I first heard Crass when I was 16 years old, a mate of mine had dropped off a copy of ‘Feeding the 5,000’ on vinyl complaining that is was depressing and not very punk. The first thing I noticed about this record was the bleak stark imagery and tons of information on the inside of the fold out cover, I was fascinated, I had never come across a record, or indeed a band like this before. At the time I was listening to the tail end of the 1977 punk stuff, with bands like the Pistols, Clash and Damned still being belted out at a high volume on my crappy little record player. I bought the ‘Feeding of the Five thousand’ record from my mate for the princely sum of one pound sterling, it had only been played and was the best pound I’d ever spent!
A very different musical group
The more I thought about Crass and listened to their low-fi noise peppered with angry political lyrics, the more it occurred to me that they had not followed any kind of proscribed musical or creative formula, for a start their music wasn’t what you could Rock n Roll, there was no blues scale like you would find with the Clash and the Pistols, and there were no fancy guitar solos and tedious format song structures, they were literally creating something bigger than a rock band and something which to me at the time was how I thought punk should be, not in terms of a defining sound or image, but something that was created spontaneously. They were the only band I had ever seen that had stickers on the front of their albums with ‘Pay No more than’ written on them, this made their music and message a lot more accessible when the price of an LP at the time.
Crass and the development of a British Anarchism
Crass songs covered a wide of ideas and issues within the broader Political spectrum including Nuclear disarmament, feminist politics, vegetarianism, anti-war protest, and animal rights issues. If I hadn’t of read crass album covers and listened too and digested their lyrics I would have had no access or insight into any of these issues. With the exception of the Clash, the first wave of punk rock wasn’t really that Political, Crass changed all of that and A whole underground movement of bands supported and helped by Crass began to emerge after they set up their own record label so that they could distribute material for themselves and bands like Zounds, Rudimentary Peni, the Mob and poison Girls. Crass also had strong links to the Free festival movement that was beginning to gather momentum at the time, they had been instrumental in helping to organize the very first Stonehenge free festival with Wally Hope. during their time in operation Crass played a lot of benefit gigs were thousands of pounds were given to different groups. When the Falkland war started Crass responded with a track dedicated to the then Prime Minister ‘How does it feel to be the mother of 1000 dead? which sold enough copies to make it into the top 10 of the music charts in the first week of its release, but predictably, it didn’t even appear in the 100.
Crass and the development of a Permanent culture
If Crass had never existed a lot of the Anarchist politics in the UK that have developed over the last 30 years would either not exist, or would have resurfaced somewhere in time in a completely different form. In 2012, we are activists, permaculture practitioners, alternative health advocates and ecological downsizers, Crass were major players in the earlier development of Anarchist DIY culture, a lot of which has helped guide us to where we are now. Within a contemporary setting dial house where members of Crass still live there are now regular Permaculture design courses run there hosted by Graham Burnett.