Rondos, the punk band that made Crass ‘look like a vaudeville show’
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The Rondos’ Red Attack LP
“The Rondos were Maoists—bloody heavy,” Crass guitarist Phil Free remembers in George Berger’s The Story of Crass. “Jesus, they were frightening! Serious! They made us look like a vaudeville show! They’re probably still doing time for something!”

Contemporaries and comrades of The Ex, the Rondos (1978-1980) were a Rotterdam punk band that ran a record label (King Kong) and print shop from their communal habitation, Huize Schoonderloo. With the bands Rode Wig, Tändstickor Shocks, and Sovjets, they formed Rotterdam’s “Red Rock” collective.

According to Berger, Crass dates the beginning of the violence that beset shows throughout their career to a September 1979 gig at Conway Hall in London. There, they played with the Rondos and Poison Girls in aid of “Persons Unknown,” a group of anarchists facing conspiracy charges. The book does not explicitly state what the Rondos are supposed to have done at the benefit, but it implies that members of Crass believe the Rondos provoked right-wing skinheads in the audience. (Crass avoided taking sides in skirmishes between punk factions: “left wing, right wing, you can stuff the lot.”)

Poster from issue #4 of the Rondos’ fanzine Raket, published September 1979

However, Berger also quotes an eyewitness account by self-identified anti-fascist Martin Lux, who says he was on security that night and mentions no such provocation. Rather, in Lux’s account, a mob of fascists came out to bash heads, not to see the bands: “Around forty plus British Movement skinheads had barged in and were gathered inside the main entrance exuding menace[...] The organisation of the gig had collapsed, Nazis ruled the roost. The only thing holding them back from rampage was that they were waiting for Crass to come on for the finale, then they’d rush and take the stage.” Lux says that he met outside with SWP members he knew from “many a past expedition against the Master Race,” and agreed to their proposal: he’d “keep the lid on it for a couple of hours” while they rounded up an anti-fascist crew to whup Nazis.

The memoir of Crass drummer Penny Rimbaud, Shibboleth: My Revolting Life, gives yet another account of the Rashomon-like event:

[A]ll hell broke loose when we attempted to play a benefit for Persons Unknown at the Conway Hall, London. Sharing the bill with the Rondos, a Dutch band who we had thought were anarchists, but turned out to be hard-line Maoists, the gig had its tensions from the start.

“We are not in favor of patronising the Right,” they had declared on hearing about the skinhead faction of our following. “If there is trouble, we will reciprocate.”

By then, I was pretty certain that if there wasn’t trouble, the Rondos would create it, but I needn’t have worried, there was plenty of it without their help.

Throughout the evening rumours were flying that out of the audience of over seven hundred people, fifty or so skinheads planned to storm the stage during Crass’ performance. It was a rumour we’d heard many times before, one that I felt was not based on any tangible reality, but created out of a sad need for vicarious thrills. Of course some skinheads purported to support the British Movement, but then the Queen purported to support egalitarianism. Very few skinheads were convinced fascists, and even if they were, so what? They were the ones who could have most benefited from what we had to say.

Shortly before we were due to go on, a commotion broke out at the door. We were under attack, not from the British Movement, but from the Red Brigade, Trotskyists who, in their crusade for peoples’ power, had taken it upon themselves to rid the hall of ‘Nazi scum’. Anyone with hair shorter than half an inch, plus a scattering of those unfortunate enough to be wearing a hat that disguised their allegiance, were regarded as fair game. The resultant carnage was ugly, unnecessary and utterly indefensible. The Rondos were nowhere to be seen throughout.

A couple of days later, the ‘Guardian’ ran a report on the evening, claiming that the gig had been broken up by the British Movement who ‘stormed the door with broken bottles and cries of “red bastards”’, a report that created a reputation for violence that became the bane of our life on the road.

Despite several letters to the editor of the ‘Guardian’, in which I demanded that the truth be told, no correction was ever published. The delicate balance that we had been able to maintain between the opposing political camps had been irrevocably destroyed. From then on, believing that we had set them up for a beating, Crass and its followers became targets for repeated British Movement attacks. In one unthinking report, the ‘thinking man’s paper’ had wrecked any possibility of success for our commitment to open dialogue.

Finally, there’s the Rondos’ own account of the show, from the biography section of the band’s website. It’s the only version of the story that includes vegan spring rolls:

The day of the concert arrived, a benefit concert for anarchist prisoners in England. Crass practised the transitions between the songs, which they played without pausing, like they did on their records. We hung around in their delightful garden. Steve Ignorant, Crass’ brilliant singer, polished everyone’s Dr. Martens boots. He asked how we could remain so calm just before a performance. We smiled, because we didn’t understand the question. He told us he kept running to the toilet with nerves all day. We raised our eyebrows. That afternoon we arrived at the Conway Hall in Crass’ van. The place was swarming with skinheads. The fascist National Front had just held a big meeting. In the Conway Hall, of all places.

The atmosphere in the venue just before that night’s performance was vicious. Fights broke out near the toilets in the corridor between different groups of skinheads supporting different football clubs. They marched ostentatiously into the room, with bloody hands and faces. They raised their arms in the Nazi salute. The Rondos played. Apart from the odd broken string the gig went perfect. We got good reactions. Poison Girls played. There was a lot of Hex-like behaviour from female fans. Their vocals were rather theatrical, but still it was a great show, supported noisily by a gang of West Ham skins thrashing the balcony.

Then all hell broke loose. It all happened very fast. People were getting punched and kicked. Panic broke out. The audience scattered. We lifted small skinheads on to the stage so they wouldn’t get trampled. They cried with shock and fear and were barely eleven or twelve years old. People were lying on the floor. The police arrived and cleared the room. The skins were told to hand in their shoelaces. Peace returned and staff scrubbed the floor and mopped up the blood. Apparently, members of the Anti Nazi League and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) had clashed with skinheads of the British Movement and the National Front, who had stayed behind in pubs around the Conway Hall after the NF meeting to come to Crass’ gig that evening. A Jewish activist from the SWP walked up to the stage and pointed his finger at Crass. Your fault!

We grabbed our things and got in the van. We were packed together and very quiet. We went by a Chinese take-away for some vegan spring rolls. At Crass’ place a discussion ensued. The tone was friendly, but still. Shouldn’t you protect yourself from this kind of violence? They frequently wrestled with these problems. Crass had become a target for skinheads who were attracted to their furious music, militant appearance and swastika-like symbols, but who rejected anarchist and pacifist ideas. Crass refused to employ bouncers or let the venue hire them, even though that was a common thing in London in those days. It was a question of principles but should the audience be put through all this? You do invite them to come to your gigs, after all. Is it fair to deliver them unprotected to hordes of skinheads, fascist or not, while you are safely on the stage? It was fair, said Crass, for that was simply the situation in London at that time and they didn’t want to be ‘anti’. Crass said we didn’t understand, coming from the peaceful Netherlands. Crass’ pacifist anarchism, although admirable, opposed The Rondos’ more militant attitude.

We said goodbye the next day. We agreed to do more concerts in England together, organize a common tour of the Netherlands and there were plans to record an LP with Crass’ help. We’d talk about it all later. In the meantime the newspapers in England were full of the Conway Hall battle. The only venue, by the way, that had offered the National Front a space to meet, from the fundamental conviction that everyone has the right of assembly.

Here’s some surprisingly good-looking footage of the band performing three songs. If you like this stuff, there is a box set. A Black & White Statement: The Story of the Rondos contains the Rondos’ complete discography, a live show, a photo book, a comic book, a lyric book, and the band’s autobiography.

Rondos perform “I Got No Time” and “System”

Rondos perform “Russians Are Coming”
Hear the Rondos play a 1978 set of fifteen covers, including the Suicide Commandos’ “Burn It Down.”

Posted by Oliver Hall
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