Nick Cave has paid tribute to The Pop Group‘s frontman Mark Stewart.
The pop-punk pioneer’s passing was announced on April 21, with The Pop Group honouring the 62-year-old icon by saying: “Mark is in Communion with Love. As Sufis say; there is no such thing as death, no one is going to die, but since death is so valuable, it has been hidden in the safe of fears.”
Following his passing, Bad Seeds frontman Cave took to his Red Hand Files newsletter to share the impact that Stewart and The Pop Group have had on his career when he first moved to the UK with his early band The Birthday Party.
“When The Birthday Party moved from Australia to the UK in 1989, it was partly because of The Pop Group,” he shared. “We truly loved them, were mystified by them, playing their strange, utterly unique music non-stop, barely able to comprehend what it was we were actually listening to.”
He continued: “One night we finally had the chance to see The Pop Group (in Brixton, I think) and, you know when bands walk on to stage and make a show of tuning their guitars and adjusting their drum stools and rearranging their crotches and stuff?, well, The Pop Group would have none of that.
“I remember waiting in the darkened venue for them to come on, bummed out about England, listening to some ambient music wafting out of the speakers, when suddenly and without warning The Pop Group strode onto stage and ploughed into the opening song with such indomitable force and such sudden visceral rage that I could barely breathe.
Cave added: “It was the most exciting and ferocious concert of my young life – everything changed at that moment and we, as a fledgling band, knew then what we needed to do. I think The Birthday Party truly became The Birthday Party that night – more musically adventurous, more anarchic, more confronting, more dangerous.”
Cave went on to share the impact seeing The Pop Group live had on him and how he and Stewart eventually became friends.
“Even though we were ideologically opposed, in so much as Mark gave a fuck about the world he lived in and I, at the time, didn’t, we still liked each other, found each other funny, and got wasted together many times,” he wrote. “I didn’t mind him taking the piss out of me at every opportunity he could find, because I knew that underneath the abrasive, obnoxious, demonstrative nature was a man of enormous charm and intelligence – a decent and deeply endearing guy.
“Along the way Mark taught me many things about life – for instance that you could get stoned from inhaling Tippex (they’ve changed the ingredients, kids), and that sleeping was a bourgeois indulgence, and that the world was one giant corporate conspiracy, and that one way to win an argument was to just never, ever stop shouting,” he continued.
“I have since revised some of these notions, but not my love and admiration for this great man, a fearsome vocalist and unbelievably exciting frontman to whom I am deeply indebted.”
Cave then revealed that he had been listening to The Pop Group’s 1979 classic single ‘We Are All Prostitutes’, which he said “influenced me as much as anything I have ever heard and has, I would say, the greatest opening 20 seconds of any song ever recorded”, urging his followers to “join me in playing it loud”.
Many artists and musicians have also shared emotional tributes to Stewart – including author Irvine Welsh, Gareth Sager and Steve Albini.
Massive Attack took to Twitter to share: “Post punk pioneer and original chief rocker. RIP Mark Stewart. Bristol will never be the same.”
Post punk pioneer
and original chief rocker.
RIP Mark Stewart
Bristol will never be the same.
— Massive Attack (@MassiveAttackUK) April 21, 2023
Portishead’s Geoff Barrow wrote: “Incredibly sad to hear about the Passing of “The Godfather of Bristol” Mark Stewart. Bristol would be a very different place artistically and politically if it not been for Marks influence on all of us My deepest condolences go to his family and friends.”
Stewart founded The Pop Group as a teenager in Bristol in 1977 along with Sager, John Waddington, Simon Underwood, and Bruce Smith. The politically oriented band blended post-punk with dub and reggae and released two albums, 1979’s ‘Y’ and 1980’s ‘For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?’. The group disbanded in 1980 with a final performance at rally for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), a campaign Stewart continued to be heavily involved with.
They later reformed in 2010 and released two further albums, 2015’s ‘Citizen Zombie’ and 2016’s ‘Honeymoon On Mars’. Stewart’s last performance with the band was in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral to celebrate City of Culture 2021, at the invitation of the late Terry Hall.
In other news, Cave is set to embark on a series of ‘In Conversation’ events for his memoir, Hope, Faith And Carnage, taking place across Europe later this year.
Meanwhile, Cave shared earlier this year that he has started work on a new Bad Seeds album. “My plan for this year is to make a new record with the Bad Seeds,” he wrote. “This is both good news and bad news. Good news because who doesn’t want a new Bad Seeds record? Bad news because I’ve got to write the bloody thing.”
Cave’s last album with The Bad Seeds, ‘Ghosteen’, came out in 2019. He released ‘Carnage‘ with Bad Seeds bandmate Warren Ellis in 2021.
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