Our editor spoke with Steve Ignorant for her forthcoming book. Steve was vocalist for one of the most important punk bands of all-time, Crass. Their political punk encouraged and inspired generations of punks to think for themselves and to question authority, the world around them and themselves. 2020 finds Steve still making music with latest project the acoustic-based, Slice Of Life. He’s still singing about injustice, but his songs have taken a more personal and vulnerable turn. The following is an extract, you can find the full longer in-depth chat in book, Conversations With Punx; along with thoughtful, insightful chats with Dick Lucas from Subhumans, CJ Ramone, Operation Ivy’s Jesse Michaels, Black Flag/Circle Jerks/OFF!’s Keith Morris, Zero Boys’ Paul Mahern and 100 more punks!
Why is music important to you?
STEVE IGNORANT: It’s a way of putting a message across and it can stir up all different kinds of emotions, really that’s it.
Two things that I have noticed that are very prevalent in your music is emotion and also compassion; have you always been a really compassionate person?
SI: Yeah, I have. I’ve often met people that say I’m a bit of a romantic, I don’t know so much about that but, I have always been compassionate ever since I was a child. Not to be depressive or anything but I think it’s because when I was growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s there was even more injustice going on then there is today. From seeing that and the way certain people are treated, I think that’s where it comes from.
Before you started making music I know that you worked for the British Royal Infirmary, right? You were using Plaster of Paris on people’s broken arms and legs and you also wanted to do a First Aid course to become a paramedic.
SI: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. See I went for a job at that hospital as a Hospital Porter and I was asked if I can stand the sight of blood, I said, “yeah”. They said, “ok, well you can put Plaster of Paris on people’s arms and legs” and then it was possible for me to do a course with the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. From that I would have possibly been able to become an ambulance driver and from there a paramedic. It’s very interesting work.
So you’ve always liked helping people!
SI: Yeah, unknowingly. I don’t think I’ve ever sat around and gone, “Oh, I’m going to help people” like a missionary or something. I’m always helping people, if I’m doing gigs I’m giving money away [laughs]. I moved to this place where I live, by the seaside, and ended up working on a lifeboat. So you’re absolutely right—I’ve never thought of it like that! [laughs].
You just have an innate disposition to help others.
SI: Yes! You could say, I’m not a believer in God and all that stuff but, in some ways you could say that I’m a Christian really… helping other people and all that. I can’t help it, I’ve got to do it.
With the songs you’ve written in Crass and your newer band Slice Of Life, you’re singing about injustices in the world; do you still process your anger in the same way?
SI: Rather than being head on and writing something like “Do they Owe Us A Living?” or “So What”, I’ll find a more poetic way of doing it, a more subtle way. I think doing it more head on like “fuck you!” is more for younger people, I don’t think it’s for a sixty-two year old man to be doing [laughs]. I mean, you can if you want to… Things are more thought about these days, it takes me quite a while to write a song.
With your new band Slice Of Life’s music the songs are very personal; when do you feel your songwriting started to become more introspective?
SI: The day I realised was the day I started working with Pete [Wilson] and Carol [Hodge], we didn’t have a bass player at the time. When I started working with them I thought, I can do what I want! I don’t have to be conforming to the unwritten punk rule book. I can absolutely do what I want with these people! If I want to do a funk track, I can do that, if I want to do a reggae track I can do that, I could even do an orchestral thing—I can do whatever I want! The songs I do with Slice, tend to come from influences throughout my life. There’s a little bit of jazz in there, a little bit of Bowie, a little bit of doo-wop. Going back to your first question; how important is music? Well, it’s always been a part of my life. So that’s when it occurred to me that I could do whatever I wanted and fuck what anybody else thinks! Once I realised that it was a huge relief, a huge weight off my shoulders.
Did it feel empowering?
SI: It did! But, it was also a little bit frightening.
*Conversations With Punx (coming late 2020).
Please check out: STEVE IGNORANT.com.