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Monday, April 25, 2011

Crass' Steve Ignorant Explains the S.F. Origins of the Anarchopunk Band's Iconic Logo

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2011 at 11:35 AM

Crass' Steve Ignorant - MATEUS MONDINI
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  • Crass' Steve Ignorant
The Crass logo is iconic. The songs are military-beat memorable, with lyrics about anarchy, environmentalism, and animal rights. The duo that formed the band -- vocalist Steve Ignorant and drummer Penny Rimbaud -- is somewhat legendary. And yet the English anarchopunk act existed in proper form only from 1977 to 1984. The group, which also included a host of other musicians, such as Gee Vaucher and Eve Libertine, never even performed a full U.S. tour.

This is why Ignorant (minus Rimbaud) is now traveling throughout the states singing classic songs off the Feeding of the 5000, Stations of the Crass, Penis Envy, and Christ the Album: To give American fans a chance to see those songs live, and as one last hurrah for the tracks themselves. After this jaunt, appropriately titled "Steve Ignorant presents Crass songs 1977-82, the Last Supper," the music will go back in to its recorded vaults. We recently spoke with Ignorant, who performs Wednesday at Slim's.

The tour had to be postponed a few months from its initial start date because of a visa issue. It must have been a surprise when you found out that the visas didn't come through as planned.
Yeah, I just fell to pieces when that happened. We were going through a travel agency and the fellow who was doing the paperwork has since been fired. At least 20 other bands had the same problem we did, so it was really bad. It ruined their reputation. When it happened to us it, I had to make a decision; I said, "You know, we can't just cancel this." Thankfully people were supportive and understood.

Why did you decide to do this tour in the first place? Why now?
I called this "The Last Supper" because I want everyone to know that after November 19 of this year, I'm never going to be performing Crass songs live again. I wanted everyone to know that I'm not doing a like, Sham 69 sort of thing where the last tour goes on for 10 years, that would just get embarrassing. Also, I wanted to go out because I'm 53 years old. Performing a set of Crass songs is really hard work, and I don't think I'll be able to tour much longer. We've done four [shows] as of tonight and already I'm pretty tired. It's pretty exhausting.

When was the last time that you did a tour of this scale?
At least 14 years ago, but that was with Stratford Mercenaries, and we toured the States. The very last time [Crass] toured was 1984. I think that's why everyone's so excited about it, because these songs haven't been performed in a straight set for almost 30 years. So far everyone's been really blown away by it, which is great.

What songs on the tour seem to strike a chord with the audiences so far?
"Do They Owe Us a Living?" and "Banned from the Roxy" definitely, but the nice thing is that I have a female vocalist called Carol [Hodge] and she's performing a lot of songs from Penis Envy and they're getting such a great response. The lovely thing is that [Hodge] is being approached by women after the show and all they want to do is talk to her about how important that album was to them as teenagers.

She wasn't on the original album though, right? On Penis Envy?
No. This is the first tour she's done with us. We had to audition, which is a bit embarrassing; it was a bit like American Pop Idol [sic] or something. But the minute she walked in the room and started singing, we knew she was the one, no question about it.

Are you working on any new music?
Not at the moment but I'm working on bit and pieces for the next projects I'll do after this tour. Although I won't do Crass songs live again, I am going to be performing like a spoken-word thing. Yes, I'll talk about my time in Crass. I might have a question-and-answer thing, because I know a lot of people have got a lot of questions to ask me about Crass. I'm quite excited about it, because it will be a much smaller scale -- galleries and bookstores, or bars.

Have you done anything like that before?
No, the only thing I've done is a talk at a jazz club in London with [Rimbaud]. I had a guy play piano and I just talked over it. Put a beer in my hand and I'll start talking to anybody.

Can I ask why Penny isn't on this tour?
I had to make that clear, it's not Crass coming, it's me. The minute you add more than one member of Crass, people assume it's a reunion. And he is like 60-something years old now and I really don't think he could take touring like this.

Do people still hold you to the ideologies you sang about in Crass songs?
Very much so. I did a question-and-answer thing in a record store yesterday and there was one girl there who said she didn't approve of what I was doing, because we were playing a corporate venue and it wasn't the sort of thing that Crass would have done. Now this girl, I don't think she was even born when Crass was around, so how she knows what Crass would have done is beyond me.

But I think it's part of the reason why I'm so excited about it -- because Crass never came to America, a myth and a legend has grown up around it, and I think a lot of people have these really hardline ideas on what Crass was or wasn't and it's nice to sort of put people straight about that. We were just people doing this thing. Of course stuff we wrote about, I still try to live my life according to those ideals. But it's not that much of a problem.

How did Crass start?
I'd known [Rimbaud] from when I was about 13 or 14. And I just went to visit him one day when I was around 19 and said, "I'm thinking of starting a punk band," and he said, "All right, I'll play drums for you."

Seen on punk-rockers' buttflaps the world over.
  • Seen on punk-rockers' buttflaps the world over.

What are the origins of the logo?
The two serpents' heads are meant to be power eating itself and the cross in the middle can represent Christianity or the church or religion if you like, because religion has always wielded a lot power. It came about because a guy who lived in San Francisco named David King designed it for Penny -- Penny had written an article. It wasn't a song, it was more like a booklet. The actual Crass design was for that, but when we started the band, we adopted that logo for Crass. [King] was an English guy who moved to San Francisco and still lives there now, and he'll be at the San Francisco show.

What did you want the message to be -- what were you hoping to say in the songs?
When we first started, all we wanted to say was "Fuck off" to the police, to the government, to anybody really. To be honest, when we first started Crass we thought it would just be a bit of a laugh on a weekend. But then we started writing these songs, like I wrote "Owe Us a Living" and "So What?" and Penny wrote "Banned from the Roxy," we realized we did have a message to get across. That's when we got a bit more serious about it. We didn't go like, "Oh if we do this we'll be known all over the world," or "We'll be rich and famous about it." It was just something we did.

Were you surprised by the legacy of it?
Blimey, I can't believe it! I thought when we split in 1984 that that would be it, no one would talk about it, but I must admit, there seems to be a real interest now in Crass. It really hit me when I got on the Internet. I sort of clicked in "Crass" and "Steve Ignorant" and all these bloody sites popped up! I was like, my god, you know this is really big.

Again, because Crass never came to America, so many people want to hear and see these songs live. I just think a lot of people are coming so they can talk to me. I have a sore throat, not only from performing the songs onstage, but because from the minute I get to the venue, I can't stop talking to people [laughs]. To me that's part of the deal, that's why I'm here. If people bother to buy one of my records or come to one of my gigs, the least I can do is give them five minutes of my time.

I don't know if you want to say that in print, because now even more people will come up to you in shows.

Well they have been so far! I don't like hanging out backstage anyway. I'd rather be at the bar drinking beers and shooting the breeze with people.

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