This is 221984/10 and a healthy (I'm not too sure Peni's would qualify as "healthy" but Omega Tribe's certainly did) slice of vintage anarchopunk.
It was released just after yet another classic anarcho Ep, "Capitalism is cannibalism" by Anthrax, and just before a much more obscure record, Sleeping Dogs' "Beware", which was more of a music project from California, with future members of the brilliant A State of Mind, Trial and Brain Rust in its ranks (the cd reissue of "Beware" actually included a Brain Rust Lp). 1982 was Crass Records' busiest year and as it was the second wave of UK punk music's in general. Absolutely cracking records were released that fateful year and Omega Tribe's "Angry songs" certainly belongs to the "crucial" category.
OT formed in 1981 in Barnet, although they didn't play often in their hometown and didn't really see themselves as a "local" band. Contrary to bands that endeavoured to contribute to the scene in their area, OT quickly started to play regularly in London instead, thus reinforcing the already strong punk contingent that was stationed there. Their friendship with Pete Fender (the son of Vi Subversa), who played in the Fatal Microbes, Rubella Ballet and was a music producer as well, made it easier, I suppose, to get in touch with the London scene at the time. As was often the case, it was one of their songs on a Bullshit Detector compilation Lp (the second one to be accurate) that got them the Crass Records part. Don't get me wrong, there were some terrible tracks on these comps, but then you also had fantastic numbers that really stood out and Omega Tribe's "Nature wonder" was one of them. It didn't take a music genius to figure out the band's potential which relied mainly on three things: the voice of Hugh, the bass lines of Daryl and the pop sensibility of the music.
"Angry songs" is not OT's crowning glory: without a doubt "No love lost" is. But it is certainly one of Crass Records' best releases (after all it did very well in the charts too). Recorded in september 1982 and produced by, yes you guessed it, Penny Rimbaud with the help of Pete Fender, who had by then joined OT on second guitar, it was released during the spring of 1983. The two sides of the Ep are similarly structured as each of them comprises one standout poppier song and one bouncy 77-flavoured number (behold my awe-inspiring analytical tools). The Ep opens with "Another bloody day", a song memorable for its unexpected twist (I would say "out of nowhere" but it is so overdone, right?). The song starts fast and noisy, probably the fastest and noisiest that the band could really muster, and then, suddenly, goes all soft and melancholy, like a ballad with profound vocals and a piano. Yes, a bloody piano. Now, it is usually cause for me to call the punk police when I hear such instruments of the devil, but in this case it works so well, it sounds so peaceful and powerful, that it takes the song from being a great punk song to being just a great song. "Profiteer" and "Time for change" on the B-side are genuinely brilliant punk-rock songs, influenced by the first wave, with super catchy chorus, tuneful hooks and deep, energetic vocals (maybe not too far from the Neurotics actually). The icing on the vegan cake has to be "Is this a future?" though, essentially a ska song (shock! horror!), but one that is deprived of joy, one that is not written to make you dance (deep sigh of relief). Remarkably produced, this is such a potent song, full of emotions, anger, sadness. I dare anyone not to hum the chorus after one mere listening, and that's coming from someone who is terrible at humming.
Omega Tribe's pop sensibility was probably best demonstrated on their Lp, which had a much warmer, rounder sound, but even on this Ep, and despite the usual harsh Penny production, it was obvious the band could write pop-rock hits. Hugh was possibly the best male singer in the anarchopunk scene, along with Tony from Naked. It is not that he had the coolest punk voice, but just that he could actually sing in tunes, in a powerful fashion that perfectly conveyed the emotions at stake. Like many Crass-related bands, Omega Tribe's music was bass-driven, but where many bands were content with rather simple lines, Daryl must have given much thought about his, as they are not only undeniably catchy and carry the songs, but they can appear to be relatively complex as well. In fact, it is revealed in "The day the country died" that he used to play with a pick during the hardest, fastest parts and with his fingers for the mellower moments (that grew more and more numerous with time). OT could have been really huge if you think about it, they could have gone quite far with their skilled heartfelt songwriting and their ear for a good tune. It was Crass meets Newtown Neurotics meets The Clash meets Beat music meets protest folk music.
Lyrically, OT really belonged to the pacifist punk camp (but don't call them "peacepunks" because that is a term for the US scene, remember?). But rather than taking the war-haiku path - which wouldn't fit with the music anyway - or the moral condemnation of war, OT picked the sensitive option (as they would) and focused instead on the bitterness, the powerlessness, the sadness that one feels when confronted with the absurdity of armed conflicts. For instance, "Another bloody day" is told from the perspective of someone watching the news and being affected by pictures of war, even though it feels like a never-ending battlefield (isn't this a Bolt Thrower song?), while "Is this a future?" is told from the point of view of a little girl living in a wartorn area who is surprised at the sight of warplanes in the sky. It is a little curious that such a pacifist, non-violent band would tour with Conflict in the 80's, but they actually did (but then, Conflict toured constantly). The aesthetics of OT emphasizes their peaceful nature with their now famous Japanese dove symbol (though it could also have been lifted from Star Wars), that was reused by Contravene among others, on one side and a skull caught in barbed wire on the other (a representation of darkness versus light I presume). The poster does take the cake in terms of borderline cheesy pacifist punk though, with a child standing up over the wreckage of modern society and looking toward a bright, flower-powered, pastoral future, with the sun shining, the birds flying and sheep grazing peacefully. This is kawaii before it was big in Europe. The text bordering the poster is a call to freedom, peace, mutual aid and total liberation. I had never seen the poster before I actually got the Ep and I can only imagine what was the reception of the so-called "chaos punx" to such display of hippie-punkism... Oh well, it is fine by me.
As I mentioned, OT released a last Ep in 1985 after "No love lost" but also a live tape in 1984 entitled "Live at the Clarendon", which I strongly recommend. It was released on 96 tapes, an offshoot of All The Madmen Records done by Rob from Faction. I feel that, if you think of Omega Tribe as an All The Madmen-type band, they make even more sense actually... Punk but not totally punk-rock... Good protest music with heart, love and a sense of tune. 96 Tapes also released tapes from A Touch of Hysteria, Blyth Power or Faction if you know hat I mean (and Demo Tapes is going to reissue them all anyway...).