Penny Rimbaud

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Penny Lapsang Rimbaud
GirlfriendInaKimono PennyRimbaud.jpg
Penny Rimbaud in Girlfriend in a Kimono, (2005)
Background information
Birth name Jeremy John Ratter
Born (1943-06-08) 8 June 1943 (age 72)
South West London, United Kingdom
Occupation(s) Writer, poet, philosopher, performance artist, musician
Instruments Drums
Years active 1960s–present
Labels Small Wonder, Crass, Exitstencilisms
Associated acts Exit, Crass, Last Amendment, Bloody Beetroots

Jeremy John Ratter (born 8 June 1943) is better known as Penny (Lapsang) Rimbaud. He is a writer, poet, philosopher, painter, musician and activist. He was a former member of the performance art groups EXIT and Ceres Confusion, and in 1972 was co-founder with Phil Russell aka Wally Hope of the Stonehenge Free Festival. In 1977, alongside Steve Ignorant, he co-founded the seminal anarchist punk band Crass which disbanded in 1984. From that time up until 2000 he devoted himself almost entirely to writing, returning to the public platform in 2001 as a performance poet working alongside Australian saxophonist Louise Elliott and a wide variety of jazz musicians under the umbrella of Penny Rimbaud's Last Amendment.

Early life[edit]

Having very early on fallen foul of his father's 'real world', Rimbaud adopted a youthful waywardness which developed later into a committed form of bohemianism. Contemptuous of any authority, he was expelled from two public schools, Brentwood School in South East England and Lindisfarne College in North Wales. Rather than joining the ranks of the unemployed, he elected to study philosophy at Magdalen College, Oxford, before quickly realising that, in his own words, 'Oxford wasn't about learning, but about a peculiarly unpleasant form of class indoctrination'.[1]


Ratter's name of choice, Rimbaud, the French symbolist poet, was deed polled in 1977. In his own words he 'wanted to be his own child.' His Oxbridge brother, Anthony, had often referred to him as being 'a toilet-seat philosopher' which prompted him to choose the forename Penny, that being the currency necessary at the time for entry into public toilets. The middle name "Lapsang" was added at the last moment to add what Rimbaud felt was 'a touch of the exotic'.

A life of art[edit]

Rimbaud enrolled at the South East Essex Technical College and School of Art in the early 1960s, where he met his lifelong creative partner Gee Vaucher. While there, he was quick to realise the potential within the then fledgling pop art movement, scoring considerable success as an innovator. His works were included in the Northern Young Contemporaries and on the back of this he was offered the possibility of working at Andy Warhol's 'Factory'. He refused on the grounds that he 'had better things to do', something which he claims never to have regretted. In 1964 he appeared on Granada TV's Ready Steady Go! to receive a prize from John Lennon for winning a competition staged by the pop show "Ready Steady Go!" to produce a piece of artwork depicting The Beatles' song "I Wanna Hold Your Hand[2] Rimbaud worked briefly as an art teacher before becoming disillusioned with education and then spent some time working as a coalman.[3]

Words and action[edit]

Penny Rimbaud (on the composting toilet) and Gee Vaucher, 2002

In 1967, inspired by the film Inn of the Sixth Happiness,[4] Rimbaud set up the anarchist/pacifist open house, Dial House, in Essex, UK, which has now become firmly established as a 'centre for radical creativity'. It was from there, in the early seventies, that alongside Phil Russell aka Wally Hope he co-founded the Stonehenge Festival as documented in his autobiography of 1998, 'Shibboleth – my revolting life'.

Phil Russell's death and the birth of Crass[edit]

As documented in 'Shibboleth', Russell was arrested and incarcerated in a mental institution after having been found in possession of a small amount of LSD. He was later released, but appeared to have been seriously mentally damaged by his experiences, especially the side effects of prescription drugs that he had been administered, and subsequently died. The official verdict is that Russell committed suicide, although Rimbaud claims that he uncovered strong evidence that he was murdered. Rimbaud has also stated that it was his anger over unanswered questions surrounding his friend's death that fuelled and inspired him in 1977 to form Crass, the anarchist punk band whose frequent battles with the authorities, notably the government of Margaret Thatcher, are well documented in Shibboleth.

When Crass disbanded in 1984, Rimbaud adopted an almost hermit-like existence, writing and publishing poetry, philosophy, essays, novels and plays. In 2001 he returned to the public platform as a performance poet, firstly working alongside saxophonist Ed Jones and then with Louise Elliott who has now become his full-time accompanist. In 2003, with Crass vocalist Eve Libertine, he founded what at first was the Crass Collective, then the Crass Agenda and finally the Last Amendment. Last Amendment is a loose collective of jazz musicians, artists and filmmakers sharing Rimbaud's lifelong interest in progressive, improvisational art.

Written works[edit]

His works include the originally self-published Reality Asylum,[5] a vitriolic attack on Christianity which in heavily revised form was featured on Crass' 1978 debut album The Feeding of the 5000, as a longer single[6] and as a 45-minute spoken word monologue.

He also wrote Rocky Eyed, an extended poem attacking then prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her government following the 1982 Falklands War which was recorded as the Crass album Yes Sir, I Will,[7] The Death of Imagination (a 'musical drama in 4 parts'), The Diamond Signature (published by AK Press) and Oh America, a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks and America's subsequent War on Terror which includes the line Give us justice which is not the searing spite of revenge, peace which is not the product of war nor dependent upon it.[8]

Current work[edit]

Penny Rimbaud performing with Last Amendment at The Vortex, Hackney, 30 November 2006

Since 2003 he has worked as part of Crass Agenda (later Last Amendment), performing live and releasing CDs. Titles include Savage Utopia, a collaboration with Coldcut's Matt Black and other jazz musicians, and How?, a reworking of Allen Ginsberg's beat poem Howl, recorded live at the Vortex Jazz Club.

During 2005 Rimbaud completed a philosophical work "This Crippled Flesh" (first and second editions published by Bracketpress, 2010), as well as appearing in Dominic Thackray's short film Girlfriend in a Kimono.

He has written introductions to books including the controversial The Evil Empire: 101 Ways That England Ruined the World and in 2007 was working on a "Jazz Requiem" with saxophonist Ed Jones. He is also a regular columnist for the Stoke Newington based magazine N16.[citation needed]

He contributed several spoken word tracks to the 2008 Japanther album Tut Tut Now Shake Ya Butt. Rimbaud also features on the 2010 album by The Charlatans (UK band) Who We Touch.[9] Most recently (September/October/November 2010), he has been studying with Dr Matthew W Griffiths, Professor of Physics at the University of New Haven. They are currently co-authoring a book – Tricking the Impossible: An Investigation into Modern Alchemic Thought – about which Rimbaud asserts on Street Carnage that 'quantum is the new poetry of the soul'.[citation needed]

He has performed in the song "The Furious" of The Bloody Beetroots from their 2013's album 'Hide.'

In March of 2013 Penny performed the part of the wizard Yan Overton for the trailer 'The Laila Mythology'. A part that was written for him from the novel of the same name.

On Friday 21 February 2014 Rimbaud presented an event 'The Punk Scholars Network in Association with Cultural Exchanges presents: Penny Rimbaud' at De Montfort University in Leicester as a part of the University's 2014 Cultural Exchanges Festival


  • A Series of Shock Slogans And Mindless Token Tantrums (Exitstencil Press, 1982) (originally issued as a pamphlet with the LP Christ - The Album, much of the text is now published online at[10])
  • Shibboleth- My Revolting Life (Penny Rimbaud, 1999, AK Press)
  • The Diamond Signature (Penny Rimbaud, 1999, AK Press)
  • An extensive interview with Rimbaud appears in issue 29 of The Idler magazine
  • In The Beginning…Was The Word (Penny Rimbaud, 2005, Bracketpress)
  • Freedom Is Such A Big Word (Penny Rimbaud, 2006, Bracketpress)
  • Methinks (Penny Rimbaud, 2006, Bracketpress)
  • How? (Penny Rimbaud, 2006, Bracketpress)
  • The Conveniences of Philosophy (Penny Rimbaud, 2007, Bracketpress)
  • Smile or Smirk? (Penny Rimbaud, 2007, Bracketpress)
  • And Now It Rains (Penny Rimbaud, 2007, Bracketpress)
  • I The Indigene & Africa Seems So Far Away (Penny Rimbaud, 2007, Bracketpress)
  • Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out (Penny Rimbaud, 2008, Bracketpress)
  • Nobody's Child (Penny Rimbaud, 2008, Bracketpress)
  • The Last of the Hippies (Penny Rimbaud, 2008, Active Distribution)
  • This Crippled Flesh – A Book of Philosophy and Filth (Penny Rimbaud, 2010, Bracketpress/Exitstencil Press)
  • Particular Nonsense (essay) The Idler, No.43 'Back to the Land' May 2010


See full Crass discography. Rimbaud plays on all albums and singles.

  • Christ's Reality Asylum (Crass records, 1992)
  • The Death of Imagination – A Musical Drama (Red Herring Records, 1995, featuring Eve Libertine, with vocals by anti-humanist artist A-Soma and music by A-Soma and Sarah Barton.)
  • Savage Utopia (Babel Label, 2004, performed by Crass Agenda)
  • How? (Babel Label, 2004 – Rimbauds interpretation of Ginsberg's Howl)
  • In the Beginning Was the WORD – Live DVD recorded at the Progress Bar, Tufnell Park, London, 18 November 2004, performed by Crass Agenda (Gallery gallery Productions @ Le Chaos Factory, 2006)
  • Tut,Tut, Now Shake Ya Butt with Brooklyn based duo Japanther (Truth Cult, 2007)
  • Acts of Love – fifty poems set to music, featuring Eve Libertine, recorded 1984 (Existstencilism, 2012)


  1. ^ Interview published in Raindance Film Magazine (September 2002)
  2. ^ Berger, George The Story of Crass (Omnibus Press, 2006, page 17)
  3. ^ Video on YouTube
  4. ^ There is No Authority But Yourself, dir. Alexander Oey, 2006
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ [2][dead link]
  7. ^ [3][dead link]
  8. ^ "Transmissions from Southern | The Southern Records Weblog". Southern. Retrieved 5 July 2012. 
  9. ^ "Music Interview: The Charlatans – Top Stories". Yorkshire Evening Post. 7 October 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2012. 
  10. ^ [4][dead link]

External links[edit]