Friday, April 21, 2023

RIP Mark Stewart

Well, that is gutting news about Mark Stewart, going way too early. 

I always really enjoyed talking with Mark - and unusually, for a musician, he said that he really enjoyed talking to journalists. Even, or especially, journos who challenged him (as with a famous face-off between I Punman and Pop Group / Slits / Y tribe in 1980). He thrived on the exchange of ideas. 

The pic above is by Richard Bellia and was taken in November 1987 when I first met Mark. It was a Melody Maker interview about his great self-titled album of that year. We chatted in this canal-side pub down the road from Mute Records. No idea who this old bloke in the photo is - someone on the street that Mark roped into the shot!  

Apart from the thrilling sounds he made in The Pop Group and solo (not forgetting his collaborative role with Tricky and others), his never-ending enthusiasm for new things in music, the West Country accent he kept all his life, the main thing that springs to mind thinking of Mark Stewart is how fucking tall he was. Literally - as well as postpunk historically - a giant.

Elsewhere - xenogothic pays tribute and helpfully samples / links to other people's tributes

The above is the first Pop Group record I bought (double A-side with The Slits's fabulous "In the Beginning There Was Rhythm").  Chic meets Gramsci's "pessimism of the intellect / optimism of the will".

"Don't Sell  Your Dreams" came close to being the title of the postpunk book but was pipped at the post when a chap called Jonathan O'Brien suggested Rip It Up and Start Again (in this book-naming competition I did on this blog - scroll down a bit here). But it would have made a fine and era-emblematic title, I think. 

Now I think about, Mark's song on the first New Age Steppers album, "Crazy Dreams and High Ideals"  would also have made a great title for the book-that-would-be-Rip-It-Up.

As indeed would have the title of the dub version, which has the words the other round: "High Ideals and Crazy Dreams" 

Now I do not agree with the sentiment in this song (we are not equally culpable and complicit in the Shitstem) but I love the ferocity with which The Pop Group put it across. 

The first time I heard "Thief of Fire" it was actually Loop's terrific (differently terrific) version.

Robert Hampson had that whole pre-Loop life as a postpunk experimentalist, into 23 Skidoo and that kind of thing. Which he semi-reverted to with Main. 

Another group who early on were audibly scarred by The Pop Group, also Pere Ubu, was The Birthday Party. Famously they came to the UK expecting all groups to sound as intense as "She Is Beyond Good and Evil"....

You can hear it in the screech-squawk vocals, the paroxysmic punk-funk

Even the title Prayers On Fire is very Pop Group