Issue #233 / April 2023
Many years ago I remember watching a short Channel 4 film where you described the impact of We Are All Prostitutes by The Pop Group. I listened and then obviously fell in love with Mark’s work and was lucky to see him a few times including his slot at Meltdown. With the sad news of his passing do you have any memories you can share of discovering his music or knowing him?
MARK, CANTERBURY, UK
Dear Mark and all who wrote in about Mark Stewart,
When The Birthday Party moved from Australia to the UK in 1979, it was partly because of The Pop Group. 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. For us, cut off from the world in Australia, The Pop Group embodied the wild and creative promise of the UK. If we could only get there, we thought, everything would be all right, because that’s where The Pop Group came from.
When we finally arrived in the UK, it was not remotely like the place we had imagined while sitting around reading the NME in Melbourne, in a wonderment of longing, dreaming of our escape. By the time we got there, the music scene seemed dead, washed-up and boring. It was crushingly disappointing.
But, 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. 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.
Mark and I became friends, bumping into each other around the traps, and 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. 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. 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.
At the news of Mark’s sad passing I have been listening to ‘We Are All Prostitutes ’which I think influenced me as much as anything I have ever heard and has, I would say, the greatest opening twenty seconds of any song ever recorded.
Join me in playing it loud.