Crass ‘Yes Sir, I Will’

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Crass ”“ ”˜Yes Sir, I Will' (2CD Crassical Collection via Southern) ”“ Available now

Crass (Interview at Rebellion Festival 2010) were always a challenge; they challenged the so called conventions of punk, they challenged the music industry, they challenged society, and at times they challenged the listener; ”˜Yes Sir, I Will' was perhaps their biggest musical challenge.

”˜Yes Sir, I Will' was the last 'official' Crass album, and was released in 1983. The initial release consisted of one continuous piece of music spread over the two sides of the original vinyl release; the initial CD re-release split the album into 7 tracks, though only titled each numerically. This edition released as part of the ”˜Crassical Collection', comprises the initial CD release with a second disc drawing on material recorded during the initial sessions, and later augmented by non Crass members. Each individual track now has a title.

In early 1982 Crass released their fourth studio album ”˜Christ ”“ The Album'; this was a truly accomplished body of work, Crass had indulged themselves with a seven month recording period; they could afford to ”“ at this point Crass were the biggest alternative band in the world, gigs were packed, record sales were huge; literally hundreds of thousands, the authorities were genuinely scared of Crass and the ground-swell of support they rode, as drummer Penny Rimbaud later reflected “By 1981 Crass had been in existence for four tempestuous years. In that time we'd encouraged punk to grow from being no more than just another ”˜great rock'n'roll swindle' into a genuine movement for change. Anarchy had been rescued from the dusty libraries of academia and the equally dusty dreams of barstool bullshitters to become the catchword for a whole new generation of streetwise activists.”

The (then) UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, then entered the UK into the arguably pointless, and certainly futile Falklands War (unless you were a Falklands Islands resident) Not surprisingly the UK were victorious and Thatcher strode to the top of the UK polls buoyed by nationalistic chest beating. However for the 257 UK servicemen killed and maimed (647 Argentine servicemen also died), not to mention their families there would be little cheer, one such soldier was Welsh Guardsman Simon Weston OBE who suffered horrific disfiguring burns just days before the end of hostilities; Weston was aboard HMS Sir Galahad when it was bombed by the Argentinean air force.
Weston was famously interviewed on TV by The Prince of Wales “Get well soon," the Prince said, and Weston replied "Yes sir, I will" ”“ the moment was photographed and published in The Sun on the 2nd December 1982.

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Penny Rimbaud, commenting on this, has said "That was the hook. That was such an audacious thing to do at the time. Especially given that one had to feel compassion for Simon Weston."

After the early euphoria of ”˜Christ ”“ The Album' the war, and the subsequent revitalisation of Thatcher dealt Crass a body blow, however they rose to the challenge, and rose in style; initially recording and releasing "Sheep Farming In The Falklands". The record was pressed as a flexi-disc and slipped into both the sleeves of the band's earlier albums, and the sleeves of other bands whilst the covers were on the racks in the record store, a possibly pleasant surprise for the buyer and a way to avoid a draconian response from the authorities, who at the time felt they could essentially get away with anything.

Immediately after Crass returned to the bunker of Southern Studios and in a reported 45-minute session ”˜Yes Sir, I Will' was created, gone were the standard ”˜punk' style musical outpourings to be replaced with a semi stream of consciousness; the album was essentially a bitter and virulent attack upon Thatcher and her Government in wake of the Falklands War, set nearly wholly over a raging and an almost free-form jazz style improvised backing. The majority of the 'lyrics' were lifted wholesale from Rimbaud's extended poem ”˜Rocky Eyed' which originally appeared in the Crass produced magazine International Anthem. Rimbaud remarked “For several weeks I sat behind my typewriter tapping away as the words flew out in a stream of pained consciousness,' he recalled. ”˜This poetic rant, which initially I called Rocky Eyes, but which very soon became ”˜Yes Sir, I Will' was an all-out, full-frontal attack on everything that I loathed about Thatcher and “her” Britain”

What we have is a particularly impressive and powerful collection of music that either compels the listener deeper into the recording itself, or repels them ”“ many of the later declaring it to be un-listenable. Rimbaud himself commented “I accept that ”˜Yes Sir, I Will' is truly one of the most unlistenable records ever made”¦The importance of the album however lies within the content and message sent”
Pete Wright is quoted in Georgie Berger's book ”˜The Story Of Crass' saying “I don't think I have ever played better”¦ but poor Phil and Andy were faced with an impossible task to fit in with that lot”

Don't let Rimbaud or Wright put you off, this is not just noise, some of the tracks are truly beautiful, the case in point being ”˜2nd Song' later called 'Anarchy's Just Another Word'

 

There is no dispute, this is not an easy listen, the music is dark, oppressive, claustrophobic even; the 20 minutes of ”˜Taking Sides' is actually physically draining. ”˜Yes Sir, I Will' is one of those recordings that you have to build up towards, but then that's what Crass themselves did so why should the listener do anything different?

As Penny Rimbaud puts it: "Crass at its most Crass: raw, naked and completely unashamed". "The result might have been unlistenable to many, but for me it presented an authentic sense of the conflict between the immediacy of emotion and the parallel urgent need for reasoned consideration"
It's the immediacy that Rimbaud refers to that needs to be remembered ”“ ”˜Yes Sir, I Will' was an immediate response, there was no concept meeting, no demo sessions, there wasn't the delay whilst they waited for studio time, no re-records, and certainly no album playback to label executives ”“ the album captures the feelings held by Crass at a particular moment and in that respect its not dissimilar to a photograph; there is no hiding place, its Crass laid bare.

Steve Ignorant told Berger “I hate that fucking record ”“ that and ”˜Ten Notes On A Summers Day' are just two piles of garbage”

”˜Yes Sir, I Will' was to be the final Crass release (with the classic line-up) ”“ it could be said that the music within represented not only a complete change from their signature sound but also the sound of the band imploding; Crass had released their most vitriolic record, and any step back from the precipice would have been seen as a retrograde move. Crass were soon to be no more, sadly the same can not be said for the system they passionately challenged.

 

 

The Crassical Collection version of ”˜Yes Sir, I Will', includes new artwork by Gee Vaucher, remastered sound, plus liner notes by both Steve Ignorant and Penny Rimbaud, not to mention a entire disc of bonus material, made up by Rimbaud with the addition of jazz musicians Ingrid Laubrock and Julian Siegel. In addition it comes with a fold-out poster of the original cover and an illustrated booklet containing lyrics and contextual notes.

The second disc, the jazz version is a logical step ”“ ”˜Yes Sir, I Will' was constructed in a free jazz style, however it was played essentially by rock based musicians who possibly did not fully understand the ethos of free jazz; as such including Laubrock and Siegel was an inspired choice; both are renowned performers and composers and their participation makes the material feel less claustrophobic, the instruments, the sounds created, even the vocals have room to breath ”“ essentially they bring a welcome feeling of space to music and provide an interesting contrast to the initial version.

Should you buy this release? The simple response is ”˜yes' ”“ this is an important piece of work, however as an introduction to Crass for the uninitiated I would suggest it's a step to far ”“ Instead just follow the path Crass themselves took, start with ”˜Feeding Of The 5000' and work your way to it; the journey whilst challenging is both rewarding and enlightening.

Track list:
CD1 ”˜Yes Sir, I Will'
Southern Studios March 1983

1. Step Outside & Rocky Eyes
2. Anarchy's Just Another Word
3. Speed or Greed?
4. The Five Knuckle Shuffle
5. A Rock 'n' Roll Swindler
6. Burying the Hatchet
7. Taking Sides

CD2 ”˜Why Don't You Fuck Off?'
Southern Studios May 2002

1. Birth of a Notion
2. Step Outside
3. Rocky Eyes
4. Anarchy's Just Another Word
5. Mouthing the Words
6. The Five Knuckle Shuffle
7. A Rock 'n' Roll Swindler
8. Taking Sides

Penny Rimbaud quotes taken from 'Shibboleth - My Revolting Life' (Penny Rimbaud, 1999, AK Press)

For further information regarding Crass you can do no wrong with Georgie Berger's book ”˜The Story Of Crass' printed by Omnibus Press.

18 thoughts on “Crass ‘Yes Sir, I Will’

  1. revporl

    It took that Jeffery Lewis covers album to realise what good songwriters they actually were. Pt 2 sounds really good.

  2. Terry

    Can’t see the appeal myself

  3. Stu

    Gary Bushell didn’t like it, I remember that much!

  4. peter jones

    I have to ay I always kind of liked the record.Its hard as fuck to listen to, but the passion and power can’t be ignored! I’m looking forward to getting this version!

  5. thegasmancometh

    i loved cranking that record out my parents’ stereo and pissing off the neighbors. ir’s crap tho. just like the copyists, flux of pink indians’ equally dreadful, ‘the fucking cunts treat us like pricks/the fucking pricks treat us like cunts’.

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  7. Musically they peaked at Penis Envy which was such a great record. Only saw them once, somewhere in Westbourne Park, I think?! I came away from that gig feeling that they and their crowd were very cliquey. Lots of worthiness and sneering at those who didn’t completely buy in to the Crass ethos. That said, they were certainly a complete juxtaposition to all that surrounded them and so very welcome.

  8. Darren

    Crass’ ‘Yes Sir I Will’ and the even more perplexing Flux Of Pink Indians’ ‘The Fucking Cunts…’ were both mind-blowing to my 15 year-old ears. I’m not sure why I liked them but I found myself playing them repeatedly and immersing myself in the lyric sheets. As much as being a spontaneous outburst of rage, the music was supposed to be a cacophony in order to subvert expectations of (what Crass and Flux
    perceived to be) a spoon-fed punk audience. Both bands’ withering disgust at what punk had become was quite well documented. I’m glad those albums were made but I’ve never found myself digging them out when I’ve revisited old anarcho-punk records. It’s even harder to listen to now than it was then!

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