Steve Ignorant is a punk rock champion - though, being the kind of guy he is, he’d dismiss the title as mere flattery. A founding member and vocalist of Crass, Ignorant was substantial in not only kicking off the anarcho-punk movement itself, but helped forged a sound and line-of-thought that reverberates through punk through this very day.
Yet, when Crass stopped, Ignorant kept moving forward with bands like Schwarzenegger and Stratford Mercenaries, and even performing with Conflict. Now, he’s got two active groups- the acoustic Slice of Life and a jacked-up, all out punk attack collaboration with Paranoid Visions. The later pair just released 1977220174U , a live album from Rebellion Fest 2017 that includes Ignorant covering songs from throughout his discovery as well as a few well placed covers.
Because the record just came out, and because Ignorant and Paranoid Visions as bringing a similar set to Punk rock Bowling this year in Vegas (Pssst… we’re sponsors), Punknews’ John Gentile Spoke with Steve about the new LP, Hip Hop, and saving people’s lives. Check it out below.
Steve Ignorant Speaks
The live record- long has this been a decisive medium for bands. Some people see the live record as the true document of what a band is, while others often see a live record as “less good” versions of studio tracks. Steve, what’s your take on live records as a whole? Sometimes I prefer the live to the studio, and vice versa… I mean, that sounds like I’m sitting on the fence. We did a live recording of Slice of Life, but I prefer that to the studio one. I think it depends what mood you’re in and it depends what band you’re in. I remember one time Penny Rimbaud played me a live jazz improv record and I was like, “My God, what’s the point?” It just sounded like furniture falling down the stairs. So, it depends on what band is doing the live record.
What’s your relationship with Penny like these days? We’re on really friendly terms. I’m planning to go on down and see him in about four weeks time and whenever I see him it’s always good fun. We may have a disagreement from time to time- of ever we’re asked to do interviews together, we just tend to take the mickey out of each other. We’ve always been the best of friends and we always will be. I don’t think there’s anything that could split that.
So, I’m going to set forth a premise here. You and Penny often have differing viewpoints. People often say things like, “Crass meant this! Or Crass would do that!” But, I don’t think one can say Crass meant any single idea because the group was not one viewpoint, but a large collection of differing viewpoints. Well, yeah, absolutely. In a funny way, Crass can be whatever you think t means. People come up to me all the time at gigs and say “thank you for crass’ music” and it helped them through a tough time and different songs mean different things to different people. I’m very cautious of telling a 15-year old what Crass songs mean to him… I usually just shut up! Ha ha ha!
From a certain perspective, that’s very generous. You’re letting people take this thing that you’ve created, or that you’ve played a substantial part in creating, and letting them do with it as they will. Well yeah, you can’t stand to say “no, it’s got to be played this way!” There’s nothing nicer than hearing someone else’s interpretation of a song that you’ve written – like Jeffrey Lewis’ [Crass covers] record. I really enjoyed listening to that. I’m not precious about it. If I am performing that Crass stuff, I do get precious in the sense that it’s got to be right. You can’t do it wrong. That’s the only time I sort of get like that. It’s funny, because ever since doing the Feeding of the 5,000 shows in 2007, I realized that Crass is everyone’s music and it almost eels like it’s not mine anymore, and that’s not a bad thing.
Not too long after that, you did the Last Supper tour, in 2012, and you were saying that that was going to be the last time you did Crass music. That really bummed me out, because I loved hearing you do those songs. Now, you do play some Crass material live, including on the new live record. What changed your mind? I’ve been performing with Slice of Life and Paranoid Visions and every so often, I’ve been thinking, “I’ve got to put a Crass song in, it’s unfair not to.” David Bowie, bless him, if he was still alive, if I went to see him and he didn’t do “Sweet Thing,” I’d come away from the concert really disappointed, so I thought with me, people might feel the same way. What’s wrong with doing a little bit of “Do they owe us a living” anyways?
So, I was doing that, and the people at Rebellion offered us a really good slot and I said to Peter Jones, and the rest of Paranoid Visions, “let’s not tell anyone, let’s just do a special set and we’ll do a couple of my favorite tracks.” We did “Persons Unknown,” which I did not write, as a tribute to Vi Subversa. We did “Berkshire Cunts,” which I did write for Conflict and nobody knows. I’m not complaining, that’s the way it was in those days. We also did “Tube Disaster” which is one of my favorite punk songs and people went ballistic. So, of course, then offers came in for doing other gigs her and there, and thought, “why shouldn’t I?” It gives people in Paranoid Visions to experience that. So, why not?
I think what I was trying to do was, with the Last Supper tour, I was saying, “Look, after this, I’m going to be doing a thing called Slice of Life. Don’t come to my gigs expecting it to be Crass songs.” I think now people know that… and I wrote the bloody songs, so why shouldn’t I? Ha ha ha! I think at 60 years old, I’ve got the right to do certain things.
What I really like about the new live record is it has Crass songs, Stratford Mercenaries tunes, your Conflict tune- is the a specific reason for tying these songs together in this way? I think the reason was, I didn’t want to go out to rebellion and do a remake of the Last Supper and do wall-to-wall Crass songs. There was Paranoid Visions songs in there as well. So, it’s a mixture of songs that I’ve written, so it’s kind of my thing. Both me and Paranoid Visions agreed that we didn’t want this thing to overshadow our own thing- what I do with Slice of Life and what Paranoid Visions does. It sort of pleases everybody and it’s a good set to do.
Let’s talk about the concept of punk. I interviewed Captain Sensible and he basically says that when he’s writing and recording, the concept of “punk” doesn’t concern him at all. Other artists, such as maybe Ian Mackaye of Jello Biafra, might keep their respective view of what punk rock is as a guide to their actions and decisions. When you’re writing and recording, do you concern yourself with the concept of punk, or, is it, you do what you do and it just happens to be punk? I think you’ve hit it on the head right there. The worst thing that I can do to myself, and I do it quite a bit, is I’ll start writing a song and go, “Oh, it’s not political enough!” But then I’ll say, “C’mon Steve! I’m 60 years old. Am I still meant to be writing songs like I’m 16 years old?” So, I just tend , whatever drops into my head, I write them onto the paper and I take them into the studio. Some work, and some don’t. I’d call it punk… maybe I’d call it post-punk. It’s hard to put labels on things. What I do, is I call it kitchen sink music.
Apropos of nothing, I believe you got into Hip Hop before most other people in the rock scene. That’s close, not entirely accurate. Say 1985, I was in New York with [Southern Studios’] John Loder and we were down at Coney Island. A black family was walking passed me with a great big boom box and this amazing noise was coming out of it. I walked up to the bloke and said to him, “mate, what’s that coming out of these?” He said, “ain’t you heard of scratching?” I said, “No, what is it?” and they explaining it to me. When I got back to England, I went to all the sops looking for it. Then, Grandmaster Flash came out and Afrika Bambaataa came out. Because I had been into punk for so long, I didn’t know where you went to punk Hip Hop and rap, so I had to go around friend’s houses to listen. I did try a track that was influenced by Hip Hop but it never made it out of the studio.
Do you still listen to Hip Hop? Yeah, now and again. If I’m in the pub, I’ll slip it on the jukebox. But, I’m into the old style. I’m not into the gangsta rap thing. I’m into the Sugarhill Gang and I thought it was great.
Are you still Sea Palling and going out in the rescue lifeboat? No! There’s an age stipulation!
Ooooh! Yeah, I’m too old to go to sea now. I think it’s 55 you’re meant to retire. So, I’m not sea crew. But, if there’s a big shout they can come and get me. But for now, my role is fundraising for them.
A lot of punk rock artists, or whatever you call it, do a lot of talking about doing what is right and what is moral. But Steve, I think it’s admirable that you have actually physically went out there and have spent your time to save or change people’s lives. Well, thanks. Obviously, when I was doing it and going out to sea, it wasn’t going through my head, “Oh, I’m Steve Ignorant and I’m going out to sea to save peoples lives!” It was more, “[gasps] what are we going to find when we get out there and I hope we get there in time and keep them warm, keep them alive, get them to the paramedics as quickly as possible.” Sometimes, it would strike me, would I have always dreamed when I was 20 year old punk screaming in a pub somewhere that I’d be out in the middle of the sea plucking people out of it.
I wouldn’t say that it was “meant to be,” but it was a natural progression of what I had been doing previously- playing benefits for sort of organizations, and then I moved to a little village on the coast and there was a lifeboat that needed people to volunteer for it, so I volunteered for it. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to do it, but I did it, and I’m really proud of that.
You once said something along the lines of that if you found your worst enemy drowning, you would still rescue him, because that’s the duty of the job. So tell me this- you’re out there in the lifeboat, and you find Donald Trump drowning. What do you do? Would you snatch him up? Well, I wouldn’t snatch him up. I’d let him flounder out there a little while until he got exhausted and then I’d wait til he went down for the third time and then I’d reach down and pluck him out.
So, to that end, I’m going to ask you a cosmic question. Is every human being, no matter how bad he or she is, capable of redemption? What do you mean by redemption, specifically?
Becoming a better person and correcting his or her bad deeds. Yeah, I think so. But, they really gotta put their minds to it… Oooh… that’s a tough one. My punk rock head says, “yes.” But, the non-punk rock head says, “no.” And that sounds like I’m sitting on the fence again. He’s dead now, but I’m thinking of a child murderer we had over here called Ian Brady. Was he possible at redemption… hmmmm… would people forgive him? The answer is no… I’ll tell you what. I’m going down to the pub tonight and I’ll ask people at the pub and see what they think…