Steve Ignorant: Globe and Mail Article

April 20, 2011 at 9:15 pm (Uncategorized)

 

I’d have to say, I’m pretty excited about Friday’s Steve Ignorant show in Toronto. Especially since Goldblade are opening. There’s a Q and A at Hits and Misses on Queen at 6PM, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that. Anyway, here’s an article from today’s Globe and Mail.

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In 1978, the band Crass declared that punk was dead. Apparently it isn’t

Robert Everett-Green

April 20, 2011

On the line from England, Steve Ignorant sounds a little dazed by the thought that people in Montreal, a city he has never visited, are so eager to hear him sing 30-year-old punk songs that the promoter had to bump the gig up to a club with space for 2,000, including soft seats in the balcony.

“It’s pretty astonishing,” says Ignorant, the original lead singer for Crass, which gave its last show in 1984. “I thought we’d be playing really small venues.”

“We” does not mean Crass in any form – the current North American tour, which begins in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Wednesdayand reaches Montreal and Toronto on Thursday and Friday, is billed as Steve Ignorant Presents the Last Supper. The band is history, he says, but the songs are still now.

Crass was never as famous as the Clash or the Sex Pistols, but its music has shown staying power that few might have guessed when the band issued its first record in 1978. “Punk is dead,” the band declared on that disc, referring to the decay of the genre into “another cheap product,” but punk has continued, most vigorously in the left-leaning, anti-war, anarchistic mode that Crass pioneered.

Despite its name, Crass promoted a literate, focused and even poetic assault on authority. Asylum, the first song on that debut disc (which bore the biblical title The Feeding of the 5,000), blasted Jesus for allowing the Holocaust, alluded to the anti-war poetry of Wilfred Owen and contained such nuggets as: “The cross is the mast of our oppression.”

Crass (whose other leading member was performance artist Penny Rimbaud, a.k.a. Jeremy Ratter) also produced tape collages and Gee Vaucher’s political street stencils – decades before Banksy – and engaged in other direct-action tactics. With the Slits, Crass was one of the few early punk bands in which women played a major role: Penis Envy (1981), its third album, focused on feminist issues and was sung by Eve Libertine (Bronwyn Lloyd Jones) and Joy De Vivre.

The current once-only tour grew out of two London performances of The Feeding of the 5,000 in 2007. Word got out that Crass songs could again be heard live, someone remembered that the band had sold 1.5 million albums and bookings began to appear across Europe and in places such as Gainesville, Fla.

“I can’t hit the high notes, but then I never could,” says Ignorant, who is now 53 and still speaks in a voluble Cockney. “I thought I’d be dying for breath every night.”

An exercise regime helped, as did the convenient fact that Crass shows were mostly stand-and-sing affairs to begin with. He never had a problem with relearning the band’s often verbose lyrics. “Those lyrics have been in my head, in my subconscious mind, ever since we wrote them,” he says. “Once we started rehearsals, it all came flooding back.”

Ignorant thought of revising a few – “for about 30 seconds. But the things happening in the world are still the same. The songs are very specific, but, in another way, they’re timeless.”

As for changing the arrangements, the musicians he recruited to play the songs were dead against any kind of tampering. What the all-ages fans have been hearing so far, Ignorant says, are very much like the album versions, with better amps and instruments.

After Crass ended, Ignorant performed with a few other bands, then spent a decade as a traditional Punch and Judy performer, with his own papier-mâché puppets. The shift from punk to Punch was really a change of means, not ends, he says. “Punch and Judy really used to frighten me as a child. But it was mainly a show for adults. It was very political in the 1800s, with lots of anti-government statements.”

As with Crass’s song catalogue, he didn’t think that Punch’s violent skits needed updating. “I stuck very rigidly to the original story from Victorian times,” he says. “If you overpoliticize it, it loses its freshness.”

He may go back to being a “Professor” (the traditional name for a Punch performer), though his original puppets have become quite fragile from use. He also has a solo show in mind, mainly spoken word with music, based on his autobiography, The Rest Is Propaganda.

As for Crass’s original recordings, those were rescued by Penny Rimbaud a few years ago from deteriorating two-inch tape, and remastered for reissue on Southern Records, a label associated with the band from the beginning. But one former member refused to give his consent.

“It turned into a big bloody argument,” Ignorant says. “It was quickly apparent that it was about far more than business, it was about personal histrionic issues.”

The reissues went ahead anyway, and damn the torpedoes, but since Crass was always an equal-shares venture, the absence of unanimous approval means that the proceeds of sales are frozen by the Performing Right Society. If unclaimed, the money will eventually be shared out in proportion to performers’ global sales, which means that Elton John and Andrew Lloyd Webber may profit more from Crass than any member of the band.

“How ironic is that?” Ignorant says. Or as he sang, very presciently, in 1978: “The living that is owed to me I’m never going to get.”

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