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Steve Ignorant

Steve Ignorant appears as a guest on this morning’s (23 July 2016) Saturday Live show, on BBC Radio 4 (09:00-10:30); an edition broadcast live from the Pavilion Theatre at the end of Cromer Pier in Norfolk. The guest line-up includes:

Lesley Garrett, one of Britain’s most popular sopranos, actor and writer Charlie Higson who found fame with the Fast Show, the double bass playing beatboxer Bellatrix and Steve Ignorant, lead singer of seminal punk band Crass, who became a Norfolk lifeboat man and part time Punch and Judy performer.

The show is currently available (in the UK) to stream online from the BBC Radio iPlayer service: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07kldht

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SEAN CLARK CURATED the recent well-received The Art of Crass exhibition in Leicester, which developed to include a series of live performances and other events to complement the main exhibition. With the exhibition now completed and the artwork packed away and returned to its creators, The Hippies Now Wear Black invited Sean to reflect on the experience of putting together this distinctive exhibition of Crass creativity…

I’m sure it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind, but how do you feel that the exhibition went?

Well, I’m only now just starting to take stock! It went incredibly well though. There were over 200 people at the opening, both Penny’s and Steve’s show were sold out and there was a steady stream of people coming to the exhibition.

How has feedback been? What sort of things have visitors been saying?

Feedback has been universally positive. I’ve literally had people coming up to me in the street in Leicester saying thanks for putting it on. These have been people who were already Crass followers and, importantly, people new to the band and its members. We had a “feedback wall” up in the gallery and there were some great comments too. I photographed them all and will be putting them up on theartofcrass.uk soon.

Did you achieve the sort of visitor levels you hoped?

I genuinely didn’t know what to expect. I initially put the exhibition together because I wanted to see the work in a gallery setting myself and I through there would be some interest. As the project it grew – with new works being added, and then the gigs – I got the sense that it would do pretty well, but you never know. Interest on Facebook does not always translate to people coming to an exhibition.

Have you any sense of how many of the people visiting the exhibition were encountering the work of Crass for the first time?

I can’t be exact, but I think it was pretty much a 50/50 split. A big surprise for me was just how many Crass followers there are out there. People in council jobs, heads of arts organisations, people who run companies and many others have all told me about their own “Crass stories”. For people encountering the band for the first time I think it has been quite inspirational.

Penny Rimbaud in conversation at The Art of Crass exhibition

Penny Rimbaud in conversation at The Art of Crass exhibition

Did you have any criticism about filling the exhibition space with old punk stuff from the 1980s? Did anyone question the relevance of the material?

I was expecting some criticism and had come up with a few ideas for responses. However, I didn’t need them. I think when you look at the work in its entirety it is unquestionably interesting “art”. Even the copies of the flyers we put up were interesting. When you look at them individually you see might see a scruffy hand-made thing, but when you see 20-30 of them together you something beautiful. It gives you a unique insight in to the band.

I decided not to have any music by Crass playing in the gallery because I wanted people to take a fresh look at the art that emerged from this group of people

Have the events and performers been well supported too? Have you been pleased with how the performers made use of the context of the exhibition?

Without wanting to sound to gushing, all the performers were amazing! When it became clear that I would be able to put on both Penny, Eve and Louise (Cobblestones of Love) and Steve Ignorant and Slice of Life I wanted to make sure that there would also be opportunities for local performers to share the spotlight too. There is a performance night in Leicester called “Anerki” and I’ve been to a couple of their events. They have a really creative mix of poetry, music, performance, comedy, hip-hop and they provided a 45 minute support set for Cobblestones of Love and then curated 4 hours of performances on the final day of the exhibition on the 18th June. Then on the evening of the 18th we had local bands Jesuscarfish, Brassick Bears and Not My Good Arm playing before Steve and Slice of Life came on. Everyone was so generous with their time.

How simple or difficult was the selection process for the exhibition – you could have filled a space many times larger than the one you were working with?

I probably could have filled a space twice as big. Certainly if I had included books, records, photographs. “ephemera” and so on. I think, though, the size was about right and the artwork on display made for a very coherent exhibition. If I do it again elsewhere – which is on the cards – I’ll consider adding a bit more if space allows.

It’s clear that several former members of Crass have been extremely supportive of the exhibition; that must have been really gratifying!

I contacted Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher first and they were very supportive. Penny then put me in touch with Eve Libertine who was similarly enthused. I emailed Steve Ignorant and, again, he was great and offered to do a Slice of Life gig. I also had a chance to meet Dave King (who designed the Crass symbol) and he generously added some work to the show. I got to meet Mick Duffield (who made videos for Crass performances) just before the show and he said it was fine to show his video work. I tried to contact Andy Palmer a couple of times, but he didn’t get back to me and I respect that. I’d have happily included work by Phil Free, Joy de Vivre and Pete Wright but couldn’t find a way of getting in touch.

Not all the ‘artistry’ or the artists of Crass were represented in the exhibition though (Andy Palmer’s paintings or Mick Duffield’s video work, for instance). Was that any sort of disappointment?

I did include some of Mick’s video work in the area outside of the gallery and would like to make it a more integrated part of the exhibition in the future. You’ll find links to his videos, and more Crass-related things on theartofcrass.uk website. I found Andy’s website on-line and think his paintings are excellent. I’d like to get one to put on my wall at home! I wouldn’t include anything in a post-Crass context without his permission of course.

Fight War Not Wars - The Art of Crass - Leicester - June 2016

Looking back, is there anything major that you would have done differently if you were starting the process afresh?

Nothing major. It would have been nice to have a longer gallery slot, two and a half weeks was not really long enough. But LCB Depot in Leicester gave me the slot they had for free, so I can’t complain!

Have you a favourite anecdote or story that came to your attention during the exhibition?

Well, having said that everything went really well, there was one negative in that we had a strongly worded “noise” complaint from a local resident about the show on the 18th June. I mustn’t be dismissive of it, but in the email the person said that, “the music (with screaming and screeching) is of a kind that 99% of population would consider extremely unpleasant”. It’s possibly the best review I’ve ever had!

Is the intention that the web site will continue indefinitely as an online resource? Will it continue to be developed or will it be maintained as a ‘fixed’ archive?

Definitely. I’m in the process of finishing off the website – with full documentation of the events. I plan to keep collecting Crass-related stuff when I come across it and will keep adding to the website. It would be great to combine it with other collections in the future and see it exhibited again in the future.

Is there any potential for the exhibition to go on tour around the country in future? Have you had any offers?

I’ve alluded to this a couple of times. Yes, I think a tour of some sort would be great. I would like to see it going to unusual places around the country – not just London and big cities. I’m up for offers from potential galleries, a couple of offers have come through already. I might see if I can get some Arts Council funding to cover the costs, otherwise it’s a case of “Do It Yourself” again.

if you want to understand what Crass was about then I think you need to look beyond the eight or so years the band was around for

Have you considered compiling a book out of the exhibition – artworks, plus history and commentary?

Perhaps a catalogue more than a book. But let’s see what happens. The artists deserve recognition both individually and collectively and there are some interesting stories in there that are perhaps not part of the accepted “Crass” and post-Crass history. Gee Vaucher is about to get a long-overdue retrospective in Colchester and I think she will come to be seen as one of the most significant artists to emerge in the UK in the latter 20th century. It would be interesting to see Penny’s writing and artwork presented as a “body of work”. Likewise with Eve and the other former members. In fact, you’re convincing me, perhaps a book would be a good idea!

What is your own personal take away from the event? What did you learn through curating and organising the exhibition (either about Crass or about curatorship)?

I think that the most important thing is that there is more to the people involved in Crass than being in Crass. All of the ex-members I have spoken to have done plenty of other things. In fact, if you want to understand what Crass was about then I think you need to look beyond the eight or so years the band was around for. I intentionally called the exhibition “The Art of Crass” because I thought this would be a good way to explore this idea, and at the last minute decided not to have any music by Crass playing in the gallery because I wanted people to take a fresh look at the art that emerged from this group of people. I think it worked.

Exhibition curator Sean Clark (second left) with Slice of Life

Exhibition curator Sean Clark (second left) with Slice of Life | photo: Simon Balaam

Steve Ignorant has released a remixed version of West One (Shine on Me), the classic Ruts single as performed by Steve Ignorant with Paranoid Visions. The download-only version (£1, or more if you wish) is a benefit for the Sea Palling Independent Lifeboat charity, that Ignorant is a crew member of.

An alternative mix can be found on the 10″ vinyl (plus CD) release “The Height of Ignorance” (limited edition) available from http://www.foadmusick.weebly.com. A percentage of the profits from that release will go to the Sea Palling Independent Lifeboat charity… However… 100% of what you pay for this exclusive version will go to them.

Little Annie - AnOther magazine
Photo: Jessie John Jenkins

In an excellent interview with AnOther magazine, Little Annie (formerly Annie Anxiety) discusses her life, work and art as well as “Beyoncé, Malcom X and contemporary social inequality”.

Of her time living at Dial House and recording for Crass Records, she recalls:

It was exhilarating and it felt like a honest place to be. It aligned with everything I already knew I believed in. You know what? When me and Penny Rimbaud were making Barbed Wire Halo (1981), we thought that we were making a disco record! Honestly, I know it might not sound like that but we loved listening to disco together!

Reba Maybury. 2016. ‘Little Annie: Avant-Garde Songstress’, AnOther, 9 June. http://www.anothermag.com/design-living/8759/little-annie-avant-garde-songstress

AWOD 2017 - Vi Day

Vi Day – a charity event celebrating the life and work of Vi Subversa of Poison Girls – is to be held as part of the 2017 Another Winter of Discontent festival on 19 February.

The line-up comprises “all female fronted bands paying tribute to and playing the music of Vi Subversa and the Poison Girls.” All profits are to be shared among women’s charities. The initial line-up includes Dirt, Rubella Ballet, Hagar the Womb, Dub the Earth, Lost Cherrees, The Pukes, Lab Rats, Dogshite, Refuse All and Bratakus.

Vi Day is being held at upstairs at the Boston Arms, 178 Junction Rd, London N19 5QQ; and tickets are available online.

Yes Sir - Coldspring Records - 2016

The challenging / provocative / controversial / suspect / distasteful / unconscionable (* choose your adjective) Coldspring Record label are to release a CD version of the live reworking of Crass’ 1983 album Yes Sir, I Will performed at the 2014 Rebellion punk festival.

The label previously announced (August 2015) and then summarily cancelled (September 2015) plans to release bootlegs of live Crass performances. This latest project appears to have the active support of performers Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine, with Gee Vaucher providing artwork for the packaging.

Yes, Sir, the Truth of ᴙevolution is scheduled for release on 27 June 2016 and is available for pre-order.

CRASS WAS THEN – THIS IS NOW. WAKE UP TO IT

Crass’ album, Yes Sir, I Will, was possibly the most angry and hard hitting attack on the political/military/industrial complex ever consigned to vinyl. Written by Penny Rimbaud in 1982 at the height of the Falklands conflict, it seethes with righteous indignation over what he saw as a pointless but vicious exercise in vote catching by a government whose popularity was severely on the wane. So powerful was this critique that it led to threats of prosecution by that very same government, threats which were typically used by Crass to further their attacks on it and its tyrannical leader, Margaret Thatcher.

Over thirty years later, in 2014, Rimbaud was asked to participate in the Rebellion Festival, a yearly punk gathering held in Blackpool, UK. Realising that the opening date of the festival closely coincided with that of the euphemistically named ‘Great War’, Rimbaud and the festival organisers agreed that as an appropriate response they should open the event with a performance of Yes Sir, I Will.

In preparing for this performance, Rimbaud began to question the relevance of some of the content of Yes Sir, I Will. It seemed to him that much of it was pertinent only to the time in which it was written, a time when a genuine social uprising had appeared to be a very real possibility (one that was violently and conclusively squashed during the miners’ strike of 1984). But times change and there was, he now felt, an element of aggression within the work which veiled its essential message of love and peace; it was a passion that could all too easily be mistaken for blind anger. With this in mind, and inspired by John Lennon’s ‘All You Need is Love’, he set about rewriting ‘Yes, Sir’ from what he describes as a more Taoist viewpoint. Through replacing screams of anguish with laments of love, he was largely able to satisfy his wish to change Yes Sir, I Will into an expression of compassion, that being the hugely demanding realm of love in its unconditional form.

For the Rebellion performance of the now retitled Yes, Sir, the Truth of ᴙevolution, Rimbaud was joined by Crass’ lead vocalist Eve Libertine plus a group of leading musicians from the London jazz scene with whom they’d worked extensively in the past. Named ‘L’Académie des Vanités’, the band consisted of Eve Libertine/vocals, Penny Rimbaud/vocals, Louise Elliott/sax, Kate Shortt/cello, Jennifer Maidman/guitar, Phil Robson/guitar, Thad Kelly/bass and Gene Calderazzo/drums. The live recording of that show, presented here, captures all the tense excitement created by presenting a primarily punk audience with complex poetics of love, accompanied by equally demanding freeform, improvised jazz. However, as had generally been the case with Crass’ output, wild, willing and worrisome, it would be wise to expect the unexpected. Equally, through its progressive and colourful imagery, the vibrant packaging designed by Gee Vaucher shows a refusal to harp back to the illusory golden past of punk dreams and conceits.

‘We are poets, armed with the cobblestones of love, unconditional, uncompromising, beyond need of proof.’ However, if proof is needed, it will most surely be found in the content of this radical, imaginative release.

CD in digipak with 28-page booklet.

All Around Was Darkness

Call for submissions:
Project title: And All Around Us Was Darkness…

Contributions are invited to a new companion title to the existing trilogy on participants’ experience of punk (Tales From the Punkside, Not Just Bits of Paper and Some of Us Scream, Some of Us Shout). This proposed new title And All Around Us Was Darkness… will again have a specific punk/anarcho-punk focus.

This time the editors are asking for chapters on various topics, rather than just music and gig flyers.

“Fiction” contributions should be heavily autobiographical in nature, and based on real events and real things [although names and situations can be changed to protect the innocent!].

The aim is to record the direct experience of punks in the words of punks. Chapters are invited on themes including (but not restricted to):

  • We would like to see chapters on stuff like
  • Fanzines
  • Communication and Soapy Stamps
  • Squatted Venues
  • Pamphleteers and Pamphlets
  • Design and printing posters and fly-posting tales
  • Hitchhiking tales
  • Fear of nuclear war
  • Setting up a record label
  • Animal Rights
  • Support for non anarcho causes like The Miners’ Strike
  • How Gigs Were Set Up
  • Direct action such as Stop the City, CND Demos, Huntsabbing, The Unilever Incident, and more
  • What it was like being in a lesser known band
  • What it was like being in a band/attending gigs at a very young age [under 12]
  • Female perspectives on any or all of the above would be especially welcomed

The intention to to shift the focus away from music, at least to an extent, to look instead at how anarcho-punk inspired people to actually do stuff, take direct action, form bands, squat venues, write fanzines…

The book will provide space for opinion and reflection and comment and what impact those times had on the people who were part of that punk culture; about what that impact has meant over time; and what the personal legacies of those times are for the people who lived through them.

If you’re interested in contributing something to And All Around Us Was Darkness, contact Greg Bull. There’s no deadline for submissions as yet.

Tales from the Punkside

Not Just Bits of Paper
Some of Us Scream, Some of Us Shout

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