Eagle Spits is probably not his birth name but does seem to suit a character who nearly 40 years after his initial involvement in punk is still going strong- still angry, hopeful, humourous, militating for change. After meeting in the summer and then going along to a ‘Punk 4 The Homeless’ gig I asked Eagle if he would mind answering a few questions…
Q, When did you start to self identify as a punk? What was it that attracted you, what did punk mean to you then-and what does it mean now?
It all began when I was 14 which was 38 years ago. I had heard about punk rock, the mass hysteria it had caused in the media. How it was rebellious, anti authoritarian, disgusting and something to be stayed away from. I was intrigued. At the same time I was searching for an identity. I was a troublesome kid and although I didn’t realize it back then I had blanked the whole of my childhood out due to being sexually abused (all that stuff came flooding back when I was 27. I had started my mental health nurse training, was in a classroom learning about sexual abuse issues..zap, there it was) so I was really lost with no sense of self and no roots. Then one day I walked into the living room and The Stranglers were on TOTP. They blew me away, the energy, power, freshness. I had never heard anything like it. I went out and bought the ‘No More Heroes’ single (much to my parents disgust) then a couple more singles and The Clash first album. First band I got to see were Sham 69 (at Cambridge Corn Exchange) which turned out to be a blood bath with the National Front kicking the crap out of everybody. Then me and my mates got nicked back at the railway station because some skinheads came in and smashed the waiting room up. We spent the night in the cells and the cops gave us a lift home the next morning because they realized we were innocent (sitting in a cell for something I hadn’t done) and we were just kids. I had loads of great times at punk gigs but there was always violence due to the Far Right. One of those great experiences was when my school thought it would be funny to send this young punk to a posh hotel in Peterborough, The Bull, but it back fired because The Clash (my all time fave band) booked in, befriended me and my friends and took us to the sound check where we spent lots of quality time partying with them and The Slits. Obviously the punk scene helped me to form a political awareness (although the Left in the form of the WRP and Far Right in the form of the NF tried to hijack things). When I was sixteen Crass brought out ‘The Feeding of the 5000’, which I thought was the funniest thing I had ever heard until I realized they were being serious, and the anarcho punk thing started. I had considered my self to be an anarchist for about 3 years but that scene helped me on my way. So I was involved in the punk scene early on but have often found it a bit naff and hypocritical over the years. Loads of the bands were signing to major labels, obviously The Clash and The Pistols but even those who should have known better; Chumbawamba, New Model Army and Blaggers ITA signing to EMI (probably the biggest arms dealers in the world still, for fuck’s sake). So yes I am still involved in the punk scene but one which has a DIY, fuck corporate bollocks attitude. The punk scene can be very narrow minded with people struggling with stuff which doesn’t fit the genre, which most of the stuff I tend to be involved with doesn’t. So yes I am a punk if punk is an attitude but no if its someone who just consumes generic, unchallenging crap. I still comfortably sport a bright coloured mowhawk but I am not interested in bands who just want to be rock stars. I am still naive enough to want to change the world and despite it’s problems believe the punk scene can be a major part of that.
Q. I think you would call yourself an anarchist. What do you mean by that? How would you describe anarchism? For you are anarchism and punk synonymous?
Yes I am an anarchist from the same school as Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Day and Jesus Christ with a touch of William Godwin. I don’t believe we need external governments, police or the military running things. In fact I see them as enemies that we need to resist as much as possible. Tolstoy pointed out that there has not been a war in history which hasn’t been caused by government. I think as part of that I need to disentangle myself from the world’s systems as much as possible and not accept Caesar’s coin. As for defining anarchism I can’t but for me its obvious that if we live in a more natural environment we behave better as a species but there are those who do not want this because power and wealth are too important to them. So basically I believe all we need to thrive as a species are two laws (although they are not laws at all but the working out of natural attributes), the law of love and the law of reason. Then we would have what I believe to be an anarchist system. I do not see punk as always being synonymous with anarchism. When a young John Lydon was screaming that he was an anarchist I doubt if he had read Bakunin, Proudhon, Kropotkin etc., it took bands like Crass to bring in a bit of thought, but it was a bloody good catalyst for change.
Q. As someone involved in punk since the 70s have you been encouraged by how its evolved-or is it too diverse to be able to make generalisations?
I got involved in 1976 and have to give you a yes and no answer. Being someone who got beaten up for being a punk in 1977 I am pleased that hostility has, to a very large degree, disappeared. As for its evolution I believe the punk attitude has existed forever. Sure it showed itself in the punk rock scene but also very much in the bebop jazz scene, the beatniks, the folkies etc. etc. It was the attitude of ‘Fuck this shit we are going to change things’ by doing things our way, on our terms. When The Clash were getting crap for making music which didn’t fit the generic punk style Strummer said “I thought we were a fucking punk band. I thought that meant we could play what we wanted” and I totally agree. Unfortunately it is easy to see in hindsight that the majors and the mainstream music press needed resisting from the start but it wasn’t obvious exactly what could be done without them. So today I see a much better scene in DIY but that would not always be seen as a punk thing- hope that makes sense!
Q. How about your own evolution! Over the period you have been writing lyrics and poetry has the subject matter changed as well as your own understandings?
Well I started writing when I was 14 and many of the subjects remain important to me today from anti nuclear “Three mile island what happened there? You fucking know but you don’t care. Its alright its a safe device but the impossible accident happened twice” to the anti commercialization of punk “I’m a punk look at me, bondage strides and pvc’s, 17 quid, so were these, from a shop called Boy and Seditionaries”. But now there’s issues of drones, badger culls, Atos etc. all issues which need sorting. Plus I am a Christian anarchist so those issues crop up in my writing. Often pointing out social injustice and hypocrisy (although I think you have to be pretty damned perfect to call someone an hypocrite and I am not) within systems and organizations. Issues of poverty, oppression, injustice are all part of what I am about. I guess I have always been concerned with the spiritual side of things and ‘meeting’ the “Agitator from Nazareth” not only opened me up more spiritually but also got me more involved in social justice issues and action etc. So I guess my writing has matured with age, has a slight touch of spirituality and is more informed because I am more involved. Less ‘Fuck this fucking world’ more ‘Change this fucking world’.
Q. You are involved with two bands ‘The Poor Geezers’ and ‘Spitune’-what sort of musical styles and subject matter do they explore?
It gets worse than that. I also perform as part of a dark ambient, industrial, punk poetry duo called EAGLESPITSHEXX and do poetry gigs as Eagle Spits. The Poor Geezers is basically myself and a chap called Dean P Riches who drums with his feet whilst playing acoustic guitar who also sings and plays harmonica. The best description was by Dave HT from Fungalpunk Webzine who called us Patchwork Punk because we chuck everything in the mix, punk, psychobilly, folk, blues, gospel, anything we fancy. Its usually about issues but occasionally personal stuff creeps in. We both write lyrics and were both involved with mental health services and drugs counselling so both of us have a dark sense of humour which also creeps in. Spitune are best described as Anarcho, Industrial, Dub Punk with Krautrock influences experimentation. We are not easy listening. Stephen Surreal creates the music, plays keys, synth, bass, boran. He is into loads of stuff like Coil, Throbbing Gristle and tons of dub. I write most of the lyrics although there’s one of Stephen’s on the new album alongside a Crass cover (Bloody Revolutions) and a King Blues cover (Shooting Fascists). Again its mainly about issues. I shout, clank and crash stuff with a mallet and play the fire extinguisher. Rachel Joy, sings, clanks, plays the washboard and a pagan drum. We sometimes have a drummer and often members of the audience join in in a kind of music therapy way. Other people occasionally join with The Poor Geezers too, Danny Ratcatcher has played double bass in both bands although there was one occasion where he couldn’t bring his bass on the train so he brought a stylaphone instead. So anything pretty much goes. Punk poet Dwane Reads has often played drums for Spitune. So I guess we want to fuck shit up and stretch people. At recent gigs Spitune have had reference points as diverse as Faust, Captain Beefheart, Sheep on Drugs, Hawkwind and PIL used about them. 99% of the time all the outfits I am involved with play alongside punk bands and we are definitely part of the DIY scene.
Q. ‘Punk 4 The Homeless’ is something you are very involved with-can you tell us what that is all about? Does that include the ‘Punks and Poets’ evenings?
‘Punk 4 The Homeless’ was set up my myself 5 years ago (although I have been putting gigs on for the same cause for well over a decade) to raise money and awareness for street children by putting on punk gigs and festivals (all over the UK) , bringing out compilations and selling T-shirts etc. We even ran our own radio show until the station closed down. In Latin America the kids live on rubbish tips and are seen as vermin by the authorities and police who kill them. Hence the slogan on the ‘Punk 4 The Homeless’ shirts reads “Stopping cops killing kids is punk rock”. We work very closely with Casa Alianza who are a small charity who get the children into orphanages and education and give them a future. That in brief is what we do but alongside that we like to encourage youngsters to get involved and collaborate with lots of other not-for-profits. There’s been loads of great people in the punk scene who have helped us from promoters to bands, from zines to radio stations etc. Loads of generosity. I was living in Boston, Lincolnshire before getting married and moving to Nottingham a couple of years ago and was using a hall within a big old Methodist church to put the gigs on. The church folk even bought us a P.A. so we didn’t have to keep hiring, all at no cost. I don’t see ‘Punk 4 The Homeless’ as charity I see us as a movement because together we can fucking change things. And if the kids are united maybe we can stop the cops kicking them to death.
Q. Playing in different bands and organising must involve a lot of collaboration-is that something you find valuable and enjoy?
I love collaborations but as a promoter I tend to want to do everything unless I can totally trust people to do what they say otherwise things don’t get done but there is now several people I trust but it has taken about 30 years to get this far. I have always been involved in promoting fundraisers etc. but only performing myself for about 14 years. I tend to create with those round me who want to do shit and cause change. DIY is very much part of a brighter future as I see things. Work together and survive outside of the system.
Q. You have spent a lot of years in activism and challenging people to engage with social issues-how have you managed to avoid burn out and becoming jaded?
By having fun and having ADHD, moving onto the next thing quickly whilst going backwards and forwards, juggling a stack of balls at the same time and having a patchwork life. Very irritating I guess but works for me. I not only want a revolution I can dance in I want to dance, scream, shout around, paint everywhere, cause mayhem, break boundaries, break punk rock, live life in its fullness and nick Bakunin’s brandy. We are in a tough battle but lets throw the party where everyone’s invited. Punk rock, the kingdom of heaven and Bahktin’s carnival theory. Then after breakfast…
Q. What books, bands and people do you find interesting and inspiring?
I love the Bible. I agree with Tolstoy that Jesus’ message was the most liberating message ever but in the hands of the church it has become the most oppressive. The message is bloody simple and radical; love, and freedom happens. Tolstoy I love. Dorothy Day, Hennessey, Crass, Strummer, Atari Teenage Riot, Sun Ra, Peter Tosh, MLK, Kropototkin, Bakunin, Herman Hesse, Thelonious Monk, Can, Mary Shelley, William Godwin, Attila the Stockbroker, Nick Cave, Pigface, Scott Walker, Tom Waits, Zounds, Rob Bell, Dom Helder Camara, Jesus, Chomsky, Charlie Parker, Blind Willie Johnson, Christopher Hill, Diogenes, Faust, Sheep on Drugs, Kierkergaard, The Swans, Killdozer, Dickens, Victor Hugo, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Batman, Iain Banks, Eagle Spits, Lee Perry, Mahler, Blake, William Morris, Eli Weisel, Gandhi, Simone Weil, Emma Goldman, Dean Kennedy’s, MDC, The Cramps, Wire, The Sonics, Marlon Brando, DR Zeus, GG Allin, Mother Teresa, Woody Guthrie, Gerard Wynstanley, John Steinbeck, The Violent Femmes, Johnny Cash, Viktor Frankl, Carl Jung and anybody else who gives a shit.