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GONZO WEEKLY #154: Jon meets Igs

There are not many rock singers who have literally changed the world for a lot of people including yours truly, but Steve Ignorant is and has.

Crass were an English collective and punk rock band formed in 1977, which promoted anarchism as a political ideology, a way of life and a resistance movement. Crass popularised the anarcho-punk movement of the punk subculture, advocating direct action, animal rights and environmentalism. The band used and advocated a DIY punk ethic approach to its sound collages, leaflets, albums and films.

Crass spray-painted stencilled graffiti messages in the London Underground system and on advertising billboards, coordinated squats and organised political action. The band expressed its ideals by dressing in black, military-surplus-style clothing and using a stage backdrop amalgamating icons of perceived authority such as the Christian cross, the swastika, the Union Jack and the ouroboros.

The band was based around Dial House, an open-house community near Epping, Essex, and formed when Dial House founder Penny Rimbaud began jamming with Steve Ignorant (who was staying in the house at the time). Ignorant was inspired to form a band after seeing The Clash perform at Colston Hall in Bristol, whilst Rimbaud, a veteran of avant garde performance art groups such as EXIT and Ceres Confusion, was working on his book Reality Asylum. They produced "So What?" and "Do They Owe Us A Living?" as a drum-and-vocal duo. They briefly called themselves Stormtrooper before choosing Crass in reference to a line in the David Bowie song "Ziggy Stardust" ("The kids was just crass").

After Crass stopped performing in 1984, he has worked with other groups including Conflict, Schwartzeneggar, Stratford Mercenaries, Current 93 (under the name Stephen Intelligent), US punk band Thought Crime, as well as being an occasional solo performer.

He is also a sculptor, and has worked as a traditional Punch and Judy performer using the name Professor Ignorant. In recent years he has developed an interest in the history of traditional London music hall performance. In November 2007 he performed the entire Feeding of the 5000 album live at the Shepherds Bush Empire to great acclaim.  Three years later he announced plans for a world tour called "The Last Supper", performing Crass songs from the period 1977-1982 with largely the same band that performed with him at Shepherd's Bush, including Gizz Butt, Bob Butler and Spike Smith.

With the extraordinary Carol Hodge performing songs originally sung by Eve Libertine and Joy DeVivre, he performed the last show of the tour again at the Shepherds Bush Empire.  The band were joined by ex-Crass members Penny Rimbauld and Eve Libertine and Steve said: "And then Penny came on...and we did it, 'Do They Owe Us A Living' as we'd first done it all those years ago. As it started, so it finished".

Steve pledged that this would be the last time that these songs would be performed by him, and across the globe a disparate collection of middle-aged men and women who had been politicised by Crass all those years before, and whose lives had taken a completely different path because of him, shed more than a few tears.  It was undoubtedly the end of an era.

Now, together with Carol Hodge he has formed an extraordinary acoustic band who are performing completely unpunk (if that is a word) music, but still with the passion that Steve has always displayed. It is always a great pleasure to talk to him, so this week I sat down in my favourite armchair and gave him a ring...


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