Interview: Steve Ignorant and Friends

NEWS SOURCE : BY   Jason Gross

steve ignorant

Even beyond the Sex Pistols and the Clash, anarchist collective Crass was the most resolute British punk group, demanding concrete social action through incendiary DIY albums like Stations of the Crass, protest rallies and subversive media campaigns. Internal friction tore the group apart in 1984, but in 2007, cofounder and singer Steve Ignorant performed Crass’s debut album, The Feeding of the 5000, in two well-received London gigs. A U.K. tour followed; this week, Ignorant launches a 12-date stateside trek. TONY spoke with him about band politics, anarchist convictions and unlikely spiritual heirs. What led you to revive the Crass catalog for these concerts? When I got a band together to perform The Feeding of the 5000, we thought it was going to be a one-off thing. But we received a lot of requests for shows, and there was a huge interest. We hadn’t played together for 30 years now and almost always played in England, so we wanted people to get a taste of it. How do you think those gigs went? Much better than I expected! [Laughs] I really thought no one would come and it would just be a load of rubbish, but the reaction was really amazing. It was meant to be more of a celebration, and we just got such a great reaction from people there. Since we got such fantastic feedback, I wanted to do more. But I’d also say that after the last London gig, that’ll be it. Crass did play in New York a while back, right? We did, around 1977, but that was it. There was a show at CBGB’s, and there were some strange little places that we also played at, but no one really knew who we were then. Crass played some unconventional places, as you say. Did you consider doing that on the new tour? Yeah…that was a consideration, but because of the amount of money and all of the equipment involved, it wasn’t really feasible in the end. I put our trust in our [booking] agent to take care of the tour and all of that. I would have liked to have done it in a more unconventional way, but it wasn’t really possible. Were there ever any plans for a full Crass reunion? We’ve never re-formed. There’s always been arguments and issues among us. Also, I didn’t want a Crass revival: It’s just me and other musicians doing Crass songs. We don’t want people coming to shows under false pretenses. So you don’t see it happening. No, it wouldn’t be possible with all of the characters involved. There’s just too much bad blood. Crass cofounder Penny Rimbaud originally opposed your doing Crass material, but later changed his mind. What happened? Well, he got upset at first about it, and I was planning to do the shows anyway. After a few dates, I think he realized that he was being a bit harsh about it, and he came around eventually—we did an interview together last year, talking about the band. Also, I think he was happy that we were going to sell some of his books at our merch table! [Laughs] How do you think the politics and meaning of the Crass back catalog hold up today? I think it’s all still relevant. They were written of their time, battling back against Thatcher then, but I think that those songs could have been written tomorrow, too. They’re still powerful. Do you see any bands nowadays that are kindred spirits to Crass and what it represented? The Ex from Holland is definitely in the same spirit of things. Also, there’s Aztlan Underground, who we met in California—they do rap and punk rock, and they use an Inca language. Maybe Lady Gaga, too? [Laughs] After Crass broke up you had other bands like Conflict, but you also did a few things outside of music. You worked as a Punch and Judy performer? Yeah, I did. After Crass was finished, I was looking to do a solo album. And then luckily I saw this movie called This Is Spinal Tap. They had a bit where they were talking about doing a play about Jack the Ripper—which was something like I thought of doing, so that straightened me out! But as a child I’d seen a kind of gruesome puppet show that stayed with me. I found out that Punch was a hunchback and a cripple who killed a policeman, sort of a working-class hero for the poor. So I wrote a starting to write a script, did a show for a few years and stopped, and then started doing it again in a few years time. I really liked it, playing for children and all. Some of the parents didn’t like the hanging scene we had in there, so I’d get into trouble for that. You did some sculpting. Yeah. I got into it because we had some tools that we got at a Crass show, so I started using them to chip away at telephone poles. I was a bit naive, but it looked very Celtic in the end, and then I moved on to do more of it. And you’ve taken an interest in old English music-hall traditions? Oh yeah, very much so. I started listening to these old London songs and they were full of statements, and it really got to me and tickled my sense of humor. I did some small shows at jazz clubs and really enjoyed it. I’d gone and researched the material, and they’re really fantastic songs. When we did the 2007 gigs with the Crass songs, we even got to go back to Sheppard’s Bush Empire, which was the last music hall. Any thoughts on American politics nowadays? America seems to spend a lot of its time flexing its muscles. A lot of English people resented the Bush years and the Iraq War. Sometimes it seems like America just likes to trample everything, and doesn’t care about anyone else. And how about something nearer and dearer to your heart: British politics? [Sighs] You know, it’s the same old…the rich are getting richer. The British government is intent on making peoples’ lives miserable, taxing everything and getting rid of the minimum wage. Do you still consider yourself an anarchist? I consider myself a middle-aged, angry man! [Laughs] I’m interested in anarchy, but now I think it’s like a cliché. Also, I have to work for a living and pay off a mortgage, too. When I was younger, I didn’t think I’d need to worry about those kinds of things, so it was different then. Steve Ignorant and Friends play Club Europa Wed 20 and Santos Party House May 8.