WE’RE LOOKING FOR PEOPLE
The Story Of Lack Of Knowledge
By Lance Hahn
”A selection (of favorite moments / memories) in no particular order;
a) Carrying 1000 7″ singles across London on public transport.
b) Physically ejecting bands from the stage ‘cos they played for too long before us.
c) Early gigs in our town.
d) Winston Smiths first live review
e) playing the Anarchy Centre in the Lack Of Knowledge official dress code of gray shirts and black ties.
f) Rehearsing in our first rehearsal room in the local youth club.”
Lack Of Knowledge
“Surely there has never been a more stupid group than Lack Of Knowledge…” So starts the bands history of Lack Of Knowledge.In this reflective,mini-autobiography,they describe the band as being “stupid” in it’s attempts at being “uncompromising”.But the body of work left behind by Lack Of Knowledge (not to mention the few recollections of live performances) tells a different history.One of the youngest bands to be associated with Crass and the anarchist punk scene,Lack Of Knowledge released some of the most sophisticated and exciting records of the scene.What they,in hindsight,may see as missed opportunities due to the band’s own bullheadedness (Chorus’s in songs? “Why should we?!” Release your catchiest tracks? “We’re not your puppets!“) is still what formed the band’s identity and resulting body of work.
Playing their first gig as English Assassin (named for one of their early songs), the band began and continued to focus on working together with friends from their neighborhood (Danny,Tony,Paul,Chiefy,Bernard were all from Edmonton, which is located in North East London.Karen was from Ponders End and Philip from the neighboring Enfield) rather then on musical ability.That initial line-up featured Daniel Drummond on vocals,Tony Barber on guitar,Paul Stevens on bass and Bert Drummond on drums.At the time of that gig,Tony was 15 years old and Paul was only 13.But the roots of the band could already be traced back to 1977 and the early days of punk.
Danny “The first time I heard of punk rock was from a review of the Sex Pistols from 1976 in the ‘Melody Maker’ magazine in England.”
By 1977,Daniel Drummond was fronting the punk rock band Headache.Along with Steve Headache,Paul Cremona and Colin Chew,the band gigged around Soho playing at many of the times now-legendary (at least in terms of punk rock) venues like the Roxy and the Vortex.Alongside bands like Raped,Bethnel and others,Headache developed enough of a reputation that the independent label,Lout Records,decided to approach the band about a single.In November of that year,“Can’t Stand Still / No Reason For Your Call” was released.A great single and perfect souvenir of the times,the record was no runaway success and a year later,apparently,5000 unsold copies had to be destroyed.
Tony “Got into punk around early ‘77 for Sex Pistols,the so called ‘Anarcho/Peace punk’ scene would have been around late ’78 when I heard a demo tape of Crass for the first time.”
At the same time,Dan’s 16-year-old brother,Bert(born Bernard,he was known as Bert to his family and friends),formed The Far Side,an instrumental/experimental band with Tony Barber and Paul Stevens,then 14 and 12 years old respectively.Despite Tony and Paul’s desire to play the straight ahead punk rock they loved,Bert was driven by the concept of making music completely original and unlike anything at the time.As the oldest,the others looked up to him and the direction of the band was set.
Lack Of Knowledge “We all grew up in a very small geographical area, and we met through friends and acquaintances.Paul met Bernard (original drummer)from his older brother;Bernie was Danny’s brother.Tony & Paul were at school together and Chiefy was at school with Tony’s girlfriend, Karen (later to become the bassist of Lack Of Knowledge), second drummer Philip(who was playing drums for another local band,Klee)we met through live Lack Of Knowledge shows.”
By 1978,the band was practicing daily in Bert’s bedroom recording each session on a simple mono tape recorder.Conceptual as the band was,they recorded these practices as “albums” and soon had a vast body of work under their belt.Calling the label BMD Entertainments and his bedroom Bedrock Studios,Bert went so far as to make covers for all of these never released records as well as giving them catalog numbers.
These early recordings included songs with titles like ‘Doldrums’,'Barbed Wire’,'Running Blind’,’20-4-89(pt 1)/20-4-63(pt 2)’,'Labrador Current’,’..…And Set It Undulating’, ‘Begging For A Phew’,'Misfits’,'Friends With Influence’,'No Kafir’,'Juggernaut’, “I’m The Fluorescent Man” and “Hybrid” which was an experiment where both sides of a guitar chord were plugged into separate inputs on the same amplifier.The subsequent noise and feedback could be manipulated by the tone and tremolo controls,an idea later used (though independently discovered) by Alternative TV on “The Image Has Cracked” LP. ‘Album’ titles included ‘The Far Side’, ‘Wandering Sickness’ and ‘Lack Of Knowledge’,an album title inspired by Tony upon noticing Bert’s book collection,’World Of Knowledge’.
Ironically,it was Bert that ended the band in 1979 when he left to join a more straightforward punk rock band called The Position.Immediately taking over as the band’s chief songwriter,The Position recorded a six-song demo at Frontroom Studios in September of that year,though nothing ever came of it.Tony joined the band on second guitar,in time for the recording,only to be fired two months later for not showing up for a practice.
Tony and Paul started playing together again as Assorted Tools (played one gig supporting The Position),then as Lack Of Knowledge(played one gig without a drummer but with singer Frank Hodgson(kind of like Young Marble Giants on speed),played another LOK gig adding Danny Boyce on guitar and John Einstein on drums and then ultimately became the two-piece Trio Of Testicles(this time Pauls moniker).Having recorded a couple of tracks for Crass’ second “Bullshit Detector” compilation,they were,for unknown reasons,left off.But if the name of the band is any indication……..
With Headache disbanded by 1979,Daniel Drummond approached Tony and Paul about starting a band together.For a brief time,they were able to re-recruit Bert on the drum kit. It was at this time that the band that would be known as Lack Of Knowledge became formalized.Having played one party as English Assassin (a party broken up by the police, of course) the band decided they needed a full time drummer and a more appropriate name.
Chief (real name Jason Powell) had never touched a drum kit,didn’t own a drum kit,and didn’t even know Tony,Paul or Danny.They simply walked up to him one day while he was walking home from school and asked him to join.Miraculously,he was the perfect person for the job.In the short time it took him (a matter of weeks) to learn how to play(on a kit bought by the other members)he developed a simple charging style that was equal parts Velvet Underground and Warsaw.
Before the end of 1980, the band were re-christened Lack Of Knowledge and were back to gigging with an entire new set of songs.Those early days set a precedent of DIY ethics that the band would maintain throughout their career.Though it may have been a necessity in the beginning,Lack Of Knowledge was committed to the idea of taking it upon themselves to make sure that gigs happened.
Lack Of Knowledge “There was no reason why we kept playing shows. It’s just what groups do! The most people we played to was at the ZIGZAG CLUB Xmas gig 1982 where virtually every ‘anarcho’ band in existence played. Audience was about 1000.Every other gig we did was between 30 and maybe 200,at a stretch. Out of the 60 or 70 gigs we played, probably the first 20 or 30 were organized entirely by ourselves, and later when we started playing established clubs, we booked them ourselves, we had no agent. We had no reason for continuing, we also had no reason for stopping, so that’s why we did it.”
At the beginning of 1981, with some gigs under their belt, the band was anxious to record their first record.An initial recording,in late 1980(their first in a real studio), proved to be disappointing and the band decided to re-record the tracks.Having rented a PA from them for their first gig,they discovered that Octave Electronics had a recording studio right in Edmonton.Surprised at how cheaply they were able to record,they decided to put out their first record by themselves.They took the master tape on the bus to the mastering plant and a few weeks later brought home 500 singles,also on the bus.The result was “The Uninvited / Ritual” 7”.
This bleak looking record was a bit of misdirection.The cover art consists of two black and white images of people wearing protective gear(gas masks, body suits)with no information other than the song titles and the band name.While an intriguing image,it becomes shattered by the brilliant upbeat punk songs replete with catchy hooks and punchy performances.Often,Lack of Knowledge was compared to Joy Division and the Buzzcocks.This record especially could be the reason for that.The subdued melodies are often reminiscent of “Spiral Scratch”-era Buzzcocks while the manic playing and pretty bass lines bring to mind “Disorder” type Joy Division.The lo-fi production also captures the raw edge to the young band giving you an idea of what their live attack might have been like.
Doing the record on their own was also a learning experience for the band.Not knowing what to do with the records,they carried them around to all the shops and sold them over the counter.They waited outside the BBC until John Peel showed up and handed him a copy.Not expecting him to play it right away,they missed hearing it that night on the radio.They delivered a copy to Crass at their country home.Surprisingly,Penny Rimbaud immediately offered to put out their next single,which would take them a year to get around to.Some might call all of this luck.But it certainly is also a testament to the strength of that first single.
Having first heard Crass in ’78, Tony and Paul were big fans of the band and were immediately influenced by the bands approach if not their music. While Lack Of Knowledge only played with Crass once, at the now legendary Zig Zag all-nighter, they had attended many of their early gigs.
Lack Of Knowledge “We met Crass in the record store called Small Wonder in North East London and became friendly with them,going to see them live and from there we developed a working relationship with them which evolved in the single and LP.We took them a copy of our first,home made single and they liked it enough to want to release our next one.”
It wound up taking over a year for the next record to come out.In that period of time,drummer Chief split the band(although,in hindsight no one remembers if he was sacked or not) and they recruited new drummer,Philip Barker,from another local band called Klee.Over the course of that year,the band played many self-organized gigs in their town making for some of their happiest moments.
In the summer of 1983,the band finally made their way down to Southern Studios to record the “Grey” 7” for Crass Records.Continuing off from their debut single,Lack Of Knowledge found ways of remaining melodic and memorable while exploring new musical ideas.Drummond’s vocals are deeper and less typically “punk”,a style that would even further develops on subsequent releases.Needless to say,Joy Division comparisons were to follow.There are quite a variety of tempos and rhythms over just four songs.Lyrically,the record is a mixture of paranoia and nuclear anxiety.Using ambiguity to their advantage,the band wound up sounding more like a “Crass” band then they realized.
The aftermath of too many wars
The last man in Europe stumbles through the wreckage
Of somebody’s life
Down the streets that used to riot with voices now silent.
Thick vermilion skies hang heavy on his back
Though his veins courses new blood
In his mind a mission
Lack Of Knowledge “The difference between Lack Of Knowledge and other ‘Anarchist’ groups was that the others all set out to be ‘Anarcho-punk groups’ and Lack Of Knowledge already existed, and were involved by accident rather than design. Lyrically, Lack Of Knowledge included a lot of references to ‘Horror’ as well as political themes.”
Last sanctuary of the ruling body
Left to maintain law and order in a crisis
A handful of tanks patrol the area.
Civil servants sit at the nerve centre
Monitoring the operation
Can’t believe their eyes when the man enters
Through a hole he made in a fifteen-foot reinforced concrete wall
Reduces them to ashes with on fierce radioactive glance
Then turns and heads towards his next destination
The design is a collection of photos detailing architecture around certain parts of the city becoming what’s known as a psychogeographic map.The concept,developed as a way of combining subjective and objective modes of study by the Situationists in 1958,is a means of defining the geographical design of an environment and it’s implications on the psyche of it’s inhabitants.While the term doesn’t imply it,historically,all psychogeographic maps have been of urban settings.The collection of photos on “Grey”,of London’s council estates vividly depicts how the architecture as well as city planning helped to increase alienation and despair.
Lack Of Knowledge “Penny Rimbaud produced it,Andy Palmer,Crass’ guitarist,took sleeve photos,and Gee did all the artwork.We were sort of like one of those ‘Crass Bands’. Except all the Anarcho ‘fab-erati’ at the ‘Anarchy Centre’ hated us,as we didn’t conform to what their stupid idea of ‘Anarcho-Punk’ was about.”
But despite this,Lack Of Knowledge did find camaraderie with other bands from that same scene.By 1984,the band was involved at least musically with the anarcho-punk scene. While they may not have been plotting the revolution,they certainly connected with like-minded bands.
Lack Of Knowledge “Yeah we were friendly with a lot of the other bands,particularly Omega Tribe,who we used to go to the pub with and have the odd game of football as well as playing gigs with them.Dirt,who were from the same area as us,Hagar The Womb were friends.Basically most of the bands would have been found at each others gigs,so maybe you could call it a social scene,albeit a very insular one!!”
Despite the single on Crass and their friendship with a few of the bands connected to that scene,Lack Of Knowledge always felt like their atmospheric and quasi-science fiction oriented lyrics set them apart not to mention their unique musical style that,as early as ’83,people were beginning to criticize for not being “punk”.
Lack Of Knowledge “We were never an out and out political group,to the extent of hating Mrs. Thatcher in every song!But,the finished single on Crass was a slight departure from what we were doing,but still within the framework of what we were capable and prepared to do.It was just another facet of what we were about.We deliberately set out to make the record as it appeared,it was how we envisaged it.”
Still,’Grey’ made it into the indie charts.While maybe out of favor with the crowd at the Anarchy Centre,there was a growing interest in the band.Following the single came a barrage of live performances around London with mixed results.
Lack Of Knowledge “20 people.All ignoring us!That’s what it was like back then.Although that’s what all ‘anarcho-punk’ gigs were like back then!Did we tour much? – You must be joking.We only played outside London twice and one of those times had to sell a guitar to get road tax for a van!”
Despite the bands pint glass being clearly half empty,their first live review(which appeared around that time)saw it as half full.
“A hugely crisp ‘n’ crunchy atmosphere. The customers, unsafety-dancing in delight, lap up this mouth-wateringly agreeable new sensation, soaking in every last possible drop as Lack Of Knowledge attack their instruments in a way that suggests they feel it too. Their music swells to massive, world-changing heights, their guitarist very nearly tears loose all six strings in his abandon, and the singer actually jumps skywards with the thrill of it all.
Vaguely suggestive – all at once – of the Buzzcock’s nervous excitement, Joy Division’s chilling beauty and the irrepressible, unpredictable ruffian spirit of Matlock-period Pistols, Lack Of Knowledge should have 12 inches of glory in all worthwhile record shops very soon. And if you’ve the least sense of adventure…”,
Winston Smith,’Sounds’.May 1984
The “12 inches of glory” hinted at in the review would be their debut LP on Corpus Christi.The label,which was another Crass imprint,became another high profile label where bands who identified with Crass could release full length LPs with less interaction from Crass themselves.But at this stage,Paul felt he had done enough.He decided to leave the band though was convinced to stay with the band long enough to complete the upcoming recording session at Southern Studios.
‘Sirens Are Back’ was released in 1984 and would be the band’s only full-length release.By this time,the band had been further transformed into a combination of ideas which, while further distancing themselves from the traditional notion of punk,created a sound unique to anything else at the time.The Joy Division comparisons are again obvious, especially on “Flame Thrower” which could’ve fit in nicely on “Closer”.But in general,the comparisons have more to do with the similar vocal styles.The band at this point was reflecting many different ideas.Moments of ‘Modern Dance’-era Pere Ubu pops up all over the record especially with the bass/drum inter-play.Early Killing Joke can be heard on some of the more primitive rhythms.The gothic affectations driven by,at times,dance beats was reminiscent of X-mal Deutschland’s ‘Incubus Succubus’.The more upbeat or “Punk” songs bring to mind ‘Young Savage’-era Ultravox The album is atmospheric and lyrically suggestive without giving any clear directions.The record is one of the few releases on Corpus Christi not to include a lyric sheet.
Lack Of Knowledge “In retrospect,the album sounds even less like anyone else than was previously imagined.It also represented the most uncommercial Lack Of Knowledge material available for recording at that time.”
The recording process seemed to be a clash of generations.During the recording of this record,the bands refusal to have any connection whatsoever to rock music or it’s traditions became apparent.Previously,they had refused to refer to performances as “gigs”.Now in the studio,they clashed with veteran engineer,Mel Jefferson,over approach and semantics.They refused to refer to bridges as “middle eights” and pretended they didn’t know what Jefferson was talking about when he referred to headphones as “cans”. They sneered at him when he used bands like “U2 and Simple Minds” as reference points.Despite this antagonism,the band and engineer were able to work well enough together to produce a pretty slick sounding record.It was released to positive greetings from the music press.
Lack Of Knowledge “All Lack Of Knowledge records,incredibly,received very favorable reviews;although English music journalists are not exactly noted for their discerning taste.Lack Of Knowledge were not even a footnote in the history of recorded music,even in the UK,so it does seem incredible that someone in the USA should be remotely interested in what Lack Of Knowledge did in the past.We have just been asked if we can let ‘Disney’ use a track for a forthcoming biopic of the life of Klaus Barbie; we of course have agreed.”
But the anarcho-punk scene by 1984 was reducing its musical scope into narrower and narrower definitions.The opportunities for creativity and experimentation that were made available by the post-punk boom were now giving way to the ‘80s and new wave.While not directly affecting the still fiercely independent anarcho-punk scene,the safety of known musical genres became as much an issue as in the mainstream.This mentality regressed underground music to entertainment over art and the fan/star quotient was only one negative effect.The more easily recognizable musical styles associated with punk and hardcore were quickly embraced while musical outsiders were often ignored.
Despite their skepticism of a lot of the anarcho scene,the band members were still committed to a lot of the ideas.In hindsight,they still maintain certain connections to that scene.
Lack Of Knowledge “1) the anarcho scene had absolutely no connection with the music industry,so therefore doesn’t really have any effect on it today.2)We haven’t suddenly become bankers after dissolving Lack Of Knowledge,so yeah;we are somehow still ‘practicing’ those ideas.Some of the band are still involved occasionally with members of Crass in one way or another(not all to do with music),so I guess that’s another connection.”
In the face of this adversity,Lack Of Knowledge still managed to find their niche outside of the mainstream and on fringe of the anarcho underground.A reputation as a great live band helped,even with a brand new line-up following the release of “Sirens Are Back”.This is reinforced by a review of the bands gig at the Hammersmith Clarendon:
“Faces twisted by concentration,tongues lolling from corners of mouths,Lack of Knowledge unleash everything they’ve got.Tonight,they are at their very best,under pressure; pushing,pushing,always pushing…
A charge surges through them.They win the attention of a (to begin with) completely uninterested Living In Texas audience,and then they push further still,whipping up a multi-textured headfirst collision between Joy Divisions lump-in-the-throat axe-heroism and the driving gritty raunch of the Buzzcocks.And it works like magic.
Lack of Knowledge treat us to the epic ‘Sentinel’ – featuring,incidentally,what must rank as one of the Great Bass Intros of rock and pop’s illustrious 30 year history – followed by a handful of numbers from their new LP,’Sirens Are Back’,and in the blink of an eye they are gone,beaten by the clock but elated,nevertheless.”
Mr Spencer,’Sounds’,April 1985
Well, the one thing you can glean from that odd review(Joy Division=axe-heroism?)is that the band was making their name as a live band.This,despite the fact that their new bass player,Tony’s girlfriend Karen,had never played bass before in her life!To say nothing of the fact that she played her first gig with the band three weeks after having a baby!
Pathological as ever,the band drove forward working on new material even before the LP was released.But in 1984,Crass split up and soon after folded the Corpus Christi label.The band continued to write and gig without a clear idea as to who would release their next record.
That same year,Phil had become friendly with Living In Texas.Living In Texas ran their own label(Chainsaw) and had had a string of indie hits including ‘My End Of Heaven’, ‘Kingdom’ and ‘Glad,Bad,Mad and Sad.After a series of gigs together,Lack Of Knowledge was offered to do a 12” single on Chainsaw.
The resulting record was “Sentinel”,a four song 12” built around the title track.Though an older song,’Sentinel’ was different from most of the previous album as it was a strangely accessible song.Possibly one of the catchiest things the band did,though still juxtaposed with the distinctive lyrics the band were known for.
Danny “Lyrically,I had no set idea of the lyrical content to a Lack Of Knowledge song.I just set out to be as individual as possible.The idea being that it would not sound like anyone else.”
Recorded back at Southern where the band had most of its previous luck,they were forced to mix elsewhere when a last minute session for Grandmaster Flash was booked. Daniel’s brother,Bert,was able to hook them up with Guerrilla Studios in West London,as a friend from the days of The Position,William Orbit,owned it.
Lack Of Knowledge “Sentinel was a 4 track 12″ single (voted single of the week in ‘Sounds’ UK weekly music paper!) released by a label called Chainsaw as Corpus Christi had folded by then.Luckily for us,they folded before we had a chance to pay off our debt (don’t remind John Loder!).The record was a new direction for the band as it was recorded by a new Lack Of Knowledge line-up.It was to be the last record we put out.”
With that records success,the band received bigger write-ups in Sounds and Zig Zag as well as a number of fanzines.They were also getting airplay on Radio One.There was interest from other labels,and the band had an album worth of new material.But despite it being their most successful release,the band came to a halt.Nobody knows why.
Lack Of Knowledge “The group just stopped,we didn’t split up.We had reached the end of the Lack Of Knowledge line.We had nowhere else to go,unless we radically changed the way we did stuff.Also by 1986,the scene in UK had become absolutely shit.Hence the Smiths.”
A final incarnation of the band (though without the same moniker) would include a girl named Emma who they knew through her fanzine called “Alphabet Soup”,which she did with her school friend,Miki.Though that band never got past the rehearsal stage,Emma would later start the band Lush with Miki and have a successful career as pop stars.
As for Lack Of Knowledge,they claim they can’t remember why they actually stopped playing music.Most of the band went on to other musical projects.Phil Barker has been seen drumming for the Stratford Mercenaries and the Buzzcocks.Most active has been Tony who also plays bass with the Buzzcocks as well as Alternative TV.He also does production work and has released a “solo” record under the name Airport.Their reflections on the band are often funny on the verge of self-deprecating.
Danny “In hindsight,after listening back to LOK records recently,I have come to the conclusion that I was depressed.”
Tony “So was I.”