Penny Rimbaud – Arthur Rimbaud In Verdun (One Little Independent Records) –
The short review: Is the album worth investing time in? ‘coarse it is, ‘course it is, Penny Rimbaud, the legendary punk poet, writer, painter, multi-instrumentalist and co-founder of seminal anarchist outfit Crass, has released his new album ‘Arthur Rimbaud In Verdun, go search it out, you don’t need reviews these days, just the signposts that point you to the things worth your time and effort. Now head for the longer review and those signpost links at the end if you want to cut to the chase instead…
The long review: Oh the very murder of it, it is already done, and in my ears, the pith of denial, touch me, no one ever said it was gonna be easy, you surely already know we’re not talking easy listening or indeed an easy listen, but then no one ever expect anything other than hard-boiled did they? This new Penny Rimbaud album is a beast that demands full attention. It demands you listen to the words, the crowns, the thorns and nails, the forgive me and the don’t know what I want but I know how to get it, the drop the cover, arse an invite, wanna give it try, something like that, words beckoning, rebuking, wild me, or so they say. Crass were easy to listen to, as hard-boiled ranting existentialist maximalist ranting question-throwing anarcho punk goes it was always easy to listen to, this on the other hand is hard work, it take all the confidingness of art and culture and the who’s going where or maybe just an ill conceived jest or did he just ask if it was another poxy lie?
Some of ‘Arthur Rimbaud In Verdun’ comes flavoured with the floating anarchy of Gong, some of it by John Coltrane, but f*ck you, yes she’ll f*ck you well, you and your buttoned up sense of right or wrong and Gong were always a punk band and the hippies do all wear black now (they have done for years) and well once you get over the the first few moments of the “what the hell is this?” and you start to find something like some relative comfort in the flow and the words, in the flow of the words, once you find flow and the words start to catch ears and minds and pictures form like the pea green sea and distant rumbles and no explosion and punctuation of divinities and for a moment you escape the battle fog and then kaboom, up against the wall, don’t shoot, f*ck me instead. The symphonics of rage accompanied by little more than the sound of of wild but not intruding saxophones and the torn and the raged and your skull blown open and your tales of heroic stories and classroom glories or something like that.
Three sax players and a voice, a spoken word performance reading or stream of something along those lines. No one ever said it was going to easy, the slime of puss and gore, is it enjoyable? Never, of course it isn’t, but it is, it is so so perversely brilliantly enjoyable – the joy of the performance, the flow of things, the lines that catch you, the delivery and more than anything else, once you get of the initial encounter and let it flow, the words themselves. Words strung upon lines, lurid, plumbing the pudding, is this glory or just another day? Certainly not just another album, but then it never could be could it? This is Crass in 2000, or at least one of them Crass people.
Turned my boy, grind this grandeur and if you or I are hearing right, did I catch that right? More attention needed next time around, this is not for the background, although, it might be perfect playing there like pop music in the background and on repeat – hear the marks, hear the stars, the very murder of it. Age before time, balls to Picasso, knickers in a twist, I need some air, bloody hell! Pigeons picking at the vomit, gutsy and free, breaking form well, eat shit and have a nice day…
Another wizz bang takes to the air, I’ll read the press release in a moment, call of the moon or some words or an explanation or clarification although I think I have a good idea what’s going on now? Gag me with a spoon, what would the Valley girls say? Okay fine, for sure, for sure, what would anyone say? Who really knows what went on back there in the tranches or behind the lines? Slight in form, gross in content, how would anyone deal with it? How did Great Grandad John deal with it? He would never say, or if he very rarely did then all you got was “It wasn’t right, I can’t say what I saw but it wasn’t right” – he was tough man, a little man, a prize fighter from a Shropshire town, John Henry Worrall. And what would Arthur Rimbaud make of it, or for that matter would he be banned from the Roxy and have his work questioned parliament as well? I doubt he would want to read at the Roxy anyway (and what would Hunter make of now and Trump and 2020 oh but that’s for another day, oh how we want some people to live through things they missed just for us to read what they’d make of it all). Disfigured past? A no man’s land? A suggestion of a travesty? A buttoned up sense of self?
But wait now, it has been on repeat for most of the daylight hours today, a first proper listen, freshly unwrapped and and accompanying CD booklet explored. I type, paintbrush on mouth, so no pronunciation of thought or folly or escape the battle front. On repeat, kaboom comes around again, don’t shoot, again, again. You see this is it actually a difficult album to turn off, hellish outrage, smothered in tar, share desire…. and I only just this moment read the press release, and yes Jackson Pollock had already suggested an influence, a controlled flick of wordery dripped in there with those saxophones and yes, Coltrane illuminating the slight of hand and the headlined newspaper in the rain-soaked wind, buy now, bye now.
And what starts off hard-boiled and difficult become of a flowing thing of (not quite) beauty, words and riffs taking flight against each other, with each other, for each other, poetic, spoken, spirited, angry, calm, calming… (SW)
You can listen to the whole thing and indeed order it should you wish via Bandcamp
Penny Rimbaud, the legendary punk poet, writer, painter, multi-instrumentalist and co-founder of seminal anarchist outfit Crass, has released his new album ‘Arthur Rimbaud In Verdun’ via One Little Independent Records.
A fiction constructed by Penny, out of interest as to the possible outcome, places the French poet Arthur Rimbaud (who died in 1891) at the historic and tragic battle of Verdun in 1916. The idea being that Penny found something to be explored in the possibilities of the young vagabond and his perception of such drastic events.
“Truth is, I landed him there because I was fascinated to know just how this greatest of French poets might cope against the enormities of war” he tells us, “I wondered what lessons would be learnt which could then be conveyed to a planet still so obsessed with conflict, grief and suffering.”
Taking influence from the sounds of John Coltrane and the visuals of Jackson Pollock, Penny ventured into the unknown with his idol and namesake to bring us a truly unique high-concept album and gripping tale of death and romance.
“I shared his humour and his sorrow, his passion and his poetics, albeit sometimes tiring of his obsessions” Penny ruminates. “How many times must he have cried ‘look’ regarding something that I simply couldn’t see. ‘Over there. Look, look, over there,’ where to me there was only darkness and death. When most fatigued, he’d often call me Paul, but most times I was too tired to respond. But love we did, fed by flares, shattered by shells, blistered by the blasts, arm in arm ‘til arms there were none. Although most of those who we met along those turgid tunnels of death might at one time or another have fallen for self-pity, Arthur would have none of it. Anything and everything could be retranslated to challenge bourgeoise conceits or reformed to defy materialist dogma.
We were lovers. We were friends, sublime in our kinship, but I have a strange feeling that neither of us survived the terror of Verdun. Together we wallowed in the mincemeat scrunch of gore and bone and torn flesh, not knowing which of us was what, and never mind the who that was so cruelly unified as one within the squelch. Yes, we were detritus, and in that we found ourselves and each other. The void was complete, and another dawn broke above the carnage.”
Dark and vivid jazz-infused ambience is punctured by Penny’s spoken word lyricism painting pictures of the chaotic experience of World War 1. Maniacally delivered readings are ruthless in their detailed realism, not only well researched but so convincingly told it’s easy to forget it’s a narrative. Exceptionally realised, brutal at times and incredibly poignant in others, ‘Arthur Rimbaud In Verdun’ is unlike anything else in subject or sound.
Penny is joined by a host of revered saxophonists that helped him to complete his vision. Evan Parker, recognised worldwide as one of jazz’s most respected players. Ingrid Laubrock, now a resident in New York and fast becoming a major voice as a highly inventive freeform player and as a composer. Finally, Louise Elliott, who stands as an outsider having come to jazz through the sensitivities of classical training mixed with punk and all its raucous sense of attack. The three players together make for a staggering display of sax pyrotechnics matching Penny’s multidimensional poetry and dramatic approach to performance.
About Penny Rimbaud -In 1977, alongside Steve Ignorant, Penny Rimbaud co-founded seminal anarchist punk band Crass, who disbanded in 1984. Up until 2000, he devoted himself almost entirely to writing, returning to the public platform in 2001 as a performance poet working alongside a wide variety of jazz musicians. In 2003, together with Crass vocalist Eve Libertine, he founded what was at first known as ‘The Crass Collective’, then ‘The Crass Agenda’, then ‘The Last Amendment’ and finally ‘L’Académie des Vanités’ – a loose collective of jazz musicians, artists and filmmakers who shared Rimbaud’s lifelong interest in progressive, improvisational art. Rimbaud, a veteran of avant-garde performance art groups such as EXIT and Ceres Confusion, not only co-founded Stonehenge Free Festival, but he also founded and, along with Gee Vaucher, to this day runs the legendary anarchist/pacifist open house Dial House in Essex. (Organ note: Some of us might question that bit about Stonehenge)
About Arthur Rimbaud – Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was a French poet known for his influence on modern literature, particularly surrealism. He produced the bulk of his literary output during adolescence and young adulthood and stopped writing at the age of 20. Rimbaud was known to have been a libertine and a restless soul, having engaged in a hectic, at-times-violent romantic relationship with fellow poet Paul Verlaine, which lasted nearly two years. After he stopped writing, he travelled extensively on three continents as a merchant and explorer, until his death from cancer just after his thirty-seventh birthday