Louder Than War Interviews Steve Ignorant
Steve Ignorant was a founder member of the ground breaking DIY anarchist punk band Crass in 1977 and has performed with a host of other bands including Conflict, Schwarzenegger and Stratford Mercenaries. Of late he has been crewing with a lifeboat and performing with Paranoid Visions and Slice of Life. Nathan Brown reports back after interviewing him for Louder Than War.
I was a complete stranger to this bloke on the phone but he was known to me – I’ve heard his voice on so many records and seen him perform in numerous bands over the years so it was a very odd situation. The former Crass frontman came across as down to earth, humble, straight talking but with a sense of humour – in other words a normal geezer. Just what you’d expect really. I got the impression around the time of the final Last Supper gig that Steve might be about to walk away from music altogether but now he’s back with Slice of Life, his acoustic project with Carol Hodge and Pete Wilson, and Paranoid Visions. Is making music an itch he just has to scratch?
“Sort of. Partly I’ve done Slice of Life because I wanted to do spoken word and talking along with the music for a while. Previously I felt restricted by the legacy of Crass, and while I’ve only done a few gigs with Slice of Life I think I made it clear at the time of the last Shepherds Bush Empire gig that I would not do Crass anymore, so people haven’t turned up expecting me to play Crass songs which has really opened it up. I’m enjoying it even though I’m a gibbering wreck before I go on. And I’m writing new stuff.”
And how does it all fit in with living in a fairly remote part of the country?
“It takes an hour just to get out of the county but there are so many characters around here. I’ve done Manchester and places but I’ve not done a Norfolk gig yet.”
I asked about how the collaboration with Dublin band Paranoid Visions occurred.
“Peter Jones asked me if I’d like to do a track with them in the after party at the Shepherds Bush gig and I said ‘Yes, of course, I’d love to’ so I went over to Ireland to their little studio. And when I’m there it turns out not to be one but two. And then they say ‘Would you be interested in a couple more, we’ve got some that would really go with your voice.’ So, eleven songs later….”
Steve cracks into a laugh at this point
“They then said, ‘We’ve got a few gigs, do you fancy it?’ so I thought I’d give it a go”.
Knowing how bands can be quite a tight unit, forged over years, I asked how it felt to be parachuted in.
“It’s all amicable. I like working with them. I like their sentiments. And I’m pleased to support them. It’s nice to just enjoy it for a change. It’s nice to go to a gig and not have much responsibility apart from making sure you come in at the right time. It’s not my words or music.”
So he’s just become one of the gang?
“I’m treated like an equal. There’s no worship. No arguments – a great bunch to work with. I made a few suggestions and they were accepted graciously. I’ve told Pete and the rest that after these 2 gigs we’ve got coming up (Dublin on 1 November and London 9 November) that will be it for the rest of the year. I’ll do things next year but not every week. If there’s something special they want to do I’ll be up for it. I don’t want to overshadow them. You know, ‘Steve Ignorant accompanying Paranoid Visions’. I also want to crack on with my own projects and they have theirs to do.”
So, Slice of Life might be going out on the road?
“Absolutely. We’re going up to Manchester one Saturday to record 4 tracks which will come out as some single type thingy, however things come out these days”.
More laughter ensues and he tells me they have a couple of gigs lined up later in the year (see below) but over the winter he plans to review what they are doing.
“You know, work on the visuals. Maybe some lighting. There are more songs I want to get down. I want to improve it, then start doing more gigs and take it everywhere.”
So, back to the comment about the “single type thingy”, what’s Steve’s take on the way music technology has changed? He’s got a load of vinyl in the cupboard stashed away “because for some reason I don’t have a record player, so it’s mostly CDs. I still prefer vinyl. You get nice big sleeves on vinyl and the packaging of CDs can be difficult.”
A few more laughs as we swap experiences of jewel cases breaking apart in our hands and which tools or implements we have had to use just to get through the cellophane. But he’s no luddite:
“New technology is making it easier to put material out at a lower cost, I think it’s great. Who knows what Crass would have done if the technology was available in that time? If the techonology is there use it. And I’d rather kids are doing self released stuff recorded on a mobile phone and put on youtube than queuing up to get on X-Factor.” In this day and age we have plenty of DIY Bullshit Detectors!
As technology has changed, so has the punk scene (it used to be a movement, for starters!). I’ve got my own thoughts about how there is too much nostalgia and it is almost stifling the oxygen that new bands need but I wanted to find out what changes Steve’s witnessed since 1977 – as a punter and as a performer – he saw for the better and for the worse.
“For the worse…. Bands that used to be big endlessly going round trying to still do it. It’s getting a bit boring.”
He’s wise enough not to mention any names. But he lightens up as he reminisces about seeing the Cockney Rejects at Blackpool
“It was great. The audience was having a great time. There was no trouble and I thought ‘Good for you, after all the shit you’ve been through. Have a good time’. But there are certain other bands. I think ‘How can you keep doing it?’ But I’m outside the scene. I don’t know that many new bands saying something different or protest worthy. Anyone can sing an anti-war song but there’s something missing.”
One definite bonus is the relative safety of a gig these days: “You can go and watch a band like the Rejects without getting a beer crate over your head, or go see the UK Subs or Subhumans and you haven’t got the constant thought that 20 boneheads might come through the door at any moment. The security’s got better – those problems seem to have been sorted out as well. A lot of the people at gigs are in their 40s or 50s and they’re home owners, car owners and we’re talking on equal terms. We’re still not gonna give in even though we’re part of the system. There’s a feeling of ‘We survived a rough time but we’re still up for it’”. And one final downside pops into his head “Venues! There’s not that many venues these days. There’s these big places like the O2 or whatever its called or there’s a dodgy room with a dodgy sound system.”
Speaking of venues, the choice of venue for the final Last Supper gig at which Steve drew a line under Crass itself caused controversy. A few people in punk circles were levelling “sellout” accusations because the gig was held at the Shepherds Bush Empire. What’s it like to be public property?
“I’ve got no choice. But when I’m on the lifeboat I’m not Steve Ignorant. None of them are punk rockers, I’m just crew member number 9. Down the pub I’m just Steve. I don’t feel like public property cos it doesn’t impinge on my personal life. Even at the Shepherds Bush Empire, I can’t stand dressing rooms so I nipped to the pub next door. People were shaking my hands, getting photos and getting me to sign stuff but there was no hero worship. I was sat there so long my missus had to come and say ‘You’re on stage in 10 minutes’.”
And does the internet make punk as a vehicle for changing the world less relevant?
“Yeah. When we were Crass we saw ourselves as an information bureau. A lot of people listening to the records were 15/16 year olds who’d never heard of Anarchism, Ban The Bomb or CND. If Crass formed today would it have the same relevance? Now you can google it. If I said ‘I wrote a song about anarchism’ people would say ‘I googled that last night’. People don’t give out handouts at gigs anymore because it’s all on the internet.”
The information bureau certainly worked on me. At the age of 9 or 10 when Big A Little A came out, all the ideas about anarchism and pacifism that Crass espoused just struck a chord with me and I developed some principles that have stuck with me throughout life even if they adapt to the environment or circumstances. The bands I’ve played in, the gigs I’ve promoted, the zines I’ve written for or published, the activism, protests and direct action…But do we get that sense of identity from the internet that encourages us to band together with people who we share attitudes with? To an extent yes, but I’m not so sure. “Like” is not the same as “Do”……
Although I started off the interview by asking Steve about his involvement with the Sea Palling lifeboat, that subject has been covered in-depth in pieces for Quietus and even a short piece on the Beeb so you’re better off checking them out. But I think it’s worth relaying a little of what it is like for him out on the sea:
“Really scary. It’s mostly broken down jet skis or people caught by the tide but even though we have had some people who were hypothermic we’ve not lost anyone. The scariest is when we get a shout and it’s a child. We know if we are not stood down within 20 minutes it is going to be a nasty scenario“.
It seemed pointless to even bother asking if it’s more scary than being on stage in front of several thousand punks. This shit is life or death.
Slice of Life are playing:
- Fri 25 October at The Horseshoe in Wellingborough
- Sat 26 October at The Blind Tiger Club in Brighton
- Sat 16 November at O2 Academy, Islington supporting UK Decay
DVDs of the Feeding of the 5000 and The Last Supper are available at gigs and online from http://www.etsy.com/shop/Dimlo
Steve Ignorant & Paranoid Visions have a new LP out “When?….” in November and are playing
- 1 November at Fibber Magees, Dublin
- 9 November at The Dome, London
Interview by Nathan Brown. You can read more from Nathan here