01. She Is Beyond Good And Evil (The Pop Group Single A Side March 1979)
02. Thief Of Fire (The Pop Group Y April 1979)
03. We Are Time (The Pop Group Y April 1979)
04. The Boys From Brazil (The Pop Group Y April 1979)
05. We Are All Prostitutes (The Pop Group Single A Side November 1979)
06. Where There’s A Will There’s A Way (The Pop Group split single with The Slits March 1980)
07. Forces Of Oppression (The Pop Group For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? March 1980)
08. Feed The Hungry (The Pop Group For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? March 1980)
09. Rob A Bank (The Pop Group For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? March 1980)
10. Crazy Dreams And High Ideals (New Age Steppers New Age Steppers LP January 1981)
11. Jerusalem (Jerusalem EP October 1982)
12. Liberty City (Learning To Cope With Cowardice LP May 1983)
13. The Paranoia Of Power (Learning To Cope With Cowardice LP May 1983)
14. Hypnotized Remix (Single A Side May 1985)
15. Slave of Love (As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade LP November 1985)
16. The Waiting Room (As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade LP November 1985)
17. Stranger Than Love (This Is Stranger Than Love EP September 1987)
18. Survival (Mark Stewart LP October 1987)
19. Forbidden Colour (Mark Stewart LP October 1987)
20. My Possession/Possession Dub (Metatron LP April 1990)
As you get older, hearing about the death of friends, comrades and cultural figures from your younger days is to be expected. Mark Stewart’s death at the age of 62 in the early hours of 21st April 2023 was not.
I first bumped into him, literally, at an early Pop Group show in 1978. In those days, a bunch of us would jam into my trusty Vauxhall Viva and drive to Bristol as often as we could afford. A little over an hour west of Reading on the M4, it was a vibrant, exciting and happening city with a more inclusive, totally different kind of energy to post punk London. Not surprisingly, Mark was the creative fulcrum at the centre of it all.
Just out of grammar school he was already wise beyond his years, his musical education and impressive intellect founded on two things; his towering six foot six frame, which from the age of twelve had made it possible for him to gain entry to Bristol’s funk clubs and the notorious, reggae fuelled, blues parties of St Pauls, and secondly his incredible thirst for knowledge inspired by a local underground bookshop packed with all manner of political treatises and cultural theories.
All of these influences came together when Mark formed The Pop Group with John Waddington, Simon Underwood, Gareth Sager and Bruce Smith. Radical even for the enlightened, post punk times, if you were eighteen like I was, and submitted yourself wholly to their abrasive, avant-garde, punk-funk-jazz racket, The Pop Group shows were wildly exciting. Reminding me of an even more extreme, male version of The Slits, their debut album Y came packaged in a cover of African tribesman with a huge insert of hand written lyrics over a collage of disturbing images, the like of which I’d never seen before. Thrilling and disturbing in equal measure, Y opened me up to all sorts of interesting musical and ideological beliefs and the magnificent ‘We Are All Prostitutes’ and For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? album were no different.
It was impossible for any group to maintain the level of intensity generated by those records and so it proved for The Pop Group. When they split into their various factions at the tail end of 1980, for a while Mark appeared more interested in politics than music before carving out a path that was totally his own, initially with Adrian Sherwood’s New Age Steppers collective, then on his own albums Learning To Cope With Cowardice (1983), As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade (1985) and Mark Stewart (1987).
Vehemently argumentative and uncompromising while celebrating art as a means of escape, if anything they were even more confrontational and ‘difficult’ than The Pop Group albums. Blurring the lines sonically between dub, electronica, industrial, experimentation and hip hop, as Mark became increasingly marginalised by a music press tired of his everything-is-political stance, his solo records were often dismissed as the work of a madman.
It is to my eternal regret that after Metatron (1990) I too decided I’d had enough and Mark Stewart slipped out of my life. It’s funny really because it’s only now after reading the numerous tributes that I’ve become aware of Mark’s countless projects and his endless array of collaborations with everyone from Penny Rimbaud to Bobby Gillespie. Even the reformation of The Pop Group passed me by.
Nonetheless, I can’t help thinking that for all the music he released in his lifetime, it is perhaps for his role as an influencer on internationally renowned figures as disparate as Nick Cave and James Murphy, and as a facilitator for Bristol artists like Rob Smith, Ray Mighty, Grant Marshall, Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja, Tricky, Martina Topley-Bird, producer Nellee Hooper and Gary Clail that Mark Stewart will be remembered the most. A unique, one of a kind agitator and artist in the truest sense of the word, his absence will leave an enormous void impossible to fill.
Chris Green. 23rd April 2023.