Tag Archives: Crass

A History Of Zines

A history of fanzines, and a pretty good one too, from Marxism Today, June 1984.

Paul Mathur

Remember that old chestnut The Day Punk Rock Arrived? In a hail of gob and a parade of One Chord Wonders, the message was sent that ANYONE can be a star, and without selling one’s soul to the big companies. The Independent Ethic, hitherto only widespread among the 60s US garage bands, was reborn and flourished, most successfully in the form of Zoo Records from Liverpool, Factory from Manchester and Rough Trade in London. Rough Trade even took things a step further, and set up a nationwide distribution network, centred around teir shop in W11. Seven years later, and the company and shop remain. Go in there now, and you’ll find amongst the inevitably massive collection of independent records, an equally inevitable piece of post-punk product, The Fanzine.
The titles will scream out at you from the roughly stapled, cheaply printed (or photocopied) magazines — Kill Your Pet Puppy, Search And Destroy, Love And A Molotov Cocktail. Dig deep and you might even find a copy of No More Masterpieces, my own two year contribution to the fanzine scene, from 1979/80.
The ‘zines vary in content (ranging from anarcho-political tirades, to pages and pages of live reviews); in articulation (from powerfully convincing arguments about the musical scheme of things to monosyllabic grunts about what Crass did for an encore); and in form (handwritten scrawl to neatly typed pseudo-New Musical Express regularity. It is not easy to classify fanzines in terms of appearance, and it is even harder to do so in terms of history, for although fanzines are central to an understanding and an historical account of pop music since 1976, it’s very difficult to attribute any date to the birth of the music media’s bastard child.
There probably isn’t such a thing as the first fanzine (literally ‘fan magazine’) in the strictest sense of the word, although the likes of Oz and more specifically Rolling Stone, were instrumental in both presenting a radical message about the role of pop in youth culture and also publicising and organising the Underground Press Syndicate, a similar system to which is vital to the publicity and distribution structure of post-76 fanzines in Britain.
Rolling Stone, taking the lead from yet earlier Underground pop papers such as Copenhagen’s Superlove, was launched towards the end of 1967 by Jan Wenner, a 22 year old who at the time took much from Superlove’s ideas and forms. It is easy to see now where his heart really lay. Rolling Stone is perhaps the least contentious, most boring music paper in the Western world, as much a part of the capitalist music machine as CBS or EMI. The turnabout from radical champion of a burgeoning youth culture, to reactionary upholder of desperately conservativ values, is one that almost every fanzine is in danger of going through, but which the pre-punk ‘zines were most obviously susceptible to.
From reading a fairly large sample of these 60s and early 70s fanzines, particularly those primarily concerned with music, the most striking aspect is their deeply ingrained, and often barely concealed RESPECT for the music business. Hot Wacks, Fat Angel, Who Put The Bomp, Zig Zag, they all appear to want to play at being a sort of Melody Maker Meets Zen And The Art Of The Guitar Solo. Fat Angel for example, opens up with a bit of vaguely mystical hokum, then launches into a series of LP reviews, going so far as to give the serial number of each record. There’s no swearing, no feeling of any attempt to really communicate to the reader, no notion of the role of the fanzine as being anything more than an inferior version of its mainstream peers.
These ‘zines do succeed when they openly acknowledge their attitudes to the role of the alternative press, and where rather than churning out sub-standard music press copy, they attempt to cater for people who want something different from the music press. The form remains boring but the content changes, and the magazines start to run features on, for example, collectors’ records.
Who Put The Bomp and early Zig Zag both made their names and reputations as collectors’ magazines rather than as fanzines, and it is in magazines such as those that the power of the 60s/early 70s alternative press lies. In 1976, along came punk with its attendant ethics, and suddenly the fanzine became a whole new form. The first (and most notorious) of the ‘zines to reject most of the old traditions, preferring a passionate, emotive, wholly personal slapdash POW! to a merely shoddy attempt to be like the big boys, was Sniffin’ Glue, started by Mark P, and it remains the most perceptive contemporary account of the early days of punk yet seen. In a typical issue Lou Reed is written off in four lines, interviews are printed verbatim, captions handwritten, the whole lot photocopied and stapled together, then ‘sold’ outside gigs in a tone you wouldn’t want to refuse if you valued your teeth.
1977 and the walls were falling down everywhere. Thousands took Mark P’s advice and started their own fanzines, at last having to face up to the logistics of the affair. I was lucky, my Dad got mine printed for me at work, but for many others it was a case of trying to get them done on the sly in the school printroom, or failing that, looking for the cheapest printer in the yellow pages. Community printers are a great help, as they tend to be fairly cheap, and since the people doing the printing are fairly supportive of your cause, it’s easy to discuss with them exactly what you want done. Whichever way you do it, on each issue with a cover price of 25p, at least l0p of that will go on printing. Running a fanzine is a difficult business, and a combination of high costs, distribution problems and a fiercely protective set of writers, brings up the real failings of the ‘zine.
Being so closely connected to the scene they are writing about, groups are hugged to the breast of the editors, lauded as the Best Thing Since Breakfast, and then expected to fit into the role that the fanzine sees for them. Any progression is declaimed as a sell-out and the group are cast away or smothered with contempt. The groups move but the fanzines stand still. It’s all too easy for the most potent and revolutionary of forms to become as reactionary as the 60s NME that shrieked with horror when Cliff wiggled his torso. Kill Your Pet Puppy says don’t twitch your hips Clashboys! Such an attitude has meant that the majority of fanzines have given rise to a self-consuming culture. ‘Anarchist’ groups such as Crass, products of fanzines, find themselves pandering to them and slowly being hemmed in, not wanting to disappoint the concrete foot (and brain) fans, and so not being able to break away from an increasingly narrow direction. Their inability and unwillingness to break away is interpreted as a condoning of the fanzine system.
Fanzines must not slip into this reactionary stance if they are to use their potentially explosive existence. The youth culture of the past 25 years has liked to think of itself as self-contained, whereas in reality the power lies with the multinational record companies and mainstream music press. Selling this culture back to the masses is the major consideration, and the mainstream press are able to act as a filter between company and consumer, distancing and containing any unwanted ideologies, couching them in the cotton wool of musicbiz rhetoric.
The fanzines have the power to change this. They are literally by, and for, the fans, and are providing the impetus for representation of the culture from within the culture itself. This is dangerous to the dominant ideology, challenging it directly and powerfully. Fanzines must be aware of this if they are to use their power to change the structure of the music business and in turn that of society itself.


Honey Bane – Sounds

From Sounds, April 19, 1980


A BOOZER IN beautiful down-town Stepney is the rendezvous and despite London Transport I manage to arrive at the right time on the right day and in one piece, only to find the place as quiet as the Valley Covered End after last Tuesday’s match and even less well-attended. In fact there’s only the guv’nor there. Still plenty of perambulating and enforced sun-bathing at bus stops has left me with a throat like the inside of the Ayatollah’s y-fronts and with the pub providing a nice line in draught Hemeling I don’t mind hanging about for a few rounds in case my interviewees materialise.
Pint in hand, I case the joint casually. It don’t exactly take a Phil Marlowe to suss it’s a disco pub — hardly a likely local for an outfit with the punky connotations of Donna ‘Honey’ Bane and the Fatal Microbes. Perhaps it’s a wind-up. Or an ambush by Donna’s former comrades-in-arms the cretinous Crass. At the very least I’m convinced I’m in for a proper ear-bashing.
On the phone Donna had been adamant that this was to be a group interview and she’d sounded put out about something — probably all the sexist rubbish some wag keeps slipping in Jaws about her, y’know, references to her breasts looking like ‘a pair of boxing gloves out looking for a fight’, and so on. Meet us at High Noon, she’d said. Gulpo. Do not forsake me, oh my beer gut. I needn’t have worried. She strolls in all smiles only 10 minutes late, clutching a battered cassette player and sporting almost gypsy-like green feather earring hangs down from her left earlobe, brown roots wink through a scraggy peroxide mop-top, and her eyes boast sympathetic silver eyeshadow (Leichner, natch).

DESPITE THE unflattering jumble safe chic you can see she’s a looker. A little on the dumpy side perhaps but that’s just puppy fat. She’s still only sweet 16 after all, not that you’d blame the guv’nor for not batting an eye when I order her a large CC and coke.
“The others are on their way,”she grins. “Lazy bastards should have been here by now. Wanna hear the new single?” She turns on the cassette and I’m surprised to hear the very catchy ‘Mass Production’ issue forth, a ditty a lesser scribe would probably pigeonhole in the box marked pop-punk.
“What’s this, free music?” asks the guv’nor, obviously unimpressed, but he cheers up as the b-side ‘Guilty’ begins, a dubby doodah replete with spirited Donna Summer style sighs and a decorative guitar figure.
“John Peel says it’s too poppy,” Donna is outraged. “And he won’t give us a session.”
I make sympathetic noises and mention the poor sod’s age.
“It don’t matter though,” Donna continues, “It’ll be out by June, probably on a major — we’ve got a few majors interested but I can’t say who yet.”
I take her word for it and venture the single oozes what we in the trade call ‘chart potential’, being a lot more mainstream than her previous vinyl outings — the slow, sinister ‘Violence ..Grows’ which came out last March to Single Of The Week reception in Sounds, and more recently the anarchistically contagious ‘You Can Be You’ EP recorded with Crass as ‘Donna And The Kebabs’ (geddit?) which hovered round the apex of our authentic sales-return-based Alternative Charts (and was definitely the best thing Crass have ever lent their name to).
Donna agrees, testifying that the present band line-up’s the real thing for her, and she certainly seems happier and more self-assured these days. When I first met her in a Peckham hide-out last summer she was on the run from the Social Services after doing a moonlight from the St Charles Youth Treatment Centre in Essex where she’d been placed for her violence and underage boozing. (I reckon her downfall began in earnest when she got chucked out of the Brownies for ‘rowdiness’ at the tender age of seven).
If this was just a Donna Bane feature we could go into great detail about her subsequent on the road adventures featuring such Jaws stalwarts as Jimbo Pursnatcher, John Lydon (and on), Jock McDonald, the ugly Angelic Upstarts, Micky Geggus and the cuddly Crass. But suffice it to say the aid and advice of the above named contributed to her eventual reunion with her mother and stepfather, a move back to Plaistow, the SS accepting her non-incarceration, and most important the reincarnation of the Fatal Microbes Mark Two and her current cheerfulness.

Honey, Sounds 1980

YOU MAY REMEMBER from last year’s instalment that Donna had elbowed the ‘Violence Grows’ ‘Fatal’ Microbes because of their unwillingness to depart from two-chord-thrash material and had linked up with a mystery Stepney based band whose public unveiling was delayed at the time because the guitarist, DereK Maltbey, had inconsiderately fractured his skull in a motorbike pile-up.
Well after various rows and wrong moves the rejigged combo eventually made their live debut at the Xmas Day Studio 21 ding-dong and just as Donna starts to sing their praises the boys trundle through the door right on cue like some corny play on the telly — Dave Maltbey (rhythm guitar}, Danny Trickett (lead guitar), Keith Hudson (bass guitar) and drummer Derek Hadley is “on his way — if he can remember who he is today”.
Mention of the beat-keeper results in orgies of unleashed molars and a whole host of warnings and stories.
“You better watch out for Derek,” claims Dave, “He’s a nutter. Seriously. He’s been locked up in a mental hospital. He has to go in for injections every month. He’s a loony. He don’t even know how old he is. He’ll go out with no money, get a cab, and pay for it with a £40 cymbal . . .”

When Del arrives it’s a bit of an anti-climax as he’s quite a pleasant bloke, content to merely natter on about coming from Mars and claim that Hendrix once said “Help” to him. Nothing out the ordinary at all.
Dave (18) and Danny (22) are both locals and as you might expect veterans of loads of never-bin-nuffin punk bands. But Paddington patriot Keith’s a bit more of a square peg, because despite the butchered barnet the boy’s a self-confessed hippy and fearless devotee of Genesis and their Godawful ilk. His involvement stems from the original bassist Dave’s brother John (who incidentally wrote ‘Mass Production’) refusing to leave his day job. Keith who co-manages Waterloo’s Alaska Studio where the band were rehearsing stepped in to help out and never looked back.
But the hair had to go, and he foolishly allowed his mane to come under the Bane scissors. Seized by a fit of anarchistic inspiration Donna cropped one side and spiked up the other. His subsequent almost immediate visit to a bona fide barber was tantamount to enlisting in a freak show as the good coiffeur had him surrounded by about half a dozen local snippers all giving ‘low whistles, loud tuts, and whispering “Well I never’s” ad nauseum.

SURPRISINGLY HE’S well into the Microbes experience and within minutes of his arrival is leading the others through outrageous tales of their recent excellently received UK kharzi tour, fixed up by their managers in Final Solution and featuring plenty of police raids, crazy crowds, and reckless runners from hotels and nosheries, all the usual
tour antics.
“We’re really into being theatrical on stage,” Donna confides shifting to the meat of the matter, “acting out the songs. Keith literally kicks me about the stage on some numbers. But it’s all getting a bit obscene. At Middlesbrough Keith took his trousers off and some girl took his pants off and he just stood there stark naked.”
Virulently Turbulent bowls in and disrupts the smooth flow of chatter demanding the band go out and pose with a passing Chinese Wedding and then sits whining about needing more pics until we’re forced to drive off to Greenwich Park for a session (Gross Halfwit is never like this. He’s prettier too.)


On the way the band map out their feelings about their future. Honey is certain. “We wanna get across to everybody, to the majority of people, not just a small cult.”
“That’s right,” Dave agrees, “We don’t wanna be just a punk band. I mean we wanna play for punks as well but we want to have hit records and mean something.”
Keith lowers the tone. “Personally I just want girls to chase me down the street.”
Honey raises it again. “We play a bit of everything in our set at the moment, punk, rock ‘n’ roll and reggae, because we go out to satisfy the crowd. We’ll play to the audience and make it visually exciting too.”
This is an obviously sensible approach to fame and fortune and ties in with the band’s acceptance of the way the media will probably single Donna out a la Debbie Blondie. But doesn’t this contradict the anarchistic spirit of the ‘You Can Be You’ EP, Donna?
“I’m not an anarchist,” She’s adamant. “I don’t believe in it. We’re rebels but not anarchists.”
To make the point Dave rolls up a sleeve to reveal a ‘Rebel Music’ tattoo. Rebels with or without a cause I wonder.
“With a cause,” Dave says. “The cause is being happy and getting the best out of life. We’re not a punk band but I’m a punk. Mod is just a fashion but punk is a way of life, I’d say.”

MAYBE. ‘CEPT the cause is the same one my Mod mates believe in . . . Still right now the conflab has to end ‘cos it’s Greenwich Park and picture time.
“It’s nice out today,” Keith remarks casually, soaking up the hot afternoon sun. “I think I’ll get mine out too.” I think he’s joking but minutes later he’s prancing around naked from the waist down. I feel quite ill and head for home. On the way I see the Park Police heading in the band’s general direction which brings up the subject of busts and surrounding Jaws-like Benny Hillery. Probably a good point to knock part two of Sounds’ Fatal Microbes serial on the head.

Squat Gig

Crass and the assorted soapdodger bands played a big gig at the Zig Zag Club, by Westbourne Park, that they’d squatted in November 1982. Though most of those types of bands weren’t exactly my cup of tea, I saw most of ’em at one time or another. My skinhead self was even at this gig, drinking cider.
Zounds were a good band, and could actually play, The Mob were talented lads too and the Poison Girls usually had something interesting to say.