CRASS used to play in Manchester a lot back in their heyday and 30 years later singer Steve Ignorant is back in the city with his Last Supper tour, singing the songs that inspired a disgruntled generation for one last time.
On one occasion in early 1979, Crass played the Russell club in Hulme – five minutes walk from tonight’s gig at the Academy – where Tony Wilson put on bands in the pre-Hacienda days. They were supported by Linda Sterling aka Ludus, who was a big pal of Morrissey – and it’s not unreasonable to assume that he would have been at the gig.
Did Crass exert any influence on Morrissey? It’s an intriguing idea. Either way, he ended up distributing gladioli to his audience, not pamphlets.
Inside tonight’s venue, I’m disappointed that no one is distributing poorly-photocopied fanzines, but there are more Crass T-shirts in one place than I’ve seen in years. Being a student venue soon after the start of term, there are also quite a few young people at the gig, which I for one am extremely happy about – there’d be nothing more depressing than being in a roomful of the converted being ‘preached’ to 30 years down the line. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, but I didn’t sign up for that alone.
Having said that, I’m out with my old friend Paul who has come up from Nottingham for the evening. Paul was one of the people who got me into Crass in the first place. We went to see them a couple of times. We’re both childishly excited, as much about spending some time together getting drunk and acting daft again as anything else, to be honest.
It’s lovely to hook up with the old reprobate again and find out that we’re still able to exert a very, very bad influence on each other. There’s too much to say and not enough time to say it. The pair of us get a bit giddy.
I run into a friend who is out with Tim Burgess of the Charlatans, whose new album Who We Touch features a guest appearance by Penny Rimbaud and cover art by Gee Vaucher. Echoing the thoughts of many of the people I speak to, Tim tells me that seeing Crass as a teenager in Winsford was “a life-changing experience”. There’s a palpable sense of excitement in the air. It feels like it’s going to be a night to remember.
The band are as tight as a gnat’s chuff and songs like Bloody Revolutions, Banned From The Roxy, Mother Earth and Tribal Rival Rebel Revel sound incredibly potent and intense. The power of tracks like Securicor and You Suck, which used to be sung by re-issue refusenik Pete Wright, remain undiminished. Shaved Women, voiced by a woman called Beki who sounds an awful lot like Eve Libertine, is particularly fierce.
There are no banners and the films that used to accompany Crass have been replaced with, fittingly I think, old pictures of audience members looking young and daft. But while the music that Ignorant and his band play has been taken out of its original context and inserted into a setting which might seem at odds with its origins, everyone – young and old, onstage and off – seems to be having too much fun to worry about it. Steve Ignorant looks like he’s having a whale of a time. My face hurts from smiling so much.
At times it harks back to the mass singalong-with-Crass sessions of yore, though I’m a little put out to discover that everyone seems to remember the words better than I do, even people who are clearly too young and fresh-faced to have seen the band back in the day. Pah. I’m delighted to find that this is one aspect of seeing Crass that hasn’t changed over the years.
Although it is in many ways the end of an era – Ignorant says he will never perform these old songs again – it just doesn’t feel like it. Maybe it will be the start of something too. Maybe it will inspire some young kid to form a band.
Or maybe some awkward teen will think to themselves, that was bollocks. Punk is dead, rock’n’roll is fucked, I’m going to start writing protest sonnets instead.
I’d be happy either way.
One word of advice though: don’t forget to have fun.