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Crisis - Revenge Is Sweet

Crisis Revenge Is Sweet coverDo we need another edition of the recordings of Crisis? That a question some people have asked when I mentioned I'd received a copy of this. Crisis were an agitprop punk band lead by Douglas Pearce and Tony Wakeford active in the years 1977-1980. And as I write this a Platinum Jubilee for the Queen is taking place and an airing of Pistol, the Danny Boyle Disney produced mini-series, based on former Sex Pistols member Steve Jones' memoir Lonely Boy has just been released. All this coincides with a UK experiencing a cost of living crisis in a nation where racism is once again rearing its ugly head, and the country is lead by a Conservative Government made up of the most corrupt, useless bunch of second-rate politicians who are actively clamping down on mass protest, rewriting rules to protect themselves in order to maintain power. Lets not even mention the effects of Brexit nor the wider issues caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It's a shitshow. So whether we need it or not, it's happening and it's here - and it's on CD with accompanying single, housed in a gatefold sleeve with a great photo booklet.

Crisis formed in Spring 1977 at a time when punk was sweeping up disaffected, disenfranchised youth across the UK. Politically, Crisis were firmly on the left, the group featured Trotskyite members one of the Socialist Workers Party and one of the International Marxist Group. Crisis may have hailed from Surrey, an area that gave us The Jam and Sham 69 but it was The Clash who provided the strong influence on the rudimentary directness of their earliest tracks ('Militant' and 'Kill Kill Kill') taken from their first studio demos which are scattered throughout this retrospective. Crisis gigs were often performed for organisations such as Rock Against Racism and Anti-Nazi League and as part of Right To Work campaigns. Crisis gigs, like many punk gigs of the time, were chaotic, marred by outbursts of violence - between punks, between punks and teds, and sometimes just involving local factions looking for a rut. Of course, many fights involved right-wing skinheads. Stewart Home's Cranked Up Really High gives a good overview of Crisis gigs of the time. Johna Johnson's fictionalises his memories of this era in Blood, Sweat, Leather and Tears, The Original Adam & the Antz Story 1977-1980 providing a great insight into those early punk gigs, when Crisis were active.

Their first single 'No Town Hall' came about following a Right To Work demonstration where they performed on the back of a lorry and were asked to write a campaign song against the building of a new town hall in Southwark. Released on Action Group Records, its creation was lifted from the foldout sleeve of Scritti Politti's 'Skank Bloc Bologna' which detailed the mechanics of releasing your own record. The subject matter didn't interest Crisis too much, but Tony Wakeford quickly penned new lyrics to a song he was working on which resulted in a relatively impressive debut single. The sleeve may have been printed back to front, but the arrangement with the Peckham Action Group allowed Crisis the opportunity to get their own tracks on the b-side, prompting the single's better moments. The first of those was 'Holocaust', which with its wiry guitar lead, booming rhythm section and anti-nazi chants recounted the names of concentration camps, while 'PC 1984' was written as a diatribe against police violence and the inherent racism within the police force, after group members witnessed first-hand the police tactics employed during a riot between the National Front and anti-fascists in Lewisham.

A John Peel session which aired in November 1978 was licensed by Crisis and resulted in two subsequent singles. Revolving around a siren-like lead guitar 'UK79' offers a damning indictment of life in the UK in the seventies, written with a heavy dose of sarcasm about police violence, racism, and absence of rights while in brooding bass tones, niggling and chiming guitars set to a marching rhythm 'White Youth' carried a potent anti-fascist message. Crisis characterised the ethos of punk and were serious about the politics. The Clash, once seen as being a key influence on the group, were transforming into rock heroes in an effort to capture the US market, while other punk groups associated with the Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood boutique SEX got short shrift on 'White Youth' castigated as "Kings Road Nazi chic" for emblazoning the swastika on their outfits. But it is the explosive and unifying chant of "We are black, we are white, together we are dynamite" people most remember about this track. It may have been naive but it made its point, despite the misguided interpretation some music journalists placed on it.

Crisis evolved quickly moving from a typical punk template to a more atmospheric, paced sound as evidenced on Hymns of Faith, their sole mini-LP released on their own Ardkor Records label. While the progression was obvious musically, sometimes lyrically it still remained quite drab. 'On TV' highlighted the nullifying and pacifying aspect of TV, referencing prime time shows of the era, while 'Afraid' sung of senseless violence pairing Dexter's lead vocal with the tones of Douglas Pearce with an opening of fingerclicks more at home in West Side Story. 'Frustration' built from a powering rhythm section entwining needling and chiming guitars and the sole cries of "frustration". Crisis had a lot be frustrated with - their relationship with leftist organisations had left them embittered while ruptures with the group would soon cause them to split. It's a shame as 'Frustration' showed the group had opened up many musical avenues to pursue.

There's no chronological order to Revenge Is Sweet but there's an interesting run of tracks beginning with 'Kanada Commando' the name given to prisoners forced to sort through the confiscated possessions of new arrivals to the concentration camps. Amidst wiry guitars and thumping basslines, the vocalist paraphrases the words emblazoned on the gates of Auschwitz in a track employing studio effects with a sound which Joy Division, who Crisis would later hear, would perfect. It's followed by the previously mentioned 'Holocaust' which deals with similar themes, but it is 'Kanada Kommando' which, to me anyway, provided the first tentative steps in the formulation of the Death In June sound which would come later. 'Bruckwood Hospital' another track extracted from the group's John Peel session featured on the b-side of their posthumously released single added an umlaut to emphasise a Germanic aspect, avoided obvious political themes for an episodic lyric about an asylum based breakout. Hymns of Faith eschewed political sloganeering for stronger polemics. "Urban terrorism is no substitute for the building of a revolutionary working class party" they opined on 'Red Brigades', directly questioning the excessively violent tactics of the militant Italian group. In spoken tones delivered amongst booming bass throbs, ringing chords and surging passages it remains the most overtly political of the group's later work on Hymns of Faith. Released sometime after Crisis split, and once again taken from their Peel session 'Alienation' would be their final single which also carried an insert announcing the arrival of Death In June. A raw and taut slice of fast-paced punk music addressing the issue of acceptance, asking "Is their communication socially complete". That question stretched to unions and sexuality amongst other things. "I've never made it with a woman, I've only made it with men" was its revealing opening line, and when coupled with the screams of "The Jews weren't the only ones" found on 'Kanada Commando' it seems to me that while lurking in plain sight and seemingly overlooked, Crisis were amongst the earliest of the punk groups to bring gay issues to the fore.

The accompanying single includes powerful live versions of 'On TV' with alternate versions of 'Red Brigades' and 'Kanada Kommando'. The entire package is beautifully presented with the single and CD housed in a gatefold sleeve including a 16-page booklet featuring archive photographs of the group.

After the recent Crisis vinyl releases this one is on CD and it sits nicely alongside similar packages of reissued Death In June material. After various vinyl editions of Crisis collections, Revenge Is Sweet makes these recordings available on CD once again but perhaps given its title, lifted from a line in 'Kanada Kommando', the real reason is found on the sleevenotes: Crisis ceased to exist in the dying embers of Punk in 1980. All else is revisionist history. Revenge Is Sweet is available in 3 editions; on black vinyl, as a picture disc and on splatter vinyl with Crisis patch all available from Steelwork Maschine