Nardwuar the Human Serviette vs. Steve Ignorant of Crass!
Nardwuar: Who are you?
Steve Ignorant: Well, I’m the usual bloke you see who is leaning up against the bar and people say ‘who are you’ and I go ‘I’m Steve Ignorant’.
Nardwuar: For merchandise regarding Crass, were there really Crass alarm clocks?
Steve Ignorant: Well I think if you go on the internet there’s probably all that sort of stuff yeah, you know I’ve seen you can get training bras and underpants with the Crass symbol on, so it wouldn’t surprise me if you could get toilet paper with the Crass symbol on, which would be pretty ironic.
Nardwuar: That’s amazing.
Steve Ignorant: Yeah which just goes to show you know that punk is dead, that song that Crass wrote. Yeah, punk is dead, mate. You know, look, if you want a training bra with a Crass symbol on it, do it yourself, you know? If you want toilet paper with the Crass symbol on do it yourself, otherwise punk is dead. Otherwise wipe your backside with it.
Nardwuar: How popular were Crass? Like you sold 1.5 million records, you were like up there with AC/DC, right?
Steve Ignorant: Oh yeah, at one point, not that we was ever in a competition but as far as we knew at one point we were selling more records than AC/DC, yeah. Yeah, very strange.
Nardwuar: And you were playing youth clubs, like AC/DC was playing big stadiums, but you were playing youth clubs.
Steve Ignorant: Yeah. I know. Yeah, but you know we were playing very small places but people still come to me, you know, 30 years later saying they remember those gigs.
Nardwuar: Going way back to the early days, what were Dead Man’s Shadow like?
Steve Ignorant: Oh they were fantastic. I tell you what, I was at this gig, it used to be a squat in London, it was called Central Iberico, it was totally DIY before the scene arrived, we’re talking like late 70s / early 80s, and I was standing on the stairs talking to a friend of mine and all of a sudden this band was playing and I went ‘sorry mate I’ve got to stop you talking’, and I turned around, went in and watched the band and I couldn’t leave them. Dead Man’s Shadow. Yeah, weren’t around for a long time, but I wish they would reform.
Nardwuar: Do you have their records on your shelf? Like what is on your shelf? Are there a lot of records?
Steve Ignorant: No, I don’t have Dead Man’s Shadow. What’s on my shelves at the moment? Well, Michael Jackson, Burt Bacharach, Joni Mitchell, The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, loads, you name it. Not a lot of punk.
Nardwuar: Who was the girl, Steve, that told you to see The Clash? Who was the girl?
Steve Ignorant: Oh, she was a nutcase. I was working in a hospital at the time putting bandages on people, well actually plaster of paris, and she just came in, you know, with a broken wrist and I said ‘what’s with the weird clothes?’ and she said, ‘ain’t you heard of punk rock?’ and I went, ‘no, what’s that?’ and she went, you know, and she said ‘oh, there’s a band playing on Friday down at the Colston Hall in Bristol, why don’t you come down?’ I went, ‘are you going to be there?’ and she went ‘yeah’ and I went ‘alright then, I’ll see you there’. Yeah, I never saw her, I never met her. Thanks to her, she started it.
Nardwuar: She started everything! But I was thinking the person that hired you at the hospital must have started everything inadvertently. Was it hard to get a gig at the hospital? You were working at the hospital?
Steve Ignorant: Yeah, yeah. No, it was really simple. I mean this was back in 1970, my God, 1976, and jobs were still quite easy to come by if you knew were to get them. I mean, I walked in the hospital and I said ‘look, you know, I want a job as a porter, you know moving dead bodies around and all that sort of stuff’ and they went, ‘oh no, we’ve got nothing like that but you know, what are you like at seeing blood?’ and I went, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never seen a lot’ and they said ‘well you can be a plaster technician’. I went, ‘oh, that sounds fantastic’ and I got the job – brilliant!
Nardwuar: So how many members of Crass were musical? Like Penny had bands in the past, how many members were musical?
Steve Ignorant: Look let’s get one thing straight, you know Penny Rimbaud and the name band do not go together. What you get is an experience which is usually tortuous. I’m not putting him down, fair play to the bloke, he does stuff. He’s always been into improvisation jazz and spur-of-the-moment stuff, and it’s not for me. They had this so-called, it wasn’t a band, it was an art thing called Exit and it was just, it’s just noise, you know what I mean? Actually, there’s a CD out of Exit playing. Pen gave me a copy. I’ve not played it, I daren’t. No, they’re not bands, they’re more sort of art, you know, situation art things.
Nardwuar: But Jimmy Percy heard about you for sure, and he wanted to market your revolution, Percy’s package?
Steve Ignorant: Yeah actually, fair play to Jimmy Percy, it wasn’t him who said it, we were invited down by I think it was EMI, and they said ‘come down, you could be part of Percy’s package’, it was this idea that Jimmy Percy had of doing this thing with all different bands. We were like, we weren’t going to go for it, you know, we were at the height of Crass, all black clothes and attitude, and we went in there and you know strange, this proper executive office, a big desk with a big bunch of flowers on it and this big bloke sitting behind it in a smart suit, you know, and walked in there, and he said ‘oh, anybody want a drink?’ I went ‘yeah I wouldn’t mind a beer mate’ and he clicked his fingers, click click (snaps fingers), and this bloke went and got me a beer and he went ‘now I can market your revolution’ at which point we went ‘ha-ha-ha-ha keep going mate, we’re taping you’ but we had a little cassette tape and it ran out.
Nardwuar: And you also did a tribute song in Crass to Jimmy Percy, Hurry Up Gary (The Parsons Farted) ?
Steve Ignorant: Yeah, that was Gary Bushell and Tony Parsons, there were two journalists who wrote for Sound, I think, and New Musical Express and they really ripped us to shreds so we just got one back at them.
Nardwuar: Steve Ignorant of Crass, what about activism? Do you remember spraying any graffiti, Stop The City? Did you throw any smoke bombs?
Steve Ignorant: I didn’t throw smoke bombs, what I did was I threw, I emptied out, we got some milk cartons and filled them up with red paint and just threw them all over the place. I remember doing that. Activism, we sort of got involved but it ended up like, for me it was like you’d go to something like Stop The City, and the most difficult thing was not to be arrested. Once you were arrested, you know, you’re on their bad hit list so you couldn’t go to next year’s, so you had to sort of try and stay under the radar.
Nardwuar: But people knew Crass were involved in activism, you actually had contact with a skinhead punk soldier who gave you the inside information for ‘How Does It Feel’?
Steve Ignorant: No, that was a sailor. He was working, he was in the Royal Navy and he was a skinhead and he wrote to me saying what a bunch of, the word begins with W and ends with S, I won’t say it live, and I wrote back and said well I’ll reply to you, you’ve been brave enough to reply to me and then he totally changed his tune. We met up with him and he went out to the Falklands and told us the stories, you know and yeah, that’s where the song comes from. You know I mean he’d actually seen action and he’d seen friends of his die, so we didn’t make fun of it, you know, you can’t. It’s a very serious business. I’d love to meet up with the bloke again, you know.
Nardwuar: Steve Ignorant, did you have a hard time remembering all the lyrics? Because you look at the Crass lyrics and they were incredible, how did you remember the lyrics?
Steve Ignorant: I think it’s called brainwashing, I’m not sure you know. I mean it’s ridiculous isn’t it, because one Crass song is like an Oasis album with the amount of lyrics in it. But yeah, I still remember them to this day, you know, I have a thing called sleep Tourettes, I wake up in the middle of the night swearing, and Yona, my wife will go, ‘what are you swearing about?’ and I’m like ‘oh something that happened 30, 40 years ago’. But yeah I’ll be quoting Crass lyrics in me sleep.
Nardwuar: Steve Ignorant, I was curious, the Thatchergate tape, people thought they were actual KGB tapes, like the KGB actually wanted to recruit you and you went to visit them and they went under the pretense of being a literary mag, how did that happen?
Steve Ignorant: No, they didn’t want to recruit us. It wasn’t that at all. What it was, we did this tape and I can’t remember, we sent it to someone in Europe, and 6 months later a little snippet appeared in Washington Post or something and then all of a sudden it blew up. It was like, oh is this a KGB tape, and some journalist got in touch with us from the Observer in England, and said ‘oh, it was you, wasn’t it’ and we went ‘what’s us?’ and he said ‘it’s you, that tape’, and we went ‘oh, you had better come over for a cup of tea mate’. And he came over. Anyway, blah blah blah, and we admitted it, and then the Russians sent over some journalists and the Americans sent over some journalists in a hotel in London but the Russians were in one room and the Americans were in the other so we had to do this interview on the same day, so we were going from one room to the other. We got fed up running up and down the corridor so we went ‘look, for Christ’s sake why don’t we all just sit in the same room’ plus the Russians had bought vodka and we’d taken advantage of that, and we got the Americans drinking the vodka. Then the Russians and the Americans started talking together and they forgot all about us so we just ended up going down the pub.
Nardwuar: And you solved world peace!
Steve Ignorant: Well we could have done, I mean better than Sylvester Stallone in Rocky and Dolph Lundgren, you know what I mean (laughs)?
Nardwuar: Steve Ignorant of Crass, did Margaret Thatcher ever actually hear ‘How Does it Feel’?
Steve Ignorant: No, I think she heard of it and I wouldn’t be surprised if her advisers were quoted some of the lyrics to it because I know that when the papers became public, that was like about three years ago, it was in there that she knew of us. We were sent a circular, a bit of paper from the Houses of Parliament, and on no account should any member of the Tory party or the Conservative party have any dealings whatsoever with any person or persons pertaining to be a member of a band known as Crass. So she knew about us, that cow.
Nardwuar: The MI5, they had a dossier on you?
Steve Ignorant: Yeah.
Nardwuar: Did they film gigs? What is in the dossier? Can you request that through Freedom of Information Acts?
Steve Ignorant: Yeah you can, yeah. I think you can, I can’t be bothered. But I don’t think MI5 came to the gigs but I know there was a lot of undercover police. You could always tell them because you get these blokes turn up, a bit scruffy, and the further you went down you looked at their trousers and they weren’t so scruffy and then the shoes were very nicely polished. You could always tell them. Plus our phone was tapped, we knew that. It wasn’t only us, it was bands like Conflict, Poison Girls, all of them, the Cravats, everyone was being tapped at that time. You’ve got to remember, and certainly with a band called Stag 17 from Belfast who came over, because the Troubles in Ireland were going on in the time the government were really, really paranoid so everyone was under surveillance. It weren’t just Crass but I’m proud to say that yeah there was actually a file, you know? Why do you think I get stopped every time I go through an airport – you know ‘Mr Williams?’, ‘yeah that’s me’, ‘come in this room’, ‘oh for Christ sake, right, yep there you go’.
Nardwuar: What else was created at Dial House ? There was a lot of music but what about art? Like, that’s why I find it really interesting there aren’t many films of Crass, were there films created at Dial House of Crass?
Steve Ignorant: No, no that wasn’t what we were about. Crass was about doing it, it was the spur of the moment, you did the gig and you did it. You also have to remember that in those days, we’re talking there was no internet, there was no mobile phones. If you had a video camera it was the size of a tank and you had to have a huge battery with you as well to carry it around with. Cameras were sort of the insta click it things. So that’s why there’s not a lot of films of Crass about, it just weren’t done. People who came to Crass gigs weren’t doing it to record it or anything like that, they were going for the spur of the moment you know, and that was the beauty of the Crass gigs, that we would turn up in a small hut in the middle of a side of a mountain in Wales and we’d play to, I don’t know, 200 people and that would be it, and that’s why people remember it with such fond memories.
Nardwuar: Steve Ignorant of Crass, which stores refuse to sell Crass?
Steve Ignorant: Oh that would be HMV, WH Smiths and I can’t remember, they’ve all sort of closed down now but yeah a lot of record stores.
Nardwuar: Was it hard to borrow money from the Poison Girls, because you borrowed some money from the Poison Girls?
Steve Ignorant: No they had loads of it so we borrowed it and we paid it back, simple as that, we was all mates, you know? I think we done some sort of scam with someone else, I can’t remember, yeah it’s all a bit sort of dark and seedy but that’s the way we worked in those days you know you borrow it, you beg, borrow and steal, and that’s what we did.
Nardwuar: The lead singer Vi Subversa of the Poison Girls, she was quite a bit older, but she looked so cool. What were they like? What were the Poison Girls like Steve of Crass?
Steve Ignorant: Look Vi Subversa from Poison Girls was one of the most wonderful people you could have ever had the fortune to meet and I miss her dreadfully and I remember, you know, Christ, back in 1980 something…1981 maybe…I was in Birmingham, we were playing a gig in Birmingham, and the Poison Girls were on. This bloke come out and went ‘blimey Steve she’s a bit old to be doing this’ and I went ‘what are you going to be doing when you’re 40?’ and I’m 60 now and the last time I met her she was riddled with rheumatism but what a woman, I mean the songs she wrote about being a single mother and the problems that that brought and you know, bringing up kids, I mean, I would really advise people to listen to Poison Girls, you know, because she had a voice like Eartha Kitt, she was just fantastic, Vi, I have such fond memories of that band, they were Paranoid Visions play with me in Canada, yeah, there’s going to be a tribute to Vi and Poison Girls.
Nardwuar: Are you, Steve, kind of responsible for zines? Are Crass responsible for zines? You didn’t talk to main stream press, you gave a lot of money to zines, like do you remember giving money to zines? Which zines benefitted from Crass?
Steve Ignorant: Oh all of them, you know I mean we weren’t interested in talking to the established media or the music papers because what you’d do they’d come over and do an interview, and you’d open the paper and they would take you out of context, whereas with fanzines, you know, they’d come over and the fanzine would be four bits of paper stapled together done by a kid who was maybe 15 years old doing it. You know, I don’t think your younger members will understand what this is, but a printer on a gestetner machine or you know photocopied or Xeroxed, you know, and that’s what we supported. It was about do it yourself, and use the facilities you’ve got.
Nardwuar: But you actually gave money to the fanzines, do you remember some of the fanzines you gave money to like Toxic Graffiti or Subvert?
Steve Ignorant: Of course yeah, Toxic Graffiti, Kill Your Pet Puppy, all of them you know? Blimey there was so many, Suspect Device, that sort of stuff, and some of them are still going. Slowly but surely. we gave money to anybody that was worthy of it, of course we would. We were making money from gigs, what were we going to do with it? Spend it? Piss it up the wall with beer? No, we gave the money to people that mattered and the people that mattered were the ones trying to do something.
Nardwuar: Crass always gave a lot of food out at gigs, soup. Did you have a favourite type of soup?
Steve Ignorant: No we didn’t give soup out. What we used to do was take our own sandwiches and flasks of tea and when we turned up there we didn’t have roadies so the people there waiting to go in would be like ‘do you want a hand in with the gear’ and we’d go ‘yeah’, and we’d get the tea and sandwiches out and of courses they’d eat them. So no we never gave soup out. My favourite soup? I don’t know, I’d rather have a cup of tea.
Nardwuar: Steve of Crass, I was always fascinated how Andy of Crass played guitar. How did Andy play guitar?
Steve Ignorant: He couldn’t play guitar! How long had we been together, 5 years, 7 years, what we used to do was tune his guitar to an open chord, I think it was D, used to tune it to an open D and he used to put his hand rather than underneath with the thumb at the back of the neck he’d just put his fingers over the top of it so basically you just use your fingers moving up and down, so it’s just an open chord and all he used to do was scrub it. Fair play to the bloke, he never learned to play a proper chord in his life. I spoke to him the other day, he still can’t play guitar.
Nardwuar: Steve Ignorant of Crass, I was curious about Bjork’s band, do you remember that, Bjork’s first band on Crass records?
Steve Ignorant: I certainly do yeah, Kukl yeah, difficult to say, it’s Icelandic. Einer who was the trumpet player and the other vocalist, he explained to me that Kukl actually means magic in Icelandic or something like that. Bjork was this beautiful, absolutely beautiful, 15 year old which sounds really weird but I mean beautiful as in a work of art, and what a vocal range she had, this amazing sound coming out of this little woman, fantastic. Then they became Sugar Cubes and I saw them as well, you know I’m still friends with Anar, I saw him a couple of years ago, in fact last year, his son is now in a band. I can’t remember what the bloody band is called. Bjork has gone on and I dare say one day we’ll pass on the street and have a cup of tea together and go ‘hello, how you doing, how’s things’ and all that sort of stuff.
Nardwuar: How would you describe them to people listening? How would you describe the band?
Steve Ignorant: What Sugar Cubes or Kukl?
Nardwuar: Well Kukl, seeing them live.
Steve Ignorant: It was an experience. You can’t say it was punk rock but the minute she opened her mouth and started singing you were activated and you were riveted to the spot.
Nardwuar: Where did you see them play? Where did they play?
Steve Ignorant: The first time I saw them play was in Iceland, there was a peace rally they were doing in Iceland, Crass were invited to go over and play so it was 1983, Andy Palmer was still in the band, there’s a photograph of me and Andy sitting backstage. Now I’m 60 years old the memory starts to go a bit, and yeah played this big sort of festival thing there and Kukl played and Crass played afterwards. That’s the first time we performed…oh God…Yes Sir I Will in its entirety. Penny Rimbaud couldn’t do it, he got an ear infection, so we had to get Martin from Flux of Pink Indians to do drumming for us, but you know I remember watching Bjork again and absolutely inspiring, awe inspiring, fantastic, fantastic woman.
Nardwuar: Crass records had so many cool records like Captain Sensible, Captain Sensible was on Crass records, this is your captain speaking, how did that happen?
Steve Ignorant: I think he just phoned up. I can’t remember, do you know what I can’t remember how it happened. He phoned up and came over, he only had a couple of choruses and I think Penny Rimbaud ended up writing a lot of the lyrics for him but yeah you know started working together, again bump into him and we have a nice little talk and all that sort of stuff, yeah he just came over and had a cup of tea, came to Dall House where Crass used to live.
Nardwuar: What about Chumbawamba?
Steve Ignorant: Ah now the Chumbas, we never actually met them. Crass were doing Crass, Chumbas were doing Chumbas and when I bump into them you know…
Nardwuar: Were they on the ‘Bullshit Detector’ comps?
Steve Ignorant: Oh yeah they was on it, yeah yeah but we didn’t know who they were. They became Chumbawamba I Get Knocked Down and all that sort of stuff, but they’ve done other stuff apart from that you know and they’re still going on to do things as separate members and I bump into them now and again. It wasn’t like you know oh wow I’m working with Chumbawambas, oh wow I’m working with Sensible, wow I’m working with Bjork, it was just…we were just people doing stuff, you know doing simply minded stuff and we were doing what we were doing. As I say you know Chumbas were doing what they were doing and like Conflict they had a slightly different audience to what Crass did and like the Exploited as well, you know so we were just doing what we were doing.
Nardwuar: So keep on rocking in the free world Steve and doot doola doot doo…
Steve Ignorant: Do-do-do-ah-loo-do!
Nardwuar: Almost, you almost got it! Doot doola doot doo…
Steve Ignorant: Ooh-ooh.