I was never Stu’s most favourite person in the world, nor he mine, but I always respected him, was always musically influenced by him, and was deeply saddened to discover, two years after the event, that he had passed on.
I first met him in April 1979. He had migrated down from Stafford two and a half years previously and had opened a squat in Highbury New Park, North London together with singer Iain MacLaughlan. They formed Charge in early ‘77. Over the course of the next two years, they performed close to 350 gigs at any venue or benefit concert that would have them. The gigs were mainly to indifferent audiences who were spoilt by choice with bands converging on the capital in the wake of the first Punk explosion, and very little progress was made.
It was when I auditioned for the position of drummer that I was introduced to Stu and right from the outset, he held an amazement and fascination over me that I do not think, over a quarter of a century on, I have ever quite lost. I was a totally naïve, Birmingham-born, Australian-raised seventeen year old and I had not the faintest idea of what I had let myself in for. I think Stu sensed this. I had never met anyone like him before. His clothes were a kind of cobbled, desperate mosaic, all leather and oil stained Levi patches crudely sewn and gaffer-taped together. His sense of hygiene, like the other members of the band was, how shall I put it, slight-of-leftfield and he had a highly infectious laugh that would break into snorts when reaching a certain volume. I had also never before seen anyone smoke as much as he did which at that time amounted to an ounce of Golden Virginia a day. Yet he was also the cleverest person I had ever met, and could converse on virtually any subject from music and politics to flower arranging and coffee etiquette. He collected the words “give me” in as many languages as he could find and at that point, he had gathered over a hundred different translations (“Tor-dum” was always my favourite)
In those days, his main musical influences were Eddie Cochran and the MC5. At our first meeting, he asked me what type of music I myself was into. I hesitated before answering as, with the exception of the Never Mind The Bollocks album, I hated punk and had only auditioned for the band because I was desperate to move to London and escape parental control. I mentioned a range of American 70’s bands that I am still too embarrassed to divulge and I could see that Stu was not impressed. From that time on, at least for the next couple of years, I was given the nickname: “Skippy the Hippy” Strangely, I passed the audition and moved into the Charge squat.
It was a time of enormous political upheaval. The Winter of Discontent was about to bring down the Labour government of James Callaghan, and Thatcherism was just around the corner, waiting to pounce on a disgruntled, totally pissed off electorate. We were offered many gigs, but they all seemed to be either political benefits or protest marches where we would play, as best as we could, on the back of some God-forsaken truck or milk-float or other with an unreliable generator placed precociously on the passenger seat. Rain, hail or shine – we played at any event that was offered to us whether it be Anti-Nazi League benefits or pickets outside National Front Rock Against Communism gigs. It was after one such event on a bright summer’s evening when we almost got terribly battered by a gang of some fifty glue-sniffing, psychopathic boneheads out for blood that we embarked on a radical re-think as to the bands future direction.
These were by no means the most pleasant of times. The police moved us on from squat to squat at least every three months or so, and we always faced hostility from any new, not particularly pleased to see us, neighbours. We were broken into all the time, the police never failed to get off our backs, and no matter what shit-hole we ended up in, there was never any hot water, or electricity, or enough food, money or clothing to go round. Everything was in short supply, if it was available at all. They were times that would sap the motivation out of any otherwise tolerant individual and most members of the band became down or despondent at some point or other.
But not Stu. If he ever got downhearted by the desperate situations we constantly found ourselves in, he would rarely show it. Instead, such harrowing times filled him with musical inspiration. He was the band’s sole songwriter, and is still the most prolific composer I have ever worked with.
He was also a brilliant lyricist, the best of his generation and he was able to poetically capture our experiences with outstanding accuracy. I hope that one day he will receive the recognition he deserves. Think I’m exaggerating? Then check this out:
A derelict house in a derelict world
Or perhaps this:
Cried when I realised that someone lied when I was told
Charge’s first single, You Get What You Deserve was released in February 1980 to no interest whatsoever from the record buying public and complete silence from the English music press. Released on the band’s own YCAFO (You Can All Fuck Off) label, and financed by us stripping out lead from abandoned council properties and selling it on to unscrupulous street urchins it was, nevertheless, a start. It sold next to nothing, but caught the attention of a German concert promoter who invited the band over for an eleven date tour which, surprisingly, went rather well as did a June 1980 tour of Italy. At last, we felt, the band was finally getting somewhere. A live album, Caged and Staged recorded in Germany and released on the Trikont label followed which, to our total amazement, was well received by the likes of Sounds, Melody Maker and the NME. It still sold poorly, we were still completely broke but it did lead to a one-off single, Kings Cross/Brave New World released by Terry Razor, then manager of Theatre of Hate, on his Test Pressings label, selling a respectable 4000 copies.
By this time, Iain had left the band after Stu had fallen out with Iain’s girlfriend who tried hard, but failed miserably, to manage the band (Stu occasionally performed management duties under the pseudonym Dickie Da Conna). He was replaced by Moose who along with Dave Griffiths on Bass, myself on drums and Stu on his trusted Telecaster constituted what most followers at the time believed to be the definitive Charge line-up. And we started getting much better gigs at venues such as the London Lyceum and Electric Ballroom supporting the likes of the Damned, Theatre of Hate, The Exploited, Gang of Four, Discharge, The Ruts, The Angelic Upstarts and Killing Joke.
Socially, Stu started separating himself from the rest of the band. This was due in no small part to the fact that with our new found “fame” and with money from better paid gigs starting to trickle in, we developed a very keen interest in excessive drink and drug taking (“anything up our noses kept us smelling like roses”, or so we used to say). Together with an anything with a pulse ethos to all matters sexual we had become, one can safely say, rather awkward, under-developed, socially inadequate human beings. There are a million and one anecdotes that could be relayed, but this piece is about Stu and, quite simply, it was not his scene. That is not to say that he was by any means a saint, and he used to enjoy the odd combination of sulphate with contreau chasers but, by and large, he generally kept himself to himself. Music was always the most important thing in his life – his songs being his most treasured companions before he met, and fell in love with, Karen.
We annoyed Stu constantly, as he often told us, but he too had his little idiosyncrasies. He was an accomplished driver, yet we were always reluctant to be in the same vehicle when Stu was at the helm as he had this habit of looking at you when you were conversing with him, no matter where you were seated. Oncoming traffic tended to become a secondary consideration if Stu felt that he needed to put a particular point of view across. And he had this bloody annoying habit of pissing into pint glasses and leaving them in strategic positions in the dressing room before going on stage, causing a near-riot when Menzie, lead singer of the Angelic Upstarts, took a wee sip as we were performing. Captain Sensible from The Damned also fell into this trap, as I seem to recall.
Stu started wearing fishnet stockings and leather mini-skirts. Actually, he looked pretty good for a man in a frock and it certainly got us a tremendous amount of press coverage.
1982 was by far and away our most successful year as a band. It was also our most traumatic, and it ended with us going our separate ways. Stu and Karen wisely moved out of Leighton Road and the house deteriorated even further. We released our two best known singles in the first half of ’82, Destroy the Youth and Fashion on the newly formed Kamera Records (the label only ever had four bands: us, The Fall, The Au Pairs and..er..Roger Chapman) but they seemed keen and enthusiastic and promoted us extremely well. Both singles sold over 15,000 copies and Fashion just scraped into the UK Top 50 (it is laughable to think that in 2005, a single can get to Number One by selling as little as 27,000 copies)
Stu and I started getting on each other’s nerves, and I sincerely believe that it was one of the contributing factors to he and Karen moving out. I thought he was becoming arrogant and aloof but in truth, I hated the fact (to various degrees, we all did) that he was getting all the attention, that it was Stu who was on the front cover of Sounds magazine and not the whole band, that it was Stu who was writing all the songs and getting the lion’s share of the royalties, and that far more people were interested in what Stu had to say than anyone else in the band, me in particular. I could go even further, but I won’t.
I was jealous, and he knew it. Plain as.
We started feeling uncomfortable in each other’s company, so we never socialised unless other people were present. He accused me of things, some true, some not, which I found particularly irritating as he seemed to be getting his information from a source that I knew he neither liked nor trusted.
In the summer we started recording our second album, Perfection. By that time, the band was clearly beginning to fall apart both socially and, perhaps more importantly, musically. It didn’t help that we had a complete tosser at the controls; a guy more interested (and more comfortable) working with the likes of Level 42.
In October of ’82, the Damned asked us to be the official support band on their twenty date tour of the UK. It was the highlight of our career and an outstanding success. Again, there are many anecdotes I could relate but as none of them involved Stu, reciting them would be an irrelevance. Perfection was released in the same month, to mixed reviews but impressive sales and it looked, to the outside world, that all was going exceptionally well.
Then Stu left.
Shortly after the tour, he presented six new songs to the band. Two I fell in love with instantly, two I thought had potential and two I thought not up to his usual high standard. I told him I hated all six. That was me. That was the person I was all those years ago. Although our ongoing conflict had something to do with his leaving, I think the main reason was that Stu simply wanted to explore other musical avenues, and felt creatively restricted in a pure punk band. At the time I thought that we had outgrown him but in actual fact, it was he who had outgrown us. Charge replaced Stu in early ’83 with Steve Reeves and changed the name of the band to Fireworks. Moose and I started writing the music. We carried on until the end of that year and got absolutely nowhere. Without Stu, nobody was interested and on reflection, it was a ridiculous decision to carry on without him.
I was so-called Goth diva Danielle Dax’s drummer for almost three years before joining, in 1987 Breathless, a band formed by This Mortal Coil’s Dominic Appleton. I have been with them ever since. In fact the only other time I saw Stu after he left Charge was at a Breathless gig in London in late ’87, one of my first. We had a brief chat. He told me my new band looked and sounded like a bunch of hippies but that my drumming was very effective. I told him he was looking well.
In 1993, I bumped into a friend of his, Andy, and asked him to relay a message to Stu telling him that I was sorry for being the main instigator in our conflicts ten years previously and that, no matter what I may have said at the time, I thought he was a brilliant songwriter (and a pretty shit-hot guitarist to boot). He promised to do so. I do hope he did.
I was fascinated to read the other contributions on this site, and I’m pleased that he ended up exactly where he wanted be, continuing to play music, surrounded by people who loved him.
On Thursday 16th October 2003, Breathless played at the Café Du Nord in San Francisco. The following morning, I took a stroll through Haight Ashbury, birthplace of the sixties’ psychedelic revolution. Had he been alive, Stu would have been in the same city on that day celebrating his 46th birthday. Maybe his soul was still hovering over the area, ensuring the people he loved and cherished would feel his presence in their hearts on what would be for them a particularly sad day. He might even have spotted me cruising along the Haight. “Bloody hippy” he would have mumbled.
I shall never forget him.
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