Sunday, 26 July 2015

Alternative "In nomine patri" Ep, 1982

This is 221984/8 and a visit to THE Scottish anarchopunk band of the early 80's. Ian Glasper called Alternative "the Scottish Crass" in "The day the country died", a sensible comparison, although when one considers the rather heavy turnover inside the band, he could very well have called them "the precursors of Oi Polloi in terms of member policy".

I always saw Alternative, along with Dirt, as perhaps the most "Crass band" from all the Crass-related bands. They had the black-clad looks, they had a great name, they had their own house (the "pad" as it is explained on the sleeve), they had the political banners, the anti-war slogans, the great-looking logos, there were quite a few people in the band and there was a strong emphasis on pacifism and anti-nuclear armament (though to be fair, the Japanese-themed imagery was all theirs). Does it imply that they were mere Crass-clones? Some would dismiss them for their seeming unoriginality and say they were just that. Others would point out that they had a great influence in shaping a politicized punk scene locally and that there is nothing essentially wrong in being influenced - even heavily - with a band (cough, cough, Discharge anyone?). It all depends on your true motives I suppose. Me? Well, I think they were a band of their time and Crass were huge at some point so it is only logical that they would have had some followers. Besides, I don't think they sounded like Crass that much, not to such an extent as to be called "clones", and in later years they certainly did not anyway. And really, Alternative penned enough great tunes by themselves to prove that they were a good band standing on their own two feet (and even if they wore Crass trainers). In fact, you could view Alternative as the epitome of the traditional anarchopunk style. I am aware that anarchopunk was never supposed to be a genre, a style, but rather an approach and a common set of values, nevertheless, a lot of those bands shared similar musical, aesthetic and political influences. As a consequence, apart from those truly original bands (and there are not that many, let's get real, which does not mean that the others ain't worthy), contextualization implied and fostered the birth of an anarchopunk style (Crass are, of course, in a league of their own), with distinct rhythms and beats,  recognizable flow, guitar tones and so on. Well, basically, Alternative were the typical, solid, reliable anarchopunk band that was a genuine focal point locally. They may not have been the most memorable in terms of sound but I see them as incorporating all the elements that retrospectively serve to define "anarchopunk". To sum it up, if some ignorant geezer asks you what anarchopunk sounds like, just play "Where are your Hiroshimas?".

By all means, Alternative was an early anarchopunk band as they formed as early as 1979, in Dunfermline, Fife. Though it looks like a rather small town, Dunfermline seemed to have been the cradle of quite a few punk bands, some pretty famous like The Skids, some pretty forgettable like The Dissidents (I think they were called Urban Dissidents at some point), and others criminally underrated like The Actives. Not bad, innit? As usual, Alternative got the Crass deal after contributing a track to the first Bullshit Detector Lp. Prior to the "In nomine patri" Ep, the band had recorded several really good demos, notably "Hawks and doves" in 1981 and "Anti-Christ" in 1982, the both of which appear on the excellent "Demos 1982" Lp that the always excellent Antisociety released in 2011. Speaking of highly due reissues, I have always found it utterly preposterous that the Alternative records got the reissue treatment (I read somewhere that it had something to do with a copyright issue involving Southern).

"In nomine patri" can be seen as the achievement of Alternative's early years with Trinity and Rice on vocals (the band had a female singer after the Ep's release only), Rodney on guitar (he was the only one who was in the band from the start until the end), Dougie on second guitar (who actually played in The Actives before that), Gogs on bass and Jaa on the drums (he joined the brilliant Reality Control shortly after "In nomine patri"). It is rather intriguing that there was only one common member - Rodney - between the line-up that recorded the Ep in october 1982 and the one that did the Lp in april 1984, but there you go... Line-up instability did not keep Alternative from going on, though one might think that they slowly became more of a concept, an idea rather than a band, and from releasing some excellent materials throughout the years like the "Isolation from one's self" tape from 1984, the fantastic "How dare you?" and "Just because the boot fits" tapes from 1985. Some of their late tapes featured two female fingers (which I am always a sucker for), one of whom was Lisa from another local anarcho act Direct Action that had a song on Bullshit Detector volume 3 and a fair enough demo (called "Crime against humanity" I think). These showed a much poppier, moodier side to Alternative, with almost folk songs that would not have been out of place on a Lost Cherrees, The Dead or Chumba record. On a much more pragmatic level, and as a punk archaeologist, Alternative's constant turnover combined nonetheless with intense activity gig-wise, made me check out several local bands such as Why? or UK Anarchists and realize that the last Alternative's second guitarist was (and still is!) in the strong AUK (whose blend of Amebix-meets-Cress-by-way-of-Smartpils I really enjoyed but I had no idea they had been around at some point in the 80's...).

Musically, "In nomine patri" is a very serious effort, a really fine example of old-school anarchopunk that is energetic, tuneful and with a lot to say (which might be one reason why they always had several singers). Rimbaud's production works fine here, I think, his harsh tones going well with the catchy guitar work, the intent to be play bass-driven punk-rock and the usual pounding tribal anarcho drumming. The guitar tunes definitely help the songs on this Ep and allow rather typical punk songs to stick in the listener's mind. The sound on "In nomine patri" is certainly colder and not as bouncy as on the (possibly) superior 1984 Lp, "If the treat you like shit, act like manure", which was produced by Pete Wright (also from Crass but probably a little more open-minded than good ole Penny) but had a very different line-up anyway. If you have never listened to Alternative, expect a hearty mix of early Crass, Epileptics, Flux of Pink Indians, with a subtle Clash flavour as well for the anthemic quality. The first song, "Anti-Christ", takes the whole first side and is the highlight of the Ep. It is a long, mid-tempo, anti-religious diatribe, with a rather gloomy, ominous sound, with long spoken parts that work perfectly with the two singers and several layers of guitars. This is clearly Alternative at their best during the early stage of the band's existence. "Warfear" is a direct punk number with your classic "1-2-1-2" beat enhanced with a tuneful, slow-paced break in the middle. "Who's sussed" is possibly the earliest example of Flux worship and has a singalong chorus (yeah, it goes "Who's suuuuuuussed!"). Finally, "Moral bondage" is the other hit of the Ep, as it starts with a slow, mournful melody driven by a terrific guitar lead before exploding into a bouncy, 1977-styled punk-rock song. What I really enjoy in Alternative is that they often made a genuine effort to really write songs. By no means were they arty (or even artists...) but you can tell that they actually gave some thought about the construction of the songs, the songwriting. Although it remains spontaneous and straight-forward enough, there is a genuine intent to be catchy and to write songs that breath with the lyrics.

Apparently, Alternative gigs were often attacked by thugs (be they skinheads or your average dumb males) and, although I obviously feel nothing but contempt for the perpetrators, I can see why it was so: Alternative was a smart, serious band. I am not saying that their message is deprived of any naivety but it is actually pretty elaborate and well-written, just give it a read. There is a long introduction in the gatefold explaining the political principles of the band and how they condemn a status quo based on violence, fear and ignorance. There is also a part questioning gender roles, homophobia and the constraint to be "normal". Like most of the Crass bands, Alternative defended non-violence, although I think they took it more seriously than many others in that they saw the systematic recourse to violence as one of the basis of the system, and therefore something to be banished. And Alternative were openly feminist as well. Well, I suppose that all of this made them a target of choice for the idiots who loved to "beat a hippie" and didn't help them enlist in the Barmy Army which did not put feminism and pacifism at the top of the list.

Anyway, the lyrics are good, with an effective use of images and a lot of sincerity, Crass-oriented though they might be. And the poster fucking rules too, great, striking slogans that remind me of some Antisect writing (could they have borrowed the idea from the Scots?).    




  1. salut Romain,
    regarde c'est noel hehe

    1. Salut mec. Oui je suis tombé sur ce site en faisant mes recherches. Il faut dire qu'Alternative étaient adeptes de la cassette!

    2. bien si tu l'a trouvé par toi meme!! je suppose que tu as aussi chopé l'autre version du lp qui circule en mp3, celui avec un autre batteur.

    3. Qu'est-ce que tu crois! Je suis un véritable archéologue ;) Oui je ne le connaissais pas cette version d'ailleurs, si j'ai bien compris c'était une sorte de demo du Lp. Le son est un plus crémeux, c'est pas mal!