Forming during the peak of punk in the late 1970’s, Crass brought a new concept to punk, one that did not just speak of shaking up society, but in fact acted in a subversive manner and in doing so Crass became the pioneers of anarcho-punk. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Crass singer, Steve Ignorant ahead of his first Australian show on the Last Supper tour.
By: Angie Hurlock
You're about to embark on an Australian tour where you will be playing Crass songs for the last time, what is the significance of this?
Because there’s been so many bands before like Jimmy Pursey and all this kind of thing, they say it’s the last tour and they come back and do it again or they say it’s the last tour and it goes on for 10 years. And I just wanted people to know that I really mean it that this will be the last time I will be playing crass songs live on stage. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop performing. I’m just not going to do Crass songs live and I just wanted everyone to know and I’ve made this promise and I’m going to stick to it. The last ever time I play Crass songs will be on November 19th this year. That’s going to be weird, but I know that the week after that I’m going to get a bloody invite to do a fucking festival that’s going to pay me thousands of dollars or something and I won’t be able to do it, but that’s the commitment I’ve made.
What are you hoping Australian audiences takes away from these shows?
I’m really hoping that it’s a celebration of those great songs. My dream would be that some young punk is in the audience and they get inspired to start their own band and it becomes as good and does as good as Crass did. That would be the perfect thing.
Obviously lyrically Crass were influenced by current affairs and politics, but what were your musical influences?
That was all different. I mean, people ask me why the sound of Crass was so different and first you had me and I came up through ska music, Motown, David Bowie and all this kind of stuff and they’re my influences and of course punk. Then you have Penny Rimbaud and his influences were Elvis Presley, classical and avant garde jazz. Then you had people like Pete the bass payer, he came up through Frank Zappa and folk music and stuff. So, you had all these different influences and none of us were musicians and so that’s why it was such a cranky sound. And that’s why (at this point Steve is distracted by laughter coming from drummer Spike T Smith) and that’s why it’s so hard for him (pointing at Spike) to do the drumming. (Spike comes over to introduce himself, “I always love that story… not musicians). We weren’t musicians and the way we used to do a song would be I would write something and I’d say to Pete it goes like this (mimics music). We’d try to make the music more of an atmosphere than something you could sing along too
Crass are considered the pioneers of the anarcho-punk movement. When you started out did you ever imagine that you would have such impact on an entire genre of music?
No, because we were just doing it. We didn’t have any idea. We knew the Sex Pistols didn’t mean it when they said, ‘I am an anarchist’. And we thought, ‘well right, we’ll try to people what anarchism could be and should be. And then we got into hot water because the proper anarchists didn’t like us you know. I’ve never read any anarchist literature, I started to read a book by Malatesta I got four pages into it, I got so bored that I put the bloody thing down and read the paper instead. No, we didn’t have any idea, I think what we did was to make ideas like anarchism and pacifism and self sufficiency, I think what we did really was not influence people, but inspired them to start thinking for themselves and then they’d go out and start bands for themselves, I think that’s where it’s successful.
Do see music as a perfect vehicle for expressing political ideas and creating social awareness?
I don’t know if it’s the perfect way, I think it’s a way of doing it. I’ve seen black and white films from the sixties that wouldn’t make sense to maybe an 18 year old person now. But really moved me and made me think. I’m very much a book person, so I think that’s the perfect way to sort of do it, because I’ve been moved by words.
Which bands/artists, if any do you admire for their mix of political awareness and music?
No, because I don’t know any. I’m doing a typical middle aged thing where, because I was in punk and all that sort of stuff and it was the type of music I liked and then when I hit about the age of 45 or something and I stopped listening to new music and I started going back. Like now, I’m listening to bands like The Who again and the small face and sixties stuff and getting back into listening to ska. It’s really odd, I’m sort of going backwards rather than, but no, now I'm appreciating how good that music was and how it moved me. If Lady Gaga is meant to be the new punk then I don’t think very much of it. And you know, someone like Justin Bieber, I mean, if that’s all there is then I feel sorry for the young people and they really should be out there starting their own bands and having riots.
What are you looking forward to most during the upcoming Australian tour?
A bit of sleep and get this first gig out of the way because we’re all a bit jet lagged and nervous. But once we get this first show out of the way, we’ll be a lot better. We got in yesterday morning and we haven’t stopped really. The flight was 24 hours or something stupid like that, but we’ll be alright, we’ll get through it.
After this Last Supper tour wraps up, what are your plans for the future?
I’m going to take a year and a half to two years off and knuckle down on some new material. I’ve already got it in my head, what I want to do is a spoken word thing, but its not going to be like Henry Rollins standing up on stage. I want it to be almost like you’re going to watch a play or something, so there would be very simple stage props, some visuals, keyboards and bass, just background music. And I’d just talk about me and what I've done, if anyone’s interested. I’ll be talking about crass and then in the second half I will open up to a question and answer sort of thing. Because I know there are thousands of people out there that want to talk to me about crass. Part of the reason why I’ve called it the last supper and what I want people to know that this is the last time I will be playing Crass songs live, so people don’t come to my new thing expecting to hear crass songs, because I’m not doing it.