5th August 2009
The "Other" Steve
by Mike Scott
I met up with a chap from Edinburgh yesterday and we spent a happy hour or two reminiscing about old mutual acquaintances. This chap is a drummer and has recently been working with one of my old bandmates, Steve Fraser, who played bass in my groups Another Pretty Face, Funhouse and The Red And The Black, between 1981 and 1982.
I think of Steve Fraser as the "other" Steve in my musical life, and I remember him with a lot of affection and humour. But my friend told me yesterday that Steve was pissed off at something that had been said in the unauthorised Waterboys biography that came out a few years ago (which I haven't read; my Superb Wife's description of it is enough for me). Apparently Anthony Thistlethwaite is quoted as saying something about Mike having "a few musicians from Scotland who weren't up to much" at the time we met, which, if accurately quoted, doesn't sound very generous (and not worthy of Anto's usually good nature). As one of these musicians, Steve Fraser was somewhat nonplussed. And because Steve deserves his rightful place in the pantheon of Edinburgh musicians and former Mike Scott alumni, I've decided to write a blog about him. Here it is.
In 1978 my mate John Caldwell and I had just moved to Edinburgh to start our band and we were looking for a bassist and drummer. One night we went to a Stranglers gig at the Kinema in Dunfermline, just across the Forth. The gig was full of punk rockers and during the intermission I said to John, with a little bravado, "I'm going to go and find our new bass player, whoever he is. He's here tonight. I can feel it." I walked round the venue, eyes skinned for a likely band-member candidate, pushing through the mohicans and the weekend punks, the girls in plastic macs and oxfam cardies with panda-black eyes and their hair teased into tubular spikes. And then I saw him. A handsome young guy of seventeen or eighteen leaning against the wall wearing a black leather jacket - of course - with jet-black spiky hair and a pout, looking like Dirk Bogarde's kid brother crossed with Sid Vicious.
This, I felt sure, was our bassist, but the guy looked so impossibly cool I didn't have the brass neck to go up and say "Will you play in my band?" without any preamble. So I logged him in my memory bank and soon enough I started to bump into him at Edinburgh punk gigs. Somewhere or other we got talking. His name was Steve, he lived in Edinburgh and he played lead guitar with his own band, the dubiously named Belsen Horrors (affectionately known round Edinburgh as "The Belsens"). I went to see them at the YMCA off Princes Street and they played angular, chordless prog-punk in a Siouxsie And The Banshees vein, Steve rattling off chimy guitar figures while lead singer Lenny caterwauled.
With his good looks and bored attitude Steve was easily the coolest dude on the Edinburgh punk scene and he became friends with John Caldwell and me. When he needed a place to stay I recommended him for a bedsit in the building where John and I stayed on Edinburgh's Viewforth. Our landlady was an exciteable Iranian lady called Mrs Afsharian, who laid down rules like "No guests after 10pm." If any of the inmates broke this rule she would burst into the room and address the unfortunate guest with a high-pitched tirade of "I AM LANDLADY. WHO ARE YOU?!?" then bustle him or her out of the house.
Steve and Lenny moved into the top floor bedsit and we spent a lot of time hanging out together. Meanwhile John and I had found someone else, who wasn't already in a band, to play bass with us and were busy playing round Scotland and getting our first single, All the Boys Love Carrie on the radio. But a year or so later, by which time we'd had and blown a major record deal, toured the UK a couple of times, and retreated back to Edinburgh to lick our wounds and rage at the moon for a spell, we found ourselves bass-less again.
Steve's band - since renamed The November Crimes, another cheerful Nazi-associated name - had split, so I asked him to play bass with us. Two and a half years after the fateful sighting in Dunfermline, he said yes.
He was a cunning player who came up with great bass lines, the kind that someone who's really a lead guitar player would invent - almost like lead riffs, with strong, hooky melodies. He played sax too, occasionally blowing on stage with us and on a couple of recording sessions. He was also a very, very funny guy, with a wicked, scathing sense of humour. When we briefly had a drummer whose face creased up every time he smiled, Steve nicknamed him "Crumpler". Steve played a dozen shows with us and then we scored a new record deal with Ensign Records of London. A move to the big smoke beckoned and in the summer of '81, John, Steve, myself, our sax player Gordon and my girlfriend Mairi all moved to London. Steve never got himself a proper place to stay, but slept on our floor, or, for a while, in the rehearsal room.
I would turn up to rehearse and see a pair of feet sticking out behind the amplifiers, which signified that Steve was in residence and still asleep. He was a famously late sleeper, rarely surfaced before 2 in the afternoon, often much later. When Another Pretty Face - by now renamed Funhouse - split 9 months after the move to London, I asked Steve to stay on and play in my next band. He agreed, and it was around this time that he concocted the bass line for my new song I Will Not Follow, faithfully reproduced on the first Waterboys album a year or so later by another player.
Steve's only released recording with me was the Funhouse 'Out Of Control' single, from 1982. He plays on both sides ('b' side: This Could Be Hell; another great Fraser bass line).
For several months in early 1982, for no apparent reason, Steve and I shared a two-man craze for stealing advertisements off London underground trains. These were thick embossed card things, a couple of feet long, with brightly coloured ads for all sorts of stuff on them, and they were inserted into metal brackets above the seats on the train, or in frames up and down the sides of escalators in the stations. With a little bit of pushing and shoving, they could be extracted. Steve and I would nick them on the tube journey home after rehearsals and sometimes even stay past our stop, in a frenzy of theft-inspired excitement, in the hope of finding an unpopulated train car with some more booty. When we found an empty car we'd clean it out between stops, emerging from the train with half a dozen big card adverts stuffed down each of our coats (Steve's a wool gentleman's coat, very cool, mine a swallow-coat from the bootboy fashion heyday of 1974 with double breasts and big lapels). Then we'd walk rigidly down the platform like men in an Eric Sykes and Bernard Bresslaw comedy film. We'd have a flutter of giddy terror when we passed the ticket collector (who probably wouldn't have cared anyway if he'd discovered what we were concealing), then finally get back to my flat in Wembley Park where we'd show off our loot, like cats depositing a dead mouse on the doormat, to a bemused and utterly unimpressed John Caldwell and Mairi.
Because one of the ads, for what I now forget, was written in cod olde english speak and featured the word "visibly", but spelt "wisibly", Steve christened these things "Wisibles". "Let's nick some Wisibles!" we'd say gleefully to each other. In time we covered the walls of our rehearsal room with them, floor to ceiling. It was the strangest craze I've ever been possessed by, and a seriously good piece of fun.
In April '82 Anthony Thistlethwaite joined the band on rip-roaring sax (and probably wondered why our rehearsal room was covered with ads). With "Crumpler" on drums we played five or six little gigs round scuzzy clubs in Willesden and Fulham, doing Red Army Blues, The Three Day Man, A Girl Called Johnny and other tunes to tiny audiences, before Steve decided he'd had enough. One day, walking through the streets of south London after a rehearsal, he nervously told me he wanted to return to Edinburgh.
I was cool with it, understood that the dude wanted to go home and do something different - playing my music had only ever been a stop-gap for him anyway - and he left London that June. I only saw him a couple of times after that, on later Waterboys gig-visits to Scotland, but a few months ago I came across him via the magic of the internet, still playing in a band in Edinburgh. We exchanged emails and the old connection was just as it always was. Next time I'm in town I'll meet up with him and see if he still looks like Dirk Bogarde's kid brother crossed with Sid Vicious. You can see a couple of pictures of him on our myspace pics page, in the "Before The Waterboys" gallery.