Steve Ignorant - The Last Supper / Adam Ant - Shepherds Bush Empire / Troxy, London
As a teenager in the late 70s my three favourite bands were The Clash, Crass and Adam And The Ants. Joe Strummer and his last gang in town were darlings of the music press, regularly appearing in the likes of Sounds, NME and Record Mirror but my other two faves were pretty much shunned, so information was less easy to locate.
Luckily the small press favoured each act so there were a few opportunities to keep tabs on Adam and these mysterious black-clad Anarchists Crass, with fanzines like Vague, Panache and Kill Your Pet Puppy offering tour reviews and features, which I devoured while listening to Stations Of The Crass and Mr Ant's Dirk Wears White Sox collection.
I had the opportunity to view all of my top three bands in 1980, watching Adam and his Ants playing at Dundee's Caird Hall on the Ants Invasion tour and Crass, if I remember rightly, at Glasgow's Plaza Ballroom, a show quickly re-arranged from Stirling after problems with the local council. I caught Adam one more time while promoting his Kings Of The Wild Frontier LP and Crass on two or three more occasions, including their infamous violent gig at Perth - which was strangely released as an album over a decade later.
Naturally, as the years go on your tastes change musically and by the time Adam's Prince Charming album had come around my interest in the band had waned and I didn't find much on the album to enjoy. I mentioned in a previous Adam review that one of the main moments when I realised that the band weren't for me anymore was when a female work colleague appeared one morning wearing a denim jacket with Adam And The Ants written in cotton wool balls on the back! It's strange how things affect you but it really put me off the band, even though it wasn't their fault that the Shakin' Stevens-loving workmate had moved her attentions to Adam!
My love for Crass probably also faded around the same time. The band's albums usually contained slightly more experimental fare alongside their straightforward tuneful punk material. It may be sacrilege to say it but I always preferred the band when they came across as the thinking man's Sham 69 with tracks like "Big A, Little A", "Punk is Dead" and "You've Got Big Hands" more up my street than songs like "Reality Asylum" and "Demoncrats", which I found too much hard work to enjoy.
The band's third album Penis Envy was probably my favourite at the time so it was extremely disappointing when I found their fourth and fifth releases - Christ - The Album and Yes Sir, I Will pretty inaccessible, with only their stand alone single - the blistering "Sheep Farming in the Falklands" really winning me over in the last two years of the band's life span.
My admiration for both acts may have only lasted a few fleeting years at the time but I still hold them close to my heart three decades later. If anyone had told my 16 year old self that I could watch both bands live over a two day period my head would have probably exploded with excitement, but that was almost the case last weekend as I had the opportunity to view Crass frontman Steve Ignorant perform songs from the band for the final time ever at London's Shepherds Bush Empire, followed by Adam Ant leading his new group through a few hits and punk classics the next evening at the capital's Troxy venue.
Crass called it a day in 1984. After the split vocalist Ignorant performed with such bands as Conflict, Schwartzeneggar and The Stratford Mercenaries in the years that followed. In 2007 Steve got a band together to peform Crass's The Feeding Of The 5000 album in full at Shepherds Bush Empire, performing for two nights. There was a little bit of an outcry from peeved fans of the original band, calling it just a tribute act and sullying the band's memory but the pair of shows were a resounding success.
This led to Steve deciding to take a band on the road in 2010 for a worldwide tour performing songs from Crass's back catalogue, culminating in The Last Supper show back at Shepherds Bush, where Steve would play the material for the last time ever!
I was allowed to shoot the first three songs of Steve's set from the photo pit. The lighting had been great for the three supports and there was a video crew sharing the pit with me so I assumed the lighting would remain decent. My only worry was the length of time we had to do our thing as some of the band's tracks are a bit on the short side, including set opener "Do They Owe Us a Living", which comes in at one minute twenty four seconds on record! In the end the second and third songs were slightly lengthier and we got to stay for the fourth one too for some reason, so there was plenty time to photograph Steve and his band.
After you leave the SBE pit you have to check your camera gear in and re-enter the venue. The last couple of times I've been there I've viewed the shows from the upstairs section but this time round my ticket was for the stalls and I surprised myself by managing to squeeze my way to the fourth row within a couple of songs, even though the venue was heaving. I had already seen how frenzied the crowd were up close from the pit and it remained rowdy in a large section of the downstairs area as the audience lapped up songs like "Systematic Death" (featuring co-vocalist Carol Hodge doing a great job), "Contaminational Power" and "How Does it Feel".
The band pummelled through around thirty tracks for the main part of their set delivering pretty much the highlights of their first three albums, with "Big A, Little A" and "Tribal Rival Rebel Revels" the real stand outs for me.
Steve had promised a couple of guests for the evening and didn't let us down as Crass members Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine both took to the stage as part of the encore, with Penny performing a stripped down version of "Do They Owe Us a Living" with Steve and Eve blowing everyone away with "Darling" from the Stations album.
As the evening drew to a close Steve threw a curveball into the set by introducing a cover in the shape of The Ruts' "Shine On Me" as a tribute to the Sea Palling lifeboat crew, many who were present at SBE as Steve volunteers for them and there had been a collection for their cause earlier in the evening. I had noticed the song on the set list while shooting but wasn't sure if it was the one I imagined so I was extremely delighted when the opening chords kicked in, with the singer sounding very much like late Ruts frontman Malcolm Owen. I noticed recently that Ruts DC are touring soon and Steve may well be at a loose end... Now that would be a good combination!
The Last Supper ended with a trio of fantastic tracks that really stirred up emotions with the audience. Steve had already been choking on his words earlier and you could see the evening was really beginning to have an effect on him as he was getting a bit teary but he still managed to deliver a tremendously vitriolic "Punk is Dead", with the crowd spitting the words machine gun-style back at him. Steve had a chance to get his emotions in check when Carol took over for "Shaved Women", with the crowd erupting when Eve joined her.
The final song of the evening and possibly the last Crass song Steve will ever sing was their very own "Bohemian Rhapsody" - "Bloody Revolutions". It was a fantastic rendition but you could tell the singer was struggling and you could almost see him thinking "This is it" and it all got a bit emotional at the end with the last couple of lines almost failing to materialise as he fought back the tears, with a large portion of the audience joining him, many leaving the venue teary eyed on the song's completion after watching a little bit of punk history.
My Sunday date at the Troxy with Mr Ant was my first trip to the venue and the fourth time I'd seen Adam play live in the last year or so. My first encounter this century was at London's Scala almost 12 months ago, where Adam and his band played alongside Bow Wow Wow making the event my gig of the year. The two shows that followed were almost as good so I had high hopes for his Troxy performance.
The set began with early Ants track "Plastic Surgery", followed by "Dog Eat Dog", b-side "Beat My Guest" and a fairly frantic "Kick". By this point my picture taking was over and I found I was able to squeeze into the second row to take in probably my favourite Ants song - "Cartrouble". Adam has been playing constantly for well over a year now and it really showed at the Troxy as he delivered his performance with a passion and energy that put front men half his age to shame, while also coming across a lot more relaxed onstage compared to the previous performances.
It must be an exciting time for Adam currently as alongside the constant touring he's had a great deal of media coverage welcoming his return and he's also got a shiny new album to wow us all with in 2012 entitled Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar in Marrying The Gunner's Daughter. He's still keeping most of the tracks close to his chest but he did unleash new song - the rockin' "Vince Taylor" to the London audience and it seemed to go down quite well with the crowd.
The previous Adam shows I've attended seemed slightly more weighed in favour of his pre-Kings Of The Wild Frontier days but this tour seems to balance things a bit more, with the likes of "Puss 'n Boots" making an appearance and a very welcome addition in the form of "Ants Invasion".
I wasn't devoted to any of Adam's solo material back in the day but each track performed at the Troxy was worthy of inclusion, with "Viva la Rock", "Wonderful" (dedicated to his daughter who couldn't attend as she had a German exam the following day!) and "Goody two shoes" all shining in the live arena, especially the latter as it's just a great little pop song!
One of the more controversial aspects of Adam's new band are his two backing singers Georgie and Twinkle, with some fans not appreciating their talents. After seeing them a few times I do think they add to the fun, especially as they don't appear for every song, just brightening a few up with their backing vocals, with their saucy antics adding some spice to the proceedings on songs like "Deutscher Girls" and "Cleopatra".
The audience where I was standing was going crazy for the earlier material but a lot of the crowd were attending for the "hits" and wouldn't have been disappointed as "Kings of the Wild frontier", 'Ant Music" (with Adam mentioning "Never sing this song in a Chinese restaurant as out come the chopsticks!...") and "Stand and Deliver" were all rolled out, with "Prince Charming" joining them towards the end of the set. The song went down a storm but the audience participation section at the end was a bit of a damp squib.
In addition to "Prince Charming" Adam encored with "Red scab", Marc Bolan's "Get it On" and "Physical". I would have preferred "Catholic day" over the cover but that's just a personal niggle and the evening ended on a great note anyway as "Physical" is always an excellent closer.
My fourth Adam show lived up to my expectations so I'm sure I'll be back for a fifth in 2012!