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“In the Old Days! 1980–1982” Cassette (Distributed by BBP)

by Mike Clarke


As naive constructs go, anarchopunk probably takes the biscuit. Built on the idealistic shipwreck of original punk ethics (themselves largely mythical and half-baked), hindsight has it that Crass and their acolytes injected said leftovers with a fundamentalist zeal, then drove them once more onto the rocks of uniformity and cult-oblivion. Seen through the cartoon lens of prepackaged, learned stereotype, it actually depends on your level of critical objectivity or, if a participant yourself, the color of your own hindsight, whether rose-tinted or best-forgotten. For children of the 60s like myself, the 60s themselves were best-forgotten; after all, by the time I was old enough to enjoy them, they were over, and punk proved a final escape from the sepia-tinged sterility of the 1970s. And then, suddenly, punk itself was “over,” apparently, its initial promise bought up and commodified. The young kids of 1980–1981 had become victims of the same con: by the time they were old enough to catch the wave, the tide had gone out again. Sorry, Punk’s Dead, proclaimed the journalists, authorities in all beyond keeping themselves in a job. Ironically, the contempt displayed by the corporate music press/industry for “Last Year’s Youth” meant that anarchopunk thrived on its own, imposed margins.

By donating cash for a proposed Anarchy (here, “Autonomy”) Centre in 1981, Crass were making a truly grand gesture, a repudiation of all that the likes of The Clash promised, but failed miserably to deliver. That the whole venture ended in ignominious, apathetic failure is no statement on Crass, or anarchopunk per se, but it was typically human and typically of its time, inevitable and incorrigible to the last. By seeking to realise the utopian punk dream of 1977, or their own perception of such, those behind the Autonomy Centre were inevitably doomed to similar failure.

The Autonomy Centre was situated in a warehouse on Metropolitan Wharf in Wapping, a district of London’s East End docklands. Crass used the proceeds from their “Bloody Revolution” single to help set up what was to be London’s first anarchy centre. It lasted from summer 1981 to early 1982 and was characterised, as quoted in George Berger’s The Story Of Crass, by “an uneasy tension between old school anarchists and anarcho punks.”

Wapping, in those days, was a deadzone, a cross between Blade Runner and Stalingrad (after the battle). OK, I exaggerate: it was dominated by long, largely disused, wharves flanking the river and lined with derelict warehouses or storage depots. Gentrified—sorry, regenerated—in the late 1980s, it now has the Docklands Light Railway, its own small airport and a forest of glittering luxury flats, wherein Crass’s noble ten-grand donation might buy you a doorframe, if you could live cheek-by-jowl with yuppies and city-slickers that is. Anyway, New Years’ Eve 1981 promised a stellar line-up of The Mob/Apostles/ Null & Void/Flack/Blood And Roses and more. Entrance to the Autonomy Centre was facilitated by handy spray-painted/stencilled circled-A signs (what else?) on walls and pavements, which gave the evening the air of an urban treasure-hunt, the code of entry to a secretive, exclusive society, unknown to the desultory trickle of festive revellers braving the icy wind. Originally, six of us were due to make this trip, but most wisely pulled out, leaving just me and a local skinhead mate (whose mum had once refused me and my sister entry to their house,shouting from an upstairs window “You’re not coming in here looking like that!” I quite reasonably asked if she’d noticed her son’s choice of attire recently). Anyway, on arrival in not-so-sunny Wapping we found a pub, hoping for a few festive pints amid a throng of boisterous, friendly East Enders, only to enter a musty vault wherein two very young girls, either drunk or deficient in the mental-health department, were vainly trying to chat up a barman ossified in repose over his beer-pumps. At midnight, a booze-sodden old soak in a flat cap crashed through the doors, claimed a pint, sat opposite us and proceeded to hawk up a lifetime’s phlegm, discharging it squarely atop the end of a single cigarette me and my friend were just sharing and had placed in the ashtray before us. Happy New Year indeed. The girls giggled. Two of us, two of you, their eyes seemed to say, and we made swiftly for the door.

The Autonomy Centre had a library of turgid anarchist tomes. (I’d rather have seen The Dispossessed, or better still, say Atlas Shrugged, if only to provoke some debate—anything but the simpering decay of damp conformity on display.) When I flicked through one lofty polemic and pointed out that the (WWI-era, Russian, and very dead) author had been a noted antisemite, a bearded anarchist calmly took the book from my hand, replaced it on the shelf, and walked away with a kind of contemptuous flourish worthy of a disgruntled feline. Luckily, the gigs themselves were organized by people like Andy Martin of the Apostles and the Kill Your Pet Puppy (KYPP) Collective, so there was at least some prospect. Only these two crews had the vaguest idea of how to liven up such a turgid miasma of smug, ineffectual tedium: Andy Martin & co via no-bullshit action, KYPP by vivaciousness and a colourful verve. Without them, the Autonomy Centre would have lasted a night and I wouldn’t be writing this.

I’d like to finish with some great anecdotes, but there weren’t any: half the bands didn’t show up and most of those that did were unlistenable or forgettable. The beer went flat, then ran out. I eventually dozed off in a comfy chair, until my pal jabbed me awake at 7.30am with a pool-cue and, bleary-eyed, we got the first tube home. I do recall him saying “That’s the last fucking New Year’s Eve you drag me out of the pub.” He’s probably still there (I went another couple of times and it was much better, to be fair).

Listening to this tape reminds me of a time (1980) when the original punks had died off/sold out, but before the whole anarcho scene became labelled and codified. The bands are poorly recorded and largely formative in their delivery. “Conjure up” is probably the right phrase, because it reminds me of autumnal, leafy Stoke Newington streets, dimly-lit and musty squats, the oppressive aroma of printers’ ink at Kentish Town’s Interaction. It evokes a brief period in time, one that I remember neither negatively nor positively, but merely as it was. Whilst basic and often inept, the bands herein are far from three-chord caricatures, the lyrics already somewhat inspired by Crass but not yet in thrall to what became a standard. Admittedly, a gig at the Autonomy Centre was a long way from Gen X at the Vortex, the Damned at the Marquee, the Clash at the Music Machine, but it was similarly a lot better than a 6 identikit leather/bristles “Real Punk” Sunday night extravaganza at the Lyceum. Also, for all the rhetoric about “black-clad anarcho hordes,” bands such as Rubella Ballet, Part 1, Rudimentary Peni, Blood & Roses, The Mob, Cold War, Committee, Omega Tribe, Apostles, Hagar The Womb, and Flowers In The Dustbin may have shared lyrical/political/social sentiments and stages with Crass, but they were vastly more diverse in everything from dress-sense to musical style than pop history pigeonholes them as. The other important thing to remember is that these bands formed an alternative network, away from the standard London music circuit of the Marquee/Nashville/Lyceum/Music Machine/Roundhouse/Dingwalls, preferring instead cheaply hired halls and youth clubs without need of bouncers and self-aggrandizing promoters. There was no internet and no text-messaging, merely a small line in the general-listings at the back of Sounds, perhaps a flier in Rough Trade or Kensington Market if you were lucky, then a quick look at the London A-Z, 4–6 bands for 50p/₤1, a long walk from the nearest tube station, cans of beer from the local offy, always someone selling their latest fanzine from a plastic bag, then more often than not a long walk home after the last train.

This tape was recorded “live” (ostensibly) at the Autonomy Centre by Rich G (aka Scarecrow of the Scum Collective) and compiled by Andy Martin. I picked it up from Big Banana Products last year. Perhaps it’s a reissue (like many BBP listings) of an old title, or maybe a recent compilation from newly discovered archives.


IN THE OLD DAYS! 1980-82

FACTION: Hello You Bastard (1982, live)
Familiar lumpen riff that may have been recycled from an Apostles jam (or vice versa). Female vocalist, hubbub of disinterested audience chatter suggests the tape recorder was well back in the crowd.

PRIMAL CHAOS: Cold Grey/Uniform (1982 rehearsal)
Drums, bass, and vocals, the latter by Peat, a spikey urchin from Stevenage if I remember, with an Ignorant/Jerwood squall of a voice usually, but here a little restrained. Uniform has a familiar dig at punk rockers and their sartorial…uniformity. Peat (circle the “a”) produced Peaceful Protest and Hateful Solitude zines and later joined The Assassins Of Hope.

FACTION: Nazi Baby/Subversive Sect/Fuck Faction (1982, rehearsal)
I say “rehearsal” to point out that the “Live At The Autonomy Centre” blurb on the sleeve is 90% misleading, bar four or five tracks. I could say “studio,” but these bands lived on a shoestring and generally recorded their demos at rehearsals, which were more often than not the spare room of their latest squat. The tinny undistorted guitar, biscuit-tin drums, and especially cute chorus on “Nazi Baby (You’re a Nazi Baby, euthanasia in Europe and Asia) give these tracks a more Messthetics/DIY feel than an anarchopunk feel. Angular guitars highlight the stark female vocals. “We’re the Subversive Sect, crying out for freedom,” they bravely proclaim. Chad Valley cymbals splutter rather than crash, but Faction here were striving for a post-punk feel (plus a dash of early Adam & The Ants) than their later anarcho-offerings.

THE APOSTLES: Unknown (?, rehearsal)
This must be really early: the “drums” are boxes, the sticks knitting needles. Snatches of harmonica (or is it melodica?) drift in and out. Sounds like a “Bullshit Detector” outtake.

FACTION: Hello You Bastard/Tomorrow Belongs To Us/Substandard (1982, rehearsal)
“HYB” is a repeat of the youth club-dirge that opens the tape, the fuzz pedal goes on for the next, but “Substandard” reverts back to the refreshingly angular DIY feel of the earlier tracks. Faction later had a 7" on All The Madmen (with Mel of the A Heads on vocals) and some demos on 96 Tapes. Centered around the Hackney squatland of Brougham Road, bassist Rob previously did Enigma fanzine, drummer Martin Sunday The 7 th (he also did time in Primal Chaos and the Apostles).

THE APOSTLES: N.W.3 (1982, rehearsal) / BLACK CROSS: Red Star (1980, rehearsal)
The tracklisting gets murky here: which is which? One is raw, forgettable “Bullshit Detector” punk interspersed with a blaring TV set, the other a melodic, mellow dual-guitar hypnotic drone. Music for dark November nights huddled in Stoke Newington attics with the rustling treetops brushing the window panes, or maybe not.

VARIOUS PEOPLE: Pete The Plectrum (1981, rehearsal)
Again, a melodic guitar-led instrumental, decidedly West Coast-style flourishes from (I presume) Pete Bynghall of the first Apostles line-up. This track later became a staple of that very band.

ERATICS: Unknown (1981, live)
Now this is live. The Eratics conjure up Conway Hall, the old church in Pentonville Road (Kings Cross: where now The Epsilons, Terminal Disaster, or The Syphletix?) and the Hammersmith Clarendon (now a multistory car-park), where they changed every chorus to the refrain of “Pickled Onions! Pickled Onions!” whilst Dirt and Conflict sat in the wings polishing their polemical tracts. The track ends with the sound of a girl shouting and what seems to be the prelude to some violence, which makes me wonder if this recording isn’t from the Autonomy Centre, but the infamous Walthamstow Youth Club where some drunken Welshmen tried to invade the gig but got battered with various garden implements (my companion at the aforementioned New Year’s Eve show above gloatingly remembered wielding a spade on the head of one interloper from the Valleys). As ever with the London of those days, who knows what a bunch of Welshmen were doing hanging around an East London youth club? (Your guess is as good as mine.)

BLACK CROSS: The Beginning/Black Cat (1980/1982, rehearsal)
The first line-up of The Apostles shared a member with Black Cross, who were better known as Black Flag. “The Beginning” is dank, fuzzed-out lumpen punk with the bleak London squatland-aura that reminds me of tuinol, bad speed, and skinheads lurking in shadows. They’ve also been listening far too much to “Unknown Pleasures” here. “Black Cat” has no guitar, just tribal, sparse, and hypnotic drums and bass with a vampirish, vaguely sultry female vocalist intoning over the top.

UNKNOWN: A Stranger To Myself (1982, rehearsal)
“Our words mean nothing, voices mean nothing” says a plummy, youthful voice, ushering in another gentle and tasteful dual guitar/vocals number. It’s nice, if not exactly earth-shattering, with a somewhat added poignancy in that the identity of all participants is lost to posterity.

THE PACK: Number 2 (1980, live)
A strange addition, neither recorded at the Autonomy Centre or bearing any relation to the other bands included here. The usual muscular Pack sound, with Kirk Brandon’s hyperbolic shriek on top. I have a good live tape from a Brixton squat gig circa 1979 where he hilariously berates local anarchists between numbers.

CRASS: Rival Tribal Rebel Revel/What Do You Want?/Big A Little A (1980, live, though not from the Autonomy Centre)
Crass at their best, in an intimate setting before the attention got a little too much. For all those who saw them back in the days of Conway Hall/Hope & Anchor/Pied Bull/Action Space/Acklam Hall/Columbo St. Community Centre.

BLACK CROSS: The Ugly Truth (1980, rehearsal)
Later done even better by The Apostles. Black Cross (Black Flag), pre-dated The Apostles, ran concurrently with them throughout 1981, and shared drummer Dan T. Christ. The rest of the band were Matt Macleod (vocals), Mike Finch (guitar), and Ann Gee Zoff (bass). Apparently they played the Autonomy Centre a few times. This track is pedestrian, fuzzy punk that barely hangs together yet vaguely promises something; the vocalist is fashionably righteous (“These are the right morals…”).

COLD WAR: Suffering By Fire (1981, live)
Taken from a full set of an Autonomy Centre gig. Cold War were a brusque, efficient, bass-led outfit from Essex who flourished out on the left-field of what was known as anarchopunk. Industrial rhythms and brittle Gang Of Four-style guitars. There’s a good EP from the time, if you can find it. The drummer was Chris, later of Hagar The Womb and Liberator Sound.

THE MOB: Wardance? (1981, live)
Outside the remit of this review probably, and my brain is frozen on the title of this track for some reason (senility?). I liked the Mob a lot back then, despite the faint stench of reverence from their fans and cronies.

BLOOD & ROSES: Unknown/Tomorrow (1981, live)
Blood & Roses made several underrated records and should have gone further. With a great female vocalist and a guitarist who could grind out some superb Saints-style riffage that owed more to ‘77 punk and its antecedents than the concurrent Exploited/Anti Pasti numbskull brigade, Blood & Roses mixed in blues, r‘n’b, and psychedelic, as well as goth, influences and could, on their day, kick up a ferocious storm. For some reason I always figured they could have fit neatly on one of those “Hell Comes To Your House” compilation albums.

BLACK CROSS/FLAG: Paranoid (1982, rehearsal)
Obviously from the same session as “Black Cat.” Gone is the fuzzed-out stodgy squat-punk, to be replaced with a reverb-heavy improvisation that threatens something interesting before petering out then resurging with a final, frantic rise in tempo. A noticeably different singer (“Keep playing, for fuck’s sake, keep playing!”) too.