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Anarcho Punk Last Hours Feature

with Sean McGhee

Sean McGhee was the singer of Cumbrian Anarcho punk band Psycho Faction throughout their time together (1979-84) along the way promoting gigs for the likes of Crass, Flux Of Pink Indians, The System, the Mob, Zounds, Conflict and many local bands. He also was a contributor to various punk zines of the period and was responsible for one of the first ‘bedroom distributors’, when he started Psycho Fanzine Distribution in 1982. Since his own band’s demise he has, amongst many other things, edited a national eclectic music magazine (Rock’n’Reel), promoted occasional gigs with everyone from Drunk in Public to Neck and a myriad of acts from folk to punk, handled press for Maryport punk festival, Whitehaven Rezurrection Punk Festival, and the North’s largest roots and World music festival Solfest. Over the last few years he has worked extensively on a series of compilations for Newcastle based re-issue label Overground Records, covering the UK Anarcho punk scene from the 1980s.

Martyn Cockbain the guy behind punk fanzine and record label Scrobe from the period, quizzed Sean recently about the series…

How did the Anarcho punk series come about?

The series really came about via John of Overground Records planting the seed of an idea in my head around 5/6 years ago. The band I’d sang for from 1979-84, Psycho Faction, had failed to leave a recorded legacy apart from a couple or poorly recorded live tapes. John had suggested an idea of an Anarcho punk compilation and I suggested a Psycho Faction track appearing on it. John eventually agreed.

In February 2004 I rang John to ask if he was planning to do anything with the Anarcho compilation idea that year, and with a hint of weariness in his voice, he asked why didn’t I do the compilation?

The date was February 7th 2004, and within five minutes of the call I had started on the Anarcho Punk project. What became painfully clear within the first week was the fact that there was simply no way that all the bands involved with the Anarcho punk scene from the 80s were ever going to fit on one CD, or even two. In a matter of weeks the whole thing had become a three cd series and then a couple of months later a four album series.

Getting the contacts, recordings, etc must have been really difficult?

The initial problem was that around 90% of bands had been split up/defunct for more than 20 years, the labels they recorded for (which were now almost all defunct) had no contacts for many of the bands. A major problem was the fact that as the Anarcho punk scene was so unashamedly anti-star and anti-big business practically nobody had given their full or real name on any records!
Of course management was anathema to the scene so that meant people literally had to be found via; 20-year-old nicknames, addresses from 20 years ago or phone numbers from 20-year-old fanzines.
With this is mind I set out to publicise what I was doing on the internet via various punk sites with an overwhelming response. Punkoiuk was a particularly good with responses and suggestions coming from all over the UK. I used some of my own contacts from the 80s from my days as editor and publisher of music magazine, Rock’n’Reel such as: Ramsey of AK Press and formerly Scottish anarcho punk act Political Asylum, Gerard Evans ex-Sounds journalist/writer and member of Flowers In The Dustbin and Sean Forbes manager of Rough Trade records and member of Hard Skin.

Later on I contacted Ian Glasper ex-member of Decadence Within and Stampin Ground. Now with Suicide Watch and also journalist for Terrorizer mag and author of the punk books ‘Burning Britain’ and ‘The Day The Country Died’ (both published by Cherry Red Books).

Around half of each of the compilations are comprised of material previously unreleased whilst the vast majority of the others are taken from long deleted or very hard to get recordings.

Why the Anarcho punk scene?

Firstly, as someone heavily involved in the Anarcho punk scene, it was always very close to my heart.
Secondly, the Anarcho punk scene was at times puritanical and may have been plagued by infighting and scene jealousies and petty squabbles, which are evident in all music scenes, but in my opinion its heart was in the right place. When the main instigators of the Anarcho punk scene Crass, appeared in late 78 early 79, punk rock in the UK was really dead on its feet. An increasingly insipid new wave/power pop scene that made little attempts to hide its pursuit of big bucks had overtaken the initial life changing threat of punk. The 2-Tone trend was also becoming the latest trendy bandwagon for many to jump aboard. For many the strength of the Crass message and the associated all black image and powerful sound/graphics stood as a refreshing change from the cartoon/peacock punk prevalent at the time, and actually for myself put the pride back into punk.
Many bands and individuals were revitalized by this new energy and as well as putting together their own bands, producing their own music and fanzines the whole Anarcho punk movement filled the ranks of CND and other Anti-War movements, revitalized the squatting scene, the radical animal rights movement from the hunt saboteurs to the A.L.F, and encouraged many many thousands to get involved in Direct Action.

For all its faults, and there were many, the Anarcho punk scene produced some really great people, that I’m proud to call my friends, who have continued along a similar ‘political’ path, and with it’s DIY attitude and underground ethic Anarcho Punk continues to inspire many still working within the punk scene. It demonstrated that working co-operatively and collectively was equally as effective and with its anarchist roots proved that self-management could work. For so long now the weighty tomes on punk rock produced by the dozen to mark the 20th or 25th anniversary of punk have either completely ignored, dismissed or overlooked the contribution Anarcho punk made to punk, and how without it the punk scene would have died completely within a few years. I thought, and still do, that the Anarcho scene deserved better, not particularly plaudits or awards but credit where credit is due.

The Anarcho punk cd series goes a little way to re-addressing the balance, which is why I’ve taken such care over the choice of material (I listened to over 3000 tracks for possible inclusion) and laboured over the accompanying 24 page booklets that include photos, reminiscences, updates, contact details etc etc on all bands/artists involved. Even the choice of cover has seen myself a John arguing the pros and cons ‘til early in the morning.

What can those who aren’t really aware of Anarcho Punk expect from the series?

Many reviewers, who weren’t particularly enamoured by Anarcho punk at the time, have expressed surprise at how effective and diverse the bands are musically who appear on the compilations. A lot of bands admittedly did try to emulate the fuzzed out, drum fuelled charge of Crass, but a lot more took the whole DIY thing seriously enough to produce something that sounded exactly like no one else and introduced other ideas into their live sets. In their earlier days Chumbawamba utilized four piece harmonies and theatre amid their manic live sound, whilst the delightful hectoring punk poetry of Andy T inspired a whole new wave of punk poets. The diversity and inventiveness of the Anarcho punk scene is displayed throughout the series.
What’s been the response so far to the cds?
The response so far has surprised me. I expected a little interest in the series but as I mentioned before, reviewers who weren’t particularly into the Anarcho scene or actually even disliked Crass have, without begrudging, said really decent things about the series.. All the series have had amazing reviews in everything from websites like Punk Information Directory and zines like: Trust, Maximum Rock’n’Roll, AMP, Profane Existence and other general music magazines like; Rock Sound, Terrorizer, Record Collector, Big Cheese and more. There’s even talk of features on the Anarcho series in the glossy weekly papers! The whole series has been selling really well, and picking up distributors all over the world. The response from those actually going out buying the cds has been superb. I’ve been inundated with great responses and emails from people who can remember the bands the first time around and especially in America a second and third generation of kids are fascinated and inspired by the Anarcho punk scene.

What does the future hold for the series, any other plans?

The last cd is ‘Anti-Capitalism’ which was released a few weeks ago and as with the previous cds the whole package comes complete with a chunky 24-page booklet, that content wise, seems to grow with each release. The booklet as well as photos contains around 10,000 words!!
The final installment ‘Anti-Capitalism’ had an exciting extra bonus: featuring the first unreleased Crass track in two decades, with a booklet foreword by Penny Rimbaud, drummer and lyricist of Crass. This has particularly pleased me as it feels like a seal of approval from the mentors. Also featured are tracks from Conflict, Rudimentary Peni, Living Legends, Antisect, D&V, The Epileptics, Culture Shock, Atomic Filth and many more.
The bands included on the comps to date include: Dirt, Zounds, The System, Lost Cherrees, Anti-System, A-Heads, Anthrax, Instigators, Snipers, The Mob, Flux Of Pink Indians, Amebix, Subhumans, Poison Girls, Disrupters, Chumbawamba, Civilized Society, Icons Of Filth, Sears, A.O.A., Liberty, Icon AD, Thatcher On Acid, Andy T, Oi Polloi, Exit Stance, Alternative, Liberty, The Cravats and many many others. I think we’ve managed to cover practically every act from the 80s anarcho punk scene, close on a hundred bands in total! Already there have been offshoots of the series with cds by Wigan Anarcho punk band The System, which includes both singles they recorded as well as loads of demos, all remastered and as ever it comes in a booklet, (all released with full involvement and in conjunction with the band) and full albums from the Norwich based band The Disrupters ‘Gas The Punx’, Icon AD ‘Lest We Forget’, The Cravats ‘Land Of The Giants’ a lovingly packaged double set and coming soon an album by cult anarcho punks Naked ‘One Step Backwards’. There’s also a CD in the pipeline from The Mob. All the releases are given a full remastering and include unreleased and rare material on CD for the first time and all are released with full cooperation from members of the bands.
Anyone who wants to sample tracks from the compilations can listen to them via the myspace site www.myspace.com/anarchopunkcdseries
Otherwise visit www.overgroundrecords.co.uk
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