Penny Rimbaud

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Penny Rimbaud
Penny Rimbaud in Girlfriend in a Kimono, (2005)
Penny Rimbaud in Girlfriend in a Kimono, (2005)
Background information
Birth nameJeremy John Ratter
Born (1943-06-08) 8 June 1943 (age 78)
South West London, United Kingdom
GenresAnarcho-punk, spoken word
Occupation(s)Writer, poet, philosopher, performance artist, musician
InstrumentsDrums, vocals
Years active1960s–present
LabelsSmall Wonder, Crass, Exitstencilisms
Associated actsEXIT, Crass, Last Amendment

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


Ratter changed his name by deed poll in 1977, as, in his own words, he "wanted to be his own child." His surname was taken from that of the French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, and his forename of Penny was chosen because Rimbaud's brother Anthony would often call him "a toilet-seat philosopher" (a penny being the price to enter public toilets).[1] The middle name Lapsang was added at the last moment to add "a touch of the exotic".[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

Rimbaud was expelled from two public schools: Brentwood School in South East England and Lindisfarne College in North Wales. In early interviews, he claimed to have studied philosophy at Magdalen College, Oxford, but later claimed that this story had been fabricated "so that they couldn’t disclaim my role as an intellectual."[2]

Artistic life[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. Whilst there, he realised the potential within the then fledgling pop art movement, scoring considerable success as an innovator. His works were included in the Northern Young Contemporaries, which offered him the chance to work at Andy Warhol's Factory studio. He refused the opportunity because he "had better things to do," a decision that he claims to never have regretted.[citation needed]

In 1964, Rimbaud appeared on ITV Granada's Ready Steady Go! to receive a prize from John Lennon after having won a competition to produce artwork depicting the Beatles' song "I Want to Hold Your Hand."[3] Rimbaud worked briefly as an art teacher before becoming disillusioned with education, and then spent some time working as a coalman.[4]

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

In 1967, inspired by the film Inn of the Sixth Happiness,[5] Rimbaud and Vaucher, both vegetarians, set up the anarchist/pacifist open house Dial House in the Epping Forest of southwest Essex, which has now become firmly established as a "centre for radical creativity."[6][7]

Wally Hope's death and Crass[edit]

At Dial House in the early 1970s, Rimbaud co-founded the Stonehenge Festival along with Phil Russell, better known as Wally Hope,[8] as documented in Rimbaud's 1998 autobiography Shibboleth: My Revolting Life. Following his incarceration in a mental institution for possession of LSD, Russell appeared to have been seriously mentally damaged, especially by the side effects of prescription drugs that he had been administered, and subsequently died. Though the official verdict declared Russell's death a suicide, Rimbaud claims that he has uncovered strong evidence that Russell was murdered and that his anger over unanswered questions about the death inspired him to form the anarchist punk band Crass in 1977.

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

Written works[edit]

Rimbaud's written works include the originally self-published Reality Asylum,[9] a vitriolic attack on Christianity that appeared in heavily revised form on Crass' 1978 debut album The Feeding of the 5000, as a longer single[10] and as a 45-minute spoken-word monologue. Other writings include: Rocky Eyed, an extended poem attacking prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her government following the 1982 Falklands War, which was recorded as the Crass album Yes Sir, I Will;[11] The Death of Imagination (a "musical drama in 4 parts"); and The Diamond Signature (published by AK Press). Oh America is a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks and the United States' subsequent war on terror. It 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."[12]

Current work[edit]

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

Since 2003, Rimbaud has worked as part of Last Amendment on live performances and CD releases. 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, which was recorded live at the Vortex Jazz Club. In 2007, Rimbaud worked on a "Jazz Requiem" with saxophonist Ed Jones.[citation needed]

In 2005, Rimbaud completed his philosophical work This Crippled Flesh and appeared in Dominic Thackray's short film Girlfriend in a Kimono.

Rimbaud contributed several spoken-word tracks to the 2008 Japanther album Tut Tut Now Shake Ya Butt and spoken-word vocals for the Charlatans track "I Sing the Body Eclectic" on the album Who We Touch.[13][14] He was also featured in the song "The Furious" on the Bloody Beetroots' 2013 album Hide.

Rimbaud has written introductions to books, including for the controversial The Evil Empire: 101 Ways That England Ruined the World. He is also a regular columnist for the Stoke Newington-based magazine N16.[citation needed]

In 2010, Rimbaud studied with University of New Haven physics professor Matthew W. Griffiths, with whom he collaborated on a book called Tricking the Impossible: An Investigation into Modern Alchemic Thought.[citation needed]

In March 2013, Rimbaud played the part of the wizard Yan Overton in the trailer for the novel The Laila Mythology; the part had been written for him in the book.[citation needed]

In 2014, Rimbaud presented an event at a cultural festival at De Montfort University in Leicester.[citation needed]


  • A Series of Shock Slogans and Mindless Token Tantrums (Exitstencil Press, 1982) (originally issued as a pamphlet with the LP Christ - The Album)
  • 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 also Crass discography. Rimbaud plays on all Crass albums and singles.

  • Christ's Reality Asylum (Crass Records, 1992)
  • The Death of Imagination – 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 – Rimbaud's interpretation of Ginsberg's Howl)
  • In the Beginning Was the WORD – Live DVD recorded in 2004 at the Progress Bar in London, performed by Crass Agenda
  • 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)


  • For These Who Die As Cattle – A recital of Wilfred Owen's War Poetry, with jazz cellist Kate Short, and pianist, Liam Noble, filmed at King’s College Chapel 2016.
  • How – A reinterpretation of Allen Ginsberg’s classic 1954 poem ‘Howl’ with cellist Kate Short - filmed at London’s Abney Park Chapel in Summer 2017.
  • Time and Place – A lockdown movie originally shown Rebellion 2020 Online Festival. Final cut to be released in 2021, filmed by Skype.


  1. ^ "The Quietus | Features | A Quietus Interview | Penny Rimbaud On Crass & The Poets Of Transcendentalism & Modernism". The Quietus. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  2. ^ Brimmers, Julian (3 April 2014). "Crass' Penny Rimbaud on graffiti, jazz and John Lennon". Red Bull Music Academy. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  3. ^ Berger, George The Story of Crass (Omnibus Press, 2006, page 17)
  4. ^ Video on YouTube
  5. ^ There is No Authority But Yourself, dir. Alexander Oey, 2006
  6. ^ Mikse, Ollie (9 July 2009). "Interviews: Penny Rimbaud (Crass)". Archived from the original on 26 August 2014. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  7. ^ Capper, Andy (1 March 2017). "Anarchy and Peace with Penny Rimbaud of Crass" (video and text). Noisey. Archived from the original on 26 August 2018. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  8. ^ "Red Bull Music Academy". Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  9. ^ [1] Archived 26 June 2003 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ [2] Archived 15 April 2003 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ [3] Archived 24 July 2003 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "Transmissions from Southern | The Southern Records Weblog". Southern. Archived from the original on 29 August 2009. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  13. ^ "Music Interview: The Charlatans – Top Stories". Yorkshire Evening Post. 7 October 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  14. ^ "The Charlatans - Who We Touch". Retrieved 13 July 2015.

External links[edit]