My Top 10 Albums: Steve Ignorant
Steve Ignorant (born Steven Williams in 1957 ) – for many of the regular Louder Than War readership Steve requires no introduction; however if you have just arrived from Kepler 452b…Steve is a singer and artist. He co-founded the anarcho-punk band Crass with Penny Rimbaud in back 1977; Crass stopped performing in 1984, since then he has worked with an array of other artists including Conflict, Schwarzenegger, The Stratford Mercenaries, Current 93 (called himself Stephen Intelligent), US band Thought Crime, as well as earning a living as a professional Punch & Judy performer – most recently Steve has performed and recorded with Paranoid Visions (check out the magnificent album ‘When’), in addition he has formed and recorded with his new band Slice Of Life – check out the debut album ‘Love And A Lamp-post’ (Overground Records)(LTW Review)…and as if all this wasn’t enough Steve is also a full time volunteer crew member of the Sea Palling lifeboat.
Steve was preparing to appear with Paranoid Visions at the 2015 Rebellion Festival when he found the time to chat to us about his Top 10 Albums; the albums that have influenced him, the albums that have shaped him, and the albums that he draws strength and inspiration from – the results were certainly surprising!!
Steve took the time to present his choices in chronological order.
10. West Side Story – Original Sound Track (Columbia Masterworks 1961) All music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
“That came around just before the skinhead thing started, the gangs and all that – it was about gangs in New York in the 50’s, I remember sitting in the cinema as a 12yr old kid…the opening shots of New York from a helicopter, your looking right down on all of it, and then the music, it was the first time that I actually felt it in my chest and it was like, that’s what I want to hear! There is a particular track on the album called ‘Tonight Quintet’, it’s where the gangs actually go into a rumble, the chords in it, the strings, the trumpets, I didn’t know it at the time, it was Latino American stuff – that moved me, it was one of those moments; I thought I’m going to have this for the rest of my life.
I lived with my grandparents, I didn’t have my own record player, I’d have to listen out for it on the radiogram, fortunately I had a friend who did have the album and I’d pester and pester him, until I learnt the songs off by heart, and that album has gone with me all through my life. Take your time to listen to it, or go and see it live…its timeless, and it kick started me into listening to music.
So now it becomes a little bit difficult, the next album would be a compilation entitled ‘Tighten Up’…it was ‘Tighten Up Vol 2’ that I managed to get.
9. Tighten Up Volume 2 (Trojan Records 1969)
I was living with my parents, so I did have access to a record player. I’d go out to the pub on a Saturday night, I’d put my stuff on! Skinheads had just started coming, I had my monkey boots and my Harrington…the album had Bob Marley, and Desmond Deckker on it, it’ so long ago, I can’t remember now – the classics! I didn’t realise then there was a thing called reggae and then skinhead reggae, I just thought it was reggae and ska, but because of that album I started to seek out different ska tunes, my favourite ska/reggae track of all time would be Toots & The Maytals ‘54-46 Was My Number’ – that again was a moment; I was a kid sitting in a mates garden, wearing the clothes that had been bought for me, as they all were; I saw this bloke in a two-tone suit – that was the first time in my life when I thought ‘I want to look like that, I can have my own identity, that changed me. The album has a nice mish-mash, it’s not overly dubby, it’s got nice danceable tracks on it – I must get it again actually!
After that, the skinhead thing went through, I dropped out of buying records – I never had enough money, so I was tending to listen to the charts, and then this person called David Bowie appeared. At that time I was still at school – hating it, trying to truant from it as much as possible, I was learning nothing – I knew even then I was being steered towards a factory job which I didn’t want to do, I was interested in writing and reading.
LTW – Steve Ignorant – the nerdy kid at school?
SI (Laughing) No, I wasn’t the nerdy kid, I was just like the angry young spotty oik!! I liked poetry, it was this thing I was trying to get into, and this will make sense later – I was looking at the way books were punctuated, certainly authors like Graham Green and their use of a semi-colon, it would make sense so I really got into that which led me on to the way people wrote lyrics which I will refer to later. Around that time David Bowie comes along…’Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars’
8. David Bowie ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ (RCA Records June 1972)
For some reason, even though it was all “keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe”…because I was a kid in that situation – he was talking to me, all those songs made sense, ‘Moonage Daydream’ it was about me, or I understood it.
LTW – The same for myself, the beauty of the lyric is that everyone who listens to the album connects with it.
SI Yes, they all have their own ‘thing’…of what it means to them; I mean ‘Five Years, Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’ come on!! And of course ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and “the kids was just crass”, and that how it came to be the name of the band…
LTW – that must have come as a shock to some of the Crass fans?
SI It was, could still be! Then I went on to listen to a lot more of his stuff, I listened to his early Davey Jones material, and he was doing songs like ‘Uncle Earnest’, but there is one song, an acoustic guitar track ‘When I Live My Dream’ and that reminded me of West Side Story, though my favourite Bowie song of all time is ‘Sweet Thing’ which is why I cover it in Slice of Life. So yeah ‘Ziggy Stardust’ that was like “I can’t go back now, I am going to be different from my parents…it’s not just the clothing, it was the whole attitude…because of David Bowie you could wear a bangle around your wrist, wear an earring, dye your hair, and not get your head kicked in!
Then I happened to hear a song my brother played me at Dial House, it was absolutely beautiful, a track called ‘Here Comes The Sun’ by the Beatles
7. The Beatles ‘Abbey Road’ (Apple Records September 1969)
I listened to that and I just thought it was really nice, it made me feel warm inside, so yeah ‘Abbey Road’…it’s a funny album, you’ve got Here Come The Sun by George Harrison; there’s some lovely chords in there, but then you have ‘Because’ and on the B-Side, when it runs out, that whole crescendo of ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ it’s a long run out, vaguely operatic thing, and yet again it was something that reminded me of West Side Story, so it’s like a musical theme…
LTW Considering some of your own output, what I’ve noted and what might surprise people is that your choices are about the tunes, the songs…
SI That’s it, it’s the songs…it used to really piss me off that after Ziggy’ David Bowie never included the lyrics to his songs, I was like “you fucker, I want to read it; that was what I was after…sussing out this sound track for my life, I think everyone does that.
After ‘Abbey Road’ it would be Joni Mitchell; first of all I heard ‘Court And Spark’ though that not my favourite, to get in this Top 10 it would be ‘Hejira’
6. Joni Mitchell ‘Hejira’ (A&M Records 1976)
I think she was at her absolute peak then, and she had written the lyrics out which revealed the album to be all about America, there was this one particular song ‘Refuge Of The Roads’ – there is a line it…
Steve then breaks into song to recount the lyric “In a highway service station/over the month of June/was a photograph of the earth/taken coming back from the moon/and you couldn’t see a city/on that marbled bowling ball…”. It was all about the smallness of us, I read the lyrics and that album was like ‘fuck me, that’s music’. By this time I had an acoustic guitar, I was doing The Beatles and three chord stuff, I’d try and cover Joni’s songs – there was no chance, she tunes her guitar for every differing track!
LTW I mentioned to Steve that having run a number of these Top 10’s with a raft of artist from all genres just how many cite Joni Mitchell as an influence.
SI It’s the songs and the lyrics, thats the key, certainly when I was with Schwartzeneggar; we started to try and write lyrics like that, which is what I try and do with Slice Of Life, so as you read it, its poetic, the way the print is laid out on the actual page but then to throw a spanner in the works I’d have to say one of the most fun, danceable albums, it’s definitely in my Top 10 is Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’
5. Michael Jackson ‘Off The Wall (Epic Records August 1979)
That ‘Off The Wall’ (at this point Steve once again breaks into song, to the point he’s now jigging round in his seat) mate, you can’t keep your feet still, I know its Michael Jackson and all that, but this was before all the stuff with his face! I just thought that it was a great album – even I could dance to it! I was young enough to do that then; I can’t dance anymore, just some sort of ‘Dad dancing’!!
Definitely ‘Off The Wall’ again it goes back, because of the brass sections, the strings, and once more back to West Side Story – I’ve always had this brass, and string section going through my fuckin head!!
At this point in my life I was living in Bristol, I went to see this band first of all, it was something the lead singer said “if you think you can do better – start your own band”. Of course it was the Clash and their first album was absolutely, even now, if someone put it on now; goose pimples would shoot across my arms
4. Clash ‘The Clash’ (CBS Records April 1977)
(By now Steve is again singing, this time it’s ‘Janie Jones’) I know people go ‘White Riot’ and all that but it’s the whole fuckin album, its superb – absolutely fantastic, so thank you Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper for that; that album was just like…YES! It’s not so much the Sex Pistols, yeah they looked good on TV an all that, but for me it was the Clash, that album in particular, there isn’t a single shit track on it, not one that I skip over when I listen to it; that cover of ‘Police & Thieves’, it provides the loop – I look at old photographs of myself in the punk era, I’ve always got a Harrington jacket on or a DM’s, something to do with the skinhead thing that I’ve never lost.
Then I would say another album I have found really inspiring…
3. Patti Smith ‘Horses’ (Arista Records December 1975)
Just something about that, it’s her version of ‘Gloria’… I heard it and was like ‘that is so fucking brilliant’…the way it builds up into ‘Gloria’ – I didn’t like anything else she did but that album. I was clear enough to hear it was just a bass and a piano, and I was surprised, it really works; by this time I was watching a lot of black and white films, all of the soundtracks were done by the like of Johnny Dankworth – great musicians, so my next choice stems from there.
2. Miles Davies ‘Kind Of Blue’ Columbia Records August 1959)
Even as a non-jazz listener you put it on (Steve begins to hum the tune and click his fingers), and then fuck me, it’s called ‘So What’, all the way through, it’s cool it’s just so cool – everybody should have a copy of that album, even if you reckon you don’t like jazz – listen to that as there some tracks on there that are corkers, which led me on…it would have to be, because of all the jazz and the musicals influences, its simply ‘The Best of Burt Bacharach’
1. Burt Bacharach ‘The Best of Burt Bacharach’ (Polydor Music April 1976)
I’ve got it on double CD, my missus bought it for me, there are some great tracks on it; it actually brought a tear to my eye when I heard it, and it’s not because she recently died, but ‘Alfie’ by Cilla Black is the most definitive version you can get – she just fuckin nails it! Then there is Dionne Warwick’s ‘Walk On By’ that is instant super cool, romance – you know!
LTW – It’s weird, as those tracks in particular were the sort of songs that you just didn’t listen to, that (way of the mark) sort of ‘it’s not cool’ view.
SI But I did, and that why I got annoyed when the Oasis boys where suddenly “we’re into Burt Bacharach” – No you fuckin don’t, I was there before you, you little….so yeah, that my Top 10.
I reflected on Steve’s selections and mentioned to him that they may well surprise certainly fans of Crass and Conflict, and questioned him as whether whilst in Crass he ever felt musically hemmed in…
SI (now again singing “I wanna rock with you”) No, it was quite good actually, living at Dial House, the Crass house as it was, because Penny (Rimbaud) had come up through classical music – I haven’t mentioned any classical stuff, I could go on an mention Vaughan Williams, Handel, superb pieces of music – give it a go; I didn’t even start on the opera!!
The mix of music in the house was incredible, a real mish-mash, Elvis, Little Richard, The Beatles, then Shostakovich, the classics, the jazz stuff, and me bringing in David Bowie, The Who, Small Faces, the Pistols, me again with Michael Jackson, or ‘He’s So Fine’ by The Chiffons – what a great fuckin tune, so no I didn’t ever feel hemmed in, I think people even to this day expect me to have a huge collection of punk and stuff – I’ve got fuck all!!
I’d just like to take the opportunity to thank Steve for his time, though to be fair I did have to gag him in the end with the promise of Part’s 2 & 3 looking at his choices of Classical and Opera music! Cheers to Steve, and Jona for arranging the time for this.
Steve Ignorant’s Slice Of Life are to tour the UK supporting Sleaford Mods 23rd September – 9th November, in addition Steve and Paranoid