Co-founder of '70s/'80s anarchist punk band Crass, activist, poet, novelist and philosopher Penny Rimbaud has created an album in which he faithfully recites a collection of Wilfred Owen's War Poetry (backed by jazz cellist Kate Short, and pianist, Liam Noble) in memory of the centenary of Owen's death. The album, 'What Passing Bells', will be released through One Little Indian Records November 10th. 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 to this day runs) the famous anarchist/pacifist open house Dial House in Essex, along with Crass bandmate Gee Vaucher.
In presenting Owen’s poetry in a new way, Rimbaud seeks to introduce Owen's deep sense of humanity to audiences who otherwise might never have heard of him. Penny said: “It is a daunting task, but one which I take on gladly. As Owen himself wrote, ‘the poetry is in the pity’; the most I can do is to attempt to honour that.” Rimbaud was introduced to the poetry of Wilfred Owen as a young chorister, through Benjamin Britten's 'War Requiem'. Immediately moved both by the music and the words, Rimbaud felt that it made sense of a world frozen in the deathly thrall of World War 1. In Penny's words: “More than anything else, it was the line ‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend’ that resonated deep within my young heart. Here was a battle-cry so far from the jingoistic claptrap to which I had hitherto been exposed; an affirmation of love, a call to active peace and, perhaps more crucially, a raison d’être for a stripling on a quest for meaning where before there had seemed to be none. “I was a war baby who, like many, didn’t meet their father until they were three or four, which often was too late. My father brought the war home with him. He never much spoke of it, rather he was imbued with it; it seeped from his every pore. He was distant, absent and cold, and he made me feel fearful. Then how was I to know what horrors had so muted him, horrors which in his imaginings and his dreams would forever be present? “He would speak of “the real world” and how he’d fought for my freedom, but as I grew older I became increasingly cautious of the conditional nature of that freedom. I’d seen pictures of the death camps, knew about atom bombs and was aware of the carnage, but, beyond a sense of uninformed sorrow, I grew to feel loathing and contempt for what seemed be the utter senselessness of it all. My father’s war and his real world had to me become synonymous. “In Owen’s selfless tenderness I had at last found something that made sense within the madness of the warring material world; we are no more, no less than the other, divided only by the fall from grace. “It was from this illumination that I became an active pacifist committed to the promotion of peace and love. It is, then, only natural that I chose to commit myself to present Owen’s poems throughout the centenary years of the euphemistic ‘Great War’. In doing so I am able to honour the great gift that he gave through his life, his works and his untimely death.” Fearing that the centenary of World War 1 might give rise to the kind of jingoism to which Rimbaud had been exposed as a child, and knowing that Owen’s work could dampen even the heartiest of nationalists, Rimbaud determined to perform Owen's ‘War Poems’ as often as possible between 2014 to 2018. However, to do this he first had to compile the poems into a cohesive order – a job that Owen’s death on the front lines had prevented him from doing. Having completed the compilation, Rimbaud then asked two major jazz musicians, cellist Kate Shortt and pianist Liam Noble, to join him on the project. Over the years Rimbaud has performed his own poetry extensively with both of them. The trio gave their first performance of ‘What Passing Bells’ at the Vortex Jazz Club in North London in Spring 2014. The show was a huge success leading to further performances, each being radically different due to their improvisational approach. Now the trio have committed a unique performance to tape, in tribute to the centenary of Owen's death. “The belief that we can and, indeed, should love our enemy is never far from my thoughts and it has informed and guided me in my life as an artist and activist.” - Penny Rimbaud.
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