Original Surrey punks CRISIS were interviewed by Dom Warwick for the Where Are They Now? section in the current edition of Vive Le Rock! They had plenty to say for themselves. Read the full interview below...
Originating from Guildford in 1976, Crisis was at the forefront of the politically astute punk movement, their dark sound combining with spiky guitars providing a unique backdrop to intelligent, thought provoking lyrics. The landscape back in ’77 lent itself to a period of intense musical creativity interwoven with a political backdrop steeped in protest and a thirst for change. Not as obvious as The Clash or overtly intellectualised as Crass, fitting somewhere in between, the three bands were often cited as the 3 C’s of political punk. The band broke up in 1980, with core members Tony Wakeford and Doug Pearce individually forging their way in what became known as Neo-folk, with the likes of Death in June and Sol Invictus (to name a few).
Having left their mark in the brief few years they were together, a new version of Crisis started to take shape in 2015 and in more recent times released new material, with the ‘Hammer and the Anvil’ 7” and a 12”, ‘Escalator’. Original member Tony Wakeford and new vocalist Lloyd James talk about the new band, past experiences and future plans.
Why did you decide to start playing Crisis material again and how did the current line-up come about?
Tony: If you go right back to sort of ‘pre-Crisis-Crisis’, with the times we were heading for I thought getting back to playing the early stuff would be fun, I really enjoy it and love playing bass, which is my first instrument. So me and Clive [guitarist] got together and started gigs as ‘1984’, Crisis stuff, plus some early Death in June songs, which fit more with the post-punk thing and it sprung from that. All the gigs would be small, but you’d get the money for being 1984, not Crisis. So in the end Mark, who was putting us on at the time, said ‘fuck it, call yourselves Crisis, you’re a founding member, there’s bands doing it with less’, so we did. And then through permutations we’ve got to the line-up we have now, with Lloyd and Laura joining me and Clive, a fantastic line-up to play with and it’s the most fun I’ve had playing live.
Lloyd: I’ve loved the original punk movement and been a big fan of post-punk for a long time, it was always the music I loved most. So I was always aware of Crisis, always thought they were a very interesting group musically, sounded quite modern and forward looking, vocals that were political with lots of strength of feeling about current issues at the time. I’ve been playing in other groups for a number of years in a sort of a post-punk influenced vein in different ways, different styles and I’ve known Tony for a long while, playing in bands with him off & on over the years. When they were looking for a new singer for Crisis, Tony messaged me and asked if would I do it. I was very unsure at first as I’d never sung in that style before, but we gave it a go and they didn’t sack me.
Although you ‘reformed’ a few years back, it has taken a while to release any new material. Was this a conscious decision?
Tony: I’m not sure anything in Crisis is a conscious decision. I think it had to be in keeping with Crisis, there’s a certain heritage, I’m sure there are many people who’d love to stick the boot in, as there are so many punk bands that have reformed and they sound terrible.
Lloyd: As a fan of the old material, singing the songs live, my main concern is I don’t want to do it a disservice, it has to be good enough. Working on new material, we tried it a few times about a year before we eventually got to the stage where we had material good enough to stick out on a single. We wanted to make sure it was good and consistent with previous recordings. Tony: We wanted to ensure it had a Crisis feel, I was very nervous, but surprised. You’re kind of playing with people’s dreams. I had people saying ‘I’ve travelled 12 hours to see the original Crisis and really I’m nervous to be seeing you’ and then you get the emails saying ‘that was great’. It sounds cheesy, but that really meant a lot to us, a real hardcore fan expecting to be disappointed but enjoying it. I didn’t want to get a really young and punky vocal, it just wouldn’t work. I’m not shoving some young bloke up front, I wanted someone with a bit of gravitas, someone who wasn’t jumping around and didn’t make you cringe.
Lloyd: Sometimes I see old punk bands and they’re just like old geezers having a laugh. One of the things that Crisis has is we want to make sure it’s serious and it comes across as serious, it has a bit of weight to it and it means something.
Tony: Not punk Wurzels, let’s get pissed down the pub. It’s fine if bands want to do that, but we’re not one of them. The music with Crisis was very strong, we did a John Peel session, it still holds up well and there’s not any recording we’ve done that I’m ashamed of, the songs can stand on their own.
Yourself (Tony) and Doug (Pearce) used to write the songs back in the day, but who has written the new songs?
Tony: That’s one of the refreshing things. With Sol [Invictus] and some of the other bands, it’s always been me, can only be me and the only difference in the early days was both me and Doug wrote songs. So it was really refreshing that in Crisis it was perfectly alright that I wrote songs with Lloyd and Clive. It was really enjoyable to do that and it works really well.
Lloyd: The new songs work really well, the vast majority of lyrics are Tony’s, but for the music it’s stuff we’ve all worked on, thrashing it out at rehearsals. I’ve not worked in many bands where that’s really possible. The individual idea for a song comes from someone, more often than not a lyric and a bass line from Tony, and then from there we rehearse it.
And what about lyrical influences?
Tony: The total dystopian nightmare that we’re in. I never thought I’d look back to the 70’s as a golden age, but the shower of shit we’ve got now, I’d never believe in the 70’s we’d have a graph that would go up and then start to go down.
Lloyd: It’s been a bit tough in terms of the new songs to try and make sure they sound a little bit contemporary, timeless, and not going on about current politics too much.
Initially the band was influenced by Marxism & Socialist politics, aligning with the SWP and Rock Against Racism, which you eventually became disillusioned with. You have said in other interviews that Crass had ‘got it right’ as party politics is authoritarian. Why was this and where do you see Crisis fitting with the political spectrum today?
Tony: I was at the Friends Meeting House for a meeting, a chap from Crass was there speaking and we had a quick chat after, I said I was from Crisis and I told him regarding politics and the SWP that they were right, we were wrong. He laughed, but the biggest mistake that Crisis ever made was getting a party line. You learn the hard way, we will never be put in this position [again], we are not aligned with any party.
Lloyd: I think it works with the current line-up because everyone in the group is a leftie of one sort or another, but all quite different. That works nicely, as long as everyone feels happy with the content of what we’re singing we’re okay to put it across.
Tony: There’s lots and lots of political parties that are dying, people aren’t signing up as a whole, people are aligning to one issue they feel strong about, just because you feel strongly about one thing there’s this conceit that you must agree to the whole agenda. It’s like with the band we might have differing views, but we’re all on the same side of the barrier.
Lloyd: Ultimately the vast majority of people’s lives, especially poorer people, are being ignored and being run roughshod over. I think that’s the main undercurrent coming through with the new songs.
Tony: The extreme left and the extreme right are utterly obsessed with identity and it’s very stupid of the left because it’s their weakest card. If you’re going to go on about identity, the far right are going to say ‘come and get it, we’ve got degrees in identity politics’, so it’s a bit of a nightmare.
Lloyd: And all of that gets away from the real problems in the world, not enough to eat, not enough places to live. Those are the real problems.
Tony: You have a form of capitalism now that is a form of socialism for the rich, too big to fail. Now you have oligarchs who can buy parties, even countries, you have a total dysfunctional system.
Lloyd: We actually did a remix of ‘The Hammer And The Anvil’ for a compilation a friend of ours in the US is putting out and the idea is to raise funds for causes that are against police brutality. That’s a recent thing we’ve done during lockdown, which shows where we’re coming from, opposing this totalitarian rule that’s going on.
And if you could give a 20 year-old Tony some advice, what would that be?
Tony: Avoid political parties that are sects/cults, which are extreme and violent, as it will end in tears.
Although the late 70’s were exciting musically, it was also quite violent too. How do you think times have changed? What has it been like playing as Crisis again, 40 years later?
Tony: There’s no comparison. It could just be that everyone involved is far too old and unhealthy to kick-off. It’s far safer, although I thought one of our old fans was going to pick up a barrier and throw it at us, but he’s a big sweetie really. At every Crisis gig there was a fight, but not now, it’s very different. The whole atmosphere is different, based on the violence that was normal in the 70’s, there’s no comparison.
Crisis has an interesting sound, which although labelled with the punk banner, could also easily fit with the post-punk/gothic sound, how would you describe yourselves?
Lloyd: I just think genre titles are a bit of a strange thing anyway. Any band there’s ever been that fits completely neatly into a genre is normally crap. So if you fit completely into any genre, whatever it might be, then this normally means it’s not very interesting musically. I think Crisis are very interesting, on the surface it’s very punky sounding vocals and overall sound, but the guitars and bass/drums are actually doing quite interesting stuff.
Tony: A lot about Crisis has been forgotten about, but Lester Jones’s guitar was a major reason we sounded so good, because he was a proper musician.
Lloyd: And I think we’ve been hugely fortunate having Clive in the band, as he’s an amazing guitarist and he’s not like a super technically trained guitarist, but plays with a huge amount of power. In terms of the sound of the band, the main difference between the new and old Crisis, is that before Crisis was a 2 x guitar band and now it’s one. Clive does such a great job that it fills all of that space. He also has the correct dislike of unneeded solos, he’s economical with what he does, but it’s a big, big sound.
Tony: We do occasionally have to beat him with the mike stands at rehearsals, as he’s too fucking loud! This obviously helps on the gig front, as you’ve played a number of shows in France and Poland, for example, not quite what you’d call run of the mill. How have these experiences been?
Tony: Great. It’s so nice to play in a band with no egos, the trouble with musicians is that they’re pretentious arseholes, but we all get on, despite any differences.
Lloyd: For me personally, and I think most of the band, I love going to Europe, playing in European cities, eating different food and meeting our lovely hosts, meeting people and having lovely different European beers. Frankly gigs outside of the UK are better paid, you’re treated a lot better and you get better sound generally. It’s worth saying that Crisis have played a few gigs in the UK, including punk festivals, but in Europe the audience is quite different and we tend to get more of a younger crowd, generally interested in post-punk, whilst in the UK it tends to be much more on the punky side.
Tony: We played an amazing gig with mates of ours, Frustration, in Paris, with 8-900 people there and it was fantastic. Also a gig in Italy with people on the stage, no violence, just people enjoying it, knew all the words, not ancient like us.
Lloyd: To be fair, I noticed the last couple of times we played London there were younger people there, not people who were all the same gender or race and that’s really nice to see.
Once the current situation normalises and we arise from our quarantine fatigue, what plans await the band and the watching public?
Tony: We’ve been concentrating on recording, so will have a series of singles coming out, well, the nightmare continues. That’s the plan, but we’re desperate to rehearse and play live.
Lloyd: I miss rehearsing and playing gigs a lot, the nearest I got to that was myself and Laura the drummer had a recording session for a future single or E.P. a couple of weeks ago, just to be in a room, socially distanced, with loud music, just to record Laura’s drums for a new recording. She was a bit out of practice due to lockdown, but she’s flawless.
Tony: She can’t even rehearse at home because she lives on a boat.
Lloyd: We’ve got 4 new songs we’re working on, two will probably be on a single and two on something else, the drums are recorded and the rest we’ll work on separately with social distancing going on. In terms of gigs, who knows, we had quite a few lined up which got cancelled, including one I’d lined up locally for me in Leytonstone, which maybe I’ll reorganise.