Two weeks ago, we lost one of the most cherished and beloved characters that has ever graced the Earth, our live music agent Steve Strange. His influence on global live music was monumental, and he was instrumental for the past three decades in bringing the planet world tours from superstars like Eminem, Coldplay, Queens of the Stone Age and Snow Patrol, among countless other acts, including my wee band Ash.
It’s hard to know where to start. It’s been an emotional few weeks. I hope I can do him justice.
Circa 1993. I’m 16, still in my school uniform and I’ve hopped on a bus from Downpatrick to Belfast. I jump out at the bottom of the Ormeau Road and enter the Limelight. It’s dark, cold and there’s a thin haze in the air. Stale smoke and dry ice cling to the empty stage in the corner of the venue. Someone behind the bar looks up and sees that I’m carrying a fist full of cassette tapes and points towards a stairway opposite. I climb up the unlit steps towards the orange glow of what looks to be the open door of a cloakroom. As I approach I pass coat rails of empty dangling hangers. I knock and step in, and there, sitting behind a desk tucked in the corner of the windowless closet, is the venue’s booker Steve Strange. A leather clad, short, stocky guy in his 20s with his face just about visible stares at me under a giant ginger perm that Brian May would’ve been proud of. “Errrr… Hello, Mr Strange?” I muttered something along these lines… “These are my band’s demos. We’re called Ash. We’ve played the Penny Farthing loads, and we wanna support Sonic Youth or someone big when they come to the Limelight”. Then I got my first experience of a Strangey trademark. “HARR! HARR! HARR! HARR!!” The hangers shook on the rails as the walls of the tiny room vibrated, likely striking a 2.0 on the Richter scale to his seal-like bellowing. “You might not be ready for that yet… but maybe we can fit you on the local band night.” Armed with a smile and a shot of adrenaline, I headed home to tell my bandmates that we might have got our first ‘proper’ gig!
Steve soon moved to London where he became a live music agent, and worked his way up the music industry ladder like a juggernaut. He was a determined and driven lightning-rod, who lived and breathed for his bands. He officially took us on, and said he’d do anything for us. He had a fire in his belly that couldn’t be ignored or rivalled. Ash were, “My boys!” and he was going to take us to the top. We were extremely fortunate to have been the first of Steve’s acts that really broke into the big time. Along with our manager, and record company, he played a huge role in building our career.
Every time we played the Reading Festival (10 times over the years), Steve was side of stage, grinning from ear-to-ear. He had this knack of starting off at the side of the stage and gradually inching, closer and closer until he was hilariously almost standing beside you. He was literally on stage with us soaking it up like he was in the band. He was, and always will be the King of Reading Festival. They really should have a statue erected for him.
It was always a buzz seeing Steve again. If it was at a festival, I could hear him from a mile away across a field. I loved to sneak up on him to get a laugh out of him. I’d grab him by his shoulders and aggressively massage them while chanting, ‘Strangey, Strangey’. Those shoulders really were immovable objects that you could set a pint on. The shock would make him shriek before he worked out who it was and let out his hallmark bark of a laugh.
Steve never stopped. He was more than an agent. He was our champion, our cheerleader, our most vocal advocate. But he was also deadly frank and if he felt something was wrong, if a performance or new song was not up to par, he’d tell us it straight, and because we respected his opinion so highly we’d take it on board and address it seriously. He was responsible for renaming one of our biggest singles, Burn Baby Burn after the working title wasn’t sticking.
Steve could teach a masterclass in storytelling. His delivery and ability to perform was exceptional, and he had the gravitas to command the conversation in any heavyweight's company. Strangey was also one of, if not the funniest person I have ever known. He had an endless reservoir of stories and he could entertain the socks of anyone.
He often reduced us to tears of laughter, and we knew when he did he was lapping up the attention. Not only a vicious story teller, he was like Charlie Chaplin with his physical comedy, whether he was re-enacting his terrifying donkey trip down the Grand Canyon or letting us ride him around like a braying pony, he was a total hoot. He was also an amazing singer and at any given moment could belt out Mustang Sally, Smoke on the Water, or Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell at the top of his lungs, captivating everyone within earshot.
One of my favourite memories with Steve was in 2003 during the recording of our Meltdown album. The record company had rented us a mini-mansion on Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles, and Steve had decided to fly out and stay with us. We all went to the Halloween party of a lifetime at Dave Grohl’s house in the Hollywood Hills, where Strangey stole the show as Batman, outshining even Jack Black. He then randomly made friends with a limo driver who he’d pay to run errands, including going clothes shopping for him. His fashion sense was as unique as his personality. When I think of him, it’s tracksuit bottoms, golf shirt, leather jacket and gold chain. He was one of a kind.
He was extremely generous and kind when he wasn’t being hilarious, and he was a loving and caring father to his daughter Saskia who he was very proud of.
For 27 years Steve represented us. His loyalty, dedication and personal investment was second to none. In that time our career has had many highs and lows but Steve was always consistent and looked after us when the chips were down. When the industry changed and physical record sales dwindled, he was there to make sure our live income was solid and sustainable. He always had our back. He helped to build one of the biggest agencies in X-Ray Touring, and Josh Javor and his team there will continue his legacy pushing the boundaries for all their artists and retaining his the-sky-is-the-limit attitude.
He was brave to the end and didn’t want us to know he was suffering or to make a fuss over him being sick. We only found out he was terminally ill on the Monday evening before he died. We then got word late that Friday evening that he had passed. The next night we had to play our big end of tour finale at the London Roundhouse. It was an afternoon of high emotion and a night of bitter-sweet celebration, dedicated to our friend and brother.
Cancer may have taken him from us, but the stories, fables and legend of Steve Strange will live on forever. He was rock ‘n roll royalty. World famous behind the scenes. Famous for creating scenes. Famous for his enormous personality, generosity, wicked sense of fun and contagious laughter.
If there was ever to be a movie or series made about a wild, hilarious and all-conquering agent from the music industry, it couldn’t be about anyone else but Strangey. The world is a much quieter and milder place since he left, but that just means heaven got a hell of a lot louder and brighter. God bless them up there. They’re probably looking for a clause in the fine print to send him back!
We all love and miss you Strangey. See you in a wee while you superstar x