In 1976 The Damned released the first UK punk album and heralded a new era for UK music as, along with the Sex Pistols and the Clash, people realised that the overblown stylings of flair wearing beardos such as Led Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis and The Eagles were maybe in danger of becoming a parody and music could once again come from the kids on the street. Sure America had beaten us to it with MC5 and the Stooges paving the way and The Ramones developing the whole “three chords and see you at the finish line” approach but it was the UK that stuck two fingers up at the establishment and smeared a snot stained rag over the cocaine easy listening set.
Initially politics wasn’t the major driving force of punk. The Damned entertained with their schlock horror cartoon imagery and the Pistols were an unpleasant spit in the face designed to offend. The Clash came close but their politicizing was never allowed to get in the way of their commercial potential but it was the attitude and possibility of punk that obviously appealed to the fledgling Crass, a band who would go on to spearhead the anarcho punk movement and establish punk as a truly politically motivated art form.
Crass were never just a band in the conventional sense. For most bands the music is the key driving force and any message or imagery used is secondary to getting the music heard and the band on tour. Not so Crass, their whole ethos was to present a fully multi media package as a means of communicating their ideals and so the music, lyrics, artwork, live shows featuring videos and even down to the way they dressed was designed to present their message…dissatisfaction with the political systems and the general disintegration of society at the hands of those in power…viewpoints which remain as true today as they did in 1978 when this album was released!!!
“Feeding of the Five Thousand” was the first Crass album and shows the band at their most raw and naïve but still possessed of a wisdom that stretched far beyond the bondage and safety pins fashion punks of the time. Born out of a group of musicians that congregated around the Dial House collective Crass displayed vocalist Steve Ignorant’s down to earth working class energy and drummer Penny Rimbaud’s more considered poetical approach. The updated sleeve notes for this reissue with brief essay’s from each perfectly display the push and pull that drove Crass to become one of the most influential punk bands of all time. It has been well documented if you care to search online that not all members of the Crass collective are in agreement with the concept of reissuing their body of work, preferring instead that it should be left as it was, however, Penny Rimbaud has always been very much the keeper of the flame for the band and has been working on remastering and gathering together unreleased tracks for a series of reissues of the whole back catalogue under the name “The Crassical Collection”. It has to be said that this reissue package is a beautiful and very thorough affair. As well as the previously mentioned sleeve notes from Ignorant and Rimbaud, Gee Voucher has reprised her incredible original artwork, reproduced here in a scaled down CD form, as well as creating brand new artwork that brings the album into the 21sts century while retaining the stark beauty of the original. In addition the extensive booklet contains many photos of the band at the time and full lyrics that sadly, 32 years on, have lost none of their significance or pure barbed fury. As well as the original album we are also treated to a multitude of bonus tracks including raw versions on drums and vocals of Rimbaud and Ignorant in the duo Stormtrooper and early demo versions from a couple of different sessions.
One of the key criticisms of the original Crass album was the overall sound quality. It was felt by the band and fans alike that the original albums sounded sharp and thin and lacked the bass that was more prevalent in their live shows. Rimbaud has taken advantage of the technology available to remaster the album in such a way as to retain the arrogant snarl of the original but to add a layer of depth and warmth that allows the bass to shine through as it never did before. It is perhaps ironic that bassist Pete Wright has been one of the most vocal opponents to the reissues as, musically it is him that comes across better than anyone as a result. This new version shows that his playing was really at the heart of the band and his fluid and inventive style really drove the songs and added the melody that lifted them above the level of a mere garage band. Elsewhere Ignorant’s agitated nasal whine spits with a youthful fury, the guitars buzz with a naïve sense of purpose and Rimbaud’s drumming is minimalistic yet hyperactive. Lyrically this is a band so pent up with frustration at the world around them that their rage pours out in a ragged set of barbed diatribes that make “God Save the Queen” sound petulant and insincere. When the album was initially recorded, record plant workers refused to press the album due to the track “Asylum”, a bitter attack on religion and its followers. Originally this was removed and replaced with two minutes of silence entitled “The Sound of Free Speech”. Here it is reinstated and its vitriolic rant is the perfect opener to kick off this selection of short sharp punk shots.
On its original release NME writer Tony Parsons denounced the album as “…a nasty, worthless little record”. Well, it’s a “nasty worthless little record” that has stood the test of time for 32 years, is as relevant now as it was on its release in 1978, is as musically and lyrically vicious as anything that came before or has come since and kick started Crass’ six year career as one of the most influential punk bands of all time and certainly the most important. Forget all that whiney, baggy short wearing shit that masquerades as punk in today’s watered down, consumer pop oriented market. This is where punk truly started so if you have any sort of moral or social conscience and love music displayed with a passion and bile that few others have achieved then buy this reissue. That is all.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall