Punk Bashing Time

Andrew Stevens interviewed me for Creases Like Knives, 16 September 2017:

Punk Bashing Time: An Interview with Andrew Gallix

It was no less than Garry Bushell himself who wrote of ‘dreading well-meaning graduates with crops and tailor-made crombies’ in Sounds when he met with the teenaged members of ‘Skins Against the Nazis’ in 1978. Stevo had a few less hang-ups about meeting a fully-fledged Professor at the Sorbonne in Paris to go over his new book Punk Is Dead (Zero Books), which in part deals with aspects of skinhead’s troubled history among punk.

But then Andrew Gallix, who also edits the eclectic and punked-up webzine 3:AM, was a little more gracious and even-handed than some of the book’s other contributors when it came to recounting his own experiences.

You begin by taking issue with claims in “certain punk memoirs, [that] the streets of London, in 1977, were thronging with skinheads”?

Well, I was thinking specifically of Viv Albertine’s memoir — possibly the best punk memoir ever published and a truly excellent book in its own right. The dates, however, are not always totally accurate, which, to be fair, is hardly surprising given the breakneck speed of change in those days. Besides, it’s a personal memoir not a history book. I’ve just spotted an anecdote that supposedly took place in 1976 although Johnny Rotten is said to be listening to Iggy Pop’s The Idiot — an album that only came out the following year. Either the date is wrong or he was listening to another record.

In a chapter devoted to the Roxy club circa 77, Viv mentions night buses being ‘full of skinheads and drunks’, which is highly unlikely. Sham 69 started getting a strong following at the fag-end of the summer of 1977 — they were on the cover of the August-September issue of Sniffin’ Glue following the release of their first single. There was indeed already a smattering of skinheads in their midst, but it was so small they had no real visibility at the time. Teddy boys, definitely — they were all over the place. As I write in the book, I can’t recall ever seeing a skinhead in the flesh before 1978, save for intriguing pictures of Skrewdriver in the music press.

In 78-79 there were also quite a few punks with skinhead-style crops, so there was a lot of overlapping and ambiguity. The guttersnipe hanging out of the open platform at the back of a double-decker in the ads for ‘Clash City Rockers’ (1978) is clearly meant to be a punky urchin, with ‘CLASH’ stencilled on his trousers, but he also has a very short haircut that makes him look a bit like a skinhead. He’s a good example of this hybrid style that reflected a radicalisation of punk in the face of commercialisation and due to an influx of working-class punters on the scene. Paul Simonon himself sported braces and a proper skinhead crop, complete with a shaved parting, at some point in 78.

One of the ideas I develop in Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night is that punk was haunted by its lost beginning. If I may quote myself quoting the Cockney Rejects, ‘Punk’s year-zero mentality (like all other attempts to start again from scratch) was haunted by a yearning to return to some original, prelapsarian state — back in the garage, when the cult still had no name, before they killed the fucking thing. Being born again is just that: being born again. Being borne back’. The radicalisation of the movement that led to the skinhead revival is, in my opinion, part of this quest for authenticity. Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Simonon and Weller had all been little skinheads or suedeheads.

I believe there’s another passage in Viv Albertine’s book where she talks about Mick Jones and herself being attacked by a gang of skinheads after a gig on the White Riot tour. I’ve just flicked through the book to check, but alas couldn’t find it. Once more, however, I suspect the date is wrong.

All this is very anal, of course, but I can’t help thinking historical accuracy is important; that the devil is in the (lack of) detail. Maybe it’s because it’s also my own past we’re dealing with here. Yesterday, on Soho Radio, someone was talking about seeing mohicaned punks on the King’s Road in 1977 — another common anachronism which annoys me no end.

But there’s plenty of accounts which claim that skinhead ‘came back’ at the Roxy in 1977?

It’s extremely difficult to say for sure when punk started and ended, but one possible cut-off point is the closure of the original Roxy club in April 1977. I believe Sham only played the real Roxy once, supporting Generation X — that is, Andy Czezowski, Susan Carrington and Barry Jones’ Roxy. I may be wrong, but in any event, they were totally unknown at the time and the whole skinhead thing only really started taking off at the Vortex and at the Roxy Mark 2, when the club reopened under new management, immediately becoming a parody of its previous incarnation.

The atmosphere on the punk scene grew much darker following the ‘summer of hate’, as the NME called it at the time, which had been the movement’s high-water mark. Things started going awry over the autumn and winter, culminating in the Pistols’ acrimonious split in January 1978. These are the bad days when the streets were ‘paved with blood,’ as Paul Weller sang: ‘I’m stranded on the Vortex floor / My head’s been kicked in and blood’s started to pour’.

How old were you when all this was happening? You make reference to boys around your way kitted out in skinhead clobber and the ‘prepubescent, second-generation skinheads in a black-and-white photo spread — doubtless compiled by Garry Bushell — from around 1979’.

Yes, there were little skinheads everywhere! That was in 1979, and I was 14. Skinheads were ubiquitous for a while, and not only in London, of course. Up and down the country. It was absolutely massive, not a fringe thing. Weetabix even had commercials with cartoon skinhead characters: ‘If you know what’s good for you, ok’.

What about in Paris? Who were the ‘once dodgy skinheads’ you mention in your chapter?

I’ve written two chapters somewhat tangentially linked to the Parisian punk scene. One of them is devoted to L.U.V., a fascinating all-girl phantom band; the other focuses on the Bazooka art collective. I wish I could have covered more aspects of French punk. Hopefully in a future book.

The whole skinhead phenomenon was largely lost in translation abroad. What, in an English context, referred back to London working-class culture immediately took on a more sinister, neo-Nazi complexion on the Continent. To be honest, the French skinhead scene had no redeeming features whatsoever. It produced very few bands and they were all beyond crap — initially, Parisian skins followed La Souris Déglinguée, who were not themselves skinheads.

The very first French skins may not have been racist, but they were only interested in fighting. Many of them went on to become drug addicts. The following wave, however, was almost exclusively made up of glue-sniffing fascist nutters. There were also far-left skinheads, calling themselves redskins, whose sole purpose in life was to beat up far-right skinheads. To all intents and purposes, they were the mirror image of their enemies, on whose existence their righteous identity as anti-fascists was entirely predicated.

Those I refer to in that quote are Farid and his gang: la bande à Farid. They were the most interesting on account of being the first and having, paradoxically enough, an Arab leader. As French skinheads, they had a kind of exotic cachet. There hadn’t been any in France the first time round — I understand Australia was the only foreign country to have had an indigenous scene in those days. Most of the members of Farid’s gang hailed from Colombes, a nondescript Parisian suburb. Hanging out in and around Les Halles, they thrived on gratuitous violence, relishing the fear they generated throughout the capital. I remember travelling around Paris, in 1980-81, and wherever we went fellow punks would tell us to watch out because Farid was about. He seemed to be everywhere at the same time!

When the Specials played a gig at the Pavillon Baltard, on 14 March 1980, the French skins were all wearing Onion Johnny black berets to distinguish themselves from their English counterparts. Before the gig, they beat up a mate of mine and stole the white tie I had lent him. During the Specials’ set there was a massive brawl, like in a western, between the French and English skins. You can guess who started the trouble.

Violence is something of a motif throughout the book, for instance both Bob Short and Tony Drayton cite regular skinhead violence against punk squatters (‘gangs of skinheads who would rape and beat at will’). Tony even went so far as to include a manifesto against Oi! and skins in Kill Your Pet Puppy! Did that surprise you?

It didn’t surprise me at all, because violence on the streets was a fact of life back then. If you were a punk, you attracted random abuse and aggression all the time. In 1977, it was teddy boys, football hooligans or outraged members of the general public. I remember seeing blokes stepping off Routemasters on the King’s Road to punch a passing punk, then jumping back on. One of the most famous incidents, of course, was when Rotten was razored by vigilantes. That was part of a widespread anti-punk backlash in the wake of ‘God Save the Queen’. Before that punk violence had been largely symbolic: from the Silver Jubilee onwards, it became literal.

Thereafter, it was usually members of some rival youth cult you had to worry about. The early 80s were very tribal, and there was trouble on all fronts, but skinheads were obviously the worst of the lot. After 1982, almost all the gigs you went to involved some degree of violence at some stage — it just went with the territory. On one occasion, I was walking down Putney Hill with my then girlfriend, when we noticed hordes of skinheads ahead of us on the other side of the road. We were on our way to a gig by anarcho-punk band Conflict — and so were they. Sensibly, we decided to beat a hasty retreat as it would have been a bloodbath. I actually stopped going to gigs for a number of years because it just was not worth the hassle any more.

In all fairness, that adrenalin rush that kicked in as soon as you left home was intoxicating. Boredom may have been a buzzword, but there was never a dull moment: punk really was a revolution of everyday life. After a few years, of course, it started taking its toll.

Around 1985, and still with the same girlfriend, I came face to face with another large gang of menacing-looking skinheads, this time in Brighton. The only way to avoid them would have been to turn round and flee, but I feared they would come running after us, so we walked on petrified. As we got closer I noticed that some of them were holding hands. Nobody had told me that the skinhead look had been subsumed into gay subculture.

Indeed, I noticed David Wilkinson levered in a mention of Nicky Crane’s double life in his chapter on ambivalence of queer in punk. Richard Cabut, who co-edited the book, suggests in his ‘Punk Positive’ chapter’s many dismissals of ‘glue-swamped’ Oi! by ‘lobots’ that by the early 80s skinhead (as one of three ‘tribes’) had become ‘mindlessness wrapped in a dull, grey, lazy uniform of bitterness’. You yourself give the Cockney Rejects more credit, though, i.e. splinter groups capturing original unity.

Yes, I liked Sham 69 and then some of the early Oi bands — Cockney Rejects in particular. The first Oi compilation was really great. The musical boundaries were actually very porous in spite of all the tribalism: mods would listen to punk bands, for instance, and vice-versa. By 1980-81 I was more into the Ants and the anarcho side of things, but I was interested in everything that came in the wake of the initial punk explosion. As I said earlier, the skinhead revival was essentially a response to punk’s commercialisation, as was the mod revival. If I may quote another extract from the book:

Every splinter group that joined the ranks of the punk diaspora (Oi!, the mod revival, 2-Tone, no wave, cold wave, post-punk, goth, early new romanticism, anarcho-punk, positive punk, psychobilly, hardcore etc.) was a renewed attempt to recapture an original unity, which the emergence of these very splinter groups made impossible. As Paul Gorman put it in a recent documentary, ‘People began to play with, and tease out, the strands which were therein, and it was so rich, and so full of content, that one strand could lead to a whole movement.’ When Garry Bushell claims that the Rejects were ‘the reality of punk mythology’ — which is precisely what Mark Perry had previously said apropos of Sham 69 — he is referring to a very restrictive, lumpen version of punk that excludes most of the early bands bar the Clash. (Even within the Clash, only Joe ‘Citizen Smith’ Strummer ever really subscribed to this view.) Many Blitz Kids felt that it was their scene — which was not only contemporaneous with Oi! but also its inverted mirror image — that captured the true spirit of the early movement. Each new wave of bands sought out this point of origin: punk prior to its negation by language, when it was still in the process of becoming. The moment when memory’s exile would come to an end and literally take place.

Finally, is punk really dead? And did modernity kill every night?

The original title we wanted was Modernity Killed Every Night, but the publisher probably found it a little obscure, so I suggested a series of alternatives. Eventually we settled on Punk is Dead, with the original as subtitle.

Punk is Dead works on several levels. It’s a reference to the early Crass song, which is fitting as Penny Rimbaud has contributed a piece to the book, and an oblique response to the Exploited’s ‘Punk’s Not Dead’ — which, of course, was a response to Crass in the first place. I remember Jordan, around 1980-81, pointing out that the ‘Punk’s Not Dead’ slogan was an admission of defeat. I believe this was in The Face magazine.

In fact, when punk was alive and kicking, no one used the word ‘punk’ apart from journalists who had to call it something. Using it was very uncool. In the book I argue that ‘punk died (or at least that something started dying or was lost) as soon as it ceased being a cult with no name — or with several possible names, which comes to the same thing’:

Punk — in its initial, pre-linguistic incarnation, when the blank in ‘Blank Generation’ had not yet been filled in by that ‘bloody word’ [Jonh Ingham] — was the potentiality of punk. It escaped definition, could never be pinned down, as it was constantly in the process of becoming. Punk was a movement towards itself, made up of people who disliked movements and kept pulling in opposite directions.

So the whole question of onomastics is an important one, in my view. It is related to the controversial issue of punk’s birth and death. Borges claimed that writers create their own precursors. In the same way, there is a punk spirit that people now recognise in individuals or movements that predates (and indeed postdates) punk. In this book, we wanted to highlight the socio-historical specificity of the British punk scene of the late 70s and early 80s. Punk’s influence is everywhere today, but for a whole variety of reasons it’s not the same thing as the real thing.

In 1974 Malcolm McLaren contemplated using ‘Modernity Killed Every Night’ as the name of his boutique. In the end he opted for SEX, but the slogan was sprayed on one of the walls inside the shop. It came from a letter Jacques Vaché sent to André Breton during the First World War:

Despite his bovine-sounding name, Vaché (1895-1919) was a dandified anglophile, who enjoyed walking the streets dressed as a loose woman or a Napoleonic soldier. Choosing to be an actor rather than a puppet, he subverted army life, by — as he put it — deserting within himself. There, in that Switzerland of the mind, he would pretend that his superiors were under his orders, or that he was fighting for the other side. It was gun in hand, sporting an English pilot’s uniform, and threatening to shoot at random, that Vaché interrupted the premiere of Guillaume Apollinaire’s The Breasts of Tirésias (1917) on account of its arty-farty production. Apollinaire had coined the word ‘surrealist’ to describe his play, but it was Vaché’s radical brand of criticism that embodied the true spirit of the forthcoming movement. A couple of years later, he died of an opium overdose, which may have been an accident, but is commonly regarded as a defiant parting shot to everyone and everything — the ultimate artistic statement. For André Breton — who befriended him during the war and always claimed that he was the true originator of Surrealism — Vaché was poetry incarnate. After listing his early literary influences — Rimbaud, Jarry, Apollinaire, Nouveau, Lautréamont — he added, ‘but it is Jacques Vaché to whom I owe the most.’ His stroke of genius, Breton maintained, was ‘to have produced nothing.’


A Pint and a Molotov Cocktail


This appeared in 3:AM Magazine on 14 September 2007. It was reprinted in George Berger’s Let’s Submerge: Tales From the Punk Rock Underground, published on 26 November 2013:

A Pint and a Molotov Cocktail

George Berger interviewed by Andrew Gallix.

3:AM: How did you get into punk?

GB: Seeing the bizarrely-dressed head-turners strolling around Bromley and surrounding areas really turned my head. Clothes and hair and a way of walking that just said “fuck off” to everyone, and straight society in particular. I don’t remember the individuals individually, just the feeling of seeing unrepentant weirdos expressing themselves via their appearance. I’d imagine this was before the word ‘punk’ came into popular use, but it doesn’t really matter either way. Seeing similar — or perhaps the same — people then interviewed on the London Weekend Show by Janet Street Porter, and then on ‘Young Nation’ on Nationwide turned my head yet further: they were sullen and obnoxious and that confused my hormones. I can’t say I liked the look of them, but it opened a door in my mind that had previously been locked and marked ‘no entry’. Finally, the famed Bill Grundy interview drew a line in the sand as I watched it with my outraged parents, trying to conceal my glee. This was clearly a step beyond their affectionate mock-outrage at glam rock.

‘No more apologies’, as Morrissey later described it so beautifully. My zits cleared up almost immediately, perhaps because I wasn’t scared of them anymore. Freedom of feeling, the feeling’s appealing. In other words, punk pushed the right buttons by opening the right (mental) doors at the right time. The music was often great, but was never the point.


3:AM: Your band, Flowers in the Dustbin, were part of the anarcho-punk scene, so you wrote this Crass book as an insider…

GB: Is there any self-respecting anarchist who would admit to being such? I wouldn’t know…

Being part of the London anarcho-punk-goth-crazy-coloured-fools-with-no-rules scene certainly informed the perspective that the book is written with of course, because it meant my early experience with anarchist thought and practice wasn’t limited to Crass. A sense of perspective, as Tap philosophised. But I’m not so sure FITD as a band were as much a part of all that in the way it’s now remembered. There’s a book about anarcho-punk coming out called The Hippies Now Wear Black — we were innocent on both those charges!


3:AM: To what extent did the members of Crass help you with your research and how have they reacted to the book?

GB: The members of Crass — Andy Palmer excepted — were as helpful as anyone could reasonably be expected to be, and in the cases of most, well beyond that.

The Crass members were also strikingly, unusually, generous and kind in a way that prods your conscience into examining its own parameters. Whatever happened to the members of Crass in their respective life-journeys at the time, it seems to have left an indelible urge to be kind and generous. Perhaps that was the energy that originally attracted so many towards them. In fact, I’m certain it was.


3:AM: In another interview you said: “I always felt a bit sorry for the people who bought into Crass at the expense of everything else”. However, when you read the book, it is obvious that the Ants/Crass dichotomy still seems to rankle after all these years. Crass offered a whole lifestyle that was difficult to reconcile with non-anarcho punk bands like the Ants or UK Subs. It was a bit like joining a fundamentalist sect, wasn’t it? Do you think you might have been attracted to this aspect of the band because of your Catholic upbringing?

GB: Meaning Crass were a part of the whole and people who bought into the sideshow ‘anarcho-punk’ often missed out on the other colours of the rainbow — Killing Joke, Bauhaus, Swell Maps, Au Pairs, Slits, etc etc… I don’t think it was a dichotomy at all in the early days, but sadly neither side could resist the bitching that subsequently became one of anarcho-punk’s main characteristics.

I should point out that I wasn’t attracted to Crass so much as fascinated by them, i.e. I was massively drawn to the idea of somewhere like Dial House working for decades as an open house, but could never quite reconcile the difference between the harsh Crass rhetoric and the gentle people in Crass. Frankly, you’d expect Crass to be aggressive and confrontational as people, but they were — and are — lovely. Delibrate dada contradictions? Maybe.

The Crass image encouraged the fundamentalist thing, which I would suggest was due to some kind of archetype hangover from the hippie times (where sects flourished of course). The Ants, Subs etc were far more healthy in this respect, I’d say, as they weren’t playing the parent. Saying ‘be yourself’ is great (Ants / Subs / punk), but the minute you start defining what that self should be, albeit unintentionally, you’re risking straying into a difficult place. The Crass output became self-conscious and ‘preachy’ once they got an audience — I felt sorry for the people who were perhaps young and encountering Crass / punk for the first time at this juncture and so bought into an opinion as though it was a reality. The map is not the territory.

I was repelled by the perceived fundamentalist aspect of Crass, not attracted to it. Whether or not this was connected to being brought up a Catholic, I’ve really no idea.


3:AM: Crass’s obsession with political freedom was so extreme that it enslaved some members. Steve Ignorant actually describes leaving the band as a liberation from the band’s politically-correct shackles: “I couldn’t look at the barmaid’s arse without being branded sexist. I couldn’t have milk in my tea without being called a bastard cos I wasn’t a vegan”. He also told you that if he’d been a 16-year-old punk at the time Crass’s rhetoric would have put him off and he would probably have been an Exploited fan. Even Penny Rimbaud, the band’s éminence grise, admits that they were “too serious”. It’s a double-edged thing, though, isn’t it? Crass meant so much because they were for real, but that purity also implied a po-faced, puritan zealotry…

GB: I don’t think Crass came across like that initially (before Penis Envy, if I’m forced to draw a line in the sand). I’m also not sure Steve is right – I don’t think that whatever took him to Dial House would have otherwise taken him to the Exploited; just a glib quote possibly out of context here. (In book interviews, Steve just spoke his mind whereas some other members of Crass pondered for literally minutes before replying to questions — which is quite unnerving but simultaneously inspiring).


3:AM: Your book often reads like a demystification of Crass’s political correctness. Whereas at the time, they appeared so self-assured — with their black uniforms, military backdrops and corporate logo — here, they come across as far more human and vulnerable. Steve and Pete admit that they knew little about anarchist history; Eve Libertine explains that she had qualms about “Reality Asylum” because of her Christian upbringing; Steve wrote “So What” as a kind of childish dare “to see if there’d be a bolt of lightning” when he sang the blasphemous lyrics… Did all this change the way you perceived the members of the band and the Crass phenomenon or were you conscious of this vulnerability at the time?

GB: I didn’t know the band well enough as people at the time to be sure of the vulnerability. I’d wager few, if any did.

With the book, I wanted to try and find the people behind the image / wall of anynomity. Demystification hits the nail on the head. Whilst Crass were always approachable back then as ‘Crass’, the individuals behind the job were often impossible to discover. Even to themselves, it would appear. At the time, I thought this was counter-productive to ideas that ‘anyone can do it’, so with the book I tried to show that the people that made up Crass and did/didn’t change the world (delete as your reality tunnel dictates) did so without being special and without access to any privilege that you or I haven’t got. And surprised myself with my findings…


3:AM: The more I read your book, the more contradictions appeared. Crass avoided the star system through anonymity but this very anonymity inevitably created a mystique of its own. But the paradox doesn’t stop here as the band were also one of the most accessible ever…

GB: Were they? On one level yes: you could go meet them, chat to them, even visit their house. But as I’ve said, getting to know the real people was out of the question for fans. Still, they did draw the line in a very different place to the stars of the day, even the punk rock stars.

Did they avoid the star system? I’m not so sure — accessibility is surely only one aspect of stardom. People looked up to Crass and looked to them for guidance. By the time they were getting big, they appeared to want to give it, albeit way more responsibly than most of their peers.


3:AM: A couple of other contradictions highlight the band’s unique nature. Politically, they were caught between the old school anarchists and the pacifists; financially, the more records they sold, the more money they lost.

Crass created a massive grassroots anarchist movement, for the first time in British history. They invented their own brand of anarcho-pacifism. They were also the only political band to practise what they preached which is why they sold records by the truckload without any advertising. I remember an interview with Joe Strummer, in the early 80s, in which he said that wherever you went, even in a remote Greek village, you’d see graffiti of the Crass symbol. He was gobsmacked and clearly envious. The band’s achievements were huge, but until your book came out their story went largely unrecorded — weird, isn’t it?

GB: Weird yes, but what Crass were offering was so beautiful — yet so fragile — that it was only ever going to appeal to the demographic who considered it a possible reality.

You’re wrong about their losing money on records — that only happened with “Reality Asylum” — otherwise they made a lot of money. Then showed an inspiring amount of integrity by returning it to what they considered ‘the movement’ and simultaneously arguable tactics and taste in the way they did this by releasing records by a plethora of copyists (not all of course, but many).


3:AM: Crass are obviously still influential and will continue to be so, but they were also very much of their time, weren’t they? I don’t know if you remember, but a few years ago, David Beckham was photographed sporting a T-shirt bearing the Crass logo: I’m sure he had no idea what it was; it didn’t mean anything anymore. I don’t think Crass would have been as influential in a prosperous, post-Thatcherite Britain, do you?

GB: I believe that T-shirt was a Jean-Paul Gaultier creation, but don’t quote me on it. The Crass symbol never meant anything beyond ‘Crass’ and it wasn’t even designed to mean that in the first place.

Crass were of their time, obviously. Our job is to be of ours… I think Crass would have got nowhere without punk, but then neither would so many bands, or any of the rest of us for that matter — it’s all so many ifs and buts.

I’d also mention that I don’t think we do live in a post-Thatcherite age yet.


3:AM: I’ve always thought that anarcho-punk was killed by the fans. All the bands were banging on about peace while the fans were beating the shit out of each other — there was such a contrast between rhetoric and reality…

GB: The anarcho-punks were generally peaceful. Trouble at anarcho gigs was invariably from skinheads, usually right-wing and preying on pitifully-easy pickings. The inherent aesthetic contradiction between the ranting aggressive anarcho noise and the ‘peace’ lyrics was bound to attract a percentage of people who liked the former to the point where they didn’t care about the latter. I’d say the lack of trouble at Poison Girls gigs illustrates that.

Of course, to treat anarcho-punk as a music scene is to ignore the much more pervasive and lasting political movement that included the popularisation of animal rights, the peace camps, the birth of the anti-capitalist demonstrations etc. — you can beat the shit out of a few people at a gig, but you can’t kill the spirit.

3:AM: You write that “If the Buzzcocks wanted a generation of kids to turn up the volume to annoy their parents, Crass made you turn it down so they couldn’t hear the blasphemy”. Maybe that was also part of the problem: over the years, Crass’s righteous anger seemed to turn into a permanent tantrum…

GB: Yes, I’d say so. They weren’t like this at all as people, so one can only conclude that they’d got too stuck into ‘punk’ as cliché and failed to follow their own advice. What seemed so vital and loyal to ‘the cause’ at first ended up feeling reactionary to me, particularly as newcomers appeared to buy into the scene as some kind of rule-book.

3:AM: Another big problem was the old class thing. In spite of the anarchist rhetoric, a class divide remained within the band — in particular between Steve Ignorant, the geezer who wanted to wink at the girls in the front row, and Penny Rimbaud, the public-school educated hippie intellectual…

GB: Actually, I don’t think there was any personal divide between Penny and Steve, but I do think that going on about classlessness against a backdrop of the biggest war of the 20th century in the UK against the working class caught them a bit short.

3:AM: It’s interesting that both Steve Ignorant and John Lydon were influenced by Brighton Rock, which they both read at school…

GB: I bet they’d love a drink together — Steve, Johnny and Pinky, getting leathered in Horatio’s at the end of the pier! I’ll get the first round in: mine’s a pint and a molotov cocktail!

3:AM: When Penny Rimbaud claims, for instance, to have seen flying tribesmen in Africa, do you ever think: this guy is a nutcase not a visionary genius?

GB: I’m amazed people haven’t picked up on this more. If Penny was deliberately winding me up saying this, then he was doing so with an intensity that would put him up there with Brando and De Niro as one of the greatest actors of all time.

Nutcase / visionary genius — as Penny himself has asked on many occasions regarding Wally Hope, where do you draw the line? I think Penny Rimbaud’s whole life appears to be lived as polemic, which may give a clue here, as may his interest in existentialism.


3:AM: On the hippie vs punk debate, you claim that “Crass was right and Malcolm McLaren was wrong”. Obviously, there was continuity as well as rupture, but wouldn’t you agree that punk was the first movement to create a generation gap among youth itself? The hippies were the first generation to refuse to grow up, then punk came along with Sid Vicious stating that he couldn’t remember the Summer of Love because he was too busy playing with his Action Men…

GB: I’d say that there was a generation gap between teds and hippies, mods and teds (rockers) etc

Sid was a great comedian for the zeitgeist one-liners and I’m sure a generation knew instinctively where he was coming from with lines like that. But I think to pick up on generational trivia is to miss the point, particularly in hindsight.

3:AM: You seem to agree with Stewart Home that Crass took the fun out of punk…

GB: Yes, I do. But maybe half the fun was the incredibly broad church punk produced — seeing as that would have disappeared with or without Crass, it’s possible it would have gone anyway. Look at some of the others around then: Six Minute War, Crisis, Pop Group, Discharge, Au Pairs etc: hardly a laugh a minute. Maybe it was something in the air.

3:AM: You have described the composition of this book as an “intense experience”: did you need to write it in order to put this whole period behind you?

GB: Not the period itself — that’s already and unavoidably behind me. This was the period I became a vegetarian and turned the teenage angst into something more structured in my head. But, yes, there is a definite sense of catharsis in writing this book — I still find myself referring to ‘punk’ attitude all the time with a nagging sense that I must sound like an old ted. So I hope that all this ‘30 years of punk’ lark will help me draw a line somewhere if I’m honest. Not with the attitudes it imbibed me with, but maybe with the word itself.


George Berger’s latest book is The Story Of Crass. His previous one was a biography of the Levellers. His next one is under contemplation. He also fronts Flowers In The Dustbin and writes a blog from there.