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Dave King - stood in front of a recent wall size version of the Crass symbol

DAVE KING, THE designer of what became the world-renowned Crass logo, has died at the age of 71 following a year-long battle with cancer.

Born in London in 1948, King later recalled how, as a youngster, he was struck by the unremitting greyness and dullness of post-War British austerity. “It seemed like the sky was always grey as well,” he remembered. “If you took a scan across the streets, everything was grey.” The one contrast to the monotony of this grey-and-white world, visible at the end of every street, were the lurid colours and bold designs of the advertising hoardings above the countless corner shops. Inside those stores, a young kid in search of escape from rationing and restriction could find other colourful treasures.

“There would be beautiful greens and blues for cigarettes,” he recalled. “For soda, oranges, reds, and yellows. And then the jars of sweets had bright artificial colours. The comic books and paperbacks were riots of colour”. In a world of unremitting greyness, these exciting, vibrant designs became for King “beacons” of something different, something enticing.

As a result, King decided, as he became a teenager, to pursue a life in art – despite the concern of his school Career Advisor who doubted that there were “any jobs for artists” going, at least none you might make a living at – except perhaps as a commercial artist. “Maybe that’s art you can get paid for,'” the Advisor suggested.

But while post-War promotional design had excited King, he did not relish a career designing packaging for consumables. The explosion of “the Sixties”, and the opening up of new, alternative avenues in art and culture, and new disruptive sensibilities about the nature of the production of art itself, became a far more conducive environment in which King could seek out a creative niche. “Suddenly people were wearing floral ties and pink jackets, there was mod fashion, and then there was commercial TV, which had much better graphics,” King recalled.

King became enthused by the new post-hippy phase of agitational and political work fermenting at Dial House

In 1964, King met Jerry Ratter (aka Penny Rimbaud) and Gee Vaucher whilst attending art school. King formed a strong bond with them both, which continued even after King later relocated to the United States. For a decade, he found work as both an art director and as an artist, but as his association with Ratter and Vaucher continued into the 1970s, King became enthused by the new post-hippy phase of agitational and political work fermenting at Dial House which would, within a couple of years, distill into the formation of Crass.

Rimbaud later recalled the moment that the pair of them were sat together at the house when, unprompted, Rimbaud “started a rant about Christianity”. The improvisation quickly expanded, as he launched poetic pot-shots at other instruments of social and political oppression. “It was this huge savage attack on everything inside me. I ended up rolling around on the floor screaming all this stuff,” Rìmbaud said. “When I finished, Dave picked me up and said, ‘You wanna write that’. Two days later I started writing it. It ended up as thirty-four pages of unremitting rant.” The result became the first iteration of Reality Asylum, which would begin life as a standalone written-word statement. It would only later become part Crass’ creative rubric as it evolved into a recorded performance piece.

King offered to design a logo that could adorn the front cover of the searing anti-religious, anti-authoritarian polemic that Rimbaud had authored. Rimbaud enthusiastically agreed, asking him to produce “a frontispiece which represented the fascism of the state, the fascism of the church, and the fascism of the family.”

Dave King's design for what became the Crass symbol

This was a case where the artist felt completely in tune with the politics of their commission. “[W]e felt oppressed by the church… it was an arm of government”, King explained later. “It was in your high school education. You had compulsory classes called ‘Religious Instruction,’ which meant you had to sit in a class with some sort of ex-vicar or priest moonlighting as a teacher going on about how Christ is here to save us. It was indoctrination.”

King experimented with different iterations of his design, all of which shared a common premise: taking elements of existing symbols of oppression, power and domination and repurposing them into an icon which both codified and inverted the meaning of that symbolism.

He drew on components of the Christian cross and the swastika, adding in subtle references to national flags (most obviously the Union Jack). The design was completed with the inclusion of a stylised version of a two-headed Ouroboros (an ancient symbol of a mythical serpent who consumes their own tail). It was an inspired design decision, which completed the image with the powerfully subversive message that oppressive power would ultimately only consume itself.

In the years since, many have debated the exact, definitive meaning of King’s logo; offering a variety of interpretations. For the artist who crafted it, the symbol’s meaning was “very simple.” King conceived it as a visual statement “against monolithic religious and cultural oppression.”

After featuring on the first edition of Reality Asylum, the new logo had by 1977-78 become part of the iconography of Crass, and would go to feature on banners, handouts, badges and record sleeves. The image first came to national (and later international) attention when it featured on the cover of the inner-sleeve pull-out of The Feeding of the 5000, and soon after that as the silk-screened centre-piece of the cover of the vinyl release of Reality Asylum (the track omitted from the original release of Feeding at the insistence of the pressing company’s workforce).

King, of course, never saw a penny from the cumulative receipts of such tone-deaf profiteering

By the end of the 1970s, King had crossed the Atlantic to settle in New York. He joined the punk trio Arsenal (as drummer “Dirty Dog”), which morphed through a relocation to San Francisco to become Sleeping Dogs. The 1982 single Beware on the Crass label, showed the originality and potential of this new line-up, even as Rimbaud and Crass guitarist Phil Free augmented the band’s sound for the studio session. The front cover of the single featured its own striking logo, courtesy of King. Sleeping Dogs wound up soon after the Zig-Zag squat gig, re-emerging briefly in the new guise of Brain Rust a few years later.

Over the following years, what was now universally recognised as “the Crass symbol” would go on to adorn the backs and sleeves of punks’ jackets the world over; to become the tattoo design of choice for many punks looking for striking and unmistakable body art; and to be a recurring feature of countless endeavours in spray-paint graffiti. It’s become an internationally recognised icon throughout the global punk firmament: a signifier not only of the work Crass, but morphing into a wider visual shorthand for anarchist and DIY punk commitment. King was pleased to see it become “a signifier of both the band and a demanding, counter-cultural questioning of authority of all kinds.”

With varying degrees of success (and originality), numerous groups working under the banner of first-wave anarcho-punk were inspired to design their own band logo “closely based on” King’s work. The extent of the proliferation, replication, extension, pastiche and reinvention across and beyond the UK punk scene remains remarkable. King acknowledged that: “Many ‘homages’ have been made over the years, some the enjoyable work of genuine fans, others just blatant, barely altered rip-offs.”

Cover of Secret Origins of the Crass Symbol by Dave King

From the late 1970s onwards, as profit-hungry parasites looked for ways to exploit the popularity of Crass, King’s design became the “go to” image for those knocking-out faux “Crass T-Shirts” and other ill-considered “merchandise” (in the face of outright condemnation from the band). King, of course, never saw a penny from the cumulative receipts of such tone-deaf profiteering. His landmark design for Crass was not in itself in any way a lucrative commission, financially.

If King was exasperated with that outcome, he never said so publicly. If anything, he seemed more than content with the impact, with the popularity and with the longevity of his “Crass logo”, its resonance continuing to reverberate down the decades.

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, those particularly close to Crass and to the work of Dial House often became aware of Dave King’s creative responsibility for the logo. It was a credit that was sometimes revealed by members of Crass to inquisitive editors during interviews for their fanzines. But it is only in more recent years, as individual attribution for the various elements of Crass’ work has become more transparent (itself, a highly contentious process amongst the band’s alumni) that King’s distinct creative contribution to the band’s work has gained due recognition. More people than ever before could now cite King’s name in the context of a discussion on Crass.

King went on to enjoy a long and varied artistic career in the US, but appeared sanguine at the recognition that no other work he produced had the same impact or popular resonance as his design of the Crass symbol.

In recent years, he refocused his attention on that formative creative period. He wrote and published Secret Origins of the Crass Symbol, a fascinating exploration of the design choices that preceded and informed the definitive version of the logo. He contributed to the US video documentary series The Art of Punk, explaining different elements of his craft and his creative process. He also worked with different exhibition curators in the UK and US eager to showcase the work central to shaping the graphic identity of Crass, providing them with a wealth of illustrations and designs.

These opportunities to revisit encouraged King to experiment afresh with different interpretations of the original Crass logo. In a new set of images he reframed the logo in a variety of different ways, mixing in bold colours and repositioning the symbol in some unexpected contexts. For many fans of his work, used to seeing the image in imposing black-and-white for many decades, the colourized, reimagined versions of the logo took some getting used to. But all of the new iterations in different ways reinforced the recognition of how powerfully simple and potent the original “Crass logo” really was.

Dave King, 1948 – 20 October 2019

Dave King - San Franciso - April 2016
Dave King, at home in San Francisco, in April 2016 – photo courtesy of Sean Clark

REFERENCES

Alex Burrows. 2010. Penny Rimbaud on Crass & the poets of transcendentalism & modernism, The Quietus, 10 November, https://thequietus.com/articles/05258-penny-rimbaud-crass-interview.

David King. 2012. Free the Crass symbol!!! By the designer of the Crass symbol, Dave King. BoingBoing, 31 January. https://boingboing.net/2012/01/31/free-the-crass-symbol-by-t.html.

Sam Lefebvre. 2013. Not just another cheap logo: the story of Crass and David King, Consequences of Sound, 12 September, https://consequenceofsound.net/aux-out/not-just-another-cheap-logo-the-story-of-crass-and-david-king/.

Zounds, Andy T, Distort, Nape Neck - 27 September 2019

Zounds, Andy T, Distort and Nape Neck
27 September 2019
Wharf Chambers, 23-25 Wharf Street, Leeds LS2 7EQ
Entry: £6-£8 (pay what you can)

Friday 27th September 2019 at Wharf Chambers, Leeds. The mighty ZOUNDS with the equally amazing ANDY T with DISTORT and NAPE NECK! Entry in is a sliding scale pay-what-you-can £6 – £8.

Danbert Nobacon and Kira Wood Cramer - September 2019

DANBERT NOBACON (EX-CHUMBAWAMBA) and Kira Wood-Cramer begin a mini-tour of the UK on Thursday 5 September.

Thursday 5 September – Angel Microbrewery, Nottingham
with Addictive Philosphy (acoustic)

Friday 6 September – The Yorkshire House, Lancaster
with Chris Butler

Saturday 7 September – 1-in-12 Club, Bradford, West Yorkshire
Anarchist Book fair with Nieviem, Gerrard Bell-Fife

Sunday 8 September – Forts Arms, Accrington

Monday 9 September – Rosemount working men’s club, Bacup, Lancashire
with Cherry and Peesh Much More

Wednesday 11 September – Le Pub, Newport, Wales
with Tracey Curtis

Thursday 12 September 12 – Katie Fitzgeralds, Stourbridge

THE MIGHTY CRAVATS release new seven-inch vinyl Shy on Overground Records on 6 September 2019.

Available for pre-order from the Overground Records site, this new slice of Cravatee goodness features the tracks Shy and Good for You.

The cover of The Cravats' single Shy, released in 2019

A new 7inch single from The Cravats? What does this one sound like then?

Really? Okay, it sounds like an invisible Land Rover full of grimacing stoats, re-entering Earth’s atmosphere backwards . . . .

Does that help? Nah, thought not. Best have a listen.

It’s called Shy and is a song of malevolent mutant Motown about er, being shy.

Shy? The Cravats don’t exactly come across as reticent, retiring members of the human race. For a start their frontman is the size of a combine harvester for heaven’s sake.

Well, they are. Everyone is, but some spend a lifetime pretending they’re not or they wear a clown mask.

Rather than locking it up, why not shout about it. Embrace Alan Anxiety in your head and wave it like a flag in the face of your flustered fellows.

Also it’s not necessarily a bad thing as those feelings of apprehension have stopped you doing a whole heap of damned stupid things throughout your life. Running across the road in front of that bloody big lorry, going to that party full of wassocks and of course wearing flip flops or bungee jumping.

It’s ruddy nature watching out for you so let’s dance in defiance.

The B Side, Good For You is the opposite and therefore not like Shy at all. Best have a listen.

Shy is taken from the forthcoming Cravats LP due for release on Overground Records in February 2020.

Whenever I start to feel important, I think ‘well, I never did much for The Cravats and I didn’t stop Toyah’ – JOHN PEEL

Great to hear a saxophonist playing riffs… This group are vicious in their intent, yet relaxed taste abounds – MARK E. SMITH

One of the greatest bands in the history of music – HENRY ROLLINS

I still have every Cravats record I know of – JELLO BIAFRA

AS WORK ON their new album continues, The Cravats have lined up some live dates for September and November.

The Cravats + support
5 September 2019
Claptrap The Venue
108a High Street, Stourbridge DY8 1EE
Advance tickets or £10.00 on door

The Cravats
The Proles
fatherfigures
7 September 2019
The Fulford Arms
York Y10 4EX
Advance tickets or £10.00 on door

The Cravats
Turning Black Like Lizards
The Ruins
29 November 2019
The Hairy Dog
1 Beckett Street, Derby DE1 1HT
Advance tickets

 

Slice of Life - Don't Turn Away - album - cover

Review: Slice of Life. 2019. Don’t Turn Away. Overground Records. LP | CD | digital download. Released 16 August 2019.

FOR A PROJECT that emerged from discussions amongst a bunch of musicians biding their time in airport departure lounges in the closing weeks of The Last Supper tour, Slice of Life has proved to be a remarkablly productive and a resilient musical collaboration. From the moment the band formed, its live and studio activities have wrapped around the other commitments of band members for whom it’s far from their only creative outlet.

As Slice of Life’s identity has crystallized, the band has shown itself just as home on the stage of major festivals as it has been at tiny, cramped punk shows or when holding court at art centres, micro-pubs and other quirky venues across the country and beyond. When it comes to longevity, by the turn of this year, Slice of Life will have been in existence longer than Schwarzenegger (1992-95), Stratford Mercenaries (1995-99) or, for that matter, Crass (1977-84).

As a live act, Slice of Life is definitively Ignorant’s show. He’s ably backed by his trio of talented musicians, but it’s Ignorant who fronts the act, handles the introductions, tells the jokes, delivers the side-stories and pulls the reminiscences and recollections from memory while the band await the next musical cue. Away from the live experience, when you listen to the band’s studio work, the material is immediately reframed in a more collaborative light.

This latest release shows the band growing in collective musical confidence… The result is a compelling mixture of the melancholic and the militant

Don’t Turn Away offers a collection of impassioned, emotionally literate, heartfelt songs which alternate between the empathic and the indignant with an equal sense of confidence. Extending the lyrical vista of 2014’s Love and a Lampost, this material sees Ignorant exploring the themes of personal frailties, of self-doubt and of mental resilience alongside wider concerns of resistance and righteous rebellion. This latest release shows the band growing in collective musical confidence, while frontman Steve Ignorant’s lyrical preoccupations see him move further into more personal, reflective areas alongside wider social and political concerns. The result is a compelling mixture of the melancholic and the militant.

The spartan, stripped back sounds of the band provide few hiding spaces and without the comfort of volume and projection it’s hugely important that they’re tight and rock solid. Carol Hodges brings both a power and a disarming, lilting quality to her work on keyboards, setting the emotional tone for many of the songs. She’s also an extraordinarily accomplished vocalist, although only gets the chance to really show those talents on a few songs here. Pete Wilson on guitar and Pete Rawlinson on bass have developed a great partnership, and in the studio it’s even more evident how effectively the pair craft a rich, full soundscape through clever musical choices and astute understatement.

They craft a space in which Ignorant can make best use of the power of restraint or fully let rip. Ignorant is completely at home belting it out there, but here he allows the quietness of his vocals on different numbers to reveal the vulnerability of a voice pushed to the edges of this singer’s comfort zone. In thinking through his delivery, Ignorant makes great play in his phrasing of hitting (or deliberately sliding past) the subtle percussive beats of the band.

Title track Don’t Turn Away sets the tone perfectly; framing the album’s key creative tension between razor-sharp and sometimes bitter lyrics and beautiful, unfussy acoustic musical arrangements. The seething, barely contained rage of Your Day Will Come, its tense, terse invective pushing against the lightness of the jazz-infused melody, its disarming singsong textures and its rich vocal harmonies.

The Right Way shares a similar juxtaposition, its delicate musical motifs providing a perfect backing for Ignorant’s storytelling. This time his ire is directed towards the self-obsessed keyboard warriors of the web, whose arrogance and disdain can often hide resentful self-doubt. (Its simple but seductive chorus is also an irresistible earworm).

S.A.D. is a thoughtful and sensitive appreciation of mental health challenges, depression first among them. Its explores the sense of weakness and vulnerability that can overwhelm those afflicted by its darkness, and urges empathy and honesty in confronting the stigma and silence. It’s one of the most powerful and affecting moments on the album.

A thoughtful, personal statement of outrage which sees Ignorant push his voice to the point of cracking with the strength of his conviction

The Story Continues might sound more like the title of a Conflict song, but this is a more intricate and its layered affair, with the feel and texture of a confidential late night fireside chat about the iniquities of the world. Song for Myself sees Ignorant calling once again on the spirit of Alan Sillitoe (author of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) to deliver another melancholic and beautifully atmospheric reflection on self-doubt, loneliness ageing, endurance and personal resilience (“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Gigger”, perhaps?)

The joyous Diffability sees Ignorant channelling Ian Dury’s songbook, in a riotous and sympathetic shout-out to the weirdos, the outsiders and the “non-normal” of the world in a celebration of uniqueness and individuality. It’s the most straightforwardly upbeat song in the collection, and benefits from that contrast.

Three songs on the album have evolved from the time that Ignorant was fronting Stratford Mercenaries. Slaughterhouse is as passionate an acoustic number as it was as the frothy singalong Won’t Get Me on the 1998 album No Sighing Strains of Violins. Originally appearing on the same album, Stretford Blue is always a highlight of the Slice of Life live set, lit up by Ignorant’s raging vocals as he takes aim at the posturing and plastic rebellion of those who profit from the system they profess to despise (Hodges’ singing is completely ace on this too). Stratford Mercenaries’ song This is Our World here morphs into the fantastic and fitting endpoint Whistle Down the Wind, a thoughtful, personal statement of outrage which sees Ignorant push his voice to the point of cracking through the strength of his conviction.

This is a powerful, assured, convincing set of songs that show Ignorant setting down a marker and asserting his own independence of thought. Back in 2011, The Last Supper tour generated criticism as well as excitement, but that sense of hostility seems to have quietened, affording him more space to perform and switch between whichever voice from his repertoire (from full-on punk to reflective acoustic artiste) he chooses. Next year’s tour of Crass songs will see him reinhabit the former; it’ll be fascinating to see where his experimentation with his other musical and lyrical personas will take him next. On the strength of this album, who the hell would want to turn away from finding out?

Slice of Life. 2019. Don’t Turn Away. Overground Records. LP | CD – Available from Overground Records.

THE REBELLION 2019 punk festival gets underway on 1 August in Blackpool, with many original wave anarcho-punk artists performing across the weekend.

Rebellion 2019 - Slice of Life

Slice of Life, 1 August, The Opera House

Andy T, 1 August, Almost Acoustic

Rebellion 2019 - Rubella Ballet

Rubella Ballet, 2 August, Pavilion Stage

The Subhumans, 2 August, Empress Ballroom

Lost Cherrees, 2 August, Opera House

Hagar the Womb - Rebellion 2019

Hagar the Womb, 3 August, Pavilion Stage

Citizen Fish, 3 August, Club Casbah

Paranoid Visions, 3 August, Arena

Conflict - Rebellion 2019

Conflict, 4 August, Club Casbah

Culture Shock, 4 August, Club Casbah

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