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The Apostles: A Brief History Of Chaos

The Apostles: A Brief History Of Chaos

by Andy Martin - singer and spin bowler.

Let me start off by making it clear that Unit is NOT an extension of The Apostles. Myself and Dave are not ‘the main members’ of the group. We were both in The Apostles but that gives us no additional power, veto or influence over the projects undertaken by Unit. 


    We are 2 members (the token white boys) in a group of 4 people who have a shared vision and a collective ideal. The rest, as they say, is mere history.    For the uninitiated, the 1980s constituted a decade of immense social change. Margaret Thatcher became the most popular prime minister since Winston Churchill. The terrible stranglehold by which Marxist led unions had held the nation to ransom was finally broken by her bold, unequivocal style of government. However, her complete failure to comprehend foreign policy caused furore, belligerence and isolation from Europe. Her failure to understand social deprivation ultimately led to riots in the streets of every major British city. Against this background of civil rebellion and social discontent, numerous political groups (often led by people still stuck in the sixties) tried to form alliances, often with a genuine concern to rectify the problems that beleaguered the nation but, inevitably, they spent most of their time trying to discredit each other.

    The corporate media machine invented the 'new romantic’ fashion as a safe, harmless means by which young people could dress up and waste their energy and aggression in parties. However, the bands were so insipid and obviously contrived that the trend was doomed to failure almost before it began. The left wing political slogans of The Jam had given way to the trendy postures of The Style Council and of the 1980s we could in all honesty say it was a decade of crap politics, crap clothes and crap music. (The Apostles possessed an intelligent comprehension of politics and dressed smartly but, although they had plenty to say, they simply did not possess the technical facility with which to say articulately it so, while they did not exhibit either crap politics or crap clothes, the racket they made was abysmal.)    There were two curious fashions that appeared at this time: anarcho-punk and ‘oi’. The latter was a completely fictitious entity fabricated by one music journalist, Garry Bushell. It achieved remarkable success over a brief period. It was marked by a desire to glorify what Bushell perceived to be working class culture. His perception was in actual fact a rather insulting although quite amusing stereotypical parody of east end gangs, extreme right wing politics, football, pubs and not much else. Skinheads and fashion punks adopted ‘oi’ as their movement but, devoid of any real direction, it floundered and became extinct as soon as Bushell was offered a job in The Sun as a television columnist. The ‘oi’ fashion was really rather sad. Musically it had nothing to offer so it recycled some punk clichés from 1976, removed all the interesting bits and shoved a few trite, mindless lyrics on top. That was it. That was ‘oi’. When it finally expired, there were very few mourners.    


    The anarcho-punks adopted an ostensibly more intelligent, highly politicised stance but again, this was in reality a hopelessly naïve and often quite viciously polemical pose which attacked anyone who did not obey all the rules and believe me, there were plenty of those. You had to claim to believe in anarchism but not as an active fighter; you had to be a pacifist, a vegetarian and somehow ‘reject’ the State without physically doing much to oppose it. Her Majesty, her government, her armed forces and her police must have wet themselves with laughter. Such a weak, cowardly and ineffectual pose was an insult to every man and woman who had taken up arms against global capitalism, tyranny and oppression everywhere. The anarcho-punk faction was as much a fashion as ‘oi’ or any other youth subculture and it achieved very little of any substance. (The rave scene came closer to showing us all how it should be done a decade later.)    In 1983 we were given the opportunity (along with punk band The Assassins Of Hope and a group of their hard working friends) to open up the ground floor of the Centro Iberico, a disused school squatted in the 1970s by a group of Spanish anarchists. We were to organise live events, charge a small admission fee and donate half the proceeds to these anarchists. To me this was an excellent arrangement - these people had fought fascism in their country for nearly 3 decades and most of them were political refugees from the Franco regime. Now, I ask you, what can these people, some of whom had spent years incarcerated in prison cells, being brutally tortured by the police, have thought of the anarcho-pacifist punks with their strict censure of anyone who uses force to combat oppression? My embarrassment at even being associated with these punks was acute.

    To be fair, many of those people involved in the anarcho-punk scene were nice, friendly individuals who genuinely cared about the state of the nation and sought to unite us all in our opposition to global capitalism but a couple of out of tune, out of time punk bands a few photocopied fanzines were never going to offer much of a threat to the State - were they? The major bands like Conflict, Crass, The Poison Girls and The Mob did their best to promote intelligent ideals but of all these only Conflict offered any resistance that meant anything to genuinely disaffected young people. Crass and The Poison Girls, while they possessed integrity and honesty, were (rightly in my view) perceived as being too intellectual, too middle class and frankly too pacifist for the rest of us to tolerate. Conflict at least gave the impression they were aware that the State only understood violence and threats because violence was the currency and threats constituted the language by which the State achieved and maintained its position of power and privilege over the rest of us. The Angry Brigade and the Baader Meinhof Gang frightened governments; punk bands and fanzines did not.

    This latter subject deserves a brief digression. From 1979 to 1991 there was also a wealth of independently produced publications designed to promote the interests of various subcultural groups. These fanzines designed to promote anarcho-punk, alternative pop music, industrial electronics (one assumes the reason there were no ‘oi’ zines is because Bushell was the only one of its exponents who could read and write) and, later, football (When Saturday Comes, a highly amusing and articulate magazine, started as a do-it-yourself fanzine). The established music press (the voice of the corporate media machine) were unable to acknowledge the counter culture (about which it was ignorant) and certainly unwilling to discuss subversive politics (which were anathema to it anyway). It has always been the primary directive of the established music press to promote corporate, state sponsored pop music and either ignore or marginalise any intelligent political content from rock groups. It was therefore inevitable that we should become so irritated and dissatisfied that we create our own free press if only to say what the corporate media machine refused to mention and promote our own culture.    The zines themselves were usually disappointing and certainly not very interesting although there were exceptions such as Kill Your Pet Puppy, Pigs For Slaughter and Wombat Weekly. The Apostles even produced their own zine for a while, Scum, but its contents veered between avant garde pretension, philosophical muttering about nothing much in particular and Angry Brigade style rhetoric. It was for this latter that the zine and the band became known. The only political zine worth reading at this time was Class War which ultimately became a highly amusing yet still articulate newspaper. It was inevitable that The Apostles and Class War should become associated with each other even though no-one in The Apostles was actually an anarchist.

    The Apostles were originally formed as a punk band in 1981 by a quartet of students from Hampstead and Islington (Bill Corbett, Pete Bynghall, Julian Portinari and Dan MacKintyre). They played a series of concerts and recorded a demo tape (long since lost). In 1983, Scottish folk singer Andy Martin was invited to join to replace Bill. Within weeks, the other 3 left, unable to tolerate me any longer. My demands (strict work ethic, regimented schedules, no drugs, no alcohol and no fun - such idealism is simply one of the sins of youth) were considered highly unreasonable. Indian guitarist John Soares offered his inestimable services and it was he who introduced jazz rock bass guitarist Dave Fanning (a student of Paul Slack of The UK Subs) to me. For this we should forever be in his debt. The rest is history. Martin Smith was the drummer for a few months but John discovered drugs, Martin discovered religion (which have much the same effect on the mind) and the dynamic duo was formed. We managed to play some reasonable concerts and issue a couple of ridiculous cassette demos that should never have seen the light of day. The playing was actually quite good but the recording quality was horrendous.

    A brief digression is required here to explain why the majority of records released by The Apostles feature some truly abysmal playing. First, I occasionally played drums and guitar on some sessions. I was born with severe dispraxia and in theory this means I am unable to play most sports and certainly unable to play musical instruments. However, I refused to be limited to the role of a spastic in life so I fought against the limitations imposed on me by the condition and eventually managed to triumph over it - but only compared to other people born with my unfortunate condition. Second, it became band policy to include people as members if we liked and respected as people - their technical proficiency was considered largely irrelevant. This policy was delightfully philanthropic for the band members but positively sadistic toward the audience and record buyers. Third, nobody told us how to make records - we had no idea what ‘production’ meant and we never had a manager (apart from the mythical Mike Finch, a character invented by pop group Exhibit A whom we stole when that band mutated into Twelve Cubic Feet and dispensed with Mr Finch) so there was nobody to tell us what we were doing wrong. We had to make all the mistakes and commit all the errors first - and we achieved that with lamentable acuity - before we could discover how to make records sound decent and professional. In an effort to make our mark on the market place, we released a 7” single with the kind assistance of Pete Bynghall and Dan MacKintyre who had by this time forgiven me my trespasses against them. The record was little more than very poor heavy metal but it sold well for reasons utterly beyond my comprehension. 


    Scottish punk band Political Asylum sacked their drummer, 14 year old Chris Low, for the heinous crime of his refusal to tow the anarcho-pacifist punk political line. Chris was immediately filched by us. This was when the group commenced their proper recording career. Dave also played guitar on the early recordings. After releasing 5 singles, Chris returned to Scotland.  Mr Low was replaced by Chris Wiltshire, a drummer from, coincidentally, Wiltshire. Malcolm ‘Scruff’ Lewty from Newcastle joined as their permanent guitarist and the group then started to play concerts and continued to record from 1984 until their demise in 1989. Most of the live events were held at squatted venues, schools, universities and theatres as part of a concerted effort to challenge the established rock music pub and club circuit. This, beyond all doubt, represents the definitive line-up of the group and the one most people remember when they think of The Apostles - although why they should is beyond me.  Dave and Scruff commenced correspondence after Scruff had purchased some Apostles singles. He was then living in a home for orphaned children. When the group next played in Newcastle, they visited Scruff and decided he should be the next guitarist. That Scruff could not actually play a guitar at this time was not considered relevant. This was the 1980s, after all. For years, the band adopted a strict policy: anyone who joins the group must be a decent, intelligent person. If they are able to play an instrument - any instrument - that is a bonus. This noble but artistically suicidal attitude resulted in a series of records that were quite atrocious. It was a classic example of what occurs when naïve idealism is allowed to rule logic and common sense. The band had immense fun trying to make music. I suspect the recipients of the records had rather less fun listening to them.

    The band members were all political activists which led them into numerous contretemps with the law, with other groups and with other politically motivated organisations. There was a concerted effort to establish the occupation of empty state owned property as an effective means to promote political ideals and in this The Apostles were marginally successful. An abortive but brave attempt was made by anarchist band Crass to set up a social centre on a legal basis, The Autonomy Centre in Wapping. The Apostles assisted in this but the project was doomed to failure as concerts and other events became ever more commercial in order to pay the exorbitant rent required. So instead they helped to set up, organise and run the Centro Iberico, an abandoned school squatted by Spanish anarchists in the 1970s.


    It should be remembered, however, that it was these middle aged Spaniards who had done all the initial difficult work. They occupied the top of the huge building but believed the main hall should also be used and they kindly allowed us and our entourage to do so. We and our friends worked hard to soundproof the large hall, make the electricity supply safe and take charge of health and safety issues (fire exits, toilet facilities and so forth). The idea was to put on our own concerts with all manner of bands, performers, theatre groups and entertainers with particular emphasis on those of a political persuasion. It is important to realise that while certain bands (Conflict, Crass, The Apostles, The Mob and so on) received credit for their roles in running the place, it was always those people who were not in bands and who did not produce fanzines, whose tireless effort and constant hard work was so often unacknowledged not rewarded. The centre operated successfully for a couple of years before the police closed it down.

    Dave and I worked at Little @ Printers, which was firebombed by fascists in 1985; our home was also firebombed by National Front supporters in the same year. Later Scruff left to form Hellbastard (and, later, Nero Circus, Sidewinder and Heavy Water, his excellent current band). Chris left to pursue a university course at the same time. They were replaced by Sean Stokes (guitar) and Colin Murrell (drums) respectively. On their last recordings and concerts, they were joined by Pete Bynghall, the very first guitarist. In February 1989 I left the group, utterly disgusted by the independent music scene. I embraced the dance and rave scene of The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy. The others made no attempt to carry on. Pete moved to America, Sean moved to France and Colin became a music teacher. Dave concentrated on his art and film making. In 1990 moves were made to form a new group which, after numerous false starts, blind alleys and problems, eventually became Unit. (For a brief period the band was called Academy 23 to avoid confusion with a German band called Unit who were active at the time.)

    The Apostles released 7 singles, 7 albums and played numerous concerts, many of which were extremely unconventional with film shows, actors and political speeches. The only support they received during this time was from punk band Conflict who released some of their records, gave them the opportunity to play at large venues and defended them against physical attacks from fascists (who were a major threat during the 1980s). There were also frequent verbal attacks from the music press whose tireless hostility toward the group was almost obsessive. The band achieved a small degree of notoriety for their uncompromising political stance, their promotion of Class War and their willingness to actually engage in direct action against the State. They aligned themselves with the group Class War and sold its paper at their concerts.

    Unlike virtually every other band in the scene at this time, The Apostles consciously chose to associate themselves with other groups who were neither punk oriented nor politically motivated. Thus we worked with and performed concerts with Twelve Cubic Feet, The Replaceable Heads, Doc Wor Mirran, Alien Culture and The Nocturnal Emissions, all of whom were actually far more interesting (and not just on a musical level) than any of the turgid mess that passed for British punk rock in the 1980s. Doc Wor Mirran are still active and while their live concerts are rare occasions, they continue to release innovative, original and interesting records and CDs.

    As an aside, it should be mentioned that when John Soares was in the band, we experienced our first real taste of prejudice and bigotry. I had written a ballad called ‘Queer’ in which I acknowledged my own homosexuality. After a couple of concerts where John (who is Indian) was subjected to racial abuse from audience members and I had received similar insults for being queer, it was made patently obvious to us that in the 1980s the punk scene was reserved for white people, preferably those who are heterosexual. Sadly, our experience in Unit recently has revealed that in Britain at least this is still the case. Fortunately, the punk scene in America, Japan and Europe has proved us wrong - their attitude reveals a healthy mixture of inventiveness, intelligence and diversity. The conservative, narrow minded, right wing British punk scene should study the behaviour, attitudes and political activism of the punk scene in these countries if they genuinely seek to make the world a better place.

    In conclusion, the Apostles records were renown for the inclusion of posters, booklets and pamphlets which, combined with deliberately low prices, made the products appear desirable but sadly much of the music was a disappointment: ineptly performed and atrociously produced, it was amateur and shabby in the extreme with only occasional flourishes of the innovative excitement that would be generated by Unit a decade later. It should also be mentioned that The Apostles was very much the Dave Fanning band - I was certainly not ‘the main man’ in the group. For example, on the 3rd 7” E.P., ‘The Curse Of The Creature’, there are 6 tracks but I only appear on 1 of them. The popularity of the group is therefore due to his playing (which was usually more competent than any of the other band members) and his formidable artwork rather than my own paltry contribution to the noise. The strength, vitality, originality and crafted ability of most of the lyrics and music is revealed by recordings of these works made by Unit later in their first recordings during the Brit pop era of 1994-1997. However, it has to be said that the mythology and romantic notoriety behind The Apostles is far more interesting than the reality - the recordings rarely stand up to close scrutiny and it is fortunate that their best material has since been recorded properly by Unit (cf. the albums ‘Kampfbereit’ and ‘We Are Your Gods’).

Andy Martin
© 2005.



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