I first heard about Stump in 1986 when working with the drummer’s brother. Liam would eventually make his own accomplished records but at the time it was his older sibling, Rob, who had just released a mini LP “Quirk Out”. I probably heard the band on John Peel’s radio show. I could say that about hundreds of bands I have enjoyed over the decades. If you are British and you like music then you know all about John Peel. If you are from overseas please take my word for it that there has never been a more eclectic, adventurous and passionate disseminator of new music on any radio station anywhere.
I loved the music from that get-go. Until I worked and played out with these young Irish guys I had thought that Flann O’Brien was a surrealist writer. I had not realized that O’Brien was reflecting the fantastical streak in everyday Irish conversation. These literate ruffians were a blast of fresh air. I revelled in discussion that was not particularly grounded in logic and reason. Stump’s music blended the lyrical, humourous anarchy of O’Brien with the fractured, jerky blues of Captain Beefheart. A fine marriage it was too. This video was filmed by the music TV show of the day, “The Tube”. The programme was trying hard to break an act. Stump became widely known because of the clip but this tale of Burberry-clad American tourists was probably a little too out there to sell a bunch of records. The producers moved on and did their damndest to promote Frankie Goes To Hollywood !
Recently I showed this video to a friend’s daughter, a smart-as-a-whip teenager who was making her own mind up about music. Halfway through the song Ellie looked sideways at me and exclaimed, “These people were your friends !”
Well, I knew half of the band, the Irish half. In Camden pubs Rob, the drummer, and I bonded over a shared love of Charles Bukowski and the Chambers Brothers. My posse were mainly from Cork and through them I met Mick, the singer. He really was a motormouth, a ball of not quite focussed energy. I had met characters like this in the hippie early 70s. I always liked to get in the slipstream and see where it led. If I could have followed Mick Lynch with a camera for just one weekend I would have had enough material for one crazy movie.
It really did not matter that we knew the guys. We would go to see Stump whenever they played in London and we always loved the gigs. It was dance music Jim, but not as we knew it. As is evident from the video for “Chaos” the record company were spending money on the band. However the recording of the LP “A Fierce Pancake” (the title sourced,as is this blog’s, from Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman”) had been a difficult time with four producers involved. The songs did lend themselves to wacky visuals but Stump did not need to be reduced to some kind of novelty band. “Chaos” was not the crossover hit that Ensign/Chrysalis had hoped for.
Through 1987/88 apart from seeing Stump I met and got to know members of That Petrol Emotion, the fine band formed around the O’Neill brothers after the Undertones had run their course. John O’Neill put me on to a band from Manchester, Yargo. One night at Dingwalls it took us all of 15 seconds to decide that their music was for us. These were interesting times. We went to see a lot of bands but we felt a connection with what we considered to be three of the finest bands around. However, in the summer of 1988 the music scene in the U.K. was changing rapidly.
I got my first taste of this in June when I designed and painted the decor for Boy George’s birthday party (a true story but for another time). The DJ, Danny Rampling, was pioneering the Balearic sound which would quickly become Rave and Acid House. By the end of the summer London was loved up, the kids were wearing bandanas, taking Ecstasy and dancing in the street if a car alarm went off !
I missed this as I summered in the Greek Islands (as you do) in 1988. An ad hoc two months of sun, sea and retsina is just the job to re-charge the batteries and make some good memories to get you through the British winter. I did have one fixed point on my itinerary so my friends were able to send letters and parcels to the small post office on Sifnos. On my arrival on this very special island I was able to collect welcome news from home. In one of these relief packages I received a cassette of Stump’s “A Fierce Pancake”. “Charlton Heston (puts his vest on)” was the class track of the record, perfect for a bit of a dance on a moonlit beach at midnight.
I shared a perfect beach with assorted Eurotrash. Of course the lingua franca was English, I was the only Brit on the beach so everybody got to talk to me. I, however, had made some good friends, I did not need to talk to everybody. I used “Charlton Heston” as a sounding board. If you wanted to hang out, if you wanted to borrow my tape of “Sign “O” the Times”, then you had to like Stump. It was as good a screening process as anything else and saved dull evenings spent with time wasters.
I still love the song, from the opening froggy burps to “boils the size of 50p. Lights ! Camel ! Action !”. Stump gave it up after this LP. I have fond memories of a night in South London when Mick performed Johnny Cash songs backed by the Three Johns. I don’t really hold with this “shamefully under-rated” bleat about bands you like but few others do. I do know that when I play “Buffalo” to people of a certain age the reaction is usually “Oh, I remember this !” Of course it is a pity that Stump were not bigger but the same can be said of many of the bands I first heard on Peel’s show. The music they did make is still around for me to enjoy and to dance madly around the room to (oops, too much information).