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Learn & Sing

Lights! Camel! Action! — the story of STUMP (Part 2)

an oral history by Paul McDermott

Part 1 — Lights! Camel! Action! — the story of STUMP (is here)

Part 2 — Postscript

As part of the Irish Examiner series “B-Side the Leeside — Cork’s Greatest Records” I wrote a feature on Stump’s A Fierce Pancake:

For the article I spoke to Stump members Rob McKahey, Kev Hopper, Chris Salmon and producer Stephen Street.

As a postscript to my Oral History of the band I present a transcript of my full chat with them — most of which didn’t make the finished Irish Examiner feature due to word count restrictions.

All the photographs that accompany this postscript are by Rob McKahey and were taken in Berlin during Stump’s time at Hansa Studios in 1987.

Mick and Kev (Hansa Studios, 1987). Photograph © Rob McKahey

Kev Hopper — Hansa was chosen because it had accommodation but as it had fallen out of fashion by 1987 it was therefore cheap to hire.

Chris Salmon — My own memories of Hansa, I loved the fact the wall was still up and the buildings still had bullet holes, we had a lovely view of No Man’s Land between the walls. And all that Rock n Roll history, Nick Cave was the first person we met, he had just finished Tender Prey. On my one day off, Mick and I went for the day trip to the East. We got pissed and missed the return deadline, we spent several hours in the backroom at Checkpoint Charlie.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Rob McKahey — Hansa was an old cabaret concert hall, a huge hall from the time of the Weimar Republic. The drum kit was set up in this huge hall, up on stage with a video link and the lads were all down in the other end of the building in the control room.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Stephen Street — I was aware of Stump, I can remember C86 and their peers from that time, I liked their music and they were getting great press and they seemed to have a momentum and the opportunity to go to Berlin and record at Hansa studios was very attractive to me.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Chris Salmon — It was great to work with Stephen Street, if only he had been in charge the whole Pancake would have been done and dusted in a few weeks.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Rob McKahey — Berlin was sinister, but it was also exciting, it was a great time to be there. We ventured into East Berlin one day and we just couldn’t believe what we were seeing, it was just a dystopian nightmare, it was completely horrible and the people looked really scared. Of all the Eastern Bloc countries, Honecker — East Germany’s leader — was notoriously bad your worst nightmare, it was real 1984 stuff.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Rob McKahey — We drove the corridor from West Germany into Berlin and we played Bartok’s 2nd violin concerto [laughing] to make the drive even scarier. My god you didn’t dare break down on that road, the East German police would take everything off you, you’d be fleeced. We just wanted to get away from London and Hansa was mentioned, we thought Berlin, fantastic. I remember going in and just looking around thinking my god, Low and Heroes were recorded here, The Idiot and Lust For Life were recorded here. I felt really privileged to be playing drums on that stage in that big hall. Kevin’s opinion held a lot of weight, he was the moral conscious of the band. He worked his socks off to get Holger Hiller in. I personally didn’t get on with Holger — he was like Doctor Death. Recording is meant to be fun, but it was so hard.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Stephen Street — Berlin was just so grey, it was really dull, and there was a seediness about it. I remember the food being really terrible, it was so at odds with the vibrant, multi-cultural Berlin of today, it was unrecognisable from today’s Berlin. It was exciting seeing those rooms in Hansa and of course I was very aware of the legacy of the studio and who had recorded in it.

Kev Hopper — Stephen is referring to the Irish caterer who was employed by our management company. His food was inedible.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Rob McKahey — The main thing about A Fierce Pancake is that there was really serious conflict about who was going to produce it. Kev wanted to go with Holger Hiller because he was really into his electronics and his sampling and I wanted to bring in Steve Albini. We could have had anybody and I wanted Albini to record it live, I wanted it to be a rock album, Stump were a rock band, we were an avant-garde rock band. I ended up having to play along to click tracks, he recorded all the drums first. Playing Stump drums to a click track is no fucking mean feat. I was up on stage with a click track, that wasn’t the Stump way at all. ‘Boggy Home’ was the only track recorded live with the lads up on that stage with me. If you listen to ‘Boggy Home’ it has an energy that was missing from the rest of the album.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Kev Hopper — My strongest memory of Hansa is recording the title track in the late hours on my own with Holger while the others were partying in Kreuzberg. After I recorded the bass part we were banging shopping trolleys and tinkling celestes in Rock-free fashion. Mick didn’t like that track but it summed up the atmosphere of the place more than any of the others in my opinion.

Rob McKahey — Stephen Street was a really nice guy, great company, great musician and a great engineer but he was stuck in the middle with Holger on one side and us on the other side. He was putting his hands up saying, don’t look at me I’m just the engineer. He could have done a great job with it. To have him just engineering was such a waste. The whole thing got a bit silly in the end.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Stephen Street — Working with Morrissey at that time was a priority for me because I was given the opportunity to co-write Viva Hate and continue a relationship that I had started during my time working with The Smiths so I left Berlin after a week or two.

Rob McKahey — I’d love to remix it and hear it properly. I think some of the songs are great. My favourite song would be ‘Doctor (A Visit To The)’. It’s a song about Wilhelm Reich and his Orgone carry on. Live that was a great song to play. We had a mini rebellion and refused to use a click track and that was on the song ‘Boggy Home’. And if you listen to it you can hear me shouting one, two, three, four and we go into it live, the lads are with me.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Rob McKahey — Frank Zappa’s bass player contacted Kev and said he got the album from his boss, Frank. Imagine Frank Zappa in Laurel Canyon listening to A Fierce Pancake. I’m more of a Beefheart fan than a Zappa fan but at the end of the day we’re all just fans and the fact is Zappa gave it to his bass player. That’s very flattering.

Stephen Street — If you end up using different producers and different recording sessions the momentum can definitely be lost and I think Stump lost the momentum that they had, things changed very quickly in the UK music scene in the late 80s and suddenly the bands from Manchester were happened and if you didn’t have a drummer with a certain type of Madchester beat then you were out.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Rob McKahey — Mick was a fantastic frontman and a great singer but I don’t think that his words were ever appreciated. I’d love to see a book of his lyrics and poetry published. Why didn’t I ever go up and give him a cuddle and tell him that his words were beautiful? Of course we were all wrapped up in our own egos. I miss him.

Kev Hopper — You couldn’t really cuddle Mick. He had a broadsheet wrapped around him in the daytime and a wall of beer in the evening. He was far more interested in people outside the group and anyway, in his view I was probably the one always nagging him to get off his arse and write more lyrics. Despite all his considerable talents my thoughts about him are unfortunately tainted by witnessing his decline through alcohol abuse. Perhaps he could have done with some support from those around him to help him off the booze during his later years in Cork? It saddens me he wasn’t more productive.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Rob McKahey — Mick’s lyrics were never ever discussed or appreciated by the band. I can never ever once remember anybody saying to Mick, “Christ Mick that’s a great lyric”. Nobody even listened to the words. I recently downloaded them all and they’re so poetic and beautiful so what I’ve decided to do is I’m going to sing — my son has a studio in Ballydehob — I’m going to sing the lyrics myself to a click track and invite guests to reinterpret the songs in a calm fashion so that people might listen to Mick’s lyrics. Some of them are just so beautiful. His words often got lost in the middle of all the carry on and it’s such a pity.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Chris Salmon — I still can’t believe Mick’s death, the timing was almost like a badly scripted novel. I was so looking forward to the reunion, I wanted to see what the new generation would have made of us. Mick seemed a bit rough and he made Shane McGowan look like an advert for dental health, but he didn’t seem ill. The speed he went downhill after the gig took everybody by surprise.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Rob McKahey — For me it’s difficult to be 100% positive about A Fierce Pancake, but I trust other people. If someone loves it I think that’s great, that’s fantastic because Stump was a very short-lived project. People tell me that they love it as an album but I think it probably should have been heard by more people. A Fierce Pancake was a very ambitious project by four lads who were definitely punching above their weight.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Stephen Street — Mick was charismatic and he had the thing that all great front men have an aura, a presence about him.

Chris Salmon — He was the best front man I’ve ever seen, he loved taking the piss out of the audience and when he was on form he had the rest of the band in stitches, he was a true Irish wordsmith, and his lyrics are up there with the best.

Photograph © Rob McKahey

Kev Hopper — The time in Berlin was memorable and in retrospect the album was a mighty achievement of disparate influences and untypical creativity.

Rob McKahey — It’s funny I was looking at a royalty statement that I got last year and the Stump song, ‘Ice the Levant’, which is literally unlistenable, was played at a Lithuanian health club. Imagine that. What were they on? [Laughing] What were these Lithuanians taking that they’d play that in a keep fit class?

Photograph © Rob McKahey
Lights! Camel! Action! — the story of Stump. Produced by Paul McDermott for UCC 98.3FM.

Further Listening

Get That Monster Off the Stage — the story of Finbarr Donnelly and his bands Nun Attax, Five Go Down to the Sea? and Beethoven. Produced by Paul McDermott.
Iron Fist in Velvet Glove — the story of Microdisney, produced by Paul McDermott.

Further Information

© Paul McDermott 2021, All Rights Reserved

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