EVEN by the less-than-genteel standards of the Crass label, Farce was a ridiculously extreme record – from the seven-inch fold-out sleeve, containing mostly strange spidery drawings rather than the usual typed polemic, to the extraordinary music Rudimentary Peni created, which took the basic thrash blueprint, wiped its arse with it and screwed it up into a tight little ball before exploding all over you like a bad medieval disease.
And there was also the very name of the band itself.
There was a fair bit of shouting on the records veteran anarchist punks Crass put out on their own label. Not all of them, for sure, but a lot of them. We were used to it. The late Seventies / early Eighties was a very polarised time. But Nick Blinko, the guy who sang and played bass – as well as doing the distinctly odd artwork for Rudimentary Peni – sounded like no-one else.
He just howled and barked and belched and whined and dribbled like there was some gristly HP Lovecraft demon trying to work its way out of his head, slowly.
The music the trio created displayed a singular gothic menace (and, you should note, one which had nothing to do with the pancake-and-smoke-machine antics of the Sisters), with Grant Matthews’ spiralling, heavily distorted guitars and Blinko’s partnership with drummer Jon Greville producing the kind of monstrous, primeval rhythms that wouldn’t be out of place on a Velvet Underground or Fall record.
It was basic three-chord thrash but everything was cranked up to the nnnth degree. And they were as tight as a gnat’s chuff.
Peni’s songs were often fiendishly fast and brutal and occasionally serpentine and slo-mo psychedelic, sometimes lasting ten seconds, sometimes even lasting a couple of minutes, but mostly clocking up at around 60 seconds. All of them were uniquely unhinged and deeply unsettling. And there seemed to be loads of them gouged into seven narrow inches of vinyl.
Rather than what was often the usual Crass fare of ‘shock slogans and mindless token tantrums’, Rudimentary Peni’s lyrics were a little more opaque, taking the form of a weird, super-paranoid inner-dialogue between Blinko and whatever else was in his head at the time. They dealt with such pressing issues as the gap between young and old, outmoded gender roles and the culture of competition, as well as the more usual concerns of the Bomb, religion, and glue-sniffing.
And the strange noises and yelps that punctuated their tunes were just great.
As so often happens with these things, I got their first EP, on, I think, their own Outer Himalayan label, after that. It was even more basic, more deranged, more extreme than Farce. Clearly, Peni were one of the few bands who had to tone it down a bit for the sensitive souls who bought Crass Records.
It contained Tower Of Strength. Not exactly their usual kind of thing, all the same it is possibly the definitive Peni statement. Like fragments of the script from a lost Ingmar Bergman film shot in Bognor, in 52 seconds you get all the fun of the seaside, plus the four horsemen of the apocalypse riding donkeys and wearing Kiss-Me-Quick hats in a fog of candyfloss ectoplasm.
‘The tower of strength takes to the sea, scours ocean via quay,’ spits Blinko. ‘Same old story, muscle-bound and gory, brand new story, death without glory, infinite story, so new, so hoary, build a tower of strength and watch it weaken, construct high hopes as the brightest beacon. Watch the seagulls eat the trash you contemptuously ditch.
“Do you know a seagull? Do you know a wreck? Do you know a stony beach? Do you know a raging wind? Are you tired of the tide? Roll in a rock pool, come let’s hide.’
Bracing, isn’t it?
We heard stories about how the band would turn up for gigs down south – they were from Welwyn Garden City or somewhere – looking like normal blokes circa 1982, except they were wearing vegan shoes and drinking tea with soya milk.
This would have been, more likely than not, in a room full of gonzoid Benny Hill punks, all pissed, all expressing their free-thinking individuality by wearing studded leather jackets with circled-As and the names of their favourite bands – happy-go-lucky young people’s beat-combos like Discharge, GBH, Amebix, Icons of Filth, DIRT, Conflict and, incongruously, Flux of Pink Indians – painted onto them.
Peni, it seemed, didn’t have to make an effort to look as punk as fuck. They just were. It added to the allure. Me and my mates were just crazy about them. We never got to see them live ourselves.
Crass offshoot label Corpus Christi released an album, Death Church, a year or so later. It was like the two EPs combined, ramped up by a factor of ten, showcasing a growing musical confidence – they even had a few proper melodies – although lyrically they were as twisted and paranoid as ever. Vampire State Building was probably my favourite track.
Imagine the kind of music that Giger’s Alien would make if it did a split single with the Boredoms and Edgar Allen Poe is in the control room and you’d be halfway there.
Somewhere along the line they became legendary and seminal and all that. J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr is a fan, Steve Albini is a big fan – Big Black share a certain dynamic, shall we say? Mark Arm and some other guy out of Mudhoney only started talking to each other in college because one of them was wearing a Peni T-shirt. Kurt Cobain was a Peni freak, and look what happened to him. Either way, just how much of a debt Nevermind and the whole Grunge ‘phenomenon’ owes to Rudimentary Peni is for duller spods than me to discuss elsewhere.
A couple of years after the album came out, while living in Darlington, I met this kid who was Grant Matthews’ cousin, who said that he had some sort of cancer, and the band were no more. A while later I heard that Nick Blinko was every bit as ill, mentally, as he sounded on record and had been receiving treatment before, during and after his involvement in the band. All this explained a lot.
Funnily enough, drummer-man Greville, local session player and seasoned rock’n’roller – and not even a vegetarian, nevermind being into any high-falutin’ ideals of anarchy, peace and freedom – is in rude health. Go figure.
Fast forward a few more years and Grant is all recovered and Nick is, well, he’s in a position to make music again, let’s say that. They put out an album, Cacophony. A mate got it and it sounded pretty good, but by that time I was too busy taking ecstasy pills and buying shit Italian piano tunes to really take much notice. My loss.
The same mate, Doug, was in a band in Leeds at the time, a shit-kicking amalgam of Peni, PIL, the Fall and the Gang of Four, who went by the name of Nerve Rack. If they were going today they’d probably be touring with Elton John, so well did they fit in with the current zeitgeist – only they were fifteen years too early.
Anyway, they had a bit of spare studio time and made up a couple of tracks almost entirely composed of samples from Peni tunes, with the odd Renegade Soundwave rhythm thrown in for good measure.
It was brilliant but they never got around to releasing anything. Peni’s From Heaven, they were going to call it.
Peni have released more records in the time since, and I’ve missed them too, although someone loaned me Nick Blinko’s revealing ‘Booker Prize-nominated’ account of what he went through in the early Eighties on the anarcho-punk scene and in various institutions, The Primal Screamer (published by Spare Change Books). It’s worth a read.
Thing is, after all this long preamble, I didn’t even really lose my two Peni EPs, properly – so the format goes right out of the window already – but it sure as hell felt like it at the time.
I only realised they were missing because a mate’s girlfriend had expressed a vague interest in Crass – her mum had been at Greenham Common and the label had provided the soundtrack to her early life, so she was on a bit of a nostalgia trip too – and obviously, I didn’t need any more prompting and promised to bring a load of tunes round.
Thing is – it’s not like I listen to them all the time – I could find everything, all the Crass stuff, Flux, the Cravats, the Mob, Zounds, even Lack of Knowledge (although that fucking D&V single never turned up, come to think of it) but I just couldn’t find these two Peni EPs. It was driving me nuts.
This friend, in Manchester, who we’ll call the Doctor, and this woman split up and I’m gutted because, y’know, she was a nice girl and all that, but also because she was really into everything else on Crass and Peni would have just blown her away. She would’ve absolutely loved them. Plus I’ve lost a couple of my fucking records. I’m not happy.
I’d even started checking out prices on eBay – feeling like some nerdy Johnny-Come-Lately and simultaneously a Punk-Traitor of the darkest hue – but the idea of buying something so pure and perfect from some record collecting gimp in the US, at hyper-inflated prices, just seemed very, very wrong.
A couple of months back, the Doctor had mentioned that he’d found them but I thought he was just making one of his oh-so-amusing jokes. Turns out he was being serious.
I’d lent them to him to ages before and he’d just ‘forgotten’ about them, even when I was going on and on, at inordinate length, describing to his girlfriend exactly what she was missing out on by not hearing tracks like The Bile-Ball, Teenage Time Killer, Blind Dogs, Bloody Jellies and Black President.
I was reunited with my two Peni EPs last night. I had to wait until I got home before I could play them (the Doctor doesn’t have a turntable and is ‘just into MP3s now’) but I was able to spend a very happy hour in the middle of the night, drinking cheap lager, smoking Cheech and Chong-sized reefers and howling at the moon alongside Nick and the boys. It was just like the old days.
Now all I need to do is track down Death Church. That, I think, was appropriated by that skank in Leeds, around the time I was exchanging the fleshpots of Harehills for the wide-open spaces of Armley. But that’s another story for another time …
[This piece first appeared on the Reject Musical Trash website in 2005]
See also: Christ The Album and Penis Envy by Crass, The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks by Flux of Pink Indians, The Curse Of Zounds and Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Rudimentary Peni But Were Afraid To Ask
UPDATE *1 (14/02/08)
New Peni album alert! According to the chatter on Southern’s Rudimentary Peni forum (there’s a place for all of us, it’s just a question of finding it), a new album, No More Pain, will be out in May. It is, apparently, “more Death Church than Cacophony but then again not like either of them”.
Dunno why I’ve not mentioned this here before but for all your Peni needs, you should head over to Piss in a Pod, an exhaustive and utterly fascinating collection of virtually every piece of Peni-related media you can think of and quite a bit that you can’t. The definitive Peni resource.
All together now: “Never forget, never ever forgive, wash your mouth out with pope ..”