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Jeremy John Ratter (born 8 June 1943), better known as Penny “Lapsang” Rimbaud, 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, alongside Steve Ignorant, he co-founded and played drums in the seminal anarchist punk band Crass, who disbanded in 1984. 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.
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 Rimbaud, the French symbolist poet, whilst the forename of Penny stemmed from his brother, Anthony, who had often referred to him as being ‘a toilet-seat philosopher’ (a penny 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 he felt was ‘a touch of the exotic’.
He 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.”
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 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 The Factory. He refused on the grounds that he “had better things to do”, something which he claims never to have regretted.
In 1964, Rimbaud appeared on ITV Granada’s Ready Steady Go! to receive a prize from John Lennon, after winning a competition to produce a piece of artwork depicting The Beatles’ song “I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Rimbaud worked briefly as an art teacher before becoming disillusioned with education, and then spent some time working as a coalman.
In 1967, inspired by the film Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Rimbaud and Vaucher set up the anarchist/pacifist open house Dial House in Essex, UK, which has now become firmly established as a ‘centre for radical creativity’. The household is vegetarian and both he and Vaucher remain so today. It was from there during the early seventies that Rimbaud co-founded the Stonehenge Festival alongside Phil Russell, better known as Wally Hope, as documented in his autobiography of 1998, Shibboleth – my revolting life.
Since 2003, Rimbaud has worked as part of Last Amendment (formerly Crass Agenda) 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 was working on a “Jazz Requiem” with saxophonist Ed Jones.
During 2005 Rimbaud completed his 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.
Rimbaud contributed several spoken word tracks to the 2008 Japanther album Tut Tut Now Shake Ya Butt. He also contributes spoken word vocals to the track “I Sing The Body Eclectic” on The Charlatans’s 2010 album Who We Touch. Rimbaud also featured on the song “The Furious” on The Bloody Beetroots’ 2013 album Hide.
He has written introductions to books, including 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.