CRASS Play Field Place
Worthing, Saturday 6 June 1981
If The Sex Pistols kick-started the British punk movement and The Clash flashlit the possibility of social commentary, Crass actually lived punk as a political idea. They were punk’s conscience. Active between 1977 and 1984, based in their Epping Forest commune, they became the totemic band of anarcho-punk, their music and activities a fervent call to resistance and direct action as Margaret Thatcher brought her baleful vision to bear on the nation.
Louise Purbrick, now a lecturer in the History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton, was a 17-year-old punk as the summer of 1981 approached. When short-lived punk fanzine Inside View took up the cause of a punk who’d been arrested at the Brixton Riots that April, Purbrick decided to put on a gig to raise money for his fine. Inside View gave her Crass’s number.
“I was at sixth form college and we used to have a cup of tea in Field Place,” she recalls, “It was a single storey cricket pavilion-type building. I’d been to sports clubs there when I was much younger. I approached them, these two guys who must’ve also run the café, and they said, ‘Yes’. I then thought, “Why have I agreed to do this, I’m barking mad.’ But I put an ad for the gig in NME’s back pages.”
On 6th June Purbrick made sure she was at the venue early, by 3.00 PM.
“There were already people there,” she says, “The first person to arrive, I said, ‘Where are you from?’ and he said, “Nottingham.” My heart sank because I thought, ‘Oh no, this is too big’.”
Crass had started the year by releasing ‘Penis Envy’, a change of direction, concerned with women’s rights, featuring the female band members but not their usual singer, Steve Ignorant.
“We were starting to get a sort of boot boy following and we didn’t want that,” remembers Ignorant, “so what we did was put out ‘Penis Envy’ which shocked everyone. It made people think there should be more women at punk gigs, there should be more women in bands, and what you then got what was young bands – teenagers – trying to write feminist, anti-sexist lyrics. It was a start.”
Highlighting this feminine aspect, support at the gig came from Annie Anxiety, a New Yorker whose short set consisted of sonic collages, and Poison Girls, a Brighton band fronted by 45 year old feminist Vi Subversa.
“Poison Girls were excellent,” ventures Kev Hough, then 19, “More rock’n’roll than Crass. It was a nice evening so lots of us were sitting outside on the bowling green drinking snakebite. Brendan [Hodges], who was later in [‘90s punk act] Blaggers ITA, snuck in through a window with a bottle of Cinzano. He was only 14. I had him and his mate, one under each arm. That was his introduction to punk rock gigs.”
Anti-punk aggression dominated the streets of the surrounding area, the bullish mood perhaps exacerbated by an England World Cup ’82 qualifier against Hungary the same night (England won 3-1).
“Inside the venue was brilliant,” remembers Derrick Furnival who, aged 22, attended with a date, he in black leather, she in white, “But getting in was a problem, all these idiots outside – ‘What are you doing in Worthing!?’ – then getting back to Brighton on the train afterwards was even worse, police everywhere, carnage, little short of a riot.”
“People who were never into punk, all they know is what they read in the media,” says Steve Ignorant, “Spitting and swearing and general mayhem. For us it wasn’t about that, it was about trying to find a new way of life for ourselves. If anyone was being vicious and spiteful it was those who were trying to break our gigs up.”
The ticketless clambered through a back window into a toilet – the only damage to the venue was a broken window and sink – but even those with tickets ran into problems.
“My mate’s girlfriend put the tickets in her fag packet,” recalls Robin Tate, “then duly threw the packet away after her last fag, so we had to retrace our steps back from the venue to the station looking for it. Thank God we found it!”
The atmosphere inside was packed and wild, a sea of mohawks and studded leather jackets. The café owners came and complained to Louise Purbrick but soon realised the safest course of action was to let the event go ahead. Purbrick didn’t see much of the gig as she was on the door where chaos reigned.
“I was shouting at people that this is a fundraiser not a free gig,” she says, “but people were just swarming about. Maybe anyone reading this who didn’t pay might now want to donate some money to a cause of their choosing. But we still made money, more than enough for the fine.”
The gig itself was explosive, with CRASS playing for an hour–and-a-half. Steve Ignorant came onstage with a white stripe painted across his nose, sending up Adam Ant who was then at the very peak of his pop fame.
“What disappointed me about him was when he started he did this great interview where he said he was trying to start a sensual revolution,” says Ignorant, “I thought that was a brilliant thing to do. In the early days he was almost like 1920s Berlin cabaret. That was great but when he came out with ‘Prince Charming’ I was, like, “For God’s sake, Adam, don’t do it.” But he did. Then he appeared on the Royal Variety Performance and bowed to the Queen. That was it.”
The gig was over by 11.00 and, while some rough adventures lay ahead for those running the gauntlet of violent local antipathy, Louise Purbrick was busy sorting out the band for their journey back to Epping Forest.
“I got them milk chocolate and loads of apples,” she says, “Lovely people that they are, they said, ‘Thank you for the apples.’ It was only years later I realised they couldn’t eat the milk chocolate as they were vegans.”
“No, no, I wasn’t vegan,” chuckles Steve Ignorant, all these years later, “We’d be gigging all the time and the main thing for us was that almost every gig we did was a benefit, and we’d just take expenses. I lived on a diet of white bread and chips at service stations. So I’m pretty sure I did eat that bloody chocolate.”
Louise Purbrick thinks that Crass also played Sir Robert Woodard Academy (then Boundstone School) in Lancing around the same period. Does anyone have any memories of that? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Nigel Watson for leading me to Steve Ignorant, to Nick Linazasoro for the ticket stub, and to Brighton pop culture history Facebook page DJ Gremlin’s Rockin’ Stompers for their general usefulness.