Lights! Camel! Action! Stump's bright spark bows out
Mick Lynch, the lead singer with 80s cult band Stump, was a unique and gifted performer, writes Paul McDermott
Mick Lynch, the enigmatic front man of Stump, the 1980s Anglo-Irish indie band, sadly passed away last Thursday.
Stump were one of the bright lights of the mid-80s UK indie music scene and Mick's image, with his trademark Tin Tin quiff, became a focal point for the UK music press.
Stump's music was a dense, complicated, experimental repertoire of angular riffs, rhythms and beats which used shifting time signatures twisting around Mick's surreal lyrical output. They made abrasive music but with a keen pop sensibility. They always felt out of place and out of time.
For the last year I've been interviewing the members of Stump and key figures in their story for a radio documentary, scheduled to be broadcast in early January. Mick's untimely passing has shocked everyone who knew him.
As a teenage music fan growing up in Cork in the mid-80s I would religiously buy the NME and Melody Maker and pore over any mention of Stump or the other great Cork bands, Five Go Down to the Sea and Microdisney.
When Mick graced the cover of Melody Maker in February 1987 it felt like a movement that had started in Cork's Downtown Kampus in the early 80s had reached a new height. In August 1988 the NME published a questionnaire with Stump. The list of their favourite musicians included names like: Devo, Séan O Riada, Patsy Cline, George Gershwin and Kevin Coyne. The band's reading matter included: Flann O'Brien, Wilhelm Reich, Knut Hamsun, Watchmen, 2000AD, Seamus Heaney, Charles Bukowski and Milan Kundera. Stump were always more than just Beefheart copyists; here were some seriously turned-on guys.
The band formed in London in the mid-80s when Cork drummer Rob McKahey answered a Melody Maker 'musicians wanted' advert placed by bassist Kev Hopper and guitarist Chris Salmon.
After the trio had auditioned over 20 singers Rob remembered that his fellow Corkonian Mick Lynch was also in London. Mick rehearsed with them and according to Chris: "I thought, this is the one, this is the one, and we just literally took off like a rocket after that, what a frontman, I can't think of anybody as good as him in his prime."
Stump's live shows quickly became focal points for the large Irish community that had emigrated to London during the 80s. This loyal audience soon spread beyond London and the UK music press picked up on the band.
Simon Reynolds, the music historian and author was writing for the Melody Maker at the time.
"Stump really stood out because they were fun and in particular Mick had this great stage presence, he had this mischievous glint in his eye and he really loved to perform; you could see that," he recalls.
Quirk Out, their self-released debut mini-LP, entered the Indie Charts in November 1986. It had a 26-week run and reached No. 2, eventually selling over 50,000 copies. Buffalo, one of the standout tracks, became a favourite of the BBC's John Peel. The DJ championed the band on his radio show and wrote in his Observer newspaper column that "it is ridiculous that this band is without a recording contract."
A video of Buffalo was made by The Tube television programme and it pushed Stump out of the indie ghetto and into the mainstream.
Stump signed to Ensign records and recorded their A Fierce Pancake album in Berlin's legendary Hansa studio in 1987. The album is an anomaly of its time and is rightly revered by many.
I first met Mick in the early 90s when he returned to Cork. Talking to him over a few pints after a gig, I was a bit in awe of him but he was a gentleman and patiently answered all of my fanboy questions. We had a chat about the making of the Charlton Heston video. I wanted to know where all the frogs had come from and Mick was happy to indulge me.
Last May, just before Stump played a secret gig in Cork, he told me: "Now is the time to document the story, to get it stored somewhere, but I don't think there's any need to lionise it." Therein lies the essence of his character - unassuming and humble.
"I still get a kick when people discover Stump for the first time. I'm very proud of it." He had every right to be.
Paul McDermott teaches Media Studies and Journalism at Rathmines College, Dublin, and is the Director of Programming at Dublin City FM. His documentary 'Lights! Camel! Action! The Story of Stump' will be broadcast on Cork's UCC98.3FM on Friday, 8 January at 5pm and podcasted thereafter.