You met each other in 1975. How exactly ?
I think it was about late 1975 at either an anti-fascist demonstration or a meeting of leftist groups in Woking, my home town. By then Tony and I were involved in different Trotskyist groups and we were probably obliged to turn up at these meetings no matter how boring they normally were. Because we were the youngest representatives there of the new far left we got to talking. If my memory serves me well, and it may not, we were also both wearing Afghan coats and flared trousers which immediately set us apart from the older, more stereotypical working class ‘look’ of the time.
As shows « UK79 », chosen for our cd sampler, most of Crisis music was very genuine punk rock. Did you feel close to other punk bands of the time ?
Not really for me. With the exception of Tony and I, and perhaps both lead singers Phrazer and Dexter at different times, Crisis didn’t even feel particularly close to each other. Naturally we spoke to other groups who we performed with like The Adverts, Sham 69, The Specials, Menace, Magazine etc but the overall feeling of being a Punk was ‘us against them’ and that was more than enough. I remember speaking to Joe Strummer before I’d even heard The Clash simply because of the way we both looked. In a way, Punk soon became a mass movement in the UK but it was a mass movement very much in the minority. It was a dangerously violent time as many people hated you and what they thought you stood for so whether or not you were in a Punk group there was a general feeling of closeness or ‘solidarity’ because the music, the clothes you wore and the violence and distaste directed at anything deemed ‘Punk’ united you on the most primal level against almost everything that wasn’t. Quite a weird feeling that I’ve since gone on to experience again with the ‘Neo-Folk’ movement all over the World.
Crisis was very idealistic & political in a leftist sense. What did urge you to be so engaged at the time ? Your social origins and environment, unequalities and injustice, the harshness of the government, frustration ?
By the time I left school in 1972 the optimism of the ‘swinging ’60s’ was long over. All I saw as a future from a working class perspective was a very grey one of high unemployment, a general unrest in society as a whole with industrial strikes seemingly every few weeks from the miners, the rubbish collectors, the firemen, the postmen, the railway workers etc. It seems a cliche to say these things now but, it was the absolute monochrome reality then. The UK was a very bleak place to be living in; I did much of my homework for either school or college under candle light because the electrical power was often cut due to a strike and that probably ruined my eyes at an early age. There was a 3 day working week due to the lack of power, petrol rationing and I remember the Army had to be called in to collect rubbish from peoples houses and dump it enmasse in such places as Leicester Square! The Army was even our Fire Brigade for a while with their anachronistic ‘Green Goddesses’ which apparently were hardly capable of putting out a camp fire rather than a house fire. Plus the trains and buses rarely ran on time, if they ran at all! I may as well have been living in the 1800s or a Third World country!! And, of course, let’s not forget the frequent terrorist bombing of the mainland cities of the UK by the IRA. In 1974 I was blown up by one of their bombs in Oxford Street in the West End of London but was VERY lucky to escape uninjured. Although I worked for a while after I initially left school I decided that as the nation was in such a mess it was best for me to go back to college and whilst studying, with the vague idea of becoming an Economic and Social History teacher, I would buy myself some time to figure out what was going on in the UK and in my Life. It was when I was at college that Trotskyist groupings of the far left came into my frame of reference and seemed to offer a solution to the confusion and chaos I saw in the country.
What did you denounce in “UK79” ? How different is UK today from the late seventies ?
I think I’ve already dealt with the general social atmosphere and unrest, some of which Tony addressed so well in his lyrics to “UK’79” (which was, in fact, originally written in and titled “UK’78” but we changed the name for the 7″ vinyl release in 1979).
Bearing in mind that I haven’t lived in the UK permanently for many years as finally, to paraphraze ‘UK ’79’, I could “afford to run away” I can only speak as an outsider who only now occasionally visits. Superficially things started changing in the early 1980s and I think there was evidence of a ‘Europeanisation’ of the UK which was no bad thing. In retrospect, besides a general ‘feeling’ in the air that we were letting go of our ‘Little England’ attitude I think this ‘Euro-UK’ was also partially helped by the Conservative government who came into power in 1979 under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher as they, in their own peculiar way, were very pro-European and extremely laissez-faire in their approach to business etc. If nothing else, the British started drinking wine and Perrier, eating croissants and the ‘black economy’ thrived which, in turn, helped the economy overall. However, the Conservatives couldn’t resist their naturally reactionary tendencies, introduced laws controlling people’s lives and money far too much such as the Medieval ‘Poll tax’ and eventually Labour, the socialist party that had been in power during those bleak years of Punk swept back into power in 1997 and reaped the benefits of what was by then deemed ‘Cool Brittania’. But since then the UK seems to me like a tree top heavy with delicious but rotting fruit. It’s not being looked after and harvested in any proper way and someday the proverbial wind will come along and blow it over. A pity. But, nothing surprising or new as far as I’m concerned. But, suffice to say, the UK is more ‘colourful’ these days than in the 1970s.
Death In June and Sol Invictus have been less obviously oriented, more symbolic and poetic. Was is in reaction to Crisis’ too obvious messages ?
By the end of Crisis in May,1980 which the ‘Ends!’ CD commemorates we were burnt out and disillusioned by our intense political work on the far left. Death In June was definitely not going down the same track as Crisis as far as I was concerned and Tony, too. When we decided the time was right to work together again it was agreed that DIJ should be completely different.
Death In June and Sol Invictus were considered by many as extreme right, mainly because of the imagery used. How do you feel about it ?Do you regret this use of imagery today or do you deplore the stupidity of these accusations ?
This is a Crisis interview not a hackneyed Death In June one. Zzzzzzzzzzz,…………
Tony, you felt attracted from socialist ideas to a kind of National Front political bubble in the early 80’s. That’s why you came apart from Doug and Patrick Leagas ?
For the record as far as Pat and I were concerned at the time the main reason why we asked Tony to leave was because he appeared uninterested in, or inflexible about, new ideas and had generally lost interest in Death In June. Death In June started out with 3 very strong song writers/individuals and there was bound to be some tension arise after Death In June had declared its initial intent with the release of the ‘Heaven Street’ 12″ in 1981 and the ‘Holy Water’/’State Laughter’ 7″ and ‘The Guilty Have No Pride’ LP in 1982. When Tony didn’t turn up at some recording session for the ‘Burial’ album in 1983 and he phoned me up to say he had a song called ‘Death Of The West’ and explained to me how the lyrics went and that I should write a song around them at the next recording session I was really concerned that it was all coming to an end. Things weren’t ever quite the same after that and in January, 1984 after performances in Paris and Lyons, Patrick and I decided that we would ask Tony to leave. Ironically, when ‘Burial’ was released in the following April it was the best selling of all of our releases up until then and there was a moment of doubt about whether or not we had done the correct thing. As time has shown, we had for all concerned.
Doug, do you feel the need to explain your art and intentions today, or do you think it’s no use and of no interest because Art doesn’t need to be explained ?
I maintain that Art, in whatever form it may take, overly explained becomes Earthbound, boring and ordinary and merely the mouthpiece of an ego who wishes to be understood and ultimately ‘fit in’.
I, however, don’t have an overriding yearning to be understood! And, I’m not particularly interested in artists who want to be ‘understood’ either, bless their fragile hearts!
Recently making an ‘official’ explanation of sorts of some of my work to the German government (at the insistance of tesco organisation, my old distributers) made my flesh crawl and I knew my time was up in Germany with both the government and the company based there.
I’m not going to demean anything I’ve done with Death In June, or Crisis for that matter, at the behest of some cultural ‘sensitivities’ or business ‘interests’.
Musically speaking, you both turned, strangely enough, from punk to folk music. Some could say you faced a kind of identity “crisis” at the time 🙂 ? Yet, some Crisis songs did announce the post punk scene (« Alienation ») or even death rock («Kanada Kommando”). How do you explain this complete change of direction in the early 80’s doing folk at a time when post punk and new wave scenes were maybe more fashionable ?
The whole thing I learnt from Punk, and what I understood that Punk was about, was re-writing the Rule Book, creating your own personal ‘Year Zero’ and doing exactly what we wanted how we wanted. And that experience and feeling has never left me in every aspect of my Life. I didn’t have an “identity crisis” when I wrote the first Neo Folk Death In June album ‘Brown Book’ in 1986-87. It was a result of 10 years of evolving as a musician and an individual from the time I’d first seen The Sex Pistols perform on ‘So It Goes’ on TV one night in late ’76 and Tony phoning me up shortly after and asking me if I wanted to form a Punk group. Besides, Punk rock was the folk music of its time in the UK and Tony and I even played acoustic guitars on some tracks on the first Death In June album ‘The Guilty Have No Pride’. It was probably only a question of time before that approach became de rigeur for us although we didn’t know it then, of course.
What has become of other Crisis members ? Any news ?
I recently learnt, much to my surprise because I understood that he’d been murdered some years ago, that our last drummer Luke Rendall took part in a Theatre Of Hate reunion tour. Lester the lead guitarist went on to form Car Crash International in the 1980s with members of The Sex Gang Children but I’ve heard nothing since. He walked by a restaurant I was in near Trafalgar Square in London about 10 years ago and I almost got up to surprise him in the street but then I had second thoughts about it and continued eating my meal with some Croatian friends. It would be about 30 years since I had any information about the others.
Life, as it stands, has been busy.
“Ends!” witnesses of your last gig as Crisis playing the same night as Magazine. Any anecdote of this very special evening ?
Howard Devoto of Magazine (ex-Buzzcocks) poking his head outside the dressing room door and asking us if Bauhaus were still on stage and Pete Murphy of Bauhaus then coming off stage and drinking my bourbon and coke and acting like a complete pretentious prat. However, all credit to him, having read recent interviews with him since their reformation he said the whole idea behind Bauhaus was to be completely pretentious so hats off to him succeeding 100% on that level!
Do you know the excellent french band “Frustration”, called after the Crisis song ?
No! What am I missing?
Are you still in contact with Patrick Leagas ?
Naturally! I’ve never really been out of contact. Royalties are paid and understandings come to. However, the last time I physically saw Pat was when we played together at the 20th Anniversary performance of the “NADA!” album in London in 2005. It was good and easy working with Pat again but, I see no reason why we should work together in the future. The same applies to Tony. All 3 of us played together again on stage as Death In June for a couple of songs in London in November, 1998 and that was totally brilliant. But, that was a ‘one-off’.
I don’t think any of us are naturally ‘needy’ or nostalgic personalities and we’ve each forged such strong individual paths since we split in the 1980s there seems little reason to press ‘Repeat’.
What are your projects in the next few months ?
There are quite a few projects about to come to fruition such as the physical release of the Swedish group Down In June’s album ‘Covers,…Death In June’ on CD. It’s a brilliant album of interpretations of some classic DIJ songs which is already available for ‘DownInJune load’ from iTunes/eMusic etc where it’s already proved to be very successful. There’s a Picture Disc version of the album ‘All Pigs Must Die’ just about to come out, some re-issues of the back catalogue on CD which have been out of circulation for some years due to my problems in Germany, a huge video project I’m working on tentatively called ‘Kollektion’ which will be released in 2009 and, of course the next deluxe stone box release called ‘Symbols-Clouds’ and contains the best of the albums ‘But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter? and ‘Rose Clouds Of Holocaust’ plus a DVD and a load of other goodies! We trust that willbe released by Yuletide or early 2009.
A new Death in June ?
The last Death In June album ‘The Rule Of Thirds’ really emptied me so there are no definite plans for any more new recordings. Afterall, it was only released a few months ago.