Part Two: The Apostles
From 1979 onwards, Crass transformed punk, the anarchist movement in the UK, and the nature of protest globally. For better and for worse. There’s enough analysis (pro and con) of all that at the Uncarved critical look at anarchopunk pages.
And whilst not wanting to knock Crass’ contribution too much, it was always painfully obvious that they were mostly middle class: a mate of mine liked their punkier numbers, but had a real problem with more arty stuff like “Reality Asylum” because it reminded him of being told off by his plummy teachers at school. As Garry Bushell once wisely said (you can’t be wrong all the time) “Being middle class, they think that class doesn’t matter.”
The Apostles were a different kettle of fish entirely – formed in Hackney in 1980, more authentically prole than Crass could dream of…
After a number of gigs and cassette releases, their first 7″ Blow it up, Burn it Down, Kick it ’til it Breaks was released in 1983.
The sleeve alone stood out from the usual Crass fare. Yes, the patented black & white sloganeering and fold-out format was present and correct, but no Crass-clone would feature an eagle brandishing a machine gun and machete on the cover! The ‘1985’ emblem was also a statement against Crass’ apocalyptic counting down to 1984 in their catalogue numbers (321984, 221984, 121984 etc). A signifier of hope, and of there being no easy answers…
The articles inside the sleeve were a mixture of classic ranting, analysis, and some very practical information – including articles on breaking into squats and constructing an incendiary device(!).
It’s a serious understatement to say that the Apostles never toed the party line, and got into enough trouble for it over the years.
The “thank yous” section on the sleeve begins “Despite being the one of the most unpopular bands in London at present, probably because we aren’t drug addicts, we aren’t plastic pacifists […] there are, incredibly, a few people who have risked their lives and reputations by actually helping us…”
As well as the sheep cartoon, the sleeve of the first 7″ also includes an account of a recent gig:
The Anarchist Speaks (or – free speech as long as you say the right things)
This is a brief true account of an incident at our set at the London Musicians Collective on Jan 22nd 1983. After finishing a number that was supposed to be half way through our set we were approached by the owner of the PA. He had just turned the vocal volume down and said ‘This is a pacifist PA and we didn’t bring it down for you to preach violence’.
So much for free speech. Basically we were asked by the organisers of the gig to come down and play our set, which we intended to do. He was asked to provide a PA. He was not asked to play at being god and decide in his ultimate wisdom what the bands playing should sing about.
If we’re so anti-pacifist, how can it be that 90% of the bands we’ve arranged gigs for have been of the kind that religiously worship pacifism? Obviously to enlarge our egos, or get in with the in-crowd or so we can crawl up the arses of those people who think we’ll be able to use to further our own evil ends. Or maybe even so we can molest some poor innocent gig-goer.
Well at least that’s what some people seem to think. I mean that’s what everyone tells their friends that we do, so it must be true.
Dave Apostle for the ‘Stuff your anarchy up your arse you hypocritical bunch of hippy tramps’ campaign 1983.
In fact, this sort of attitude proved to be very ahead of its time. Bands like Conflict would subsequently dump the holy grail of pacifism (often on purely pragmatic grounds – what do you do if nazi skinheads attack your gigs?) and Crass would, towards the end of their existence as a band, end up advocating damage to property, etc. Pacifism just doesn’t stand up in the cold light of day, and perhaps The Apostles were better placed to recognise this than some of the leading lights of the anarcho punk revolution.
Having slaughtered some of the sacred cows of the scene, the group wasn’t content to provide another easy-to-grasp set of rules to follow. You could never accuse The Apostles of playing it safe… by the time their 2nd 7″ Rising From the Ashes came out, Andy Martin was already plagued by doubts:
“When I read through everything Dave wrote for the first EP cover, I cringe. So does Dave. When I look through Larry’s vast collection of fanzines and I come across one of my anti-punk pro-anarchy and bombs smash the rich articles, I want to disappear into some cloud of obscurity. […] Telling people they should make bombs is/was an irresponsible act of pointless selfishness. Urging people to riot (from the comfort of my safe Islington squat) is equal to urging them to go out and get arrested. What for? My ego?
I went to see Dave one Thursday afternoon in August and I was worried because I thought to myself ‘Oh fuck. Dave won’t like what I’ve done for the second EP cover. He’ll accuse me of turning into a Crass clone.’ But when I eventually brought up the subject, he didn’t grab me by the neck and knock me into next door’s bomb factory (joke!) or GROWL like I expected him to – he breathed a sigh of relief and said: ‘I was getting really pissed off. I felt like I’d have to put some boots, guns and bombs on the cover to keep you happy.”
The tunes on the 2nd EP dealt with racism (which was surprisingly uncommon in the early days of anarchopunk, far better to sing about impending nuclear annihilation!), a broken relationship (the excellent “Swimming in the Sea of Life” which ia a definite lost classic) an instrumental (again, few other Crass-clones did them), patronising the disabled, plus “Class War” and “The Stoke Newington 8” which dealt positively with violent revolution and the people imprisoned for the Angry Brigade bombings…
Texts on the sleeve included information on the economics and detail of pressing your own record, animal rights, state of the punk scene, “Help your local community – shoot a junkie”, black on white racism, a dissection of a recent Garry Bushell article on the group, and huge swathes of other stuff. There was more text on most Apostles record covers than in most fanzines. And they were doing their own fanzine (called ‘Scum’) as well!
It seemed like the Apostles were agonisingly hardcore about rethinking everything, every day – almost to the point of schizophrenia. The 5th EP includes a note from Andy explaining that Dave had boycotted the studio sessions for the record because Andy had written “hello Skrewdriver!” on the sleevenotes to their previous single, as a (admittedly puerile) wind up to the holier-than-thou anarcho hordes.
The cartoon format continued to be championed – the whole cover of their 3rd LP The Acts of the Apostles in the Theatre of Fear was a practical story about the pitfalls of carrying out criminal damage of an evening (er, as you do).
The 5th LP Equinox Screams had a cartoon slagging off the hero worship of heavy metal fans on the cover. I have no idea why. It also managed to lose the group their entire fanbase in one fell swoop because of the lyrical content. A checklist:
Aleister Crowley poem
HP Lovecraft Invocation
“Rock Against Communism”
A Throbbing Gristle cover
“Kill or Cure” – on, ah, ‘queers’
“Rights for Whites”
“Nazi Baby” – a weird pisstaking love song ‘you’re a nazi baby – your anatomy could never flatter me’
So – a white power / Daily Mail / homophobic / occult / industrial / arty mash up from your favourite gay anarchopunk band!
In the 80s ideology ruled – and was often bought ‘off the peg’. Getting an Apostles record was like grabbing a box of cornflakes from the supermarket – only to find it filled with dog biscuits when you opened it up over breakfast.
Unsurprisingly, hardly anybody would have anything to do with the group after this, though there is some explanation in the interview with Homocore on uncarved.org – about playing with belief, taking on a persona to see what happens – artistic licence.
This blog entry has mainly focussed on the artwork and politics, but The Apostles also recorded some classic songs – I’ll try and come back to them at some point in the future.
At some point in the late 80s the Apostles ended and Academy 23 began. Academy 23 recorded a number of cassettes, records and CDs with a dizzying array of genres – punk, industrial, scottish folk songs, you name it.
Academy 23 eventually mutated into UNIT, who are still very much a going concern. Over 20 years and still going strong, and still winding up all-comers from what I’ve heard…
Apostles and Academy 23 CDs, tapes and vinyl are stil available from BBP Distribution
UNIT have just set up a prototype website as well: http://www.unit-united.co.uk/
Part Three in the series will follow…