A life more Crass
It was more than a gig.
It was a reunion of old friends, it was revelry in the idea of the actualised dream coming true, it was a celebration of survival through some pretty dark days and the success of personal revolutions, and it was a bloody good gig.
Steve Ignorant brought The Last Supper, came and played in Wellington, New Zealand, Saturday 20 June 2011, bringing with him the songs of Crass. Crass were probably one of the most influential punk bands whose output between 1978 and 1984 grew to so much more than the sum of the parts, inspiring others to make art, make music, make collective efforts, and make efforts to make something better from a bleak and powerless political environment to a vision of a better world, beyond corporations, war, control and conditioning. Those black art-wrapped disc’s traveled the world via snail-mail sowing seeds into the hearts and minds of the discontent and fostered idea’s and grew wonderful things.
However, this was not Crass playing last Saturday, but Ignorant, one of the founding members of Crass, and with a fine band for the occasion. And similar to many of the activities of Crass in their heyday, controversy followed. Not everybody was pleased with the idea of anything Crass-like touring, there have been protests at shows in the states.
Not here. Here felt like pure elation. People traveled from as far south as Invercargill to come and see for this one time songs that meant, and mean, so much. And this was one of the amazing things about this evening, faces not seen for twenty years or more, an almost palpable unspoken joy in some secret and personal survival stories
. There were people there in which I had shared some of my hardest moments in life, and here we are again, together and alive. And there were a lot of us, a room full of mostly middle-aged and aging punks partying like the best of times. It wasn’t nostalgic, we had never shared this particular experience of these songs live, but we had many stories to share and years to catch up on. And we danced! If a mosh pit can be described as a loving event, then last Saturday was the premiere example, people fell and were collected, hoisted into the air and caught, hugged and jumped and surged in that almost tidal movement of bodies moving.
And the songs came, we sang, and it was ‘us’! ‘We’ became the event. The band play for maybe 90 minutes, songs came end on end, linked by sound bites, unrelenting and determined. To me it didn’t feel like a karaoke event, the band executed the tune skilfully, and yet there was room for their individual personality. On guitar Gizz Butt added a slight metal edge to the sound, sturdy and solid bass from Pete Wilson, Carol Hodge on female vocals delivered the lines like they were her own, and Spike T Smith on drums who possibly had the hardest position to fill. Sitting there where once the other founder of Crass, Penny Rimbaud, took control of the skins.
And Rimbaud has been one of the vocal original members opposing the representation of the material of Crass. Although it appears that his view has altered in more recent times.
I wish Rimbaud could have been there to see what he was part of creating. And that it still holds meaning , it is worth it, and I appreciate the opportunity to say thanks. It’s amazing now thinking about it, these journeys that have taken place to final meet again in this bar. How the people have traveled. And how the music traveled more than a quarter of a century ago, to be copied onto cassette and then handed around in those extremely isolated environments, and Invercargill was, like a secret note in a bottle on a dire sea. And here we all are.
I can’t actually remember my very first meeting with Crass, but Feeding of the 5000 was the first album I had, on one of those cassettes, a muffled dubbed copy on a well worn piece of magnetic tape. I thrashed it on my walkman, it was a lifeline to another world along way from where I was. My options were looking bleak, I was 14 and had already gone before the judge, skulling screwdriver and sniffing solvents to escape, running with nowhere to go, locked in a catholic boarding school with music as my only respite. I was an unfocused explosion, school tried to shut it down and contain it. Crass, significant amongst a small collection of other tapes, taught me how to focus that explosion. I was asked not to return to school, the prospects were working at the aluminium smelter or in one of the six local freezing works. I wanted no part of either, I got a job pouring concrete and as soon as I had enough money to buy a stereo and a drum kit I quit, moved to Invercargill with the plan to get a band together, and really I haven’t stopped. My education consisted of “there is no authority but yourself”, and ‘d.i.y’- do it yourself, and for me it has been a lesson well learned.
Who could have thought that more than 25 years after this first experience I would get to make this direction connection with this influence. In the late 90’s I wrote a song called The Agents of the Sun, the final two lines “beg the question, bend the truth, bail out the basement while there’s hole’s in the roof” were lifted straight from a Crass song called Beg your Pardon. We revived Agents and had the personal honour to perform it this night to one of the authors.
Heres the original version of Agents of the Sun from about 1999.
This is my story, and we all have our own. And Saturday was an opportunity to revel in the success of survival, not all did, and it’s worth remember them because life is hard, and you find meaning where and how you can. I can’t imagine how I could have turned out if I had missed that single exchange years ago, that hearing for the first time a sound that made some sort of profound sense, not spiritual, just a very human connection. It makes me wonder.
I must admit though when I first heard that this tour was happening I was also skeptical. It challenges me now to think about this skepticism, have I turned into a conservative purist? Or perhaps it is the idea that something that has taking on personal significance could be reduced to something less than my spectacular and emotive memory of Crass? The fear of a passion defiled perhaps? Or did I think the Ignorant was breaking the rules of ‘anarchy’?
But it was actually Rimbaud in a recent interview that helped me find a differing perspective. He was asked about the expectation of an audience, and Rimbaud replied that as long as it still says something to 13 year old kids, “would he be able to do that, what would he think of it, “how much could he get for it, not money”.
[see approx 6.40 for quote]
So I figure, OK, I’m going to take the 14 year old me out on a date to celebrate and revel like it may be the last time.
So thanks, for it all. Saturday was the most perfect celebration. I am glad that Steve has had the vision and taken the risk of touring once, unfortunately he is also wearing the flack. That effort to travel this far was not wasted on us.I know I am not the only one who feels that this may have been one of the gigs of our lives, and I don’t mean that lightly. Massive thanks to Tim, Punk Rock Road Trips NZ, for the organisation, must have been pretty nerve-wreaking with a Chilean volcano farting ash and grounding planes. And I want to thank the people who traveled, it was brilliant to reconnect, let’s do it again sometime aye?
Did I mention? It was a great gig.