Crass (Have Run Their) Course
It has not been billed as a farewell tour, but in a very big way, it is one for Steve Ignorant, co-founder of the '70s British anarchist-punk band Crass.
"I'm able to announce now," he says in a video posted on his website during the weeks prior to the current North American tour, "there is a final date to the Last Supper."
Ignorant plans to stop playing Crass material forever after a concert on Nov. 19.
Why? He has fears the Last Supper tour could have gone on for years. "And that would have become embarrassing and meaningless," Ignorant (born Steve Williams) says from a tour stop in Montreal. "The other reason is that I want people to know that, although I love performing the songs, for me, it has to stop at some point. I think this is the time to stop it."
Careful never to bill himself as a Crass reunion tour, in 2007, Ignorant performed Feeding of the 5,000; Crass-mate Penny Rimbaud (Jeremy Ratter) expressed displeasure. But not so much in 2010, when Ignorant toured Crass songs again, this time in the first of the Last Supper tours. Commerce may have played a part in Rimbaud's thaw. "When I told him I would be selling his books on the merchandise table, he suddenly got really excited about it all," says Ignorant, as he laughs.
But either way, Ignorant has hedged his bets and built a support network as if quitting playing from his old band's set lists is like kicking nicotine. "I've sworn to some of my friends I'm not ever gonna perform Crass songs live again, and they said to me, 'Can we hold you to that?' And I said, yeah. They said, 'If we ever hear you've been performing Crass live, we'll kick your head in.' All right, fair enough."
Crass have been called the definitive anarchist-punk band. They embodied the proletariat vision that a lack of musical skills should never limit one's participation in a band. Better to be a true pain in the ass to the Thatcher administration, they reckoned, than a mere virtuoso. As such, Crass were the first wave of DIY punks. They were hard-line radicals; their gigs were thrash-all loud fests; and they lived, as best they could, their assumed roles as agents of social change.
With the exception of Penis Envy (Ignorant stood down while Joy De Vivre and Eve Libertine sang the lyrics), Ignorant fronted Crass from the band's inception in 1977 to 1984 when they disbanded.
"I'm 53 years old now. Yeah, 53. I've done my time, if you know what I mean. I look around, and I think, 'Well, come on, you young'uns; why aren't you tearing things down like we used to?' But maybe there will be a massive revolution some day. That'll shut me up."
Ignorant says Crass did more than inspire future punk bands. "I think we made people think, and we made people question. Did we change people's lives? I think we did, really."
Did Crass get anything wrong? "Certainly, yeah," he says. "In the '80s in England, it was really bad, you know, with skinheads and stuff making trouble at gigs. We should have gotten baseball bats and smashed their bloody heads in and not even let them cause trouble. But no, we tried to embrace them. And it backfired on us, and in the end, they did fight back."
Ignorant spent his post-Crass '80s and '90s fronting bands such as Conflict, Schwartzeneggar and Thought Crime. This time around, he has a different plan for his immediate future. "Well, I'm hoping to do, like, the spoken-word thing, which will be a smaller thing with some visuals and actual lighting and maybe a piano with a bass guitar. It would be almost like watching a play. And I'll basically be talking about me, of course, and everything I've done."
He admits he already has a lot of the material in print in the form of his recently published autobiography, The Rest Is Propaganda.
But Nov. 19 looms, and before he does anything else, Ignorant is focused on closing down this chapter of his life. "I know damn well two days after that last gig in November, I'll get a phone call from some rich tycoon offering me $20,000 to come perform at his daughter's garden party. And I'll have to say no."
This article appeared in print as "Crass Goodbye: After this tour, Steve Ignorant plans to stop playing Crass songs—forever."
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