I STARTED writing this piece about three years ago. This displays a shockingly shit work ethic, so apologies to everyone I talked to. I am such a lazy arse.
What did John Lennon say? Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. Then again, he also said, Yes Yoko, we will give over an entire floor of the Dakota building to refrigerating your fur coats, laa – so maybe we shouldn’t hold him up as some kind of arbiter of good taste and time-management.
Where was I?
Around the time the 10 Inches Of Fear package came out, I tried to sell a feature to a few of the glossy music-numpty monthlies but they weren’t having any of it – perhaps not so surprising given that it’s all about a collision between two musical big ideas for which they have no great liking in the shape of anarcho-punk and acid house. Their loss.
But I thought I’d do it anyway. Why deprive readers of this blog just because those miserable cunts in London don’t know their arses from their elbows? I set about interviewing as many of the people involved in the project as I could.
Unfortunately, after I’d talked to everyone else, the interview I did over the phone with Mark Wilson from the Mob was blotted out by the dull throb from a lousy landline and I kind of lost all enthusiasm for it. It just began to seem too much like hard work.
I didn’t so much put it on the backburner as wrap it up in a couple of carriers, stick it in a bin bag and bury it at the bottom of the garden.
I eventually got around to giving it another go, though I still couldn’t make out half of what Mark Wilson said. It’s a bit of an epic one, so I’d make a cup of tea and put your feet up.
Grumpy old punx should also note that I talked to Donna / Honey for quite some time and have plenty more material which didn’t really fit into this piece. I’ll get it together and write all that up at some point in the future.
See you in 2013.
* * *
WHEN you ask JD Twitch about his history with Crass Records, he’ll tell you that he “loathed” all of that stuff at the time – which is a little surprising given that he’s just re-edited a quartet of Crass-connected tunes from the early Eighties, half of which were actually released on the label set up by the legendary anarcho-punk collective.
“Edinburgh, where I grew up, was overrun with Crass-loving punks from the new town of Livingston, who liked nothing more than to intimidate a 12 year old like me,” he explained in a recent email. “That and the fact that my friend’s super obnoxious little brother was a massive Crass fan was enough to put me off them despite never having heard them.”
“Saying that, something about their aesthetic and message deeply fascinated me and I sort of knew I was going to get into them eventually. At that time I was really into Gong and Here & Now who had their own version of anarchy – floating anarchy. It was a little cuddlier, I guess.
“It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I first got into Crass Records in a big way,” he continues. “Oddly, I have probably listened to the records more in the last few years than at any point before then.”
The idea to remix a load of tracks by bands and artists associated with Crass came, perhaps not so surprisingly, in a drunken conversation in the middle of the night between Twitch and Matt from the RVNG label on one of the globetrotting DJ’s trips to New York. Do a lot of your musical projects come out of drunken conversations in the middle of the night?
“A surprising number actually. It’s also easier to get other people to go along with these projects when they are drunk.”
The pair decided that Twitch would re-edit Tube Disasters by Flux of Pink Indians, War by Zounds, Witch Hunt by the Mob and the dub of Guilty by Honey Bane. They would press the resulting edits onto heavyweight 10-inch vinyl, cladding it in a cotton outer bag, complete with fold-out poster and a promotional mix CD of long lost US and UK punk classics from the same period.
“I decided to re edit for a couple of reasons,” writes Twitch. “Firstly for me. I wanted to have versions that I would play in my sets so I reworked them to make them more playable for myself and my sets. Secondly, the re-edit craze is a little out of control and I thought it was funny to re-edit a bunch of old anarcho punk songs.
“I mean, it’s just about the least likely material for the dance floor one can imagine really, isn’t it?”
“A lot of blood and sweat went into this release,” Matt from RVNG told me on an email around the same time. “As it turns out, we were misled on our vinyl production costs and learned yesterday that we’re losing a little bit on each unit shipped. Regardless, an incredible project to be a part of, especially knowing we’ve struck a chord with new and old audiences.
“We did clear all of the tracks on the 10-inch with the artists. Everyone was incredibly helpful lending their tracks to Keith to re-edit. I guess part of the appeal was in our approach, stemming from our years growing up with their music and adapting the ethics found within as aspiring label owners, musicians, activists, etc.
“I wasn’t sure if it would be a money thing when initially speaking with Derek of Flux or Steve of Zounds, and it never was. Same said for Mark of The Mob and Donna (Honey Bane).”
Are you aware of any DJs who have picked upon the edits, I ask Twitch. Have any punters picked up on Crass and the other anarcho stuff you play? And what does Terry with the Crass T-shirt think to it all?
“I have had more emails about this project than anything I have ever done,” he replies. “It has been crazy. Saying that, nobody has mentioned playing any of them out. I have a feeling nobody has or ever will because most DJs are total pussies and worry about their precious dancefloor thinning out too much.
“I haven’t seen Terry in ages. He got barred from the club for selling pills. I think he would probably approve though.”
However, everything was not quite so rosy in the garden as it might have seemed. It turned out that, though they got the approval of all of the artists featured on the 10-inch, Matt and Twitch neglected to contact any of the artists on the accompanying mix CD. Whoops.
This was a fact which didn’t escape the attention of the formidable Allison, who now runs Southern Records after the death of longtime Crass collaborator John Loder. She made her displeasure clear on the Crass page of the Southern Records forum.
What’s your view on the whole issue of clearance with regard to the CD (which is clearly a promotional item), I ask Twitch. In retrospect, was it a mistake not to get in touch with the various labels? Or is it really not an issue for something that is, after all, clearly a promotional item?
“It is clearly a promotional item,” writes a clearly uncomfortable Twitch. “The tracks are all taken from old scratchy records so the fidelity isn’t the best. Hopefully it will lead to some people buying music by some of the artists featured.
“But yes, perhaps in hindsight we should have curtailed our enthusiasm and tried to clear everything on there. I would like to add that every copy was sold at a loss so nobody made any financial gain from the release.”
It was at this stage that I told Matt that I’d had some vague interest from one of the music monthlies – although ultimately it came to nothing.
“I’m a little taken aback that Mojo might be interested in a piece on the release,” he told me in an email. “I don’t know that I’m entirely comfortable exposing the release through such a widely viewed medium.
“As speculated on the Southern message boards, the CD is not a properly cleared mix. Though we’ve explicitly marked the CD as a promotional item free with purchase of the legally licensed 10-inch, it’s still under scrutiny. And naturally so; the punk rock institution (and its disciples, myself included) is one which protects and sometimes protests its every advancement in the public eye.
“Twitch and my intentions were never to undercut or profit from the artists featured on the mix, Rather expose (and re-expose) them to the dance / electronic audiences we normally cater to. With all the attention to detail and care put into this release, we’ll just break even, if all of the ten-inches sell. Not that it’s the point (others profit), but it’s notable.
“We developed some great relationships, especially with Donna [Honey Bane]. That was one of the most rewarding parts of the process. Though we may’ve attained a similar level of rapport, had we tried to clear every track on the mix we would have been dead broke by the end of it. Honestly, it would’ve been impossible.
“I feel like I’m defending myself a bit when you’ve come with such a generous offer,” wrote Matt. “This arrangement just cuts a little closer to home for a lot of people. It’s not an obscure Italo disco or psyche mix, though I almost want to ask, Why does that matter?”
I wonder if Twitch has got any ideas for volume two. I’d suggest Dismembered by KUKL, Rub Me Out by the Cravats, Bloody Revolutions by Crass and pretty much anything by Rudimentary Peni ..
“I’m not generally a fan of repeating an idea,” he tells me, “but in this case I would love to do it again and could easily do a second volume.
“I wonder who I should go out drinking with?”
The first track I listened to on 10 Inches Of Fear was War by Zounds, originally from the fantastic Can’t Cheat Karma EP they recorded for Crass Records in 1981. Although he adds some chopped up drums at the start of the track, accompanied by a section of predatory bassline and shards of guitar, Twitch doesn’t do much else to the driving, punky funky repetition of War. It still sounds fabulous.
“I knew I wanted to include Zounds because I adore them, but I just couldn’t get anything to work,” says Twitch. “I spent days doing a version of Dancing that was almost a remix and was shockingly bad. Finally Matt at RVNG suggested I do War and I pretty much instantly slapped myself in the face for not thinking to do that to begin with.”
“I liked it a lot, I like quite a lot of minimalist stuff,” decides Zounds lynchpin Steve Lake. “I like what they do, I like their attitude and they seem like good people who’s heart and brains are in the right place.
“Their version of War is really minimalist but I have no problem with that. They didn’t have the multi-track to use sadly because John Loder would not let us have it. The Crass organisation are a bit possessive about that sort of thing.
“My problem is I tend to layer stuff on too much and lose the essence sometimes,” he tells me. “It is actually incredibly difficult to make a good record, there is just something about the process that blands things out.
“My son quite dug it, he goes to a lot of ravey sort of events so is more in that world. My daughters are strictly C&W though so they wouldn’t even think it was real music. I am still discovering all types of music, but mainly I am listening to quite ‘free’ improvisational stuff at the moment. Though we also have a real lot of country music on in our house all the time.
“Also I assume this type of music is meant to be heard really loud over a club system where it will sound much more at home than in my living room. I haven’t had chance to listen to the other tracks as, I am ashamed to say, I no longer have a vinyl record player.”
Lake still performs around the world, both under his own name and as Zounds. I wonder what kind of vibe he aims for in his music these days.
“It’s hard to talk about what I’m aiming for in music,” he says. “I work across a whole range of styles from noisy experimentalism to quite traditional forms, but I am always going for the same thing.
“That ‘thing’ is a connection with some primal, cosmic force that drives the universe. I have no religion and the closest I come to any kind of transcendentalism or spirituality is to be totally at one in the moment through the medium of sound.
“That can be in a dumb rock’n’roll song, an acoustic ballad or a vast electronic, atonal symphony. Mostly it doesn’t happen, but that’s what I’m going for.
“It sounds bollocks – it is bollocks – but it is how I feel.”
Following swiftly on the heels of War is the primal scream at the start of Witch Hunt by the Mob. Upping the tempo considerably, Twitch brings the swirling and twirling, droning, trance-like elements of the track to the fore – they even sound a tiny little bit like Can at certain points – whilst phasing the guitar in and out, killing the drums and slamming them back in again like a good ‘un before that familiar vocal comes in:
“Still living with the English fear .. waiting for the witch hunt, dear!”
It is just about the most successful of all of the four edits on the 10-inch
“I knew I wanted to include them but editing Witch Hunt felt like I was just doing it for the sake of it,” admits Twitch. “In hindsight, that’s my favourite of the edits I did and the one I have had the most positive feedback on.”
“A lot of people seem to want to know the lyrics or the chords of Mob stuff,” says former Mob lead singer Mark Wilson. “Bands cover our stuff all over the bloody place really. There aren’t a lot of people asking to license our stuff but then again, no one knew where I was really. I know people have done stuff, but I don’t know what it is. I’d love to hear it.
“Like J Church [Lance Hahn] doing No Doves and Penguin’s got a track on KillYour Pet Puppy of someone [Close Lobsters] doing The Mirror Breaks. I downloaded the J Church track years ago. It’s nice to hear someone else singing your song. You never like the sound of your own voice, do you?”
He laughs. “It was a pleasure to listen to someone play proper guitar and singing it properly. Someone who didn’t have a bad throat.”
Was it a bit of a bolt out of the blue, something like this coming out of club culture?
“Well, not really because we all run alongside each other anyway,” says Wilson. “I don’t sit around listening to punk rock records, particularly. I’ve spent a lot of time around people from that kind of scene. I don’t do a great deal of raving myself, but I was at a lot of dos where it was all going on, in the new age traveller thing, y’know? In some ways it stands to reason that people know a lot of the same songs.”
Do you like the re-edit?
“On the record or off the record?”
Mark, the guy who did it is a big fan. I don’t think he’d be offended if you didn’t like it. I think he realises that he’s taken your creation and messed with it.
“It’s not that I don’t like it or anything, I just feel that they could have done more with it,” replies Wilson. “I suppose it’s hard, because he didn’t have the masters to work with. I always think that there’s some good bits of bass on Mob records that could work really well if you sampled them. There’s a particularly good one in Our Life Our World, which sounds a little bit like Neon Lights by Kraftwerk.
“If I knew enough about it and was motivated enough, I’d imagine you could do some really interesting stuff with those riffs, the basslines.
“My sister wants to do it, she’s a DJ, she wants to do something with Witch Hunt – I took her to a Tinariwen gig, I’m really into them, I think they’re brilliant – and she was telling me how much she wanted to work with Witch Hunt. The funny thing is, it’s the only one she knows, the only one she remembers. She wasn’t a Mob fan, particularly.”
So what are you up to these days?
“I’ve got like this old quarry in the woods, and basically we take vans apart and sell the parts,” he tells me. “We ship them all over the bloody world, you know. It’s a scrap yard, really, but I like to think it’s a bit more than that.”
Do you miss being involved in music?
“I’m not a great fan of the music business, to be honest. I like music but a lot of people involved in the business are a bit up themselves. I’m so far removed from it these days.”
I ask if he’s heard any of the other stuff on the 10-inch. He hasn’t but he’s not sure why Honey Bane is included in the package, “because I don’t remember her being a part of that scene.”
I explain that Twitch wasn’t really into it all at the time. Looking back five or ten years later, I guess it all kinda got jumbled in together.
“That’s something I’m really conscious of all the time,” says Wilson. “For me, living through all of it, there’s a very clear timeline, where things evolve, in proper time, in real time. And yet, when people are looking back at it, it seems like everything happened at the same time.
“Someone sent me a compilation of old Mob stuff, May Inspire Revolutionary Acts, and I’ve listened to certain tracks on it over and over again and there’s stuff on there that I just don’t remember at all,” he continues. “Not even vaguely. And that’d be from like 1977 or 1978. We’d long since dropped all of those songs by the time we made any records. And it all just drops out of your memory.
“But I suppose for someone listening to it now, who wasn’t there at the time, it’d just sound like the rest of the old stuff.”
On the other side of the record is Twitch’s take on the seminal Tube Disasters by Flux of Pink Indians, from their career-defining Neu Smell EP they recorded for the Crass label in 1981.
“Tube Disasters has one of the greatest basslines ever,” says Twitch simply. “That’s where the initial idea to edit anarcho punk tracks came from. I just had to do something with that bassline. There’s even a hip hop record that samples it. It is simply too mighty not to be better known.”
I ask Derek Birkett, onetime bassist with Flux and now head of the One Little Indian recording conglomerate, what he thinks of the idea of someone revitalising this 30-year-old music.
“I love it. I think it’s great. I like it, y’know. Yeah,” he tells me over the phone from his south London powerbase.
“To be dead honest, I’m happy for people to do whatever they want to do. I have all the multi-tracks and stuff and they were made available to them but they just wanted to do an edit rather than a remix.”
So are you into all this stuff now? Can you see yourself commissioning Paul Oakenfold to do a remix project on Strive To Survive?
“No,” he tells me (not really, I suspect, getting my admittedly poor joke). “It’s interesting though. Kevin [Hunter, former Flux guitarist] contacted me not long ago, within the last year, because he and Colin [Latter, former Flux singer] were interested in going in and remixing it, the whole album, because they think they could do a better job. And I think that is going to happen at some point.”
How do you feel about the whole Flux period now? Fondly?
“Oh yeah, very fondly, yeah.”
I don’t think Derek has done any interviews in a while. I don’t remember him being this laconic in the Eighties.
Do you listen to the music anymore?
“I do actually,” he tells me. “I went to that shop in Camden and bought a whole load of the records on CD, to have another listen to them, all the Crass catalogue, all the Conflict catalogue, Discharge, all the bands that I really liked from that time.”
And how did you find it? Sometimes all that stuff seems really out of place and out of time when you listen to it now.
“It’s interesting for me, because the ideas, and all that side of it, still resonate. I thought the ideas stood the test of time slightly better than the music.”
“It was interesting going back and reading the stuff the rest of the guys in the band felt,” says Birkett. “Ideaswise it fitted. Essentially what had happened was we had become, for whatever reasons, we’d become involved in all of that the political side, and it wasn’t working.
“A bunch of us decided that, because it wasn’t working and it was going nowhere, we should knock it on the head. It was part of that, really. To challenge the people that were going along and pretending to be into the ideas and weren’t really.
“And from my selfish point of view, the ideas were supposed to be as important as the music. If not more important.”
Would that go for The Uncarved Block too? Hearing that again, it seemed a lot more palatable than pretty much any of your other stuff.
“They were different records, but yeah.”
Do you have kids? Are they clubbers? What do they make to the re-edit?
“I have three kids – they all have very eclectic tastes in music – but all enjoy going out and experiencing music live.”
Bearing in mind Steve Ignorant’s Feeding gig the year before last, Flux, the Subhumans, Amebix, Rubella Ballet and Omega Tribe reforming, George Berger and Ian Glasper’s books, even Angelina Jolie and David Beckham wearing diamante Crass t-shirts, what do you make of the way that whole scene seems to be getting a re-appraisal (with the same content but in an entirely different context) at the moment?
“I think that it is criminal that Crass have been over looked in almost all the history of punk music – and any acknowledgement of them is long over due – the philosophy that they presented and the ideas that they stimulated are more important today than when they were first aired,” says Birkett. “Even 20 years later I find everything about them to be an inspiration.”
“Many thanks for sending that mp3, “ says Kevin Hunter from Flux, “interesting to finally hear it.
“What to say without sounding too critical? Well, it’s not actually bad – just dull! I’m not sure if I was expecting too much, but it reminded me of those 12-inch extended mixes of songs that cropped up all too often in the Eighties – just longer versions with no additions.
“I suppose that it would have been difficult to better what Prof Green has done with the track, and I think it works far better as the basis for something new rather than being strung out. All credit to the guy for having a crack though!
“No idea what Col will think of it ..”
It turns out that Colin Latter, when I finally manage to get him an mp3 he can play, isn’t that impressed:
“At last!” he emails me. “I’ve been able to play it, thanks for that, but I must say, you can’t beat the original!!!”
The track that has been messed with least by Twitch is Guilty by Honey Bane, with a spaced-out, sexy monster of a track – which is not dissimilar to the Slits at their most dancefloor-friendly – punctuated by much ecstatic moaning and groaning from the blonde bombshell singer.
“The Honey Bane track I had done years ago,” says Twitch. “I love that song and wanted to include it because it’s a great dance track but also because it would probably piss of a few anarcho punk purists.
“Honey Bane signed to EMI back in the day and had a (failed) bash at pop stardom. She was generally regarded as a traitor to the cause. Anyway, my plan worked. I have had a couple of emails from people asking why I included her instead of say DIRT or the Poison Girls. Mission successful!”
Since her time working with the Crass empire – she recorded the Girl on The Run single when she was actually on the run from a children’s home in 1980 – Donna Carraway aka Honey Bane hasn’t exactly had an easy time of it.
After signing an ill-advised deal with EMI – which brought her a minor hit single in the shape of a cover of Baby Love, but utterly alienated her punk audience – she became a single parent after her husband Fox (guitarist with DIRT) died following an epilepsy attack a year after their daughter was born. In a most un Crass-like turn of events, she soon found herself working as a glamour model.
“I knew what I wanted to do and I just got on and did it,” she replies when I ask her about the time when she recorded Guilty. “I was so naive. It was shortly after that that I went to EMI, expecting to carry on in the way I’d become accustomed to. I thought that because I’d already built up a following, I just be able to bring what I was already doing to more people.
“And I absolutely didn’t have anybody that was looking out for my interests. I was 15 when I signed my management deal and I’d just turned 16 when I signed to EMI.
“And then I found that I was trapped and being made to do things I didn’t want to do. I wasn’t too unhappy with the first single I did, but I expected that to be the one kind of commercial thing, and that I would have a band and go out and play live, and I wasn’t even allowed to do that.
“I was being told, okay this is your choice: you’re either doing Baby Love or Needle In A Haystack. Actually, looking back now, I’d probably do Needle In A Haystack. It was soul destroying. It was all I’d ever wanted to do and I was so unhappy and miserable.”
As for the glamour modelling, “I was doing what I needed to do to survive, basically,” she explains. “I’d tried doing normal jobs and having to come off benefits, and ending up with less money than when I was on benefits. It was a Catch 22 situation. It was something I could do. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done.”
She eventually got married to an American guy who was in the USAAF and ended up living on the island of Okinawa, about 2000 miles off mainland Japan. She remembers it as “an absolute paradise”.
After her marriage broke down – a complicated messy breakdown by all accounts – she moved back to the UK where she continued her five-year fight for justice for her children against a man who is, in effect a US Federal employee, “and of course, you know, they really look after their own.”
She is not overly pleased to be back in the UK.
“This is just a little island that is becoming more and more like a prison. It’s so over-populated, and if it moves, slap a tax on it. It’s crazy here. The whole justice system, the corruption – the world over is like that but here, it’s such a small place. There’s so much terribly wrong here. And it isn’t going to get better, it’s going to get worse.”
“The only reason to come here is to visit the castles and go home again,” she decides with a big laugh.
Okay. So how did you first hear about the 10 Inches Of Fear project?
“RVNG approached me through MySpace,” she tells me over the phone. “It was a little bit of a surprise to me that somebody had got in touch about that particular song, but overall it wasn’t so much of a surprise. I’ve had it over the last few years. I’ve had a few people approach me for licenses for Violence Grows, so I’ve gotten used to that.
“People thought that I wasn’t doing anything for years and years but I was – I just wasn’t using the name of Honey Bane. I was just out there honing my art. I had a band and went out and played live, but I didn’t want to do it as Honey Bane until I was ready. So I eventually decided to set up a Honey Bane MySpace and that’s what was surprising, the response I got.
“There were a lot of people who were fans back when they were kids, back when they were my age, who wanted to hear new stuff. And then there was a whole other generation of kids who were just getting into it, because this stuff had been passed to them through their parents. That amazes me, after all that time.
“I never felt that I’d ever done anything particularly special but then I got a lot of feedback about how life-changing certain songs were,” she continues. “I had one person who wrote to me who said that Girl On The Run had made them a better parent. They were older when they had kids, but they said that song made them into the kind of parent they were.”
So what did you think to what Twitch did with the track? From what I remember of the original, he didn’t seem to do much.
“To be honest, it was very difficult to work out exactly what he had done,” she tells me. “He didn’t really change anything. If anything, it sounds a little tighter, like it’s been pulled together a little more, and maybe the bassline sounds a bit smoother.
“That particular bassline reminds me of the electro kind of bassline although the drumming and the vocal were more dubby. The stuff I’m doing now has more kind of dub basslines that are quite funky, with very rhythmic drumming. But I put a lot of different things into it and it’s a mish-mash of styles. It has the attitude of punk but it’s not punk.”
These days – despite appearing in a short feature with Banarama’s Siobhan Fahey and (ahem) Donny Tourette from Celebrity Big Brother and Towers of London – she is rebuilding her musical career, slowly but surely. She’s recorded a new album, which includes an updated version of Violence Grows, now re-titled Violence Grew:
“I wanted to reflect the climate of violence as it is today. Even something like the fact that you don’t have bus conductors on buses anymore. As a piece of music, it’s timeless and I wanted the lyrics to be right.”
Does she keep in touch with anyone from the old days, I wonder.
“I keep in touch with Penny and Gee, from time to time. I’ve known them since I was 14, but I don’t visit them on a regular basis. They’re content in their lives, they’ve achieved a lot of what they wanted to achieve in their lives, personally, in living the way that they do and everything.
“That’s how they wanted to live their lives and they’ve been able to do that, so they’re very fortunate.”
See also interviews with the Mob, Flux *1 (1984) and Flux *2 (2008) and D&V, plus pieces on Penis Envy and Christ the Album by Crass, EP1 & Farce by Rudimentary Peni, The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks by Flux and The Curse Of Zounds by Zounds.