector of their live recordings for many years I want to share some of the better quality material with other fans. By selecting the higher quality recordings I hope to present The Stranglers in the best possible light for the benefit of those less familiar with their material than the hardcore fan.

Needless to say, this site will steer well clear of any officially released material. As well as live gigs, I will post demos, radio interviews and anything else that I feel may be of interest.

In addition, occasionally I will post material by other bands, related or otherwise, that mean a lot to me.

Your comments and/or contributions are most welcome. Please email me at adrianandrews1@sky.com.


Thursday, 18 February 2021

Do They Owe Us A Living? The Anarcho Scene

 



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'.

The latter single was discussed in the House and led to legal action being taken against the band (that was ultimately unsuccessful).

So, back in my world in 1983, in our small school in Lewes, East Sussex, as a one-off as part our twice weekly music lessons, we were invited to share some of our own musical tastes with the wider class. I guess it may have been an end of term thing since every other lesson involved 'appreciation' of various turgid pieces of classical music that were never going to appeal to a teenage boy! (but now appreciated by this near 52 year old!). The teacher was reminiscent of Hyacinth Bucket in her carriage and she manfully (or womanfully) endured during this particular lesson the strains of Bon Scott, Depeche Mode  and yes, probably Madness. My choice was my newly acquired copy of 'Sheep Farming In The Falklands'.....

'Sheep farming in the Falklands, re-arming in the fucklands
Fucking sheep in the homelan.........'

Was just about as far as it got! Were it not for Steve Ignorant's machine gun rapid delivery it wouldn't have even got that far. I was out of the class and directed towards the headmaster's office.

From what I remember of my motives on that day over 40 years ago, I am sure that there was an element of mischief involved, but at the same time the very fact that I was in possession of a Crass record meant that I was starting to form independent opinions of the things that were happening in the world around me. And what a time it was for a political awakening. The Cold War was in one of it's chillier periods, the deployment of Cruise missiles at Greenham Common air base was under dramatic opposition, the IRA were very active in England, most notably with the Harrods bombing of 1983 and the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, not 10 miles from me at the time (Burgess Hill) .... and if that wasn't enough, there was the Miner's Strike.

All of this political and industrial turmoil had, for me, in the background a brilliant soundtrack, from Crass, to Billy Bragg to the Neurotics, whose remarkable album 'Repercussions' addressed in song both the Falklands Conflict and The Miner's Strike! 

I saw the Neurotics shortly after the collapse of the Miner's Strike, but was too late for Crass. Nevertheless, the so called anarcho-punk scene did continue after the demise of Crass. And in that sense, Brighton was a good place to be as the Richmond Hotel (now sadly a gastropub I believe) was a regular host for the bands lumped in with that scene. They all played there but I was only lucky enough to see a few, Antisect, Subhumans and Conflict. 

Perhaps more than any of the other bands on the scene it was Conflict who picked up the Crass baton and ran with it. Crass somewhat took Conflict under their wing for a time and certainly for Steve Ignorant they struck a chord, he joined the band for several years. 

I was at the Conflict headed 'Gathering of the 5000' gig at Brixton Academy in April 1987, a well intentioned, but ultimately a nasty, ill-tempered affair that saw a complete ban on Conflict that applied across the UK. I posted on that gig here.

Leaving Sussex in the late 80's and moving to Bishops Stortford in Hertfordshire, via London, I again felt the draw of that anarcho scene, not least because the second most famous band, after Shakatak, to hail from Bishops Stortford are Flux of Pink Indians, formerly The Epileptics, formally The Licks. Moreover, Crass were only a few miles down the road in the Dial House in Epping Forest. The like minded people in the town that I met had all seen Crass and Flux at the Triad Centre in town.... of course they fucking had! The bastards.

Benefit gig for the Triad Centre, Bishops Stortford, 1979.


1980 flyer.

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:

'You say politics are boring, boring and grey
But would you rather see cruise brighten everyone's day?'

Over the next week I will be posting a number of anarcho gigs and articles.

7 comments:

  1. Yes Paul I have some discharge..... although in my opinion that sat somewhere in between Anarcho and UK 82. But for you... of course.

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  4. Born and bred in B/S
    Of course I saw them both at Triad

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