Thursday, October 02, 2008

Crass in Aberdare

In the summer of 1984 anarcho-punk band Crass played their last ever gig at - of all places - the Coliseum in Aberdare. It was a benefit concert for striking miners. Local paper the Aberdare Leader carried the story on their front page. The following week they did a double-page, picture special, on the event (see pic). Clearly, Crass were big news in Aberdare. I wonder if the band had ever before had such extensive and positive coverage from the regular press. Here's the newspaper's review of the concert:

Backstage, our photographer John Wright was given some sound advice: "Don't get too close or they'll gob all over you". Point taken.
Aberdare Coliseum had never seen anything like it.
Over the years the building has played host to all manner of musical and theatrical productions - but never a punk concert featuring one of Britain's best-known anti-system bands.
Billing the event as a 'rock and pop concert' was an understandable mistake made by the organsiers, who had little or no knowledge of the reputations and anarchist ideals of Crass and their support band, Flux of Pink Indians, when the bands offered their services to help swell the miners' strike fund.
Local police turned up in force when youths clad in studded leather and bondage gear, topped with colourful and elaborate punk hairdos, began to congregate in the town.
The police, too, had been expecting a small scale 'pop' concert. It certainly wasn't that.

Crass - one of the major bands to spring out of the mid-seventies revolt against 'glam rock' along with the likes of the Sex Pistols - have managed to maintain a healthy following and every live appearance attracts new recruits.
Their songs attacking the system and those in power have become the anthems of the unemployed and of would-be anarchists.
Relying more on sheer volume and energy than anything else to convey their message, the band have, like so many others, come in for a great deal of criticism from those who refuse to listen and instantly condemn them as riotmakers.
Onstage they stare blankly into space as if unaware of members of their audience scrambling on to the stage to join them.
Offstage they are a bunch of the most engaging conversationalists you could ever wish to meet, bursting with ideas and plans to put the world to rights.
Whether their largely teenage audience at the Coliseum fully understood why the band wanted so much to do something positive for the miners was hard to tell.

The sight of miners' agent Emlyn Jenkins onstage presenting a brass miner's lamp to Crass guitarist N. A. Palmer must have seemed a little odd to those who had turned up mainly to bash their heads against the amps.
The meaningful words of encouragement to the miners to continue their strike were soon lost amid the sea of catcalls and abuse.
The presentation over, 'normality' resumed. A barrier set up to separate the crowd from the stage was quickly rendered useless as the first band, Flux of Pink Indians, took to the stage.
They whipped up the frustrated concert-goers almost to their limit then left them ready and waiting for the headliners.
Two intervening punk poets did act as a sedative, however, calming the crowd temporarily with their weird and puzzling ranting, so much so that when Crass emerged the floodgates opened.
Accompanied for every number by almost a dozen intrepid members of the audience who forced themselves aloft to join the 'messiahs', the band blasted out their anti-establishment slogans with constant vocal support.
The lyrics of such numbers as Do They Owe Us A Living? rang out with conviction and gave many food for thought.
But the burly miners-cum-bouncers who had been on standby around the hall in case of trouble left with just a few battered eardrums.

The police, too, had a quiet night as the punks filed away peacefully at about 9pm.
More than a few heads had been turned by the unexpected mass pilgrimage made by punks of all shapes and sizes, but the general consensus of opinion was that it had all been worthwhile.

*Incidentally, the Crass concert in Aberdare is also covered by Ian Bone in his anarchist memoir Bash the Rich.