Just been reading Club Risiko by Fred de Vries, a new book in that ever-growing club of Dutch Books About Punk (the total number of which can still be counted on the fingers of one hand). Each chapter concentrates on different - sometimes seemingly unrelated - bands/artists that helped shape the 80's counterculture: from Einsturzende Neubauten to French filmmaker Leos Carax to The Ex to a totally obscure South-African group called Koos; it's De Vries' personal touch, often recounting his own experiences and meetings with the artists in question, that makes it work. For instance, at the start of the Crass chapter he recalls visiting (Dutch punk band) Rondos' H.Q. around 1979, carrying a copy of the brand new Good Vibrations comp EP. "Sounds good," a Rondo says, "but we're more into this!", upon which the first phrases of Crass' "Do They Owe Us A Living" are spitting out of the stereo. Another good thing is, he doesn't put the artists on a pedestal, but turns them into human beings with failures (Steve Ignorant looking like a middle-aged soccer fan with a beer belly and a bald head, great!). This is especially refreshing as Crass have always been this untouchable institution, its members using fake names ("B.A. Nana" was my favourite), wearing the same clothes, etc. Which is probably also why I never ever listened to my Crass records again after my initial (1982-83) burst of fandom. Too heavy, too confrontational, like someone shouting in your ear all the time... A lot of other Crass-related acts have stood the test of time better; I still enjoy playing those EP's by Dirt, Honey Bane, Zounds etc., and Flux Of Pink Indians' Strive To Survive... LP is still an all-time fave, great punchy tunes punctuated by constant guitar feedback. (Jesus & Mary Chain avant le lettre? Well, they did record Psychocandy with Crass producer John Loder!) The part in the book where De Vries visits some former Zounds members sheds an interesting light on the way Crass Records worked, and how they'd give other bands the "Crass Makeover"; for their Can't Cheat Karma EP, Zounds weren't allowed to use their own drummer, and of course everything had to have the same look, the stencilled letters, etc.
This immediately made me think of the Epileptics 1970s EP, of which my friend Joost owns two different copies. The first version is from 1979 or thereabouts, and is a classic chunk of Spaceward Studio punk rock (it could have been a Raw Records release!). Apparently the label re-released it after the Epileptics had become Flux Of Pink Indians and did the (Indie) chart-topping Neu Smell EP on Crass. Outraged by this capitalist move, Flux decided to reform the Epileptics in order to re-record the 1970s EP and put it out themselves at only 75 p (their old label was asking 1 whole Pound, the bastards!). The new recordings were done by John Loder at Southern Studios, with Penny Rimbaud playing drums as their own drummer had just quit (or so they say, maybe he wasn't good enough, ha ha...). It's fascinating to hear them get the Crass Makeover; the 4/4 beat is replaced by Rimbaud's trademark marching band rattle, the guitar has changed from meaty to scratchy, and the tempos are speeded up to the point where singer Colin sounds like an auctioneer. Well, listen for yourselves (and thanks to Joost for lending me the records!)...
Epileptics - 1970's (1979, Stortbeat version)
Epileptics - 1970's (1981, Spiderleg version)
Epileptics - Hitler's Still A Nazi (1979, Stortbeat version)
Epileptics - Hitler's Still A Nazi (1981, Spiderleg version)