In the late 1970s, Crisis marked your first appearance on the music scene, as one of the band’s two main songwriters. In the years since, your music has evolved drastically; your current project of the last two and a half decades, Death In June, is markedly dissimilar to your work with Crisis, musically, visually and politically. That said, why a retrospective “complete discography” Crisis CD now?
First of all I don’t believe that in retrospect Crisis and Death In June were that dissimilar on any of those levels. Certainly not musically towards the end of Crisis in 1980 and, the yet to be, birth in 1981 of Death In June. Visually we also had from the very beginning a look that could have easily blended into latter day DIJ with camouflage and black clothing being ‘de rigeur’. We saw ourselves as ‘Music to March To’ and so did the British mainstream press and our followers – whatever side of the political spectrum they came from. And, despite being ‘obviously’ Left wing we had many far Right followers which gave birth to a whole gamut of interesting liaisons and conversations and mutual agreements and perhaps even respect. Nothing was ever straightforward, no matter how much we might have even liked it to be. If you were a punk or a skinhead – regardless of your colour, political stance or sexual orientation – in the UK in the late 1970s that was enough to blur all and every prejudice and boundary.
Whether I like it or not Crisis forms a very important part of my personal and musical contribution to history and after six years since the last readily available compilation I thought it was now time to issue another, better thought-out, retrospective. “Holocaust Hymns” effectively replaces the “We Are All Jews And Germans” compilation that was put out by the now defunct World Serpent Distribution. And, it’s a lot better than that one, after being remastered and with more accurate track information, exclusive photos et cetera. For the first time in years I actually am enjoying listening to this moment in time. And, going by the amount of requests I’ve had for this material over recent years, so will many other good folk. Basically, there was a demand and hopefully I’ve met it.
Crisis seems to have appeared fairly early on in the whole punk “movement” of the late 1970s; what initially drew you to punk rock, and what inspired you to form your own band?
Very simply everything on all levels was horrible in England in the mid-late 1970s. When I see newsreel footage of the UK during that period I can’t believe quite how dour it all looked – and was – especially if you were from white working class backgrounds like Tony and myself! Something had to happen and it did culturally, and had a continuing significant effect on youth culture and society as a whole. I had hair down to my waist until late 1975 when I realised that wasn’t for me – that was another time – cut all my hair off and wandered around being pissed off, looking like a runaway from Francois Truffaut’s “400 Blows”. Then one day on the Tube in London I noticed someone else looking like this and then I saw a poster for a Sex Pistols gig showing two cowboys greeting each other but whose cocks were also exposed and touching, and then I heard about The Clash, and then I saw in late 1976 The Sex Pistols on an English TV show called “So It Goes,” hosted by Tony Wilson (later of Factory Records fame), and then Tony Wakeford telephoned me and asked if I had heard of Punk Rock and if I wanted to form a group. I said “yes” to both those questions and the rest is hysterical. It was a series of events that led me to Punk early on, but in comparison to the trailblazers, we took our time. Crisis came in the wake of those events and people.
Many reviewers have compared Crisis to the far-left UK band Crass, due to the two bands’ heavy use of politics as lyrical and visual subject matter within the context of punk rock. One reviewer wrote, “[Crass and Crisis] both signaled the end of punk as fun, spontaneity, massiveness and anarchy (as a way of feeling). In this new ‘new wave’ of punk, punk was seen as a tool of protest… Crass, Crisis and the bands they bred became the new puritans. [The Crisis track] PC1984 might as well have stood for politically correct 1984 as they told us the truth about the world and what our part should be in it according to their rules. The truth was black and white…the enemy obvious…the police were the fascistic army to dominate the workers.” Do you think this is a fair criticism, and does is reflect your actual aims for the band at the time, or more of how the band was perceived by the press and fans? Do you look back on your time with Crisis as being “fun,” or was it something else, as the above quote alleges?
Crisis and my experience of Punk Rock in Britain/Europe was anything and everything but “fun” and this sort of idea comes from people who were either not there at the time, or were and have an axe of some kind or another to grind about their own experiences with Crisis. The years between 1977 and 1980 were some of the hardest of my Life and they certainly contributed to Tony and I wanting to destroy the group in 1980 and head for sunnier pastures artistically, culturally, and whatever else we could find. However, we couldn’t deny our cultural imperative at the time. We were in Crisis unashamedly left wing or, at least trying to be, and wanted to be taken seriously politically. Which we were! So seriously in fact that when celebrities found out we were part of the Anti-Nazi League or Rock Against Racism benefits they withdrew their support. Names like the author Keith Waterhouse, TV compare Michael Parkinson and Football coach Brian Clough immediately spring to mind. They publicly withdrew their support because of Crisis! Crisis were referred to as “Red Fascists” almost from the outset, which seemed to confuse and upset some folk and also endear us to others. They were “interesting times.”
And as regards any comparisons to Crass: They were not contemporaries of ours, I don’t remember any comparisons at the time and I think we only became aware of them after the demise of Crisis and at the beginning of Death In June in the early 1980s. Certainly to us then they seemed like the guys at free festivals dishing out lentils and orange juice to those on a bad trip when they realised they had been left behind, there was no one left at the festival anymore and in order to catch up with ‘the kids,’ cropped their hair, wore black and decided to form what was I think akin to the Hari Krishnas; a caricature of a punk group, and do their bit for those who weren’t there in the first place. I’m sure their hearts were in the right place and I love lentils and orange juice, and they did indeed invent their own particular version of Punk but,…. “Do they owe us a living?” Of course they fucking DON’T!
Following the dissolution of Crisis, members of the band went on to form or join acts such as Theatre of Hate, Sol Invictus, Sex Gang Children, and of course your own Death In June. Are you still in touch with any of these other ex-Crisis members, and if so, what is your perception of their post-Crisis work?
Even before the end Luke Rendall the last drummer in Crisis was basically headhunted by Kirk Brandon who was then in a group called The Pack. They went onto to form Theatre Of Hate which I quite liked and I saw a few of their early shows in the London area. I think my best memory was being backstage when Boy George was having a fit about some bloke giving Kirk the eye and how he was going to beat the shit out of him! This was before Culture Club and I have to say I think fame really became Boy George who seemed more like a transvestite psychopath that night than a Karma Kamelion. It also evidently made him lose interest in Kirk! I heard a few years ago that Luke had been murdered.
Lester, the lead guitarist of Crisis, went on to form a group called Car Crash International with members of the Sex Gang Children but I can’t recall what they were like and am only aware of one 12″ single that they put out.
Our two roadies Martin and Flea went on to work with The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite and Flea who designed some of the original Crisis record sleeves was even in several Big Audio Dynamite videos. I don’t know how much input he had in their creation but he was a very talented artist and all-round interesting guy.
Sol Invictus, of course, came out of Death In June not Crisis.
With the exception of Tony Wakeford I’m not in contact with anyone from those Punk days.
In the years since Crisis, you seem to have moved from the realm of politics to that of aesthetics. Conceptually, Crisis seems to have been a very direct, literal and “instructive” project in nature, in the sense that the songs were clearly about (and commenting upon), something specific, and urging the listener to think and feel about things in certain ways. Because of this, Crisis could really only be interpreted one way – literally and at face value – while your subsequent work with Death In June seems to me as being almost the opposite of that sort of approach; it’s rife with vague allusions, double meanings, and open-ended readings. In short, Crisis was a very matter-of-fact thing, while Death In June is a much more nebulous and poetic project. Assuming such an interpretation of your work is accurate, was this shift in approach a conscious decision on your part, or did it happen as a part of a gradual process?
Even though we might have thought what we were writing/singing about was “specific” and “straightforward” it was soon interpreted as anything but. The song ‘White Youth’ is a prime example. We performed several times on the back of a lorry on demonstrations throughout the South of England / London that were organized by The Right To Work campaign. Crisis would play for up to seven or eight hours, with a few breaks in between, entertaining the people who had been marching in protest to their unemployment which was then rife in the UK. It was our equivalent to The Beatles slogging their way through similar set lengths in some sleaze pit in Hamburg in the early 1960s. Whilst they had their happy memories of the Reeperbahn, I have happy memories of stopping traffic crossing Tower Bridge in London playing “UK 79″ and “Holocaust”. We wrote with that marching rhythm in mind the song “White Youth,” which we thought was about ‘unity and brotherhood’ [the song ends with the repeated verse, "We are black, we are white - together we are dynamite!"], but much to my surprise some smartarse in the New Musical Express was soon saying that it was a white supremacist anthem. There’s no pleasing some folk is there! That was key in realizing that no matter what you wrote if it was any good it could be interpreted anyway, anyhow, anywhere. A Death In June prime directive!