Francis Drake and Peter Gilbert
analyse the idea of pacifist
(a quarter million sold).
CRASS SELL more records than most people
realise - nearly a quarter of a million of their
own plus a further 50,000 of people like
Honey Bane and The Poison Girls whom
they've helped â€” and their records are never
out of the Alternative Charts. Their following
is now so big that it seems inadequate to describe them as a cult. Crass don't advertise.
They don't need to and if they manage to arrange a gig somewhere, their following soon get the
Crass, like it or not, are very successful. Yet very little is actually known about them, not least because they like to keep
their individual personalities in the background as much as possible. They actually live in a North London vegetarian
household that has been in existence (with people corning and going) for about
twelve years now. It works, according to flautist G, on the "mutual respect" of a
number of individuals who happen to hold very similar views.
The band itself was formed after Steve Ignorant had come to live in the household
and told Penny Rimbaud that he wanted to set up a band with himself as vocalist.
"Penny had a set of drums," Steve recalls, "and offered to drum for me. Then all the
members joined as they passed through the house; it just sort of grew like that."
But why was the band formed?
"I went to see The Clash in Bristol," answers Steve, "and Joe Strummer was up
there saying 'Go out and do it' so I thought 'I will'. I just felt I wanted to say
something and do something, y'know, make my own stand. But I think we've all
got different reasons for joining the band."
Why did they feel the need to make records?
"We didn't feel a need to at all," Penny replies. "We did some tapes because we
wanted to get gigs and you can't get gigs unless you've got a tape."
Crass didn't intend to make any records at all but one of their tapes came into the
hands of Pete at Small Wonder Records.
"Pete was absolutely knocked out by it," continues Penny, "and got in touch with us. So we went to see him and he said he
wanted to put out 'Do They Owe Us A Living' as a single. We then asked him what we should put on the , 'B-side and he
said 'I like the lot'. So we said "OK â€”we'll do the lot!' "
AND SO "The Feeding Of The 5,000" (an eighteen track 12 inch single) was unleashed on an unsuspecting world. And
with the record came Crass's first taste of the poison pens. Crass have come in for a lot of criticism from all sides. The
majority of the music press have slagged them for various reasons, one particularly ill-informed critic describing them as
"middle class hippy drop-outs". There are at least two working class people living there at the moment Steve and G,
though G doubts whether backgrounds are really relevant.
"It's totally varied," adds Penny, "It always has been. There's never been any sort of formula."
But perhaps more hurtful has been the criticism from the other side of
the musical spectrum, from their contemporaries. Adam & The Ants, for
example, who for a long time shared much of the same audience as
Crass, have described them in print as "dirty people", "the new puritans"
and "doomladen". This seems more than a little unfair because the
Crass vision of the future is far different from and far less pessimistic
than, say Killing Joke's vision of destruction and mayhem or The Sex
Pistols "No Future" claim.
Yet neither do Crass believe in burying their heads in the sand with a
"let's have a good time while we can" attitude. Instead they prefer to tell
people the situation as they see it and through that let people know that
there can be a better future for all of us as individuals. They believe we
don't have to accept what's dished up for us and that society doesn't
have to sit back waiting for the buttons to be pressed.
How do Crass answer the critics who say that Crass are just
using music to get their politics across?
"I quite agree with them!" Penny says. "You'd have to define how you're
using that term really," G considers. "Pacifist anarchists maybe. We're
anarchists in thought."
WOULD CRASS deny that some of their songs are of a
"I don't consider the statements we make are blasphemous as
such," Penny replies. "They don't deny anything. They say, well,
so what if Christ died on the cross? What's that got to do with
me? Why should I have to carry the burden of everyone else's
"What we're attempting to do with those songs is not to be
blasphemous but to de-mythologise, to rid people of the guilt
that they've been forced to carry through other people's
And what if there is someone in the audience who is
offended by what they hear?
"We're not going into churches and singing the songs we sing,"
says Penny, "and I don't suppose we'd want to. Which is a very
different situation to the people in the churches who seem to
believe that they have the right to come into clubs where they
can't expect to hear things that confirm their particular form of
"I mean, you don't expect to hear a psalm being sung in a punk
club. You go there because you want to question the myths.
Were striving to aIways go for the ..........(missing text?)
To........(missing text?) we do is long term ....... (missing text?)
an immediate argument with someone, because we don't have
arguments with anyone. We only have an argument with the
roots of the myths that might be attached."
But what about the ordinary person who doesn't have such
definite views about politics, religion and society?
"We're not a dictatorship," G replies. "I mean, we're not trying
to thrust anything down anyone's throat. We're just making a
statement â€” you can do what you like with it. We're just making
Are Crass looking for converts or recruits to their way of
"No!" declares lead guitarist Phil Free. "No way, because that
would be setting up yet another system, What we're trying to do is to get people to question. things instead of just
accepting everything that comes along."
So how would Andy (rhythm guitarist N. A. Palmer) describe the band?
"Well, I'd describe Crass as a punk band from the ideas that punk started out to be, But I would say we're taking them
'even further. We're taking them where the Pistols really should have taken them â€” well, we're attempting to do that
anyway. "People come up to us and ask, are you a punk band? But I don't like using the word 'punk' because of the way
that punk has turned out."
BOTH ON and offstage Crass all wear black clothes. This might look as if they're connected with some sinister
organisation, so why do they do it?
"It's because of the anonymity," replies bassist Pete Wright. "There's no separation, no identification."
"There's no camouflage," adds Phil. "There's nothing which can stand between us and other people."
Penny says that he also likes the idea of dispelling the "macho-aggressive thing".
"Like at one of our gigs there was this guy who looked like the archetypal sort of skinhead, psychopath, a great big bloke
with Crass engraved in his head He looked like the end of the world but on his back were the letters CND (Campaign For
Nuclear Disarmament) and he meant it. He was the most kind and gentle person you could wish to meet. And what we are
doing is allowing people to be gentle and kind."
So there you have it. No political manifestos, no appeal for converts to their cause, not even any conclusions. Just
questions, opinions and some alternative ideas to those that most of us have come to accept passively. The rest is up to
This article incorporates material origininally published by IN THE CITY fanzine. The authors donated any payment for this
feature to ANIMAL AID and THE RAPE CRISIS CENTRE. (1981)
(This interview is reprinted from the Don't Care Archives - ? 1981)