Change your fucking attitude. The first way of changing the world is changing your attitude to it.
– Penny Rimbaud, Crass
The revolution isn’t men behind guns its people saying; “Yeah, I can do that!”
– Penny Rimbaud, Crass
The firemen are striking; the high street is a ghost town. The rich/poor gap widens and a filthy haze of blame culture descends. Once more under conservative control, we find ourselves in a climate akin to Thatcher’s Britain. As the dreams of UK musicians and fans are crushed beneath the burden of Brexit aside the ever-churning conveyer belt of pop, where do new bands turn for a spark of inspiration, a shred of hope, a glimmer of guidance? Someone to throw them a rope, rather than wrap it round their necks? “This glock kills fascists!” quips Ray Gun front-woman Jess, in the midst of Margate’s fight against Farage and his followers. The all vegetarian, feminist four-piece are two guys and two girls from the desolate deep Kent coastline. Channeling Riot Grrrl pop sensibilities through a Shellac/Big Black filter, they are definitely a band for fans of Alvvays, Karen O and Bikini Kill. Just six months into Ray Gun’s existence, they’ve already been dubbed Kent’s answer to Joanna Gruesome and the release of their first single ‘Away We Goo’ is featured as BBC Introducing Kent’s Record Of The Week. With the UK facing such an unsteady time both politically and socially, Ray Gun find themselves in just a small handful of bands who are commenting on that and holding values they stand for. As a consequence the band are amassing growing attention, sticking out like a red rag against the pacified popular music we have become numb to, something that hasn’t represented the people for a long time. Last month, the new-kid mob accepted an invitation to visit the DIY scene’s mecca, the birthplace of Anarcho-Punk, Crass’ Dial House.
If you didn’t already know, Crass are a radical mixed gender punk band who emerged in 1978, releasing the EP ‘Feeding of the 5000’ just as The Sex Pistols and The Clash were winding down and many people deemed punk as dead. The band hoped to sell one hundred copies initially but the pressing plant used would only print a minimum of five thousand, hence the title. Crass were astounded to sell all five thousand independently and go to a second pressing. Quickly the band gained a following so vast, that they became leaders of their own splinter genre of Punk, labelled Anarcho-Punk. Since, Feeding of the 5000 has hit gold statusand Crass’ legacy has gone on to influence numerous other bands as well as a profusion of protest movements. In their eight years of activity, Crass influenced a number of social movements including Animal Rights, Nuclear Disarmament Movement and the Feminist Movement. Dial House was their base and remains so for two members, Gee Vaucher and Penny Rimbaud. It is a cottage in Essex that Crass lyricist and drummer Penny discovered during the 1960s. The house was derelict and Penny took it on as a restoration project and home after acquiring permission from the farmer who’s land it sat on. This later gave the band a free creative space, which they could maintain cheaply. For a punk band’s headquarters, the location was unusual, as at that time it was common for punks to live in squats based in the city where all the action was happening. Rimbaud differed; ‘I wanted Dial House to be an open art central where people were welcome to come and visit or live, as long as they contributed in some way’. Some of the most notable endeavours to emerge from Dial House include founding the iconic Stonehenge Festival, their involvement in the Stop the City marches and having questions raised in parliament and on Question Time. In harmony with the art driven community atmosphere surrounding Dial house, Crass as a band were considered as an open project and over time they had many freelance members including photographers, artists and filmmakers among self-taught musicians.
After an 8-year stint in revolution, Crass split in 1984 and vowed never to reform. Since, the members have gone on to various side projects and of recent, Crass members Penny Rimbaud, artist Gee Vaucher and singer Eve Libertine collaborated with Jazz musicians to perform a rework of the Crass Album ‘Yes Sir I Will’ which they performed at Rebellion Festival 2014. “I got a job working in the kitchen backstage at Rebellion just so that I could meet the members of Crass and I got to serve them their vegan curry before they played!” Tells Ray Gun drummer Paula Frost. After performing on Rebellion’s main stage, the band took their performance across the country for a series of smaller shows, one being at The Vortex Club in Dalston. “Ray Gun are heavily influenced by the ethos behind Crass and their legacy, so I took the band to the Dalston show. Not only was the concert nauseatingly inspiring but we also got chatting to Penny after and exchanged numbers. Soon I organised a phone call with him and spent over an hour asking all kinds of questions about Crass and being in a band. For Penny, the legacy that Crass left was a belief that anyone can make a difference and that whatever you do, however small, you can make a statement that can have a ripple effect. I asked him what he wanted to change with Crass. “Everything that prevailed against human decency. That was one of the great things about having Steve (Ignorant) as a work partner; he brought the wisdom of the street into my life so we could talk in a very balanced way. I could talk about another part of society and use that part of society against itself. I used my privileged education against itself.” Penny resolved. With Crass spiralling into a movement it seemed that the timing was right. Penny expressed “It might have happened anyway but the social atmosphere, the political atmosphere was right for that sort of thing to happen, in the same way as in the years of The Beatles it was right for that to happen.” He continued “It isn’t the individual bands that create the circumstances it’s the social atmospheres that demand that someone stands up and does something and there is always someone standing up and doing what the social requirement is and we happened to be that for a period.”
The most profound part of talking to Penny was his inability to believe anything could stand in his way. He was a person who held firm a childlike innocence and truly believed you could do anything. “The legacy of Crass is that you can do it if you’re willing to try. We each in our own way have got value. We need to find a way to use those values. Each of us have talent, beauty, all those things are very human attributes and you know they’re masked over by the culture we live in and so suppressed in a way and its there, you know, the spark of joy, spark of love, they’re all within us and I think the legacy of Crass is actually, everything in the world is attitude. Change your fucking attitude. The first way of changing the world is changing your attitude to it. Once you’ve done that, then you can start moving but if you’re going to be a victim to the world, which is how we’re taught to be then you can’t change it. Even if its just tiny, you know, your change in the world is going to be planting window boxes in your street. Great! Well if everyone’s doing what they can do, the revolutions over. Because that is the revolution. Not with lots of clever Marxist ideas.” At the end of the call, he invited Ray Gun up to visit Dial House and from there the band organised a trip across the south of England, in their last-legs Citroen Saxo. “We arrived and there was a note on the door telling us they’d gone out but to come in and help ourselves to hot soup and freshly baked bread, which they’d prepared for us. There were no locks and no rules in the Crass house.” Tells singer Jess. “It was like an alternate universe with an insatiable calmness in the air. The wonky bathroom walls were lined in salvaged wood, the stairways and maze-like tiny corridors were piled high with endless back catalogues of punk histories and books covering all subjects, higgledy piggledy. When Penny and Gee got back, we spent the evening discussing music, inspiration and self-sufficiency into the small hours.” Guitarist Harry was humbled by the calmness of the house. “By morning the authentically cosy country house was transformed. Dial house can only be described as a complete safe haven. There are stout-hearted chickens roaming and home baking, but also thoughts brewing and opinions being exchanged. It’s a reminder that punk is an ideology, not a fashion-choice. The modern day perception of punk can be diluted.”
Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher had lived in Dial House for over 50 years. Throughout the bands success they stayed grounded and maintained an environment isolated from the outside world. Children had grown up there, rebellious teenagers had matured into iconic songwriters and people had come and gone over the years but Dial House remains a beacon of anti-establishment, self sufficiency and hope. Penny rounded off our conversation with a little advice; “If I’m gunna start talking about revolutionary hardships then you’ve got to live those revolutionary hardships, you cant be preaching revolution from a swimming pool. You’ve got to live it and be it and I think we did do that and I continue to do that in my own way.”
This feature was originally written in 2014, Ray Gun have not been active for some time but this year they celebrate five years since the release of their debut EP ‘May The Bridges I Burn Light Your Way’ listen here:
Crass recently joined with One Little Indian Records to reissue their backcatalogue available here:
Penny Rimbaud, Gee Vaucher and Eve Libertine routinely perform together at the Vortex Jazz club and make other appearances which you can keep up with by subscribing to Exitstencil press email list here:
Steve Ignorant will be on unique tour in 2020 performing Crass songs with his band.
Crass have also been working together on a photobook following their time is a band which will be available later this year.