They should have done this sort of thing years ago -- it was always the natural progression for a band that excelled in imaginative multimedia whilst consistently under-performing dull live music. Crass managed to mix the avant-garde with the dreadfully uninspired at their gigs, and it's so refreshing to have the one without the other for an evening.
An evening of film, live performance, poetry, art exhibits, sloganeering posters and Q&A sessions. Outside the auditorium, Gee Vaucher's still startling artwork hung next to an AK Press bookstall. Inside, each section seamlessly flows into the next, too seamlessly, in fact, for those of us with cigarettes and alcohol desires, but enormously impressive.
The films themselves are the images that used to run alongside Crass's live performances. Mick Duffield's Choosing Death is stark, uncompromising and relentlessly grim. Away from its previous context, the new soundtrack manages to be even more extreme -- like Throbbing Gristle discovering the delights of fingernails on blackboards (even more than they did). As an assault on the senses and a provocation of the conscience, it's a powerful piece of work, though not one you'd repeat for fun.
Highlight of the live performances was Steve Ignorant doing a spoken word number -- 'Killing Time' -- to a double-bass jazzy backing. There's a Punch & Judy exaggeration in his movements that almost borders on music hall and is a neat indication of the passing of the years -- a world removed from the angry posturings of yesteryear.
But perhaps the best part of the evening was the Q&A, whereby Penny and Gee fielded questions largely about Crass (with an interesting standout about consensual sado-masochism) whilst Mick Duffield looked on, unquestioned. After the internal combustion that signaled the final Crass split, it was nice to see Andy Palmer, Eve Libertine, Phil Free and Joy de Vivre all in the audience . . . the nearest we'll presumably get to a 'proper' Crass reunion and probably the nearest we need to.
Crass used to use the word 'sharing' a lot when talking of what they were trying to achieve -- sharing their good fortune, sharing their ideas, sharing cups of tea . . . and halfway through the talk, Steve Ignorant brings out the substantial lager rider to the front of the stage and invites the audience down to partake. An initial calm of disbelief quickly turns into a rush-hour gallop, but always gentle, always caring. Once more, the rhetoric is backed up on a scale seldom seen and all the more beautiful for the natural way it's done. At the (admittedly strong) risk of sounding like a utopian dreamy sap, the idea that gentle love can manifest beyond the constraints of one-on-one relationships once more tipped its head out from wherever its been hiding all these years. It's tempting to say it's been hiding in our mutual apathy, and it took the same old faces to tempt it up to the surface once more -- more power to their elbow, if indeed, power is the right word.
Next to the various screenings of punk-related films that make up the National Film Theatre's Never Mind The Jubilee season of which this is a part, it's the one evening that's got far bigger and more important things on its mind.
A week later, I visit the NFT again, partly to see how much of the atmosphere was caused by Crass and how much was indigenous. It comes over the second time as a pretty appalling place: equal doses of pretension, stifling British politeness and the worst bar service you could fear.
A week previously, all of the crowd bar a few crusty-punks had shown themselves to have moved on in their various directions, but to still have a place in their heart for ideas beyond the cynical. For it is most certainly those ideas that joined everybody together that night at the NFT. You could feel it in the air.
Yep, they should have done this sort of thing years ago. But now they have done, and hoping they will again, heartening is the word that springs to mind.
George Berger is a freelance writer, with punk rock dna. He has written for Sounds, Melody Maker and Amnesty International among others. He has also written 3 books, with one published thus far: Dance Before the Storm: the Official Story of The Levellers (Virgin Books 1999). George edits abisti. He lives where the mood takes him and funds allow.