I was a spiky 15-year-old when I first met Stewart Cruickshank in the queue outside Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre. I was waiting to see The Associates, a band I’d deemed cool enough to allow into my growing record collection and he was handing out leaflets promoting a late night show on BBC Radio Scotland.
I was soon a regular listener (and taper) of Rock On Scotland, an hour-long Friday night programme presented by Peter Easton and co-produced by Stewart and Sandy Semeonoff. And, before long, Stewart was a friend.
Stewart – Captain Krunch to his chums – died last week. He was 64 and his passing was completely unexpected. As our mutual friend, the rock’n’roll writer Lindsay Hutton put it: “He always took so long to leave anywhere.”
And so, for me, the past few days have been speckled with thoughts of Stewart, about the impact he had on my life, and the qualities that meant his passing broke hearts around the globe.
The world can seem a bleak place. Little more than a week ago, terrorists murdered 130 people, and injured many more, in a series of attacks in Paris. Most of those who died were in the crowd at the Bataclan theatre, where the American band Eagles of Death Metal were headlining.
As reports filtered through, I thought of the hundreds of gigs I’ve attended over the last 30 years. I thought of those people, part of a community of music lovers of which I am one, who had gone out to experience the unbeatable thrill of a rock concert and hadn’t gone home.
Last weekend, I hadn’t much faith in human nature.
And then Stewart died and I snapped out of that foolishness. Human nature, at its best, is a wonderful thing. Stewart epitomised that.
When I met Stewart, I was ludicrously snooty about just about everything, a sneering teenager who judged others on the music they liked, the books they read, the boots they wore… Stewart, 19 years my senior, was the opposite. Stewart was –and, believe me, this is not a sentimental rewriting of the truth –the most enthusiastic, optimistic man I have ever known.
At the age of 18, I got my first paid job, working for a few weeks in the gramophone library in the basement of BBC Scotland’s then headquarters on Queen Margaret Drive in the west end of Glasgow. I was thrilled to be earning money and doubly excited by the fact that I was covering for Stewart, who had taken a break from filing records to work, temporarily, as a researcher for BBC2 in Manchester.
During a trip back home to Glasgow, Stewart took me for a pint on Byres Road – he decided I should drink Youngers Number 3, I recall –and indulged my relentless questions about bands and gigs.
He was generous with his knowledge and his time, as thrilled by new music as he had been as a teenager in the 1960s, and completely open-minded. Yes, the Velvet Underground were great and all that, but you couldn’t write off the first Bananarama album.
Stewart gently challenged my snobbery. My gauche teenage notion of cool was – of course – rubbish. He was cool.
Back in Glasgow, and married to Lorraine, Stewart worked as a producer at Radio Scotland. He and Sandy retooled Peter’s Rock on Scotland which – continuing to give a platform to new Scottish bands – became Beat Patrol, and he helped create a new schedule of shows, devoted to jazz, folk and country music. There was to be something for everyone.
There are few Scottish musicians of the past 30 years who don’t owe some debt to Stewart. When he finally retired from the BBC in 2006 (he continued to produce shows on a freelance basis), Teenage Fanclub and members of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band surprised him with a gig in his honour. He was thrilled. Stewart loved those musicians and they loved him back. Stewart’s passion was not reserved solely for music. It was, first and foremost, for people.
Over the past few days I’ve heard many stories of Stewart’s kindness, none of which has been the slightest bit surprising. I experienced it so often, myself.
There were those 1960s garage punk singles he dug out for me when I wasn’t much more than a boy; there was the time – at my irritating insistence – that he taught me to play Steppenwolf’s The Pusher on his Burns Double Six when everyone else had either left that party or passed out drunk; there was the gift of a gold disc of a favourite album – Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev – that the band had given him and that he knew I’d love. And there were the phone calls during difficult times, the words of comfort and encouragement during redundancy and marriage breakdown.
If I close my eyes, now, I can see him and Sandy Semeonoff on a little stage in a room above a Glasgow pub. I can hear them, these two great heroes of mine who became my friends, singing Leadbelly’s Goodnight, Irene. And I can hear the cheers of all who had gathered to celebrate the first 50 years of Stewart.
We said goodbye to Stewart yesterday, in a Humanist ceremony (he always was a bit of a hippie). We celebrated a life lived well but cut tragically short. We mourned the passing of a beautiful human being.
But though the loss of Stewart is painful, it is difficult not to smile at the thought of him, this scruffy, chaotic, passionate, generous, gentle man.
You may never have met Stewart but I hope you know someone like him. They’re out there, these great, positive forces and, if we are wise, we will let them into our lives and we will try to learn something from them.
When the world seems dark, what greater comfort can there be than the reassurance that someone cares? Stewart Cruickshank provided that reassurance to me and to many others. And he expected nothing in return.
Goodnight, Krunch, goodnight. I’ll see you in my dreams.