This is an Oral History of Stump, the Anglo-Irish experimental, rock band from the 1980s. Interviews with the members of Stump and key figures in their story were conducted during 2015. In November 2015 Mick Lynch, the enigmatic front man and lyricist with the band fell ill and sadly passed away on 17 December, 2015.
This oral history is a companion to Lights! Camel! Action! — the story of Stump an audio documentary about the Anglo-Irish experimental, rock band from the 1980s.
Stump were one of the bright lights of the mid-80s UK indie music scene. Their music was a dense, complicated, experimental repertoire of angular riffs, rhythms and beats which used shifting time signatures twisting around Mick’s surreal lyrical output. They made abrasive music but with a keen pop sensibility. They always felt out of place and out of time.
This oral history is more than the story of Stump, it’s a story that also encompasses the history of the UK independent music scene of the 1980s. It’s the story of indie record labels, satellite major labels and the mavericks who ran them. It records a time when the UK weekly music newspapers, the BBC’s John Peel, and Channel 4’s The Tube TV show set the agenda for the independent music scene. It’s the story of fanzines and underground gig circuits; big budgets being spent on recording studios and expensive videos. Stump’s story is also a microcosm of the wider social, cultural and political history of Ireland’s mid-80s emigrant community in London.
As a teenage music fan growing up in Cork, Ireland in the mid-80s I would religiously buy the NME and Melody Maker and pore over any mention of Stump or the other great Cork bands, Five Go Down to the Sea? and Microdisney.
When Mick Lynch, the band’s front man graced the cover of Melody Maker in February 1987 it felt like a movement that had started in Cork’s Downtown Kampus in the early 80s had reached a new height. In August 1988 the NME published a questionnaire with Stump. I recognised some of the names mentioned in the piece but was completely flummoxed by most of them. Stump’s list of their favourite musicians included names like: Devo, Séan O’Riada, Patsy Cline, George Gershwin and Kevin Coyne. The band’s reading matter included: Flann O’Brien, Wilhelm Reich, Knut Hamsin, Watchmen, 2000AD, Seamus Heaney, Charles Bukowski and Milan Kundera. Stump were always more than just Beefheart copyists, here were some seriously turned-on guys!
I first met Mick Lynch in the early 90s when his post-Stump band Bernard played The Village, the long-forgotten venue under Sir Henry’s in Cork. It was one of my first nights DJing so I got to stay back and have a late pint with the band. Mick was a gent and patiently answered all of my fanboy questions. I remember we had a chat about the making of the ‘Charlton Heston’ video. I wanted to know where all the frogs had come from and Mick was happy to indulge me. I interviewed Mick years later for my documentary Get That Monster Off the Stage about Finbarr Donnelly and his bands Nun Attax, Five Go Down to the Sea? and Beethoven. It had always been my intention to try and tell Stump’s story, it simply took me longer then I had originally hoped.
Lights! Camel! Action! — the story of Stump forms the second part of a Cork Trilogy. Part one, Get That Monster Off the Stage, tells the story of Finbarr Donnelly and his bands Nun Attax, Five Go Down To the Sea? and Beethoven. Part three, Iron Fist in Velvet Glove — the story of Microdisney, tells Cathal Coughlan and Sean O’Hagan’s story from meeting in Cork in 1979 to disbanding in 1988. All three stories have their roots in Cork’s post-punk music scene that coalesced around Elvera Butler’s Downtown Kampus at the Cork Arcadia in the late 70s.
Mick Lynch: Stump’s singer and lyricist
From Cork in Ireland, Mick Lynch sang in a number of local bands before moving to London in the early 80s. He joined Stump and his image became a focal point for the music press. After Stump’s demise Lynch returned to Cork in the mid 90s. He has been involved in local theatre since and is a founding member of Dowtcha Puppets, a children’s puppet theatre company.
Rob McKahey: Stump’s drummer
Rob McKahey is from Cork in Ireland and drummed in several local bands before moving to London in the early 80s. He joined Stump after replying to a Musicians Wanted advertisement in Melody Maker. He returned to Cork in the late 80s after Stump broke up but continues to be involved in music in West Cork where he now resides.
Kev Hopper: Stump’s bass player
Kev Hopper is from Grimsby in England and played bass in Stump. He was the true “musician” of Stump; his complicated, intricate basslines gave the band their definitive sound. After Stump’s demise he continued making music releasing experimental albums under the moniker Spoombung and most recently as a member of the band Prescott.
Chris Salmon: Stump’s guitarist
Chris Salmon is from Birmingham in England. His distinctive guitar playing was at odds with the prevailing jingle jangle sound of the time. After Stump’s demise Salmon left the music industry in favour of painting and printmaking, exhibiting and selling his work on a regular basis.
Known as ‘Irish Jack’ by many, Jack Lyons is often referred to as the unofficial fifth member of The Who. A retired postman, Lyons is the author of The Frank & Walters biography, A Renewed Interest in Reading and co-author of the acclaimed The Who: Concert File.
Elvera Butler was the promoter of the UCC Downtown Kampus at Cork’s Arcadia ballroom from 1977 to 1981, the epicentre of Cork’s post-punk music scene. She established Reekus Records in 1981 and released records for The Blades, Big Self and many others. She runs the label to this day.
Liam McKahey is best known as the lead singer with the band Cousteau. Originally from Cork, McKahey is the younger brother of Stump’s Rob McKahey. He has released two albums as Liam McKahey and the Bodies and in 2014 joined Midge Ure and Glenn Gregory on Stephen Emmer’s International Blue project, produced by Tony Visconti.
Simon Reynolds is an English music critic and music historian. He is the author of the best selling books: Rip It Up and Start Again, a history of post-punk; Totally Wired, a collection of post-punk interviews and Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past. His latest book is Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-first Century.
Nigel Grainge worked for Phonogram Records between 1970 and 1977, signing Thin Lizzy, 10CC, The Steve Miller Band and Eddy Grant. He formed Ensign Records in 1976 and signed The Boomtown Rats, The Waterboys, World Party and Sinéad O’Connor. In 1987 he signed Stump to Ensign Records. Grainge continues to work in the music industry and is now consulting with artists, publishing and record companies.
Hugh Jones is one of the most highly respected producers in the music business. He produced albums for Simple Minds, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Damned, The Icicle Works, The Teardrop Explodes, The Undertones, Modern English, Del Amitri, James and The Charlatans among others. In 1986 he produced Stump’s debut mini-LP Quirk Out.
John Robb is a music writer and vocalist and bassist with The Membranes. His books include: The Stone Roses And The Resurrection Of British Pop; Punk Rock: An Oral History; and Death To Trad Rock. Robb is currently writing a history of Goth and Industrial music.
A respected sound engineer and tour manager, Roy Weard has toured with a range of artists including: Manfred Mann; John Cale; Donovan; Kevin Ayers Band; Steve Harley; Eric Burdon; and Tom Robinson among others. He worked with Stump between 1987 and 1989. Weard’s autobiography, The Way To(o) Weard was published in 2015.
Chapter 1 — Cork’s post-punk music landscape
Nun Attax, they were the punk rockers of Cork, I used to be looking down enviously at them — Mick Lynch
Jack Lyons — My first inkling of Mick Lynch was seeing him as an art student at the old school of art in Emmet Place when he used to frequent a bar called the Green Room, which of course is now Jim Cashman’s in Academy Street in Cork. Though I didn’t really get to know him, I was aware of his artistic energy. A tall boy with long length hair to the shoulders, a strange guy, but there was something about his height and the way he carried himself.
Elvera Butler — I was going to UCC, I started doing Entertainment Officer, I signed up for a Masters in Philosophy in order to be able to stay on and do Ents. I was running gigs on the campus, which was the traditional thing, but you could only run during term time, the college authorities were very anti students having fun, college was meant to be a place to study. UCC was quite conservative at the time, I had started doing some gigs in the Stardust, which sort of morphed into Sir Henry’s but it became obvious that the Arcadia was there doing nothing so I just hit on the idea of doing some gigs there. So the Downtown Kampus at the Cork Arcadia ran from late ’77 to mid ’81.
Mick Lynch — The first gigs I went to were down the Arc and by a stroke of luck I got a bit of work down there. I used to sweep up afterwards and make coffee and sandwiches and whatever. So that meant seeing all the bands. I was into punk rock as it was then happening, this was ’78, ’79 [laughing] it was just beginning to finally get to Cork.
Elvera Butler — I’m not quite sure where the scene in the Arcadia developed from, but somehow an awful lot of young bands seemed to come through, a lot of the young regulars started forming bands, and I think once they were in bands they could play there and we’d leave them in for nothing. All the kids wanted to be part of the scene, it was a self-perpetuating thing. I particularly liked the fact that there was an inventiveness going on in Cork; the bands were different from say the punk bands that were happening in Northern Ireland or in Dublin. In the North in particular they were very influenced by the British scene.
Jack Lyons — Mick was a glass collector at Sir Henry’s. When I started in Sir Henry’s booking the bands I got to know him a lot better and of course by then he was known colloquially as ‘Mick the Punk’.
Elvera Butler — We were very cut off in Cork; we had a national paper, which was the Cork Examiner, now the Irish Examiner, that’s what people read. We didn’t have exposure, we got a second channel on RTÉ at some stage but it was the time of the land of black and white TV and two channels at best, so there was very little exposure to outside influences. You picked up pirate radio with very poor reception. Pirate radio back then was somebody doing it from their shed on a Saturday morning or someone doing it from their bedroom. I can remember bringing U2 up to someone’s house into a tiny bedroom, sitting on the bed doing an interview; that was pirate radio.
Mick Lynch — Donnelly [Finbarr], Smelly [Keith O’Connell] and Ricky [Dineen] and all that gang would be there. Nun Attax, they were the punk rockers of Cork, I used to be looking down enviously at them. I finally met Donnelly and Ricky and we had the music in common and I went to see a few of their gigs. I was working in Henry’s at the time as well so I got them a gig. As part of the deal for me getting them the gig I was allowed to get up and sing two songs: [laughing] ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’. That was my first time on stage.
Elvera Butler — [RTÉ] Radio 2 had started by then and I was very aware of Dave Fanning. He had a huge audience, everybody was listening to him. Dave had interviewed me and Terri Hooley on his show representing rock from different parts of the country. I was aware that Dave was playing demos, Dublin bands were sending in demos to him.
Mick Lynch — I met Cathal [Coughlan] and Sean [O’Hagan] and we all got a band together called Constant Reminders; shock horror, what a horrible fucking name. It was strange really because Cathal and I were both on vocals, so it was like having two front men. We did four or five, maybe six gigs, the first one was out in UCC, the last one was in Henry’s. The band split up and they went on to form Micro Disney.* Straight after that I bumped into these two shifty looking characters, Liam [Heffernan] and Pat [Kelleher] who said, “we’re in a band and need a singer.” That’s how Mean Features started. Mean Features was a great punk band, we weren’t great musicians or anything but there was great life there.
*Micro Disney — The first 5-piece version of the band which formed after Constant Reminders split up. This version lasted from August 1980 until early 1982. Cathal and Sean continued as Microdisney from early 1982.
Elvera Butler — We had nowhere to record in Cork and people had no money anyway. I just hit on the idea of getting in a mobile studio, we hired it in Belfast and The Rolling Stones had recorded with it, but it turned out [laughing] to be a clapped out caravan. We recorded Kaught at the Kampus on August 30, 1980; we had just over a 1,000 at that gig. I remember thinking, will this work just a Cork gig? I can remember standing at the door on the night and then suddenly seeing, coming over the hill the kids all dressed up in punk regalia and thinking, great it’s going to happen. It was really to just do a demo so that the bands could get a bit of exposure. My brother worked in Windmill [Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin] so we brought the recordings there to be mixed, I think by Bill Whelan. It wasn’t like now where there is information about these things, we had no idea how to make a record. The company used to make the sleeves convinced us that they knew how to do it. But it’s a wrap around silkscreen print, which were very expensive but that’s what you were up against in Ireland at the time. The bands on the EP were Nun Attax, Mean Features, Urban Blitz and Micro Disney and that started Reekus Records.
Rob McKahey — I was living in the South Terrace sharing with four different people playing in different bands. I was in Max Von Rap and I was in Micro Disney but we never even got to the stage of gigging, I rehearsed with them and it was obvious that it wasn't going to work because they were cultivating that Pet Sounds, Hall & Oates thing even back then, and they were glad to get off on their own. It was a hotbed of music and literature; I mean we were all reading Beckett, Dostoyevsky, listening to Gang of Four, The Pop Group, Beefheart, modern jazz and we were all going around with quiffs and long raincoats, cycling on our bikes, staying up all night and listening to music.
Elvera Butler — Mean Features were a good live band and there were quite a few personalities in the band. Mick was always a big personality. Nun Attax played at the Kampus a lot; they were almost like our house band. I got Nun Attax touring with UB40 and Microdisney touring with U2 at one stage, Mean Features were later and made less of an impact at the time. The Arc finished in May 1981. It finished because of that awful fire in the Stardust in Dublin. If it was three quid in about two quid per person was going to the insurance company, it was just totally impractical. Insurance premiums rocketed after the Stardust fire and capacities were reduced. But also what happened of course was the Hunger Strike. A lot of British bands started cancelling Belfast and then it wasn’t viable for them to come in. Belfast was important in terms of the British bands touring, Cork was a bit of a backwater.
Mick Lynch — There was a lack of venues, we had been at it a long time and it wasn’t getting anywhere. Kaught at the Kampus had come out. We all thought, oh great we’re going to make a record here; we’ll be on the road. But nothing really happened out of it. You would have loved to have been able to do it for the rest of your life but none of us really got to a point where we made any money out of it, so the expectation of making a living from it never really cropped up. You were lucky if you came home with a few bob in your pocket, it usually cost you money.
Elvera Butler — There was no concept of success, the biggest concept of success in Ireland at that stage would have been Rory Gallagher or Thin Lizzy, U2 hadn’t made it. U2 making it was a total game changer in how people thought. When the Arc finished in 1981, and the guys all went to London I don’t believe that career awareness was there at all.
Mick Lynch — Nun Attax or Five Go Down to the Sea? as they were called then, must have left in about ‘81 or ‘82 or and it was to get the band over to London and start working from London.* In the early 80s in Cork there wasn’t much happening anyway, it was pretty grim.
*Five Go Down to the Sea? moved to London in late ‘83 early ‘84.
Elvera Butler — Back then there was no Ryanair, so you got the boat, you didn’t fly. The first Ryanair flight to London was £99, now you’d balk at paying £99 for a flight to London; £99 back then was an awful lot more. It was always the boat; it was possible to get to London.
Mick Lynch — Even when I went to London, career wasn’t written on it. That’s not why I started doing it; it was just a laugh to be in a band, to have that kick like. Rob McKahey who was drumming and had been in various bands in Cork had gone over to London the year before me. I left over a broken heart, [laughing] I went to London, I was supposed to be going further afield but I got stuck in London.
For extra insight into Cork’s post-punk musical landscape, the Downtown Kampus at the Arcadia and the Kaught at the Kampus EP read…
Get That Monster Off the Stage (Part 1)
The story of Finbarr Donnelly and his bands Nun Attax, Five Go Down To the Sea? and Beethoven — An Oral History by Paul…
Chapter 2 — Whitstable and London
I went in and I listened and I thought, God almighty, this is nuts — Rob McKahey
Chris Salmon — I think Kev was a friend of a friend and he came to stay in our house in Whitstable. We were 23 or something like that. He had just bought himself an acoustic bass. It was quite annoying actually; he just wouldn’t put it down, a natural obsessive. He was playing bass exactly like he does now. I had never heard anything like it before. I don’t think we played as such but he was just playing it all the time.
Kev Hopper — I was on a summer holiday and I was staying in his house, I knew he was a guitarist; we just met like that in the house. I had my bass with me as well I think. It was the summer of 1982, I was only in Whitstable for a couple of months before I had to go back to college, but we made an agreement to meet up in London when we’d finished our art courses. He was in Canterbury and I was in Coventry.
Chris Salmon — We met up in London afterwards in Blackheath. There wasn’t really a master-plan but I just thought that he was the most extraordinary bass player that I’d ever heard and he still is. I think the first song we did was ‘Kitchen Table’, we did it on a little Fostex 4-track, just the two of us. We lived in the same house just off the Commercial Way, Old Kent Road. We just sat there head to head and worked a lot of this weird stuff out. We then found Rob. That was an advert in Melody Maker which I think mentioned Wilhelm Reich and Orgasmatrons. I don’t think it mentioned drums at all which probably weeded out 99 percent of all known drummers and he actually picked up on that.
Rob McKahey — I answered an ad in Melody Maker, I can’t remember the wording but I know that there was a mention of Beefheart and Pere Ubu and I kinda went, Jesus, that’s interesting. Now I wasn’t a big Pere Ubu fan to be honest, but the very fact that they mentioned Ubu and Beefheart who I adore, made me think, Jesus these guys could be doing something different. I didn’t realise how fucking different [laughing]. I went along, it was in South London, Peckham, I was living up by Marble Arch and I went in and I listened and I thought, God almighty, this is nuts.
Chris Salmon — He turned up and I think he had long hair and beads in those days. He started playing and I thought, that’s the one. We could have turned into an art-house band but as soon as he started pounding away we had a stronger beat to it.
Kev Hopper — I was bowled over by his enthusiasm, he seemed to really like the music, he was really into it and gave it all of his concentration, and he took it really, really, really seriously and designed his drumbeats around the music. I thought that was really impressive and also he’s a very loud personality, very extrovert and I thought that the two things were just great for me and Chris. Rob says that we were too middle-class.
Rob McKahey — They had a singer at the time, who I didn’t think was suitable at all, I just knew, but I could see the potential with Kevin and Chris, with the bass and guitar. So we subsequently jettisoned the singer and tried very hard to find a singer who fitted in and we couldn’t and we almost split up. And I just thought hang on, Mick Lynch, I remember seeing Mick Lynch with the Mean Features and I knew he was in town.
Kev Hopper — We tried a few singers, and Rob was holding off on Mick, he didn’t really want to rush back into his old Cork associations, so it was a while before he called Mick. In the meantime we tried out other singers, who didn’t work out and as that process came to a close he called Mick and persuaded him to come over.
Chris Salmon — We were nearly on the verge of saying, ah forget this. Then Rob said, “I think I know this punk from Cork.” He was squatting around the corner in Stockwell. It took about two or three attempts to entice him down; we used to rehearse in a little basement down off the Old Kent Road.
Mick Lynch — Word got through, the next thing this letter arrived from Rob, saying that he was in a band and that they needed a singer and would I audition. I thought, fuck it nah, I wouldn’t be bothered. Then he got in contact again so I went down anyway. They had been together about three months, maybe six months and were jamming ferociously; they had about 10 songs already done but just with no lyrics to them. I was the 25th person that they auditioned. I went down into the basement and heard this amazing fucking sound, I was just blown away. You don’t know what to expect when you go to hear a band but here was something that I’d never heard the likes of before. I got a tape and went away, I was writing all the time anyway and I was able to write lyrics to various parts of the music. I came back and we tried it and they were happy and I was happy and we went from there.
Kev Hopper — He was quite a striking looking person, quite tall, a great little haircut, a Tin Tin haircut, he seemed very casual about things, and he didn’t seem like a very earnest person. He came back and started fitting words to it almost immediately and they were good. The whole thing started to gather momentum. All four of us by then were taking it quite seriously and getting on with it.
Rob McKahey — When Mick came in with the lyrics and the voice, it sort of put the cherry on the icing and then we had a workable band to go out and do gigs.
Chris Salmon — I think he came up with ‘Orgasm Way’ straight away. I thought, this is the one, this is the one. And he was, we just literally took off like a rocket after that, as soon as we started getting gigs. And what a front man, I can’t think of anybody as good as him in his prime.
Chapter 3 — Early Gigs, Ron Johnson Records and John Peel
I can remember standing in the Hammersmith Odeon and seeing all these blokes with Mick Lynch haircuts — Liam McKahey
Mick Lynch — The first gig we did was supporting Five Go Down to the Sea? with another band, at the Ambulance Station on the Old Kent Road, it was a squat run by anarchists. The main band were pseudo-Goth posers and they had all barbed wire and black plastic bags strewn across the stage, so that’s what we played behind. The second gig we did was also supporting Five Go Down to the Sea?, in the same venue.
Rob McKahey — I had seen The Jesus and Mary Chain at the Ambulance Station and then we played with Five Go Down to the Sea? there. We went on first and Mick was very nervous because Donnelly was almost Mick’s mentor. Mick came from Donnelly in a lot of ways. Cathal, Donnelly and Mick, the three of them emerged at the same time and they were all very similar looking, in that they were almost quite simian but they all had their own thing going on, they didn’t consciously copy one another.
Kev Hopper — London was full of Lou Reed-ish type bands, guys in sunglasses doing really, in my opinion, dull music. Droney music, really boring beats and it wasn’t particularly healthy. It happened very quickly for us, we had a few people down to the first gig which was very rough as you might imagine and by the time we were playing our second and third gigs we started attracting a crowd and it was mainly people from the big Irish community that was present in London at the time looking for work and working. They all heard about it, they passed the word around and came along.
Rob McKahey — There was a lot of drinking, playing music, and ducking and diving. A lot of scutting, as we’d say in Cork, great fun, we had a lot of friends from Armagh, for some reason Armagh people seem to gravitate towards Cork people, I’ve never understood it. Camden was my hunting ground, that’s where I was hanging out. Five Go Down to the Sea? were in Rotherhithe, I spent a night down there with them, oh Jesus, I’ll never forget it, absolute mayhem with Ricky and Donnelly.
Mick Lynch — There was a big pub scene in London at the time, a whole circuit. You annoyed people and you got support gigs. We seemed to catch the press’s interest very quickly. NME would come out and do three paragraphs and a mad photograph, then two weeks further on there was a live review and it was very good and it built up from there.
Liam McKahey — I remember going to see the Stump gigs, and seeing their rise as it went on. They were a fantastic band. I probably got to see all of their gigs to be honest with you; I was a huge fan, because obviously my brother was in the band. As a band they were amazing, Mick Lynch was probably one of best front men I’ve ever seen.
Rob McKahey — It was a bit scary because we went to do a gig in the Kennington Oval which was a small little pub, and we were driving down and we thought there must be a big theatre show on, because there was a big queue. We got to the venue and the queue was for us, like down the road and I was like, what! So there was three hundred inside and another three hundred outside and then what they used to call ‘the buzz’ started. I can remember then we played the Bull & Gate and this guy came up to me and said, “My name’s Mat Snow from the NME.” And I went, oh my God! NME journalists were like pop stars: Barney Hoskyns, Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent. He did a review and the reviews started from there.
Mick Lynch — This guy Dave Parsons, who was from up the Midlands in England had his own record label, Ron Johnson Records, he used to just find people he liked and put them out. He saw us playing up in North London and asked us to do an EP. We did the Mud On A Colon EP and he sent a tape to John Peel and the next thing Peel wanted us for a session. It all mushroomed from there.
Chris Salmon — Within about 15 or 20 gigs we were offered a record from Ron Johnson Records, which we did and we did it all ourselves, £500 I think that one cost. We didn't seem to have any problems getting anywhere.
Liam McKahey — Mick was just incredible and I can remember in the early days there’d be a few people there, and then there was a few more people, at the end they were playing massive venues. I can remember standing in the Hammersmith Odeon and seeing all these blokes with Mick Lynch haircuts, the little tuft of hair in the front, and I thought, well they’re arrived definitely. It’s strange to see somebody in your family have success in music before your very eyes. I was immensely proud of Rob. They were a great band, a fantastic band; the stuff they were doing was so left of centre and off the wall.
Mick Lynch — I can remember a couple of the early gigs, we’d be supporting and there’d be two or three hundred people there that wouldn’t know us from Adam, and just getting them, we were still raw at that stage, but we knew, we fucking had something.
Simon Reynolds — The first time I saw them was when they played on a bill with two other bands, Bogshed and the Pigbros in London in early 1986, that was one of my first reviews for Melody Maker. It was a time when there was a lot of noise bands on the scene, bands influenced by The Fall making a scratchy, quite grim sound and Stump really stood out because they were fun and in particular Mick had this great stage presence. They really seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was a lot of rhythmic complexity to their music which was not the norm at all in indie music in 1986. It tended to be very rhythmically dead. In that context, of loads of abrasive-sounding, somewhat lumpen-sounding, indie noise groups they had this polyrhythmic agility to their grooves and they had a great quirky humour.
Mick Lynch — The Cork angle helped because there was two Corkmen, the other two in the band were very quiet, the two English blokes, they were quite [laughing] shy and retiring, so therefore it was Rob and myself babbling away to anyone who would listen. With my accent we got known in the press as an Irish band. I think it worked for us because at the time The Pogues were big, The Waterboys were kicking. It was the first time that being Irish was groovy in rock circles in England; it was hip to be Irish in England believe it or not.
Simon Reynolds — It was a time in the indie scene in the UK when most of the bands did not go in for putting on a show or really engaging with the audience much. Mick was such a presence, he had this mischievous glint in his eye and he really loved to perform, you could see that. A lot of the songs were funny, but some were dark and twisted as well and there was a great flair for language. On the darker songs it was mining this zone between the absurd and the grotesque. That sort of playfulness immediately made them stand out in a somewhat dour moment in British music. Mick and Rob’s Irishness was definitely something that made them seem interesting. If you were a more intellectual music writer you could make some vague comment about Joycean language, you could bring those sort of references to bear. It was definitely a notable factor in Stump’s attention: they felt like an Irish group.
Chapter 4 — Beefheart
People said, “that sounds like Captain Beefheart.” I had actually never even heard of Captain Beefheart — Chris Salmon
John Robb — It’s kind of a world where Captain Beefheart would have been a God more than Lou Reed, although this is a very big generalisation. Of that loose confederation of people playing the same kind of venues, who made quirky Captain Beefheart-eque music, Five Go Down to the Sea? had been around for a bit, Bogshed and A Witness had also been around for a bit. Stump probably arrived towards the tail end of that scene. They just had that like bit of extra commerciality about them and managed to get themselves a record deal.
Chris Salmon — Kev’s the avant-gardist really, I have fairly conventional Beatles-related influences, Hendrix and that sort of thing, I had actually never even heard of Captain Beefheart. People said, “That sounds like Captain Beefheart.” I was probably listening to the same people that Beefheart had listened to, people like Howlin’ Wolf and stuff. But I don’t think the Beefheart thing is terribly accurate because it’s blues-based really and Kev is not a blues player. I don’t know what he is — Germanic or something, I suppose.
John Robb — Beefheart is a great name isn’t it? Captain Beefheart, it just sounds weird when you hear it. Or the other one you always got was The Fall; you are influenced by The Fall. So the music press always had these shorthand terms. Maybe Stump never liked Beefheart, they were probably more into Zappa, I don’t know. They were probably into completely different things. It must be annoying for some bands to get called a shorthand term for quirky, weird stuff. Bands are always described in ways that aren’t really them. Most bands have cool music tastes but things that they get compared to aren’t necessarily what they’re into. But Five Go Down to the Sea? must have been an influence on Stump. Not as a direct influence but maybe as an opportunity to go into an area that you had never thought of, just by being so out there really. Mick probably went to see them and thought, this is amazing. And it probably wasn’t even in a cynical way but more like, this really touches me in a way and I’d love to do something like this.
Kev Hopper — I liked Captain Beefheart, and Nick Hobbes, the guy that sang with Stump before Mick who went on to be in The Shrubs, was a real Beefheart fan. He was quite studious about it, he would say, you must listen to your Beefheart, you must study it. My influences weren’t Captain Beefheart and it was a little bit lazy for some journalists to say it all the time. If they really knew where my bass playing came from, they’d have been clever enough to point towards Percy Jones from Brand X. A really unfashionable band at the time, people were incredibly rude about that band and would just say they were rubbish. Everything was very polarised at the time Stump was around it was: I hate this, I love this. There was nothing in between, there was no like: I can take a little bit of that, and put it with this and then I’ll get something new. There was nothing like that, opinions were polarised unfortunately.
Rob McKahey — I wouldn’t know how to describe the band, I wouldn’t know what to say, I suppose it’s a bit avant-garde maybe, very disjointed, a lot of people find it unlistenable, there are times when I can’t listen to it. Other people think it’s the best music in the world which I don’t agree with either. The people who love it really love it and get it, but I mean there are some people and you’d empty the room if you put it on. I think it’s even harder to digest than John Coltrane’s Giant Steps or even Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. It’s got an element to it that almost makes you want to leg it, [laughing] jump out the window, you know.
Mick Lynch — Stump was very eclectic; one of the few bands that we all listened to would have been Frank Zappa or Tom Waits. When the Pixies came along we all liked them, even though we were happening at the same time as them. Rob was into traditional Irish music. I was into punk rock and world music, Chris was into 50s and 60s R&B, and Kevin was really into electronic stuff, between us that’s how our sound came out.
Rob McKahey — We were so cynical, we hated everything, we were always giving out about other bands. We were young and full of beans. Kevin and I were always waiting to find a band that we could go, “Oh my God, this is it.” It never happened. We were listening to A Witness, Big Flame, The Noseflutes, an endless stream of indie rock bands; but to us they just sounded like rock bands, just playing rock & roll. We were looking for the Holy Grail, another band like us who were pushing the envelope a bit. We liked Blurt, because they had that edgy feel. [Laughing] Kevin and I were just listening to Bartók.
Chapter 5 — C86
Our own track ‘Buffalo’ on C86 sounds awful. It’s just abominable — Kev Hopper
John Robb — There are two scenes on it, the Primal Scream end of it, the more classic 60s sound and the noisy freakier end of it. It’s a great catch-all, it was the only way that you could say, look there’s a really good underground scene in Britain, here’s a snapshot of it. There was always going to be people who were on it that shouldn’t have been on it. There was people that should have been on it but weren’t. The trouble is, and it’s not the compilers’ fault, that 30 years later people say, that’s the scene in Britain in the mid-80s and you go, well hang on a minute, but then it looks like you’re just some sad old fucker going, [laughing] no, we were around as well.
Simon Reynolds — The C86 cassette was quite an important document of what was going on but there was this strange divide, on the one hand you had the groups who were very much coming out of wanting to sound like The Velvet Underground, with a bit of Postcard, Orange Juice, sound of the early 80s from Scotland; this sort of scratchy tunefulness, often a 1960s redolent sound. Groups like Primal Scream were a prime example of that. The other strand of groups, of which Stump were more aligned, were coming more out of Captain Beefheart, Pere Ubu, particularly the later absurdist records that Pere Ubu had done, and The Fall as well were an influence. So it was a totally different sound. One was 60s idyllic pop, very melodic. Stump were linked to, although they were better than I think, Bogshed and The Membranes. It wasn’t about melody; it was about a sort of noisy tumult of sound and strange herky-jerky rhythms I guess going back to Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica.
Kev Hopper — Our own track ‘Buffalo’ on C86 sounds awful. It’s just abominable; it was recorded in this tiny little studio in the middle of nowhere, not very well. I have got the C86 reissue and there’s another 75 tracks on it. I find them unlistenable, I’m really sorry to anyone who had a recording on it but the way they’re all produced with piercing treble on all the guitars, AMS reverb on everything, the digital quality of those new technologies of the time is just absolutely unlistenable but then I find The Smiths hard to listen to because of the amount of treble on everything.
John Robb — Some bands were going to make it anyway, some bands had already half made it, and some bands made it because of that. Some bands had a spotlight put on them but still nobody got what they were doing. It was very varied what happened to all the bands on it. Then there are bands like The June Brides that should have been on it [laughing] but didn’t send the track in, did they?
Simon Reynolds — They were like two different sects of music that didn’t really have much in common except that they were on the same gig circuit and they were also covered by the same sort of fanzines. Often you would see a jangly melodic group like The Bodines covered in the same fanzine as Stump or Bogshed. The one thing these sects did have in common is that it was all quite abrasive, even the pop groups, the more poppy indie groups, with melodies coming out of The Velvet Underground and groups like Love, they were playing their guitars quite jangly but also abrasively. Stump were really coming out of a different set of influences, much quirkier and on the edge of pop music really.
Kev Hopper — There were one or two nice tracks, especially from the Ron Johnson label: the MacKenzies track, on the original there’s a couple of really good tracks; A Witness, Bogshed, things like that I liked. There was a very enforced thing about being pretentious. The NME and the Melody Maker had this thing that you shouldn’t make your music pretentious. Which really means you shouldn't bring the more outré influences into the music because that was seen as pretentious. If you wanted African influences in your music or something from the avant-garde, or from the New York scene it would quite often get a bad reaction because people would regard you as one of those pretentious bands, an art band. I see C86 as a reaction against that, where people just went, bling bling bling strumming a trebly guitar and they sing about lollipops and girls, that was the reaction. Stump weren’t anything about that, we had really unfashionable influences that we brought into the band and we didn’t care about it.
Chapter 6 — Quirk Out
I really loved them; they just didn’t sound like anything else — Hugh Jones
Chris Salmon — We had a little brush with Stiff Records. Stump on Stiff would have been brilliant, little did we know that Stiff were literally on the verge of going tits up. It was weird; I went along and had the interview with Dave Robinson with his baseball bat in the corner and all that crap. We didn’t have a manager so I just randomly chose somebody with a ponytail to come along and pretend [laughing], he was offering us a really shit deal actually, but it was like, yeah, we’re on Stiff, no problem. We would have done it for sure, he said, “Go away, here’s £250 and rerecord ‘Our Fathers’, that’s a hit single.” OK fair enough. [Laughing] The cheque bounced and literally four days later Stiff was gone. Hence we called our label Stuff Records, in tribute.
Hugh Jones — I’d produced an album for That Petrol Emotion, Manic Pop Thrill, and they were playing at the George Robey in Finsbury Park, and Stump were supporting. They kind of blew me away. I think one of The Petrols maybe said, “Come and check this band out, they’re amazing.”
Mick Lynch — We acquired a manager. Hugh Jones was asked to have a look at a band called The Wolfhounds, we were supporting them. Hugh Jones said to his manager, “I want to produce that band.” So his manager took us on and we signed a good management deal. We went away and did demos and he started touting it around to record companies but nobody was buying, nobody was interested, so in the end he said, “Fuck it, I’ll throw the money in.”
Hugh Jones — I really loved them; they just didn’t sound like anything else so we financed Quirk Out and we went down to Rockfield Studios and recorded it down there. We weren’t really expecting hit singles or anything like that. You have to remember that Quirk Out was done very, very cheaply and we were using Rockfield which was sort of like my home base at that time. So at that point there were no major record companies in sight or anything like that it was something that we did independently.
Rockfield is just outside of Monmouth, which is on the Welsh border. It was originally a farm. Two brothers Kingsley and Charles Ward, who were involved in groups in the very early-60s, started messing around with stuff there and turned a barn into a studio and it sort of grew from there. I started working there around about 1979. In that time I was engineering, and then gradually doing more and more producing. Some of the bands I would have worked with down there included: Echo & the Bunnymen; The Teardrop Explodes; Simple Minds; Adam & the Ants; stuff like that. In the mid-70s bands like Queen used it, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was recorded there. So it was a very well established and well respected studio.
The energy Stump had on stage was amazing and we didn’t have a huge amount of time to do this thing. Essentially what we were trying to do was get some of that energy onto the record. Apart from Kevin, I am not sure the band were completely in love with the recording process because obviously it’s a bit more surgical then just playing live. Because so much of what they did was visual, one of the things I do remember is that, when we were doing vocals with Mick he kind of almost had to turn himself inside out to exaggerate what he was doing to the point where it seemed funny just by listening to it rather than having the additional benefit of seeing him jerking himself around.
Mick Lynch — So that was Quirk Out, it was done very quickly, it was still fresh stuff and it was the first time we actually had a producer help us structure the songs better, to make them work better. Hugh was great with guitar bands, recording live.
Simon Reynolds — Perhaps by calling their album Quirk Out they nailed their colours to the wall a bit too clearly. Quirky became almost like an insult, and they would be lumped in with other bands that were unbearably wacky at that time, like the Cardiacs who came out with very herky-jerky new wave goofiness, the goofier side of XTC, or Devo or groups like that. So people did accuse Stump of being wilfully goofy and almost like being a comedy act, which I think was unfair because certainly there was room on the scene at that time for a band that wanted to entertain. There was humour in the presentation and in the sound of the group: the elasticated bass lines of Kevin Hopper and the really interesting wiggling writhing rhythms that the whole group created. There was humour prevailing through every fibre of their sound, but I think people have always had a slightly ambivalent attitude about music and humour. Does it mix? It can spill over into being wacky, an accusation that would be aimed at later groups, like Primus in the 90s, we can’t quite take this seriously, it’s a bit too goofy, a bit too silly.
Kev Hopper — When Quirk Out came out we were all getting paid a hundred quid a week, I remember my rent in London at that time was £16 a week so I felt like a king. I felt like a professional musician, although you couldn’t afford a car or something you could just about ask for a loan for an instrument and gear and then you’d have enough for basic living on top of that.
Liam McKahey — Live they were something else because Mick was so animated and you’ve never seen anybody like him. He was like a cartoon really. The combination of the three musicians, I don’t think could have sounded any other way, they were all quite mad. It came very naturally to them to be honest. The fact that they had any success at all commercially still baffles me. Quirk Out wasn’t very normal was it? It was just a fabulous thing to see. I think it was really well deserved because I don’t think there was a live band as good at the time to be honest: Mick’s stage presence; and the musicianship and also Mick’s lyrics.
Rob McKahey — Quirk Out was in the Indie Charts for six months in the Top 10. We got ripped off to high heaven like, I know it sold 36,000 in the UK and we never saw literally a penny from that, but we’re in good company [laughing].
Mick Lynch — ‘Buffalo’ is a novelty record in a way I suppose, but it’s not either, it’s odd, it’s definitely odd, but 50,000 people bought Quirk Out.*
* Quirk Out entered the Indie Chart on November 22, 1986. It had a 26 week run in the charts and reached No. 2, The Dead Kennedys’ album Bedtime for Democracy kept it off the top spot. Quirk Out spend two months in the Top 5. By April 1987 it had completed its 20th consecutive week in the Indie Chart an achievement only matched at the time by The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead. All details taken from Indie Hits: 1980–1989 (The Complete UK Independent Charts, Singles and Albums), Compiled by Barry Lazell and published by Cherry Red Books in 1997.
Chapter 7 — Indie success & Glastonbury
I think my mum was a bit concerned when she heard the music — Rob McKahey
Roy Weard — I knew Rich Bishop, who was managing the band at the time and he suggested me for the first big Stump tour. It was immediately after Quirk Out came out. I went along to the studio to watch them rehearse, I thought, can these guys play, this doesn’t make any sense. I went home and listened to the album and I went back the following day and listened to them again and I went, oh, I see it makes a lot of sense. It took a day to get my head around the music [laughing]. The more I heard it, the more sense it made. The immediate impression was, what’s going on? The time signatures and the way it was all put together, the way that the bass led most of it, and Chris filled in on guitar round the edges, and then there was this floating melody line over the top that Mick always used to do.
Rob McKahey — We were headlining the Town & Country, Kentish Town which was big, the Astoria, big headline shows. We always did very well in Holland and Belgium, we did well in Germany, we always did well in cities like Manchester, Glasgow, Nottingham, Newcastle, and we did well in London.
Roy Weard — Quirk Out was an unusual record in so many ways. It’s always hard for unusual things to do well, so I was very surprised that they were doing as well as they did. As it went on I realised that it was the sort of music that either grabbed people by the throat and went, listen to me, or turned them off completely and most people seemed to want to listen to it, so it was good. We did a lot of Universities and places like the Sheffield Leadmill, middle-sized venues. I think the biggest thing we ever did when I was working for them was Brixton Academy, we weren't headlining that particular show but we did some big venues all over the place. The crowd response varied a lot, especially outside of the big cities. The big cities got Stump; Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and places like that got Stump, then you’d go to smaller cities and sometimes there was a bit of bafflement. It was like, what is this?
Rob McKahey — I was down in Covent Garden and Sounds came out that day. I grabbed it and there was a headline, ‘This is It’. There was a full-page colour photograph of us and a five star review and the essence of the review was, this is the most vital and important band in the UK at the moment. I nearly fainted like, I remember at that moment thinking, Christ this is great. That kind of recognition was rare. I actually remember one of the sentences the guy said, “A riot of innovative genius.” I thought this could go somewhere, and you feel justified in all the work. But of course [laughing] not all reviews were like that one, but I distinctively remember that one, it was my biggest moment in Stump.
Mick Lynch — We played Glastonbury on the NME stage in 1987. It had been pissing down and drizzling all day. I had gone down there three days beforehand so I was well in the mood, well into the atmosphere of the place. I came on stage in shorts, mankey dirty, still half-tripping from the night before. Half Man Half Biscuit were on after us and Pop Will Eat Itself were on ahead of us so that was quite a collection. As soon as we came out on stage, the clouds opened and the sun shone down on us. Van Morrison had just gone on the Pyramid stage so suddenly there was about 9,000 people watching us whereas normally there might have been 3,000 or 4,000. The place was jointed; it was one of those gigs that went so easily. The crowd was fucking loving it; we finished and got an encore. As soon as we went off stage, [laughing] the clouds closed up again and it started raining.
Rob McKahey — We walked out, the clouds opened, and there was a big beam of Charlton Heston-like, Cecil B. DeMille light. It stayed completely dry for the whole set, we walked off. The heavens opened again. There was a headline in the NME, ‘Stump in league with the devil’ which [laughing] I thought was kind of nice.
Jack Lyons — On Saturday April 09, 1988, Stump played at Sir Henry’s. I have to say that it was almost like the triumphant return of the Punk glass collector. The place was absolutely jammed. I’m looking up at Stump and I’m looking at Mick, I’m actually looking at an Iggy Pop with a Douglas [Cork suburb] accent because this guy was able to hold a stage more than a lot of people that I’d seen. He just seemed to be a natural.
Kev Hopper — We did terrific gigs, they were incredible gigs when we were at our best it was fantastic, you’d step up on stage and never ever worry about the reception you would get because you knew that we put on a good show. Even people who didn’t like the music would enjoy Mick’s banter. It was that kind of band, we were quite disciplined about the music and about getting it right, getting it tight. Certain gigs stand put, we did one with Stiff Little Fingers at Brixton Academy, where we got coined on stage.* Their fans didn’t like us, [laughing] I don’t know why. Rob had given an interview in the NME the week before which was very Republican, a Troops Out kind of thing, which had rubbed up some of their fans the wrong way.
* Stump supported Stiff Little Fingers at the Brixton Academy, March 17, 1988. SLFs originally split up in 1983 and this gig was the big London show during their come-back tour. SLF’s set from the night was released as a live album See You Up There in 1989.
Rob McKahey — The IRA were very busy, there was a lot of anti-Irish racism, I was quite active in the Troops Out Movement and in interviews I was quite vocal as well, I was a bit naive. Any chance I got to talk about Northern Ireland to the music press I did. The lads used to get pissed off with me, Mick particularly. I was travelling from London to Cork and I was stopped, they took me in and they had a file and I just freaked out, I just couldn’t handle it. So I just shut up after that. The great revolutionary in me [laughing] wasn’t long shut up, it was a different place: economically, socially, everything.
Kev Hopper — So we got on stage and the coins started flying and stuff was being thrown at us. A sea of people, a packed venue and we just played this music really well and we survived, and they warmed to us. There are not many bands that could do that really, turn it around by sheer musicality and performance.
Rob McKahey — Culturally The Pogues emerged and all of a sudden it became incredibly fashionable to be an Irish musician, it was almost an exotic fucking thing. But I can also remember bombs going off, so it was a very heavy fucking time to be Irish in London.
Jack Lyons — Mick was not a man for singular uniformity. I remember that when they played in Sir Henry’s Mick actually came on stage wearing a Sir Henry’s t-shirt. God knows who designed the t-shirt but it was a terrible thing with the dollar sign on it and of course the whole play on the words of the Hardrock Cafe. Some of the bar staff as I recall were a bit uneasy about wearing such a t-shirt. Stump come on stage and there’s pandemonium before they’ve even played a note and the place is just jammed to the rafters. Mick Lynch proceeds to take off the t-shirt and hold it up like the Turin Shroud to the audience and said, “You know what, I was fired from here for not wearing this fucking thing.” A bit like Sinéad O’Connor tearing up a picture of the Pope, he just absolutely tore the t-shirt to shreds and I thought to myself, yes, this is going to be good. [Laughing] Now that’s a rock story.
Rob McKahey — Dave Griffin from Mott the Hoople was the producer for all of the Peel sessions. He was just amazing. I was a real Mott the Hoople fan as well, I just loved his drumming. To be working with him was great, he was a lovely guy, a really charming man.
Liam McKahey — I can remember sitting at home one night watching the telly and it was a late night television programme, a music quiz show, and there’s Mick Lynch with Robin Gibb from The Bee Gees on a music panel. And I'm thinking, what’s going on? They’ve definitely jumped up another level now. [Laughing] There’s Mick Lynch with The Bee Gees on telly, Jesus, fantastic.
Rob McKahey — There was a lot of respect for what we were doing, and there was a lot of the old Irish begrudgery that you get, who do they think they are? But sure we were just in a small working band, I mean we weren’t hugely successful; we were just making a few bob and gigging. But generally it was good. I think my mum was a bit concerned when she heard the music [laughing], you know.
Chapter 8 — Ensign Records
I went to see them, thought they were just fabulous, I mean crazy, but fabulous and I didn’t even think twice about signing them — Nigel Grainge
Nigel Grainge — Ensign was very much a crusading project. I was very happy as A&R director at Phonogram, I’d signed Thin Lizzy, 10CC, Steve Miller Band. I was really at the top of my game and I was totally unprofessional, I was purely and remain just a fan. Everything was find an act that’s going to make me a record that I could put in my record collection, and [laughing] I’m a very choosy bugger. Chris Blackwell came along and offered me this job to become head of A&R at Island. I was very attracted to that because the company that I was with was not the hippest in town. Island seemed to be a really interesting project and I thought I could be part of their legend by signing very cool acts to the Island label, to join that long line of such a brilliant roster.
Songs To Learn And Sing - Ep 672 (02 Aug, 2017) - Nigel Grainge Tribute
A special tribute to Nigel Grainge who passed a way on 11 June, 2017. Nigel founded Ensign Records in 1976 and released…
Phonogram came back at me and said, “What do we have to do to keep you, we cannot let you go?” That’s how Ensign came about as the first satellite label. The problem for me was that everything was cross-collateralized, so tour support, marketing, posters, signing, recording, salaries, everything was put into the pot, and my override never materialised. I was supposed to get points and everything, we sold four or five million records with The Boomtown Rats and I never made a penny beyond my salary which was basically what I had been earning while I was at Phonogram anyway. The biggest problem I had was that as an A&R guy I was replaced, they brought in a new A&R guy. I became the outsider coming in trying to get stuff from them and of course they were now working with the in-house A&R department developing their own territory. Being the outsider, I would find that because I had The Rats I would get priority for The Rats but not a lot of interest in my other acts which were all being recouped against the sales of The Rats. So I was becoming more and more annoyed and feeling very hard done by, in that they didn’t give a damn about my other acts. It caused a problem and in the end I left Phonogram for that reason, which is the time I parted company with The Rats.
After that I was left with a roster of Brit-funk acts. Chris Hill, my compadre in Ensign, he was and still is a DJ, wanted to sign a lot of dance acts, so we had Eddie Grant, Light of the World. Poppy English R&B acts, which we were having loads of hits with; we were constantly on Top of the Pops with chart entries but I felt they weren’t getting us anywhere. We weren’t developing a roster; there was at that time a limited life for English R&B acts. I decided to reorient the company to a more independent-minded, serious record company and it was triggered by finding Mike Scott.
I ended up around the time of A Pagan Place having problems with our then distributor Island Records. Island were giving me a lot of pressure to extend my agreement with Mike Scott and threatening not to release the third album that became This Is the Sea, unless I managed to get an extension on my agreement with Mike, and then extend the Ensign agreement with Island. These threats caused a big rift between Mike and me. In the meantime I had signed Karl Wallinger to a solo deal, his demos were great, and I had just found Sinéad [O’Connor] in Ireland.
By this time as a label, I decided to sell the company because I wasn’t enjoying it. We were a small company of five people, I just wanted to find acts and make records with them, I didn’t want all the other crap so I made a decision to sell the company without knowing what it was worth, or caring really. We ended up with Chrysalis, for better or for worse, I never felt at home there to be honest, but we had a huge amount of success, with Sinéad, with World Party, we were looking pretty good, but I always felt that we were going to have problems with Chrysalis because it was such a pop label.
Meaningful songs have always been the core of my interest, I’ve always been drawn by songs with real life experience. Ireland has an amazing heritage of songs coming from that background. It was only something I realised pretty much after having success, certainly initially with Thin Lizzy and then The Boomtown Rats, I thought, what’s drawing me to Ireland? It was really funny because things I would be offered that I actually liked were Irish. I started to work it into a project where I then decided to come over to Ireland and start exploring and that’s when I found Sinéad. It continued later with Into Paradise and of course before that I signed the legendary Stump.
Rob McKahey — Ensign thought we were fantastic, we had 4AD and Mute Records sniffing around. But you must remember we were signed on the strength of six months in the Top 10 of the Indie Charts with a mini-LP that sold bucket loads so there was no risk to whoever came in, they couldn’t go wrong. But it was still a long time to get signed because of the nature of the beast, which was very left field, quite unpalatable, definitely not commercial.
Mick Lynch — Obviously they thought there was going to be money in it when they saw Quirk Out go to number two in the Indie Charts. It was only The Dead Kennedys kept us off the top. The fact that John Peel liked us helped and that the reviews were good. They followed their nose that way. Ensign were into Irish bands anyway, that was their angle, they liked the music.
Kev Hopper — Ensign were fixated more or less on Mick because they saw Mick as being from that Irish rock tradition, someone who brought Irish culture into their music. At first we heard that they were only interested in Mick and perhaps not the rest of the band but then of course they met the rest of the band and they saw how the dynamic worked and realised that they’d have to accept the whole package.
Nigel Grainge — I loved ‘Buffalo’. I bumped into a very good friend of mine who happened to work thirty yards down the road, he said, “You know I'm managing a band called Stump.” I went, “I love ‘Buffalo’, it’s fantastic.” He said, “Well you should hear some of the new stuff, come and see them.” So I went to see them, thought they were just fabulous, I mean crazy, but fabulous and I didn’t even think twice about signing them, which in hindsight you know, Stump through Chrysalis was a big mistake.
Mick Lynch — Quirk Out did really well and got great reviews, people were chasing us. We were keen not to go onto a big label so we signed with Ensign. As it turned out we might as well have signed to a big label, we couldn’t get into the Indie Charts because Ensign were a branch of Chrysalis.
Kev Hopper — I think it was through force of personalities in the band, probably Ensign thought that they had to take a chance on us, they had success with other Irish acts and if you look at how bands operate anyway they always start off with interesting radical ideas and take chances and then they tend to mellow a bit and think about commerciality. There was always a chance, even if you have a band that seem unsellable to the public at first they may mellow and become this thing that can make a record label money.
Nigel Grainge — It was completely emotional: I wanna sign this band, I wanna work with this band, I can make a great record with them. Without thinking of the ramifications about, well who’s going to promote it? It’s going to be the kind of people who go to get acts on the Terry Wogan show. Literally, and they’d be going out trying to get Stump on the TV and [laughing] of course they were scratching their head as much as anybody. Chrysalis didn’t have divisions in the company to deal with that kind of act, because they didn’t have them. It was all pop.
Rob McKahey — We were looking for a deal and John Peel came and did a review of a gig we did in the Limelight for The Observer and he said, “It is ridiculous that this band is without a recording contract.” [Laughing] And we were signed the following week.
Chapter 9 — The Tube
It just showed that all you needed was a white background and Mick Lynch for Christ’s sake, you didn’t need any gimmicks or whatever — Chris Salmon
Hugh Jones — Quirk Out’s success was a big surprise but the big turning point was when they appeared on The Tube and they did ‘Buffalo’. That sort of swung it for me, I thought, oh blimey, this is going to do something.
Rob McKahey —In November 1986 we were asked up to Newcastle by The Tube to film a video for ‘Buffalo’. We went up there and if you look at the video we are absolutely pissed. There was a technical hitch in the studio and we had to adjourn to the local pub for three hours and we were all on Newcastle Brown so by the time we got in we were trollied, and I think it actually helped. All that carrying on, jumping around, that’s the drink. We were then invited back up in February 1987.
Mick Lynch — We were signing the record deal and there were lawyers talking about points and points. We were all there hanging around in central London, trying not to go to the pub. Finally at about 10 o’clock at night the whole deal was done, we popped a bottle of Champagne then the manager announced that we were getting into the van and driving to Newcastle that night because we were going to be on The Tube. [Laughing] The Bee Gees had pulled out. This was a Tuesday night and we drove through the night and got up there for 5 o’clock on Wednesday morning and at 10 o’clock we were in the studios for our first rehearsal. This was just after the infamous Jools Holland ‘groovy fuckers’ incident when Jools swore on air. So the broadcasting people were really watching The Tube. We were hanging around all day, and we did our two songs. Malcolm Gerrie, the producer of The Tube, was worried about the lyrics of ‘Tupperware Stripper’, so we had to change the words of it. There was a lot of compromises made but, it was a brilliant opportunity so we bit the bullet and did it. So ‘Tupperware Stripper’ became ‘Censorship Stripper’ and then we did ‘Everything in its Place’. I was nervous, if I’d said “fuck-it” or “shit” which I’m quite prone to doing, my language was always fairly coarse on stage, that was it Tyne Tees Television goodbye, loads out of work, we had cue cards put down in front of the audience. Paula Yeats said, “Hello.” She didn’t want to know who these ugly boys were, [laughing] we weren’t young and beautiful, so she didn’t want to know us.
Rob McKahey — In April 1987 we were invited up again for the last ever episode of The Tube, to hang out and party. Myself, Mick and Steve Mack from That Petrol Emotion were interviewed by Muriel Grey. The camera was right in our faces and I assumed it was just for close-up shots, but it was actually a very wide-angled camera and I was scratching my nuts [laughing] for the whole interview. My mum was in an awful state. We got the train down from Newcastle the following day and everyone I met said, [laughing] “Oh man, you were scratching your balls on the telly in front of millions.” [Laughing] I couldn’t just do the fucking interview. It was good, The Cure were there and Duran Duran and it was all hob-nobbing with superstars. TV exposure is amazing and it was great to get the videos done. And Newcastle’s great, Mick and I always had a great time in Newcastle, we were big drinkers then like. So it was good, The Tube was very, very good.
Mick Lynch — With the haircut I used to get the odd person shouting at me or coming up to me in London. You’d go to a gig and people would recognise you and if they were fans you might have someone come up to you, I was never fucking stuck-up about talking to someone, Jesus if they’re paying to come and see your gig or buying your record, you owe them that. I came home to Cork on my holidays, I came back for a week or something, it was after The Tube appearance, it was really frightening, I was almost afraid to go out at night, I hadn’t realised how big an impact it had made.
Chris Salmon — ‘Buffalo’ on The Tube, that was the real breakthrough. That was just fabulous publicity and people still remember that, and it just showed that all you needed was a white background and Mick Lynch for Christ’s sake; you didn’t need any gimmicks or whatever.
Chapter 10 — A Fierce Pancake: Hansa Studios, Berlin
It was an amazing place, I’m so glad we did it just before the wall came down. It had a faded grandeur; I think it was a brothel at some time — Chris Salmon
Kev Hopper — We had a week in London at Swanyard Studios and a place in Hoxton and then two weeks in Hansa. Stephen Street was the engineer in Hansa but he had to go back to work with Morrissey on his first album.
Chris Salmon — Hansa was great, I think the first person we met was Nick Cave, we had been up for 48 hours and we arrived and opened the doors and there’s a very well-spoken nattily dressed gentleman. Was that Nick Cave? Yeah it was, wasn’t it? I think he had just finished Kicking Against the Pricks.
Rob McKahey — We were aware of Hansa, we knew who had been in there. Nick Cave had just come out; he was doing Tender Prey.* He was vacating and we were going in. Berlin in 1987, really exciting, the wall was up. It was a very Bohemian city, an incredible scene, the clubs were open all night, it had a real sense of danger. I can remember when I looked out the window of the studio I was looking directly into no-man’s land at a Russian soldier on his wooden plinth.
* Tender Prey was recorded by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds between August and November 1987 at Hansa Tonstudio.
Chris Salmon — Hansa was Iggy and Bowie and I remember that room, it was fantastic, that huge room. The atmosphere with the wall, it took me a couple of days to realise it was the wall, it was quite small, everything covered in graffiti. It was an amazing place, I’m so glad we did it just before the wall came down. It had a faded grandeur; I think it was a brothel at some time wasn’t it?
Nigel Grainge — It ended up costing a lot of money because they wanted to work with Holger Hiller, they went to Germany to record and to be honest it didn’t work out. Kev was the creative driving force in the band; he wanted to work with Hiller. [Laughing] Stump were over-indulged.
Kev Hopper — I was a big fan of Holger Hiller’s music, I liked the way he deconstructed everything, it was incredible, and those records he made: Obem Im Eck and Ein Bündel Fäulnis In Der Grube, they were really amazing records, the whole notion of sampling chunks of music and then rearranging them and having all these fantastic noises that were from another genre in it. I thought that would suit the band, but I was wrong.
Hugh Jones — Kev had fallen out of love with playing bass and he’d gotten more involved in the sampling side of things and he really regarded this chap Holger Hiller. Kev very much pushed for the band to work with him and so off they went to Hansa and they spent a lot of time and the only person in the band who really was keen on this direction was probably Kev.
Rob McKahey — The recording process was really hard. The recording was a real mess because we had Stephen Street engineering but he couldn’t call any shots. Holger Hiller, I think it was a mistake getting him in, I would have preferred a rock & roll producer: Steve Albini, Nick Lowe, just record it, I mean we were a rock band, we were not an electronic band, so it became very protracted. I cycled all over Berlin taking photographs when the drums were done. In the end the whole thing was given to Hugh Jones to mix back in London.
Chris Salmon — I deeply regret the fact that we had Stephen Street for two weeks but he wasn’t allowed to finish it. He had done The Smiths, the only band that we all agreed that we liked. What a gift of having Street, but he didn’t have authority to do it. It ended up A Fierce Pancake. What a perfect title for it, [laughing] what a fucking mess basically, we could not end it. It just went on and on and on. It should have been done in a month.
John Robb — This is always the difficult part when you’re in a band, working with no money for ages, then suddenly you can do anything you want, you can go to loads of studios and use loads of different people and you lose the focus, don’t you? So probably that’s a problem Stump had. That sort of music, in a weird way suits the claustrophobia of only having one week to record it in a crap studio. Somehow they transcend the crap studio because they were amazing musicians, great players with great sounding instruments. But that’s hindsight and hindsight’s rubbish, of course in 1987 you think, fuck we can go to Berlin and record, well let’s go there, all our favourite records were made there, being in Berlin is really going to infect our record and make it just sound really crazy. But of course you go to Hansa and it was probably used for loads of records that you didn’t realise were made there that were all rubbish as well. So that’s the thing, sometimes if you have too much, the focus goes. That’s the thing about bands; it’s so random to make a great record.
Chapter 11 — A Fierce Pancake: London
We had a lot of momentum behind us, we had Peel behind us, and then suddenly everybody thought we’d died, and we just disappeared off the scene — Chris Salmon
Kev Hopper — We then had a long period in London where things were patched up, there were rerecordings and John Robie came into the picture. Ensign was pretty panicked by the relationship breaking down with Holger and it just left us in precarious situation of having an unfinished record. John Robie was a big flashy, Arthur Baker-style producer; it was all beats and polished sounds. I was resistant to it, I respected him as a producer but I didn’t think he was suitable for Stump. If you listen to Stump songs they are very simple chords, they’re not sophisticated, they’re not like listening to a Cole Porter song or something like that, they are just major and minor chords usually. The interlocking drums and bass and the broken up mosaic style of the music is all about arrangement. I don’t think John Robie saw that as relevant, he just looked through all that to the melody, the rhythm, and the chords he didn’t look at the arrangement, which was what Stump’s music was all about. It was an awful situation, I can remember Mick wanting to do a version of ‘El Paso’, because he’s a Country & Western guy, he likes that stuff. I thought nothing of it, but I arrived to Swanyard Studios one morning and there were two session singers doing harmonies on a version of ‘El Paso’, which they had just knocked up in the studio. It was crazy, from going to Holger, who was an arty avant-gardey person to people who thought that you could have hits at any cost, [laughing] even if you sell your soul.
Chris Salmon — So Hugh was brought back to clean up the mess and it was a mess because it wasn’t properly thought through really. All of that time just added to the cost of it. With Quirk Out, we did it all ourselves, we were in control, we were enjoying it and suddenly we get bogged down in this awful mess with no control and it wasn’t fun any more. If only we had just done it on our own.
Hugh Jones — Anyway it took ages and ages and ages and everyone lost the plot a little bit. After a lot of time and a lot of money, I suppose, they still didn’t have anything completely finished and so they asked me if I could finish it off. It was at Britannia Row Studios in North London. The recording was finished; I was just there to mix it really. It happens a lot I think, once you get past that first ‘bang out stuff that you’ve done on stage for the last year’ bit which is relatively easy to do, it gets into second album syndrome, it’s such a cliché.
Simon Reynolds — I wasn’t that surprised, I was pleased for them that they got a big deal, and that they were doing these nice looking videos and trying to have hits. It seemed like a logical step for a band that was so charismatic and entertaining. On the other hand given how weird some of their early music was it also seemed like a surprising development. Music had moved on a bit by then so I think that they fell between where the indie scene was at by the late 80s and the pop mainstream, they didn’t quite find their place unfortunately.
Nigel Grainge — Even though my conditioning was such in the business, having come through the ranks of Phillips and Phonogram, that I used to think major label, I was really indie in spirit. We as a label, Ensign, just never really had the cachet that the Beggars Banquets and the Stiffs had and that cost us the success that I would have had with Stump. It wouldn’t go out with the special vibe as if like today it came out on Domino or something like that. It wasn’t taken seriously by the indie fraternity and we lost all that indie credibility, which I thought was a little unfair.
Rob McKahey — The album credits are like a who’s who, and this was all for us, we could have done it all ourselves. It was ridiculous, bad management, bad decisions; I mean it cost a fortune as well. I couldn’t listen to it for years, I just thought it was a mess, I can listen to it now actually, I can see beauty in it occasionally but I’ve distanced myself from it.
Mick Lynch — It was great in one way because you had access to good studios, there was a budget for videos and we had quite a lot of artistic control. On the other hand there was all the bureaucracy, especially after A Fierce Pancake came out, and it didn’t do as well as Ensign had wanted it to. That’s when things got even worse because that’s when the real bureaucracy came into it. When everything is going well nobody’s involved.
Chris Salmon — They kept pouring money in, none of it landed on us. They were doing videos which cost £70,000, we could have bought houses with that, and of course they weren’t as good as the freebie we had on The Tube it was just stupid. I think the album was ludicrously expensive. Just from a logical point of view, what are you going to do? You’re a new act, why saddle yourself with all of that debt? We could have done it in one fell swoop in a month. The worst thing is that you owe all this money. Are you going to make £150,000 back? No you’re not.
John Robb — If a major label had been interested in one of the bands I was in or one of the other bands I knew they would probably have gone in the opposite direction just to get rid of the major label, which was quite funny at the time but 30 years later just seems completely stupid. Whereas Stump, fair play to them, they actually got a record deal. It was quite exciting to see would this work in a commercial kind of way. But the problem is that once you get signed to a major record deal, whether it’s the band or the label or because you have access to better studios and producers it starts to affect the music.
Hugh Jones — I don’t think anyone really knew what they were doing. A studio can be the best place in the world or it can be the absolute worst place in the world. When things are going well and ticking along nicely you’ve got a sense of momentum, it can be really fulfilling. Once you start getting bogged down, and once you start taking things apart, and once you start just losing your way then it just becomes a really horrendous process. A Fierce Pancake, it was built in the studio and so it doesn’t really have that spontaneity that Quirk Out had.
Chris Salmon — To be perfectly candid, I think Ensign was the kiss of death basically. It seemed very flattering at the time, ‘a major’ and all that, but what a disaster in retrospect. We should have been picked up by a Cherry Red, or a Rough Trade or something. It was very strange signing to a major. I don’t actually know why they chose us, I don’t know what they thought they were going to get. We had a lot of momentum behind us, we had Peel behind us, and then suddenly everybody thought we’d died, and we just disappeared off the scene. From two weeks for the first album to nine months for the second one and it split the band because it went on for too long.
Hugh Jones — I loved them to bits, the Rockfield sessions were an absolute hoot. It was just really, really good fun. But to be honest when I was doing A Fierce Pancake I think they might have come to the studio once or twice. It was a bit like Let It Be with The Beatles, they’d gotten themselves into such a quagmire with this thing that they didn’t really know what to do with it. They were quite happy to let someone else take over.
Chapter 12 — The Singles: ‘Chaos’, ‘Charlton Heston’ and ‘Buffalo’
We went with ‘Chaos’ as the first single, which is nuts, probably the most nutty single, to hear that on Radio 1 a few times was pretty bizarre — Nigel Grainge
Jack Lyons — A Fierce Pancake is a line from the famous writer Flann O’Brien’s book The Third Policeman. The book, which was written in the 30s, wasn’t published until 1967. I can remember Mick Lynch telling me at some stage that Flann O’Brien’s writings were almost a prerequisite for the rest of the band.
Rob McKahey — The Flann O’Brien thing started with me, I was obsessed with O’Brien but the lads were all aware of him. I asked the lads could we call the album A Fierce Pancake and they said yeah. We were such a lazy bunch that I’d come in and go, can we call this album A Fierce Pancake. Grand. This is the sleeve. Grand. Let’s dedicate it to the life and works of Wilhelm Reich and Flann O’Brien. Grand. [Laughing] Everyone was just so lazy. They’d all read Flann O’Brien, Wilhelm Reich came from Kev. I got a Reich book from him about the Orgone boxes. I thought Flann O’Brien was a very Stumpy writer in a lot of ways. All the artwork was a very conscious decision. The cover of A Fierce Pancake was a photograph by Fergus Bourke that I found in a Christy Moore songbook. I said to the lads, “Look let’s try and offshoot this quirky image with a beautiful image of a donkey on the Aran Islands.” Everyone agreed.
Nigel Grainge — They weren’t signed as a pop act; we wouldn’t have gone out with ‘Chaos’ as a pop single looking for Top 30. You know ‘Charlton Heston’, that was just crazy, but I thought that we could get a hit with that, I don’t know what that would have done to the band, because if you have a hit with a novelty record like that it could destroy their credibility forever, they were happy with that, they had recorded it. It wasn’t the first single, for that reason, because if it had been the first it would have alienated them so we went with ‘Chaos’ as the first single, which is nuts, probably the most nutty single, to hear that on Radio 1 a few times was pretty bizarre.
Chris Salmon — To be fair we did write ‘Charlton Heston’ in about five minutes as a joke song, it literally was a joke song. It was just to amuse ourselves really. I can’t remember who said it, “That’s a song, Mick go away and write three more verses,” and we just threw it together. I believe it got to number 45 in the real charts, now what more can you ask for really on your first thing and yet that still wasn’t good enough for them.*
* According to The Official Charts ‘Charlton Heston’ had a five week run in the Charts. It debuted at No. 96 on July 23, 1988 and reached No. 72, its highest position, on August 13, 1988. The 45 number is possibly a mid-week chart placing.
Mick Lynch — ‘Charlton Heston’ happened by accident, we were recording the album and we wanted to blend one song into the next, all of us were getting our own little bits to link songs. I was hung over at the Breakfast table one morning and it just came out, “Charlton Heston, put his vest on.” Everyone cracked up. I wrote the first verse and that was going to be it but we wrote the rest of it and it was the fastest song we ever wrote. Maybe that’s part of the appeal to it, it wasn’t laboured, it happened. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. We didn’t spend eight weeks grinding it out.
Roy Weard — It’s a puzzling thing with labels, I’ve worked in the music business for more than 30 years and I’ve seen lots of bands being signed and sometimes you wonder, I’ve got no idea really how they thought they’d be commercial. ‘Charlton Heston’ when it came out, towards the end of their career, was probably the most commercial thing they ever did, but even then did the label see it as a novelty single? I don’t know. It’s very hard to quantify what people decide what’s going to make a lot of money or what’s going to sell lots.
Rob McKahey — When ‘Charlton Heston’ was released we did a European tour supporting Hüsker Dü. It was a very strange tour we were playing these huge gigs. We played in Frankfurt in front of a load of trollied GIs. The Paris gig also had Sonic Youth, and you don’t have to take my word for it but we blew them both off the fucking stage, we came on and did a stormer of a set, Mick was on fire. The crowd went nuts. [Laughing] Sonic Youth came on, a few claps, no encore. Hüsker Dü came on, a few claps, no encore.
Nigel Grainge — Tim Pope did the videos. The video for ‘Charlton Heston’ with the frogs, that was insane. I think once it didn’t happen with ‘Charlton Heston’, the game was up.
John Robb — It’s happened to quite a few bands, quite a few bands from Cork, The Sultans were another one with ‘Where’s Me Jumper?’, which is actually a very good ridiculous song. Of course music is serious but sometimes silly can be great, you can be serious, fucked up in love, out of love and silly. They’re all part of life. It’s quite difficult to write something that is fantastically silly. You can just imagine Stump jamming in a rehearsal room and Mick sings the most stupid line for a laugh to make his friends laugh and it sticks and the song becomes their moment.
Liam McKahey — You have to admit that ‘Buffalo’ is a funny song and when people say it’s a funny song I think it’s fair enough because it is funny and I think that one of the things that attracted people to the band was Mick’s sense of humour and his funny lyrics.
Kev Hopper — Re-releasing ‘Buffalo’ was a last ditch attempt to inject something, I suppose they realised that a hit was essential to keep interest in the band going because by that time everything was changing, the rave scene had started happening and there was a real disinterest in bands like Stump who were doing the circuit. The whole perspective had changed and moved over to dance music and dancing in fields and getting stoned.
John Robb — Re-releasing ‘Buffalo’ is not the worst decision by the record company. All right the fans don’t want to buy it. But the record label aren’t looking at their 1,000 fans, they’re looking at 40,000 other fans. They didn’t get the other 40,000; they couldn’t get it on daytime radio because it’s too weird. You can’t polish it up enough to get on to daytime, which is as bad now as it was then. The core fans didn’t buy it, so you end up with even less than what you started off with. But the logic of the record label I totally understand. If they put £50,000 into that band they need their hit single, then they’ll sell the album on the back of it, they’ll get their money back. Stump will be set up. Of course the generation of bands who came out off the back end of punk they’re all going, we don’t want to work the record label. We were all like that, we were all awkward people, there was probably a whole generation of quite talented musicians who completely fucked it up for themselves [laughing] because they misunderstood the nature of punk. You could have worked with a record label but you don’t have to do the naff stuff. Putting a single out over and over, I don’t think that’s a bad thing really. You don’t force people to buy it do you? Captain Beefheart did all that stuff, [laughing] he tried to be commercial over and over again, but people only remember the bits where he goes off and goes weird, they don’t remember the bits where he tried to go straight again.
Nigel Grainge — A Fierce Pancake was an ambitious record, I think it was a well recorded version of the album they would have made as an indie anyway, they just wouldn’t have recorded it so expensively. I don’t think it would have been greatly different. When you listen to ‘Buffalo’, that’s the kind of record that the band who recorded ‘Buffalo’, was going to make. ‘Buffalo’ was put out as the third single when all else had failed and we actually got a little bit close, we did get some airplay, but I think by that time things weren’t really gelling. We just didn’t get the momentum, it was almost like the album’s dead let’s give the third single a shot.
Chapter 13 — Post Pancake
They had a lot of success with Sinéad O’Connor, The Waterboys, World Party so the coffers were kind of full, but you still can’t lose money on that scale and expect to get away with it — Rob McKahey
John Robb — I think Stump did get generally good press most of the time, I just think they never caught on with the public. I remember they did that tour after they got signed and ‘Chaos’ was getting the big push but there seemed to be less people going to see them then had been previously. I just don’t think people liked the direction they had taken even though it wasn’t drastically different; it was just slightly more polished. Maybe that small underground scene had its ears tuned to a rougher kind of sound. There’s this big gap between the mainstream and the underground, the closest the underground got to the mainstream at that point in time was The Jesus and Mary Chain, who were a great band who wrote really great pop songs but made them sound noisy, so they managed to straddle both. Whereas Stump were just a slightly polished up version of a really off the wall band and most people just don’t get that off the wall music, do they?
Mick Lynch — The transition was strange, [laughing] we lost a load of money. Before we signed with Ensign we were doing three, four, five gigs a week. We were coming out with £50 pounds each a night, thank you very much. Then we signed up and suddenly we were back on £100 a week.
Kev Hopper — Rob had the knack of calling journalists he knew and getting them to come to gigs and review stuff. He was incredibly persuasive, he used to drink with them all down in the Devonshire Arms, in Camden, he knew them personally, and he rang them up even when we were doing nothing just for a chat. He was incredibly talented at doing that. When we moved over to Chrysalis, that relationship was severed because they had their own people doing it. Whenever Rob tried to intervene they used to scold him, they had their own way of doing it, and it broke down the relationship with the journalists.
Nigel Grainge — Stump were not on a cool label. They were on a cool label when they were on a tiny indie and as soon as they were on a label that wasn’t determined to be ‘Nick Kent type-cool’ they lost that kind of NME vibe. And that’s completely what it was down to, their record was being mailed from a postcode marked Stratford Place, Chrysalis and it was going to come in the same bag as Billy Idol and Sonia, that little scally from Liverpool, she had a number one record, it was hideous but that was the kind of record that was coming out on Chrysalis at the same time as Stump. It’s quite likely that ‘Chaos’ the single went out in the same bag as Sonia’s single.
Rob McKahey — The other side to it is that I did all the press with Stump. I rang the NME, Melody Maker, Sounds. I rang everybody personally and I was on speaking terms with them. So I’d ring Barney Hoskyns and say, “Hi Barney, how was the holiday?” I’d ring Charles Sharr Murray and a few others who liked the music, I’d ring them up and I’d say, “Look we’re playing this gig; I think it’s about time for an interview.” It was actually like that, “We haven’t heard anything for a while.” “No problem we’ll be over.” As soon as we signed to Chrysalis they assigned a Press Officer, I was banned from doing anything, and the whole fecking thing just fell apart. There wasn’t a sniffter. It got to the stage where I had a row with the Press Officer in Chrysalis and I was summoned in and given a bollocking, “How dare you talk to so and so like that.”
Nigel Grainge — There is no question that the press people at Chrysalis weren’t the kind to be going to Camden town for a grubby drink after work. They were nice, sweet girls who were much more pop orientated. They serviced these guys with records, but they didn’t get down and dirty and have a drink with them and roll their sleeves up.
Rob McKahey — It was a paradox because as soon as we signed to a major label, the money stopped, the press stopped, everything fell apart. The Holy Grail for a lot of bands is signing to a major label, we should never have signed to a major label, we should have kept it a small cottage industry, but hindsight’s great [laughing].
Nigel Grainge — Lyrically they were brilliant, the lyrics are very scholarly. If you listen to ‘Alcohol’, it’s fantastic. I always get very seduced by literary acts. I like ‘Willy the Pimp’ by Frank Zappa and Beefheart, it was a fantastic record. I loved Beefheart, loved Zappa, so it was in my blood. Without having an overall commercial head my feeling was that if we make a fabulous record here people will hear it, and maybe people will buy it. The problem was that I was compromised by the image of the company that was distributing me. I swear, if we had been distributed by a more sympathetic company we’d have got a lot further down the line with Stump. They went from NME favourites to being virtually ignored, I was mortified when we lost all the support that they had.
Hugh Jones — I always thought they were a bit out of place anyway so A Fierce Pancake didn’t really come as much of a surprise to me. I just think that they kind of missed the boat a little bit, had they produced something quicker and actually struck while the iron was relatively warm, it might have done better but it took so long to do that people had moved on.
Rob McKahey — I can see Ensign and Chrysalis meetings, them getting earfuls from the brass, what about all this money? They had a lot of success with Sinéad O’Connor, The Waterboys, World Party so the coffers were kind of full, but you still can’t lose money on that scale and expect to get away with it. I’d say Nigel had a hard time, because they had faith in us and I think ‘Charlton Heston’ only got into the 40s in the charts, but nothing big.
Chapter 14 — Stump split
Stump were a band that argued a lot, it wasn’t easy being in Stump, it was full of very upfront, very fiery personalities and people with very, very strong opinions — Kev Hopper
Rob McKahey — Do you know what it was with us; we were a lazy bunch of bastards. We just wanted to get drunk, play our music and we imagined everything else was going to fall into place, unfortunately it doesn’t, you take your eye off the ball, you get shafted, or things go wrong, and we didn’t realise that. We didn’t realise there was a bit of longevity in it, we could have kept going for an awful lot longer, but we just packed it up [laughing].
Chris Salmon — We demoed a third album and then they said, “It’s not quirky enough.” Now [laughing], what does that mean? It’s not exactly the same as the one before or something, we were left in this dilemma, they still own you but you can’t leave them, and they’re not going to do anything with you. So you are kind of forced to split up. In retrospect what we should have done is split for a bit, done four different projects then come back to the mother ship, but we didn’t have that option. We kind of had to split, and we were exhausted by then, it was very tiring doing nothing and [laughing] going nowhere.
Mick Lynch — There’s that whole thing of your first album: you’ve taken two years to write it, then you record it and bring it out. Then you’re supposed to write another one and of course it can’t be the same as the first one because you’re not experienced those same things, obviously life is better for you and you’re playing bigger places and you don’t have time to write because you’re on the road. We suffered from that, especially because of the way that we worked. Chris and Kev would go away and work out a passage of music and then Rob would come in and fit the drums to it. I’d be listening all the while and then I’d come in over the top and that’s when the structure came to fit the lyrics, it was a very long and convoluted way of working. They were all perfectionists on things, [laughing] “Let’s do this one in 7/18ths.” “What!” “The break comes in 31 beats after the bar.” You needed a head like a bloody computer.
Hugh Jones — When a label signs a band, particularly Nigel, because he knew what he was doing, he was a very nice man, you want the band to think that you are doing everything possible to help them along and you don’t at that stage want to be going, “oh no, we want you to do this, or we want you to do that.” There is a tendency for record companies to give the band their head and I just don’t think Stump were ready for it. You have to remember that A Fierce Pancake came out almost two years after Quirk Out so people have short memories in this game. Nowadays people take four years to make a record or whatever but in those days you had to put stuff out. Look at The Smiths; they were putting stuff out every other week.
Kev Hopper — There was some inertia in the band musically, it was starting to split slightly, I had more interest in sampling, the things that attracted me to Holger Hiller’s music in the first place, had more pull for me, more attraction for me at that time. Chris and Rob were more drawn to Pixies-style rock, which I had no interest in, even though I accept that the Pixies are a good rock band, I didn’t want to play that kind of music. I was playing less and less bass and doing more and more sampling.
Simon Reynolds — By the late 80s a different Anglo-Irish group was actually setting the pace of what music was about and that was My Bloody Valentine with a much more overwhelming sound and almost where the visual side of the band was eclipsed by this wall of noise. That was the dominant aesthetic at the end of the 80s, and on into the 90s, with Shoegaze. So Stump, on the one hand were out of sync with what was going on in the indie underground, but they were too wacky for the mainstream at that point.
Kev Hopper — Stump were a band that argued a lot, it wasn’t easy being in Stump, it was full of very upfront, very fiery personalities and people with very, very strong opinions. [Laughing] Oh, God, I’ve been in bands since where it’s like a picnic, it’s really civil, “A cup of tea mate, OK.” Very few arguments, agreement on everything, differences settled very quickly, Stump was almost the exact opposite of that; it was just fraught all the time. People losing their tempers with each other, personalities rubbing up against each other, [laughing] it wasn’t a relaxing band to be in. It was difficult.
Rob McKahey — The problem for us was the dance thing kicked off and we became really inadequate, we felt inadequate. Nobody wanted to hear any kind of rock or pop music, let alone us, and you had this dance music going on and people wanted to take ecstasy and stay up all night dancing. Now you could take ecstasy and dance to Stump but [laughing] by Jesus you’d have to have a doctor standing by I’d say.
Kev Hopper — I wasn’t annoyed with the music business, people were simply going their own way within the band, and I hesitate to say musical differences, because it wasn’t quite like that. Everyone was difficult to deal with, it was difficult to have a civil discussion about things and arrive at agreement so it felt like it had run its course.
Nigel Grainge — The thing that really broke it all up was a gig at Electric Ballroom in Camden. Stump being supported by The Blue Aeroplanes. We watched The Blue Aeroplanes and saw them for the first time and they were mind-blowing they literally tore the place apart. We went early to see them because we had heard the Spitting Out Miracles album. Then Stump followed and they had a fist fight on stage, it was a disaster and they broke up that night. And we ended up signing The Blue Aeroplanes that night; we lost one band and gained one.
Rob McKahey — None of us wanted to be in the same room as each other and it was obvious that this would be a Stump gig with no humour, everybody was cranky, it was not good. It was a terrible time, it was around Christmas, and it was awful.
Hugh Jones — There was a gig at the Electric Ballroom and I think it pretty much was the last gig that they did together. It was a fairly depressing spectacle. They were on stage together but they were completely in their own separate worlds. At the end of that gig I certainly knew it was over. They were a one off and I was very glad to be involved in that and it was a sad thing that it had to end the way it did.
Chapter 15 — The Complete Anthology (2007) and Does the Fish Have Chips (2014)
I sort of had to listen to it when they were re-releasing it and re-mastering it and I thought, Christ some of this stuff’s good. I think it’s fecking great stuff — Rob McKahey
Chris Salmon — We really haven’t had the best of luck, The Complete Anthology, the triple album that Sanctuary put out in 2007 was fantastic, it also had the third album that had never been released and then they went bankrupt [laughing], we’re the kiss of death, and then of course it all disappeared. Does the Fish Have Chips, the latest compilation, happened when John Reed from Cherry Red rang me up, I remember getting the phone call and I’d never heard of him, and I thought, [laughing] is this a crank? He obviously wasn’t a crank, the reason there’s only one album though is because Chrysalis still own most of the songs.
Roy Weard — If you listen to the compilation, if you listen through all that, there’re a lot of very, very interesting, very clever songs, very melodic songs, there’s some beautiful stuff on there. There’s a lot of love in people’s hearts for Stump. Some of those songs grab you and there’re not the songs that are the immediate singles. I always loved ‘Everything in its Place’, such clever lyrics.
Mick Lynch — I was working in a bar in London after we split up and crusties started happening, they seemed to crawl out of nowhere all of a sudden, the bar was quickly becoming a crusty bar, and I discovered that most of the crusties grew up loving Stump, and I’d hate to think that we had anything to do with encouraging crusties, [laughing] it’s like being up for war crimes.
Kev Hopper — When you leave a band or a band folds up you feel like you haven’t a job, it’s quite a scary, weird feeling. I think I was about 29 or 30 when Stump broke up. I made a record fairly soon after Stump splitting, I don’t think it sold much, I didn’t even enquire. As for listening to the Stump records, I can’t. I’m over familiar with them. The production’s of the time, the reverb’s all over the vocals and the great big snare sound, it puts me off listening to the records a little bit. They’re of their time, occasionally I can almost reach an objective view of it, where I can really appreciate it and think about the fantastic words and some amazing bits of music, but those moments are quite fleeting. That fades and then you’re just left with the surface reality of listening to something that’s 30 years old, I’ve mixed feelings about the music now.
Rob McKahey — I didn’t listen to any Stump music for about fifteen years; I just forgot about it and got on with my life. I sort of had to listen to it when they were re-releasing it and re-mastering it and I thought, Christ some of this stuff’s good. I think it’s fecking great stuff. It’s almost like I’m detached and there’s this young mad drug-addled young fella playing drums and I’m looking at him going, he’s great. It’s almost like my ego is detached from it and I can be almost objective, whereas when you’re stuck in it you can’t be. Listening to Mick, I think his words are wonderful and I've great respect for the other two lads as musicians. Stump, it is what it is. It has its limitations, you might get somebody who loves Led Zeppelin, they mightn’t like Stump, but I know Stump fans who think Stump’s the best band in the world [laughing] that’s the level of insanity you get you know. I’d like to see the Peel sessions released, it would be 16 tracks which would make a nice little album. Some of the Peel session tracks are fantastic. ‘Satisfaction’ is outrageous.
Chapter 16 — Summing Up
They were a bright spot in a rather dreary time of music — Simon Reynolds
Roy Weard — Trying to describe their sound is an interesting thing. It is quite an odd style of music; I don’t think anyone plays bass like Kev. He’s the most amazing bass player I’ve ever heard. He’s so inventive in the way he puts things together. How can you describe it, it’s sort of jazz-punk, I don’t know. It’s very odd. It’s anti-rock, it’s the combination of the four people I think that made it work, I don’t think any other combination of people would have worked so well. It was the fact that Rob’s drumming was so tight and so metronomic and then the bass kind of flitted around all over the place but the layering of Mick’s vocal over the top in those very lilting Irish melodies that he put together and the strangeness of the words, the whole thing was more than the sum of its parts. I don’t think there’s been another band like them since.
Simon Reynolds — I always thought of Stump as being like body music. Not body music in the sense of funk or disco or bodies being sexy. This was the full gamut of the human body which can be embarrassing, can be gross, can be silly, it can be all kinds of things and I felt like it was the music of an unruly body. It was wiggling and writhing and farting and belching. It’s very physical music, but it’s not physical music in the sense that we commonly think of as dancing to look cool, dancing to look sexy. It’s total body music with all the disgrace of a physical human being as well as all the beauty and fun and humour of it all. That’s what I got from it. You could see it in the way that Mick danced, it wasn't exactly what people would say is conventionally cool but it was certainly something fairly mesmerising to watch.
Nigel Grainge — Every period through recent music history, certainly over the last 50 years, there’s always been something completely off the wall coming through. Stump’s ‘Buffalo’, could have been a hit, if radio had gone with it the whole story would have been completely different. Stiff Records went with Ian Dury, how off the wall was Ian Dury on the first album? Yeah, he got more commercial when he started to put things out like, ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’, but ‘Rhythm Stick’ was pretty off the wall and not a million miles from ‘Buffalo’, but it had the Stiff cachet. There was no more uncommercial act than Ian Dury on paper.
Simon Reynolds — It’s rhythmically interesting music but it’s also not conventionally groovy. It writhes around, it squirms, and it bulges in all kinds of strange places. It pulls at your body and makes you want to move but in a way that would probably be embarrassing if you were to do it in public. So that’s the interesting thing about it, it’s a kind of weird groove music. You can see why a lot of people would have a hard time getting their heads around it. Where is the groove in this? Where is the melody in this? To me it just bulges with invention and a great mischievous spirit. There are so many ideas in it, ideas that other groups would spin out for a whole song, Stump just throw away in one little bit of one of their tunes. They were a bright spot in a rather dreary time of music.
Mick Lynch — It’d be nice if Quentin Tarantino discovered ‘Charlton Heston’ and used it on the soundtrack of one of his movies, I wouldn't mind that at all. It’s history now, even though Stump would probably be a lot more accepted now. In a way Stump were very much ahead of their time, the same as Five Go Down to the Sea?, we were mixing things, mixing styles. People seem much more open to different sounds and types and music now.
Jack Lyons — Another great thing about Mick Lynch of course is that he is now a regular puppeteer and his puppet is named after Andy Gaw who was a very, very popular street character in Cork, in Mick’s puppetry act he does a rendition of ‘The Boys of Fairhill’. It’s exclusive to nowhere but Cork. Mick Lynch, Mick the Punk, is not a man who pushes himself. He is such a character; you can never stop talking about him because he is hard to pin down. He’s not a man who pushes his own sense of self. You either have him or you don’t. If you want to meet Mick the Punk, or Mick Lynch, it’s almost hit or miss. You just missed him. He’s un-contactable, he won’t answer his mobile.
Kev Hopper — If people know about rock music I say we had a bit of Beefheart to us and a little bit of Irish Flann O’Brien-esque stuff. But if they don’t know anything about music I just say, it’s indie rock [laughing] because I can’t be arsed to describe it, I can’t be bothered to try and describe Stump music.
Mick Lynch — Stump’s music is odd post-punk, it’s very hard to describe, I usually say go away and listen to it. I still get a kick when people discover Stump for the first time. There were lots of highs, the Peel sessions, I think the second Peel session is really good, getting signed, but the main high points were during gigs when it was working. I can’t say there was one defining moment really. I'm very proud of it.
Chris Salmon — I had a blast being in Stump, it was great for years, and we’re still very fond of each other.
Rob McKahey — Two or three years was as long as we got out of it, [laughing] which wasn’t bad.
Mick Lynch — I’m quite wary of instant nostalgia, most of the people who were around then are still around now. Now is the time to document it [Stump’s story], or to get it stored somewhere, document it, but I don’t think there’s any need to lionise it.
Stump shared a stage for the last time on 23 May, 2015. I had the great pleasure of being in the audience as they played a secret gig in Cork to about 50 family members, friends and fans. The band encored with a double blessing of ‘Charlton Heston’ and ‘Buffalo’. It was a terrific end to a great night.
Mick Lynch sadly passed away after a short illness in Marymount Hospice, Cork on 17 December, 2015. This Oral History is dedicated to his memory.
Paul McDermott teaches Media Studies and Journalism at Rathmines College, Dublin, and broadcasts on 103.2 Dublin City FM.
© Paul McDermott 2018, All Rights Reserved
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