logo

TACKHEAD-MARK-STEWART

nN. 

[ Mark ] 

Stewart 

“Veneer of Democracy”
Mark Stewart
Resistance of the Cell
((( two-f maffia )))

BY MICHAEL BAXTER
(YouTube)

These Mark Stewart / Tackhead / ON U Sound events were loud, hallucinogenic and warped. The audience consisting of B-Boys, Rastas and ‘Dread At The Control’ bass-heads, punks and Peace Convoy types. I witnessed several of these events. They were immense soundscapes with Adrian dripping with sweat, pushing switches and dragging faders throughout the night, being another ‘attraction’ to be stared at! And how we all stared. Dozens of people eyeballs completely fixed on the sound desk booth trying to get at least a glimpse of how these noises were generated, some taking back clues garnered back to their own small sound systems across the country. The text below courtesy of John Eden. Bristol 1978, Mark Stewart started the Pop Group – an out-there, genre-busting band whose titles, political conviction, disrespect for copyright and willingness to collaborate laid the foundations for his later work. This militant gang of leftist radical politicos specialised in a funk-driven cacophony of sound that was abrasive, strident, and ultimately very exciting. Railing against Margaret Thatcher’s Tory UK government, the state of pop music, racism and sexism, the Pop Group were not the easiest band of the early post-punk era to listen to. Never intending to make a serious run at the pop charts, the Pop Group imploded in 1981 after three albums. They did, however, contribute some talented people to other bands: most notably Gareth Sanger, who formed Rip Rig & Panic, which also featured the lead vocals of a then-teenage Neneh Cherry. Stewart of course went on to flourish in Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound stable of artists. Post-Pop Group members Mark Stewart, Bruce Smith and John Waddington thus heading off to London and hooked up with the emerging On-U Sound as part of the New Age Steppers. On-U supremo, Adrian Sherwood, had previously worked as European tour manager for legendary Jamaican deejay Prince Far I, whose live backing band largely comprised members of Creation Rebel and later Roots Radics. So, while Lincoln Valentine ‘Style’ Scott (drums), Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt (bass) and Eric ‘Bingy Bunny’ Lamont (rhythm guitar) formed the core of Dub Syndicate, they were also enlisted as part of Stewart’s new backing band – the first line-up of the Maffia for the recording of the ‘Learning To Cope With Cowardice’ album. On ‘paper’ it didn’t sound like it would work. Urban paranoia and a techno sensibility; the positivity of dub reggae gone horribly wrong; dystopian visions mixed with those of William Blake, Donna Summer and William Burroughs; voodoo and ultra-left texts. But it worked, and when it didn’t, the fractures could be far more rewarding than the gleaming monolith of any corporate uber-production it could never have been. Prior to the second album, ‘As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade’ being recorded, Mark Stewart’s Maffia had mutated. Though Stewart had been aware of Doug Wimbish, Keith LeBlanc and Skip McDonald and their seminal work as the Sugarhill Gang, it was Adrian Sherwood who had recently brought them to the UK and started working with them on a largely experimental but ground-breaking project called Fats Comet. Stewart heard them play at the Language Lab in the mid-80s: “It was this tape they’d done with like rockets going off and drums that sounded like steamhammers. I was going mental playing it to everyone.” Sherwood soon introduced the trio to Stewart, and so the new Maffia were formed. Parallel to recording as the Maffia for Stewart, without him and sometimes replaced by Gary Clail or Peech-Boy Bernard Fowler, Keith, Doug, Skip and Sherwood continued to record as Fats Comet and later Tackhead with their own, equally influential brand of funk-soul-sonic mayhem. Mark Stewart & The Maffia’s ‘Veneer…’ album was without doubt one the heaviest albums he ever made. ‘Passivecation Program’ sets the agenda for the rest of the album by being wickedly harsh, dubby and funky. The track was a highlight of the Maffia’s live set at the time, and Paul Meme recalls their early live shows: “Basically, the live Maffia experience was just like seeing Tackhead – i.e. a brain-pulverising intense experience, the closest music could get to all-out apocalypse and still be endurable – but with the addition of a front man who projected this incredible political / social paranoia vision which twisted the energy up yet another notch. He was a very focussed performer, he wasn’t obviously in need of help to function, but he wasn’t ‘controlled’ in the sense of being a cynical fake. Watching him bouncing up and down and calling out ‘Operation Passivecation’ had this amazing propulsive energy. There’s no way the On-U story would have happened without him.”