Preston’s early 1980s anarcho-punk scene was not just about the music, but a pivotal political movement too, as the legend known simply as ‘Stoko’ explained
Memories were stirred recently at the Bitter Suite, as a band who grew out of Preston’s anarcho-punk movement re-formed.
It was in 1982 that Anarka and Poppy were founded by local animal rights activists and anarchists Sean (guitar) and Jane (vocals).
They emerged from a squat scene in Preston, brought together after Nihilist Insurrection, another band Sean and Jane played in, split.
They tackled controversial subject matter from the start, in what proved to be a pivotal time for the city’s underground scene.
Gigs followed in Preston, Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool, Bolton, St Helens and Wigan, almost always benefit gigs for causes close to the band’s hearts.
They continued to produce fanzines and literature over that period, gigging with The Subhumans, Chumbawamba, New Model Army, The Membranes, Disorder, The Electro Hippies and many more happening acts – something of a who’s who of that scene at the time.
Aside from the music, many of the band were involved in protests and direct action, with spells in and out of the police cells, courts, even prison in one case. They recorded a five-track demo tape at Manchester’s Twilight Studios, selling more than 200 copies at £1 a throw.
Success clearly wasn’t part of the remit though, their three-track 1983 single for London’s All the Madmen Records never released, the master tape retained by the bankrupt record company, the band having one copy on tape that somehow got lost over the years.
Within a couple of years, the band’s creators and the band that grew around them had moved on, and Anarka and Poppy split for ‘reasons now forgotten’ in late 1984.
But as original drummer Stoko – aka Michael Stokes – reflected, despite the distinct lack of commercial success, much of what they fought for was finally taken on board by mainstream Britain.
Stoko, now in Ashton-on-Ribble, re-joined forces with Jane Mason for the band’s reunion on Fylde Road.
The duo were part of a Tuff Life Boogie bill that went down a storm, despite the fact that it had been so long since either had played.
Stoko, a high school art teacher in Blackburn these days, took on Sean’s role as guitarist, and was blown away by the experience.
He said: “We lost touch over the years, but through the wonders of Facebook and all that got together again, even if we were missing a few key members.
“Jane and Sean started all this, but the band were a cast of thousands over those next couple of years.
“There was a real party atmosphere for the reunion, with lots of people there that we hadn’t seen for years.”
Stoko joined quite early in their existence, the graphics in a free fanzine by the pair catching his eye, leading to a meeting over a drink.
He said: “Six days later I’d joined them for a first-ever gig, in as a drummer, although I was a guitarist.”
The music, at venues like The King’s Arms, Preston, was secondary to the politics and protests though.
He said: “It was about getting something going, fighting for causes like pain-free cosmetics that this generation might take for granted.
“Go into a high street shop or supermarket now and you find those cosmetics, free-range eggs and much more. That wasn’t the case then. A lot of boxes have been ticked now.
“These were different times, just before the miners’ strike, and the mood in this country was quite dark.
“That said, we found ourselves largely preaching to the converted at gigs then.”
When they were between drummers or bass players, Sean and Jane were happy to gig acoustically, and there were elements of that in the recent reunion.
Stoko added: “We started semi-acoustic, but a fair bit of hardcore punk crept in!”
Originally from Fulwood, he started teaching seven years ago, becoming a graphic artist after his band days, time at art college followed by 10 years working in London.
Now a family man back in his hometown, he’s happily married with two young children. And he feels that the Preston he moved back to was very different from the place he originally left.
He added: “We had a similar mentality in the band, but in those days it was impossible to play. There were no rehearsal rooms, and no one really wanted these snotty, angry punk bands playing their pubs and clubs.
“Instead, we were down to squat gigs and free festivals. But people like Sean and Jane were out there trying to get things going, and very inspirational to the scene.
“If you knock long enough on the door, someone’s going to open it.
“When I moved back after a decade in London, I was amazed how Preston had changed for the better.
“Places like The Mill with rehearsal rooms and purpose-built venues like The Mad Ferret. It was so different for teenagers.”
Stoko added that Sean lives in Shropshire now, and is ‘definitely not a bank manager, still much the same’.
As for Jane, he added: “She was on the travellers’ circuit like Sean for some time, and now lives and works in Wales, and remains very environmentally active.
“She’s also a fantastic singer, and there will be at least one more gig. Now she’s got the bit between her teeth again, she’s desperate to get something going.”
And Anarka and Poppy clearly remain an important part of Preston’s musical heritage, as the messages on Facebook and YouTube about the band on the build-up to their homecoming suggested.