The Day the Country Died: A History of Anarcho Punk: 1980-1984 By Ian Glasper, 471 pgs. By Kevin Dunn

Sep 25, 2014

This book covers the first few years of the founding of the anarcho punk movement in the U.K. For The Day The Country Died: A History of Anarcho Punk 1980-1984, Glasper conducted hundreds of interviews with band members associated with those heady days, when British anarcho punks believed that they were engaged in a vital struggle against the country’s swerve to the political right, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the top and a growing gang of quasi-fascists in the streets. Those early years seem so distant, especially when today’s American anarcho punks often seem primarily concerned with the best ways to score pizza out of a dumpster. I don’t mean that as a cheap shot. I’m not an anarchist, but I am sympathetic to their beliefs, even if I often have little patience with the hippie-wannabes who pass themselves off as crust punks. But this book does a good job of exploring how, in the early days of U.K. anarcho punk, elements from two subculture strands—hippie anarchists and political DIY punks—came together to form something of a movement.

The Day The Country Died is over 450 pages, but don’t be scared away by that. It is full of black-and-white photos, and broken up into bite-sized chunks that focus on individual bands. In fact, the organization of the book is really smart, but not without problems. What Glasper does is divide up the book into sections that focus on specific geographical scenes (such as North and Northeast London, South and Southeast London, South and Southwest England, Wales, and so on) covering all of the U.K. He then subdivides each of those geographical sections to focus on individual bands. For example, chapter nine on Scotland is divided into four parts, focusing on Oi Polloi, Political Asylum, Alternative, and AOA respectively. And each band’s section contains a “Selected Discography,” which is a valuable resource. This structure works well because it gives each band a singular focus. Each section is richly detailed with lengthy quotes from interviews that provide the historical evolution of that particular band, but also reflect on what the principal actors thought and felt about a range of issues. You also get a sense of how distinct the various geographic scenes were: what local issues they were facing as well as the personal dynamics and challenges within each scene. 

What is somewhat lost is the ways the scenes interacted with each other. The interviews clearly show a great deal of communication and connectivity between bands and scenes, but Glasper rarely steps back often enough or far enough to provide a bigger picture. That was frustrating at times. Also frustrating was the fact that a book organized around bands inevitably overlooks the non-band elements of any scene. What about the zines, labels, artists making posters and folks booking shows? Again, it is clear from the interviews that the non-musical support structure for the anarcho punk scenes was extremely important, but as a reader we are left to fill in a lot of blanks.

These drawbacks are unfortunate, but don’t diminish what Glasper has pulled off here. This book is a monumental accomplishment. He covers around eighty bands—some of which you will already be familiar with, like Crass, Conflict, and Subhumans, but many you probably aren’t—such as Icon D, The Xpozez and Untermensch, to name a few. And while the more influential bands get slightly more space, even the lesser known bands are given a great deal of attention and respect. The interviews that underpin the book are widespread and insightful. Sure, they tend towards glorification of the scene, but they are not without a strong dose of critical reflection. Of course, I would like to have seen more attention to how anarcho punks worked out the little details of life (e.g., how did a band collective insure equity of workload?), but there is so much in here that is hard to be disappointed. 

There is a DVD out with the same title that covers similar ground (I can’t recall Glasper’s relationship to that documentary, but I’m pretty sure he is interviewed in it). The film is good—especially because you get to hear the music—but the book is much, much better. It covers far more ground and goes far deeper. Even if you have only a passing interest in these bands or in anarcho punk in general, this is a great treasure. –Kevin Dunn (Cherry Red Books, 3a Long Island House, Warple Way, London W3 ORG)