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PENNY RIMBAUD

Penny Rimbaud

HOW?

    Co-founder of '70s/'80s anarchist punk band Crass, activist, poet, novelist, painter and philosopher Penny Rimbaud has recorded a live recital of ‘How?’, backed by jazz cellist Kate Shortt. ‘How? Is a reinterpretation of Allen Ginsberg’s classic 1954 poem ‘Howl’ wherein Penny, like Ginsberg before him, seeks to challenge the establishment and encapsulate the righteous anger and frustrations of a generation.

    In January 2003, alongside a jazz quartet, Penny performed ‘Howl’ as his first gig at London’s Vortex Jazz Club. Ginsberg’s poem was chosen because it had been seminal in Penny’s development as a writer and because it seemed so well suited to a jazz setting. After the show, he was asked to do a repeat performance as part of that year’s London Jazz Festival. After happily agreeing, he reached out to the copyright holders expecting the process to be a mere formality, but it wasn’t. HarperCollins Inc is owned by News International, the militarist, industrialist, nationalist wing of media-magnate Rupert Murdoch. 

    Penny Rimbaud

    Christ's Reality Asylum

      Written and published as a journal of dissent in 1977 by Penny Rimbaud before the formation of anarchist tricksters Crass, ‘Christ’s Reality Asylum’ became the template for much of the socio-political attitudes of the band. Crass’ first album, ‘The Feeding of the Five Thousand’, included a short section of the journal, going under the title of ‘Reality Asylum’, which led to immediate interest from the authorities. Charges of ‘criminal blasphemy’ were eventually dropped, but from that time on Crass were under constant surveillance by the police and MI5 (the New York mafia didn’t like it either!). In short, ‘Christ’s Reality Asylum’ is Crass in a very large nutshell.

      The decision to release ‘Christ’s Reality Asylum’ was made to celebrate Crass’ change of label from Southern Records to One Little Indian. Having in 2019 lovingly remastered their entire catalogue at Abbey Road Studios, it seemed only natural that they should release ‘Christ’s Reality Asylum’ as the cherry to top the cake. Radical in the extreme, the release of ‘Christ’s Reality Asylum’ is also a celebration of creative freedom.

      The genesis of ‘Christ’s Reality Asylum’ is a story in itself – script written by Penny Rimbaud in Spring 1977, later to be used in part as ‘Reality Asylum’ performed by Eve Libertine as the first track of Crass’ first album ‘The Feeding of the Five Thousand’, released in 1978. Initial recording of Penny Rimbaud’s reading by A-Soma at Red Herring Studios, Autumn 1991. Mastered at Southern Studios by A-Soma and Paul Harding in Winter 1991. Solo voice recording released in cassette form on Crass Records, Summer 1992. Hugh Metcalfe’s backing voice and noise recorded by Tony Barber at The Shedio Studio in Summer 2012. Eve Libertine’s backing vocals recorded by Harvey Birrell at Old Street Studios in Autumn 2019.

      It’s also worth noting that the now legendary Crass logo was designed by Dave King (sadly, recently deceased) not as a logo for the band, but as a frontispiece for ‘Christ’s Reality Asylum’ published in 1977 in its journal form. It became the band’s logo more by mistake than by design when Gee Vaucher incorporated it into her stunning broadsheet publication, ‘International Anthem’, from which it became assumed to be a Crass logo. Appropriately, the release of ‘Christ’s Reality Asylum’ coincides with the end of politics as we have known it. A clown in the White House, a joker in Number Ten, but no one is laughing. EXIT STAGE RIGHT.

      Penny Rimbaud

      War & Peace

        Over the past four years, 2014 to 2018, Penny Rimbaud has been performing the War Poems of Wilfred Owen, these being an unrelenting and powerful condemnation of the carnage of WW1. Prior to Wilfred’s death in battle in the last weeks of the conflict, Owen had written of his poetry saying, ‘My subject is war, and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity’, thereby suggesting that it was the pity which was foremost in his thoughts over and above the poetry which, in these circumstances (and not surprisingly), played a subsidiary role. Focussing on similar themes, in 2012, Penny decided to record an album of covers focussed on his favourite songs, songs which had been seminal to the making of the person he had become. Working with Tony Barber (ex Buzzcocks and Lack of Knowledge) as engineer and co-producer, they launched the project with Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ and George Harrison’s ‘Isn’t it a Pity’, both key songs within the framework of his lifelong interest in peace and love; different angles, same story. From the start they decided to limit the instrumentation to cello (Kate Shortt) and fretless bass (Jennifer Maidman) which, they hoped, would give the lyrics the space that they so deserved. The two tracks were recorded and mixed and then, as John Lennon once remarked, ‘life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans’, Tony closed shop and left to set up studio in New York, leaving the tracks gather digital dust. Then, suffering a bout of ‘seven-year itch’, they decided to resurrect the tracks and put them together as a 7” single which in itself seemed a tragically relevant statement to make in a period of time which appears so fractured by conflict and doubt.


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