A cult musical hero, back to wreak havoc

Mark Stewart. Picture: Chiara Meattelli and Dominic Lee
Mark Stewart. Picture: Chiara Meattelli and Dominic Lee
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“We’re out to wreak havoc, mash up the bass bins and throttle the guitars - this time it’s war.” Heed that warning because it comes from Mark Stewart, a musician with formidable form when it comes to shaking foundations.

Stewart has enjoyed/endured a cult reputation for over 30 years, starting out as frontman of The Pop Group, the disingenuously named wrecking crew from Bristol whose on-the-edge volatility, coupled with Stewart’s cathartic howls from the soapbox, were a revelation to the young Nick Cave and his nascent Birthday Party.

Following their implosion in the early 1980s, Stewart hooked up with members of Bristol’s On-U Sound crew, notably mercurial producer and all round sonic sculptor Adrian Sherwood, and the magnificent musicians of the Sugarhill Records house band, aka Tackhead. The seismic dub vibrations of Mark Stewart & the Mafia sealed his standing among the next generation of West Country musicians who would draw on his creepy invocations in creating the dark claustrophobia of trip-hop. Massive Attack’s Daddy G cites Mark Stewart as his hero. Tricky has to go one better, claiming, “Mark Stewart, he’s my chaos.”

As politically fired up as ever, Stewart has emerged from the bunker once more with a new album, The Politics Of Envy, inspired by a collaborative art project with cult film director Kenneth Anger. Its lead single, Autonomia, was recorded with Primal Scream, who borrowed heavily from the Stewart blueprint on their XTRMNTR album. The resulting punk funk clarion call sounds like a particular messy night round at The Happy Mondays’ gaff.

“I’ve never really collaborated with people before,” says Stewart. “I’ve always been a real loner, on my own doing weird experiments and not giving a f*** what anybody thought about it. I just wanted to hear a backwards noise; that’s how I got my pleasure.”

But the guest list doesn’t end there, extending to an impressive roll call of Stewart’s fans and contemporaries, including members of Massive Attack, the Jesus & Mary Chain, The Slits, PIL, Killing Joke and The Raincoats. Anger pops up to play the theremin, Lee “Scratch” Perry works his dubby hoodoo and there is even a cameo appearance by Stewart’s own hero, Television/Voidoids guitarist Richard Hell. Contributions from Cabaret Voltaire and Crass are being held in reserve. Who knows, maybe next time Nick Cave might even get a look-in. Mark Stewart is a big man, and he’s still in shape.

• Mark Stewart plays King Tut’s, Glasgow on Monday 26 March. The Politics of Envy is released by Future Noise Music the same day.