Interview with Douglas P. and Tony Wakeford about the Crisis era
(Aldo Chimenti for Rockerilla)
1.Why after 3 decades did you decide stopping the blackout and talking again about your early punk experience with Crisis?
We appear to have become more relaxed about an aspect of our joint past that was for many years a difficult memory to lose. Besides, with the various CD reissues of different Crisis releases including the new Ends! CD of our final concert supporting Magazine and Bauhaus in May, 1980 it also seemed appropriate to perhaps say our last feelings about the group that was our stepping stone to Death In June, Sol Invictus, Neo Folk, Folk Noir etc.
2.How do you remember that general agit-prop punk era?
Tony and I wanted Crisis to be a very definite political statement. Even before Punk we were politically radicalized and operated in extremely left wing fringe groups. Thats how we first met on a demonstration! That was probably in about late 1975 or early 76 and we were already confirmed Trotskyists.
3. Punk-rock and militancy in the left wing was a very explosive blend, but which was the biggest battle/dream/aim of Crisis?
I had a very definite view of how the World could be run under International Socialism/Marxism. So did Tony and when Punk Rock exploded in the UK it gave us the opportunity we wanted to put forward that view via art. Unlike The Clash or The Sex Pistols, Crisis was going to be a focussed agitpop group and we made a determined effort to play at as many Rock Against Racism, Anti-Nazi League and Right To Work benefit shows as possible.
4. Crisis did about 100 concerts in UK amongst RAR festivals and other events, but their memory is above all for the fanatical riots between kids. Crisis were labelled Red Fascists and once you even must performing under a new moniker. How did you see, explain yourself those phenomena of violence?
I cant really explain this besides the fact that we lived in a violent British society that was consciously, or subconsciously, undergoing great social changes and that there was a natural tension about Punk and the group itself that possibly attracted a lot of trouble. In retrospect it wasnt even between Left and Right wing elements because we had as many of both sides as active followers of the group. Despite us having a very obvious far Left political stance we had more than a few ultra nationalists following Crisis as did other groups of the time. To be politically involved with either extreme wasnt all that uncommon in the UK in those days so there was bound to be some coming together sooner or later on a less antagonistic level. A Crisis show, for instance, where you could fight anyone who didnt agree with either of you?!? Regardless, Punk was so confrontational, and had to be in order to be able to make any sort of impact, it was bound to attract violence and it seemed to follow you around like a bad smell you couldnt get rid of.
5. Can you talk about your deal at Roxy?
I/Crisis started going to The Roxy in about mid-1977 after its main period of fame and the release of the Live At The Roxy album. They did audition nights and we managed to get a slot on one such evening which also resulted in the then club manager Kevin St. John offering to become our booking agent which guaranteed us so many shows at the club itself and maybe a few others around London and the South East. He also booked Sham 69 and Menace at the time who we did later support at Woking Centre Halls. To seal the deal he said we could all have a drink on the house and probably because none of us had ever had a cocktail before we all ordered Tequila Sunrises. I remember the look on Kevin St. John’s face when we did as I think he thought we were going to order 5 lager and limes! We were a pricey group who really knew our worth! Phrazer our lead singer was then asked to go into his office alone and rumours have abounded ever since about what actually happened in there. I liked Kevin St. John.
6. You missed the chance to sign with the good punk label Step Forward, but it gave you the opportunity to record a demo tape you sent to John Peel. What did happen?
I think we sent demo tapes to both Virgin and Step Forward but it was only Nick Jones at Step Forward who expressed any interest in us. He arranged for some studio time at the same recording studio that The Police were then recording in and because some of our equipment my guitar for instance was of such poor quality we ended up using some of The Polices instruments when recording. Either way, the results didnt over impress Step Forward but they were kind enough to say you can keep the tapes. We then sent these to John Peel at the BBC and much to our surprise he said he liked them and gave us a session at the BBC in 1978. Crisis became one of his favourites of the time, along with The Fall, the session was played 3 times on his show which was unusual then and he even invited us to guest on the program in person one night. It was a very major development for Crisis and how Tony and I saw our futures.
7. The Crisis debut single No Town Hall (Southwark) was released via Action Group for a specific social cause. Did the single work well for that intent?
Basically, it was to help stop the demolition of a very old and attractive London building which I believe is still standing. My main interest beside it being an odd way of putting out our long overdue first recording, was that Id been to an exhibition there of Stuart Sutcliffes (the so-called 5th Beatle who died before they were famous) artworks in about 1974/75. It was arranged by his mother who needed money at the time and was the first major exhibition of his weird abstract works anywhere in the World and which have since become widely critically acclaimed. I remember some were on sale for as little as 75 GBPs, which was still too expensive for me, but theyre now worth hundreds of thousands of GBPs! I thought that was a strange coincidence of sorts.
8. Ends! features the final Crisis show in Guildford, the same place where you started. Which was your feel in that circumstance? Disillusion? Bitterness? A sense of liberation?
At the time we werent aware that this would be the final show by Crisis as there were several others organised for dates shortly after. It simply turned out that way and as this was in front of our home audience where we had begun 3 years previously at a Punk festival organised in the same place it seemed a good a point as any for it to come to a full stop. Tony and I were wilfully iconoclastic about this decision as even though the recently released Hymns Of Faith mini LP was selling extremely well we knew in our Heart of Hearts that Punk was over and we could not take the people we worked with in Crisis any further than we had on any level. Although we knew that we would work together again at some point we knew we literally had to re-group. After that Ends! show Crisis was a spent force on all fronts and Tony and I had had enough.
9.That gig featured All Alone In Her Nirvana, a song that you kept for Death In June. There are any other DIJ tracks firstly written for Crisis?
No, for me. Kanada Kommando was the last song I wrote for Crisis and Heaven Street was the next song I wrote after Crisis had split and which became Death In Junes first single in 1981.I think you can hear the connection. Personally I was surprised when I listened to the original cassette tape bootleg recording of this Ends! show that we were even playing new, unheard material that night considering Hymns Of Faith had only just come out and we had so much old material to play . Perhaps Id forgotten how Tony wanted so much to push on into fresher pastures?
11. You told that your experience with political organisations like RAR was disappointing. Why?
I think ultimately, and to put it crudely, we met far too many people who were incapable of organising the proverbial piss up in a brewery, let alone running a country along revolutionary socialist lines and there was an element of dishonesty and exploitation about these organisations that was worse than any normal capitalist booking agency.
12. The mini LP Hymns Of Faith was an innovative, brilliant punk record for me. What did represent that chapter for Crisis?
I think audibly and lyrically Hymns Of Faith had one foot in the past and one foot in the future. By then the group lacked a distinct direction although that probably made it sound unique for its time. I tried to show this by what I thought was sarcastic artwork on the inner sleeve of the album. Even the main photo isnt one of the group just a photo of some anonymous punks. I hate that inner sleeve design. Its the worst design Ive ever done. It doesnt say anything other than I was fed up with Crisis by then.
13. Do you feel any other regrets for Crisis, besides of being younger?
Possibly that Jack my then partner and George, Tonys father werent recognised for all the help they gave Crisis, that Lester Jones the lead guitarist got badly beaten up possibly because he was a Punk but, more likely that he was in Crisis and that JRP, who went on to run the early Death In June mail order and drive DIJ around (he was the driver on the Italian tour of 1985) got an iron bar across his head at the infamous Acklam Hall riot in 1979 and hes never been the same since. Me neither!