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Penny Rimbaud – What Passing Bells…

The War Poems of Wilfred Owen read by Penny Rimbaud (founder of Crass) with Liam Noble on piano and Kate Shortt on cello, incorporating visuals by Gee Vaucher.
‘The poetry is in the pity.’

Penny Rimbaud is known as the author of countless books of poetry, philosophy and polemic, as well as a founder member of the now legendary group Crass. His current band, L’Academie des Vanités, appears regularly at the Vortex.

Liam Noble is perhaps the most iconic pianist ever to grace the Vortex stage, whether it be solo, or recently with Paul Dunmall and Dave Liebman. Lyricism, imagination and oblique humour merge seamlessly.

Kate Shortt has worked extensively over the years with Penny Rimbaud and more recently with Christine Tobin. Her fierce avant-garde romaticism puts her in a class of her own.

Gee Vaucher’s images, first made famous as the cover art for Crass albums, are unforgettable. They etch themselves on your mind forever.

Penny Rimbaud writes: ‘I was a war baby who, like many, didn’t meet their father until they were three or four, which too often was too late. My father brought the war home with him. He never much spoke of it, rather he was imbued with it; it seeped from his every pore. He was distant, absent and cold, and he made me feel fearful. Then how was I to know what horrors had so muted him, horrors which in his imaginings and his dreams would forever be present? He would speak of “the real world” and how he’d fought for my freedom, but as I grew older I became increasingly cautious of the conditional nature of that freedom. I’d seen pictures of the death camps, knew about atom bombs and was aware of the carnage, but, beyond a sense of uninformed sorrow, I grew to feel loathing and contempt for what seemed be the utter senselessness of it all. My father’s war and his real world had to me become synonymous.

In my late teens I was introduced to the poetry of Wilfred Owen and from one line in his “Strange Meeting” I was awoken to an entirely new way of being – “I am the enemy you killed, my friend” – no malice, no terrible vengeance, only love; a true expression of human possibility beyond the bitter brutality of jingoistic cant. In Owen’s selfless tenderness I had at last found something that made sense within the madness of the warring material world; we are no more, no less than the other, divided only by the fall from grace. It was from this illumination that I became an active pacifist committed to the promotion of peace and love.

It is, then, only natural that I chose to commit myself to present Owen’s poems throughout the centenary years of the euphemistic ‘Great War’. In doing so I am able to honour the great gift that he gave through his life, his works and his untimely death.’

From The Guardian, 29 November 2017. Penny Rimbaud talks about the avant-garde, punk and Crass:

“Essentially, the avant garde is about changing the world. It must be, otherwise it wouldn’t exist. But I always think terms like underground and alternative are a bit disingenuous – a way of pushing stuff to the side. That certainly happened in the punk domain, when you had overtly commercial music being made by people like the Clash and the Pistols, and then you had what was called anarcho-punk, which apparently wasn’t a part of that. Well, actually, Crass – as the creators of the anarcho-punk movement – were outselling most people.

Crass were activists with rock’n’roll pretensions. You can’t really expect rock’n’rollers to have activist pretensions – rock’n’roll is just part of the entertainment industry. The scream doesn’t seem to be coming through musically as much as it might have been doing 40 years ago – punk created a new standard of disrule, which will be hard to beat. But people tend to think nothing’s happening because it’s not happening in music. It’s happening in quantum physics. If you want to read the new avant garde, read quantum physics – scientists are just artists of a different kind.”

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