“I’m a lucky bastard with the opportunities playing in bands has brought me”. Interview with Dark Harvest Commandos

Disaffect, Quarantine, Thisclose, Bloodshot are just a few names DHC members played in and you’re all familiar with all of them, I’m sure. However, DARK HARVEST COMMANDOS is a different story because it brings good old UK hardcore back on the map. Without comparing them to the names you all know, and without a further ado, here is the interview I conducted with Brian, Lee, and Mhairi. DHC EP is coming out in May on Sanctus Propaganda.

Pre order the EP here: www.sanctuspropaganda.com/shop

SP: Haven’t you got enough, another band to spend your time on? How’s Brain Anguish doing by the way?

Lee: From my point of view; we love the music and everything that goes along with being part of the Punk Scene and that is why we do it; the playing, meeting up with old friends and meeting new friends. It is a privilege to be able to do this and it is fulfilling all the dreams I had as a teenager and I still get as excited about doing this stuff as I did back then; probably more so.

Brian: Haha. Well, it’s true to say that I don’t have much time at the best of times and trying to add something else on the ‘need to get do’ list is possibly ridiculous. However, I do love and enjoy making music with people, so whatever free time I do have, this is what I pretty much spend it on. Brain Anguish is currently on a long hiatus, I guess. The band isn’t dead. However, I haven’t physically seen Angus since covid, other than at a Napalm Death gig in 2023. We obviously are still very good friends and keep in touch regularly, but with the miles between us and one thing and another getting in the way, we just haven’t seen each other which has made doing BA pretty difficult at the moment. DHC are all based in Glasgow (with the exception of Mhairi), so its fairly easy to get together and get riffs together.

SP: Tell us how the idea of forming DHC started and please introduce the other members of DHC.

Lee: DHC came from Brian and I wanting to do more and from our love of playing Hardcore Punk and our love of short, punchy, angry, political Hardcore Punk songs and wanting to have a band that played that kind of music. Brian asked Mark if he was up for it and he thankfully said yes and then Mark asked Mhairi, who again, thankfully said yes.

Brian: I actually don’t know if I am honest. Probably just chats between Lee and myself talking about our love of hardcore. With that, Lee and I got together in the studio one time and just started messing around with riffs that I had come up with. They were pretty short and fast and we thought it would be cool to do something with these songs. It then, as like everything sat on a shelf for a bit. We started talking about it again and then I approached Mark, who I have known since around 1988 or something, as well as played gigs together with our bands at the time (Bloodshot and Quarantine), as well as played together in Thisclose. Anyway, I asked if he’d be interested in doing bass and he kindly agreed. We then started thinking about a vocalist. I initially considered (to myself) about doing it, but I was pretty keen in getting an actual vocalist. With that Mark asked Mhairi, who was well up for doing it and that was that. We had already worked out a few riffs before we got a practice together with Mhairi, and by the time she came in, everything just clicked into place and we were all pretty stoked about how it turned out. So, with that its Mhairi on vocals, Mark on bass, Lee on drums and myself on guitar.

SP: Your first recordings are going to be released on EP in spring via us.  One cannot ignore the fact that you play and sound like old UK hardcore bands. Was that intentional?

Lee: Brian, Mark and I all share a love of bands like Heresy, Ripcord et al along with a host of European Hardcore bands like L’arm, BGK, Raw Power and UBR. Add to that our love of fast, angry US Hardcore and you have the DHC sound.

Brian: We old bastards and were all around during the aforementioned old UK hardcore bands and grew up listening to Heresy, Ripcord and a thousand other bands. I don’t think it was particularly intentional. We have all listened to and played in bands with a similar style for decades, so the chance of it coming out like it does is pretty high. I usually come up with riffs, bring them to the table and we all mess about with them until they end up with something we are happy with. I’ve only got one style and I play and write riffs within my limited playing ability. So, If people think we sound like those legendary bands then I for one am not complaining.

SP: The choice of your name is very local.  I guess you’d need to introduce our readers to what Dark Harvest Commandos were and what is the current state of the issue the name relates to.

Brian: Dark Harvest Commandos were a Scottish militant group, where in 1981 most famously went on to Gruinard Island, off the west coast of Scotland and dug up some potentially anthrax-laden soil and distributed two consignments to the perimeter fence at the UK’s chemical weapons establishment at Porton Down in Wiltshire, and the other behind a locked door on Blackpool Tower, just a stone’s throw from where Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was presiding over the annual conference of the ruling Conservative Party. Why did they do this? Basically, during the Second World War, Porton Down scientists on the mainland, UK, developed a biological weapon using anthrax spores. They then used Gruinard Island to test these biological weapons and its effects on livestock, particularly sheep that they purchased from a nearby farm. Anthrax spores can remain active for decades and therefore, the group of Scottish enviromentalists sent messages to newspapers under the heading Operation Dark Harvest, where the group demanded that the Government decontaminated Gruinard island, and threatened to leave samples of the soil they had collected to the afore mentioned locations, as well as highlight what happened on the Island and educate the public about the anthrax tests. As far as I am aware, these are the only two actions that were carried out under the name Dark Harvest Commandos. Indeed they pinned a note to the door of the Scottish Office in Edinburgh, stating that they had ended their campaign. This was 1981. There is plenty of information you can get about this via You Tube and a BBC documentary called “The Mystery of Anthrax Island and the Seeds of Death”. Scottish author Ian Rankin also makes reference to them and Gruinard in his book ‘The Impossible Dead’. It’s well worth looking into for anyone who is interested.

DAR HARVEST COMMANDOS self-titles EP is out in May 2024 on Sanctus Propaganda

SP: When did the first gig happen and what are your plans regarding gigging and recording except the EP?

Lee: Our first gig happened on April 1st in Glasgow and we have more gigs on the horizon later in the year (August) in England and Bialystok. There are of course plans for more gigs, it’s just a matter of who wants us to play 🙂 As for recording; we already have material for our next release and hopefully will record said material in June.

Brian: Our first gig was on 1st April at The Space in Glasgow. A cool noncommercial DIY space. We were really looking forward to it, and letting people hear what we’ve been up to. Other than that, we’re looking forward to getting the EP out and getting to do more gigs, as well as write more tunes.

SP: Lyrically you refer to a few political issues, one of them being peaceful nation not willing to fight for their rights like back in the 80s or 90s. The song is called Clown Island. Really? Do you get the feeling the society in the UK only minds their own business and what’s on Netflix while their rights are being taken away?

Lee: Mhairi is probably best placed to answer that one as she wrote the lyrics to that song; but it is infuriating, frustrating and sad that there is definitely a “don’t want to rock the boat”, “can’t be bothered with the drama”, “it’s not my problem” attitude. There is also a definite comatose affect with social media streaming sites and “I don’t want to leave the house” affect because I can get take away food, binge on reality TV and avoid the issues. There is also the inescapable fact of out and out ignorance towards issues and the voluntarily accepted brainwashing by media outlets propaganda.

Mhairi: Definitely, the majority of the British public are apathetic as fuck. The Tory government took us out of Europe, during the pandemic, and has ruined the UK for years to come. The vote to leave the EU was voted for by the majority of England and Wales but every council in Scotland had “Remain” as the majority. I wish the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK would rise up and realise there are more of us than there are of the ruling class. That’s why, in the song, it says, “Look at our brothers across the channel, they’re rioting in France!”. Our people and services are suffering since Brexit, we don’t have enough staff for healthcare, agriculture or food production. Thousands of Europeans no longer come to the UK to work and we are suffering and our younger generations will continue to suffer. Half the voters who opted to leave Europe are now dead and yet they still went ahead with it. I have been calling the UK Clown Island for the last few years because this place is a fuckin bad joke.

SP: What are the political issues the nation is talking about right now in the UK and how much is war in Ukraine and/or Gaza discussed as regards to the future of peace in Europe.

Lee: The only political issues being discussed at any level are the many mistakes made by a negligent Conservative government; the possibility of a general election; the criminal Rwanda immigration bill and the cost-of-living crisis. There is no mention of the Russia/Ukraine War; there is barely any discussion of the war crimes happening in Gaza by the general public!!! Which is alarming to say the least. There are protests by, it has to be said, a minority of the population, but the Conservative government is actively trying to outlaw these protests and make them illegal and prosecutable.

Brian: Currently the war in Ukraine receives little to no coverage in the mainstream media here in the UK. Although, left wing media outlets like Novara Media do talk about it, although currently they have been more focused on what is happening in Gaza, for obvious reasons. I’m clearly not an expert on what’s going on with the war in Ukraine and the possibility of any escalation. But it’s pretty clear that other bordering countries, such as Latvia, Estonia and even Poland, who border Ukraine and Belarus, rather than Russia, are concerned about their own safety if Russia wins in Ukraine. With Putin’s track record, I guess it’s a realistic possibility.

SP: Is UK in Europe after Brexit and how is the doctrine of isolationism realised these days? What is the role of Scotland’s politics in all that?

Lee: It is generally accepted, either vocally or silently, that Brexit was a huge mistake for the UK as a whole, but there is an acceptance again, that there is nothing we can do about it and we have to live with the decision Scotland’s political role is irrelevant and non-existent, as all the real decisions are made in London.

Brian: As Lee says, the majority of people, even Brexiteers, acknowledge that Brexit was not a good idea. Indeed, there are even calls for a 2nd referendum vote to get us back in Europe. Scotland definitely has no power within the union and regardless of what people vote for in Scotland, it has no impact on any outcome that takes place in Westminster. This has and always will be the case, unless Scotland becomes an independent country and look how that panned out. The UK really is a shit show in terms of the governing party and the futile opposition currently residing in the houses of parliament.

SP: How do you see the future of Europe in the next 10 years?

Lee: I can see the future in Europe being a very turbulent one. We already have the Russia/Ukraine war still raging on with no resolution in sight, with the prospect of it potentially spreading. We have a re-elected Vladimir Putin who will be in office for another 6 years. We have the rise of the far right in France, Italy, Sweden and the UK. I can only hope that the younger generation coming through can see logic and see that the only way forward is the acceptance of all and working together.

Brian: As you know there is a right-wing surge happening all across Europe with right wing thinking being accepted, at least by the media and governments, as the norm. It’s scary times. I think this normalization of right-wing ideology will start leading countries to become even more protectionist, start securing and tightening up their borders, crack down on those who protest against these views and ideologies (like they are currently trying to do in the UK). The worrying thing is, is that people generally accept these changes, regardless of how extreme and integrate it into their daily lives and it becomes the norm. However, there will always be those who will challenge these right-wing ideas, whether it be via debate or by taking to the streets regardless of the consequences.

DARK HARVEST COMMANDOS live in Glasgow 1.04.2024

SP: What’s important in life for middle aged punks at the moment like yourself?

Lee: I can only speak for myself and what is important is to keep doing this as long as I can. Keep playing, recording, gigging and contributing to and supporting the Scene that has given me so much pleasure.

Brian: Being alive and relatively healthy is a good start. I, like most of us in the DIY punk scene, found that it brought us a community as well as music. We’ve all met hundreds of people across the globe that have also seen punk as more than just music and in turn, expanded this wee community to the point that a lot of us can now go to any major city and find a place to stay for the night, just through this network. That to me is incredible and still blows my mind on a daily basis. I’m a lucky bastard with the opportunities playing in bands has brought me, and I’ve met all my nearest and dearest friends because of it. So let’s all grow old together, smashing the system one aided step at a time.

SP: How’s your local punk scene these days? Any youngsters apart from the good old friends?

Mhairi: There have been some great new bands popping up in Edinburgh and Glasgow- CHOU, are a power violence act from some Chinese friends in Edinburgh right now, they’re going down a storm. Voodoo Twins are also new on the scene, with a great post-punk vibe with goth undertones. Thrown Away are some of the young team doing straight up punk and the odd Partisans cover with Molotov’s and mohicans, injecting some new life into the scene here. Burning the Filth are the other new name on the block, calling themselves “experimental crust goth” they’re being well received on the scene and Gnasher are another newish addition to Scotland, featuring members from the Happy Spastics and Social Insecurity, it’s a raw punk sound and attitude with UK82 vibes, knocking their pan in, doing every gig possible at the moment.

Lee: For me, there is sadly no Punk Scene in Glasgow at this point. It has fallen apart due to venues closing down, venues charging too much for grassroots bands to play and of course, in-fighting amongst people. There is more of a healthy scene in Edinburgh, but there are a lot of “Grey-Zone” bands kicking around with shady individuals, which in turn attracts and shady crowd. Bizarrely, there is a so-called Punk Scene which exists that comes nowhere near to anything I would consider remotely Punk. There doesn’t seem to be any other focus other than making money and playing as big a venue as possible to a many paying punters as possible. There are little to no political leanings and the music (to my ears anyway) is distinctly mainstream. All this contributes to the desire to play outside of Glasgow to like-minded people.

Brian: Lee is correct in what he says with the grey-zone element within the Glasgow at the moment, with the whole keep the politics out of punk, apolitical stance, which for me isn’t punk. Edinburgh probably does have a more active punk scene than Glasgow currently from what I see. However, its not all doom and gloom and there are some pretty decent bands in Glasgow too, such as ‘Seer’, who are excellent and ‘Coffin Mulch’ who are a bunch of punks playing 80s style thrash metal incredibly well. The individuals in those bands are also pretty active politically, and try their best to create an inclusive and welcoming scene. Also, Mhairi forgot to mention her and Mark’s band Cram. They’re a mixture of anarcho punk with Hawkwind elements, if you get my meaning. They’re just about to release their demo, which features a few guest appearances, such as Angus and myself among others. Follow them please: https://www.facebook.com/groups/668730948412824/
There are also a lot of other bands that are definitely DIY, although not necessarily punk, who do a lot of great things, such as ‘Kaputt’ and ‘Count Florida’. We have lost venues and other venues have hire charges out of reach from what most DIY gigs would generate to pay the club and the bands. But, there’s also a new noncommercial DIY venue called The Space, which is awesome. Audio Loung studios in the West End of Glasgow also let bands put gigs on. So, there is things happening. I love the fact we’re finally seeing some non-commercial places for bands to play in the city. Indeed, I went to a gig in Audio Lounge the other night and the gig was packed with loads of young punks. So, there is definitely a scene.

Pre order DARK HARVEST COMMANDOS EP here: www.sanctuspropaganda.com/shop