Tim Pike, nephew to Steve Fairnie, launched fairnie.net in 2001. A few years down the line, Jake Fairnie turned the tables on the webmaster and sought answers to a number of questions!
What is your earliest memory of my dad?
I think my earliest memories aren’t specific moments but just images of that whole early/mid-seventies period, invariably at “The Manse” in Carmarthen Road, Bristol, where our grandparents then lived. It felt like the hairy beast that he then was – which is possibly why we all called him “Uncle Teddy” – was always around, but in truth I suppose he was only back there during holiday periods, which is when we were there too. Of course, the images that remain are all a bit random: the fact he’d emerge from his room several hours after us kids got up, which seemed strangely exotic; I remember the bed he slept in being extremely high if ever you wanted to clamber up to sit on it; him and me heading out to places in my grandad’s Renault 6; and then images remain of all the family meals eating potato-based foodstuffs (soup and mashed tatties, mainly).
Then the images get a bit clearer: going down to Torquay for the wedding, visiting the lovebirds in London, him putting on a magic show there and me ending up with shaving foam over my face because I’d been “volunteered” to be his assistant for one of his tricks, the enormous Rupert Bear papier mâché head he used to have. Or crossing London in the back of the Fish Co. Transit van, Rowles presumably at the wheel. Taking Polaroid photos of the Techno Twins on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice when they stayed with us while your dad recovered from one of his hefty operations.
What was it like at Christmas with the Fairnie family?
Like most families really: crackers, paper hats, too many helpings of too much food and debates about whether Brussels sprouts are actually any cop. Christmas meals were usually around at the Marshalls’ abode on West Broadway in Henleaze, and every year would feature two constants: Grandad Fairnie performing his legendary soup-spoon swallowing trick, and Steve road-testing some (usually seriously stunning) conjuring tricks. In my teenage years I would always be very impressed by the fact that, despite all the exotic celebrity and showbiz options that may or may not have been available to your parents, Christmas Day was always spent with the Fairnie clan. It probably seemed quite other-worldly to them to get such an overload of suburbia, but I think that deep down they quite liked it.
To be honest, I don’t remember that much, and as with many childhood events of the like, with time the images that remain are more a result of photos on sideboards than the day itself… so what instantly springs to mind is the group photo and a shot of Bev leaning down to give my sister Lois a kiss – I seem to recollect that my sister and our two cousins Heather and Morag wore matching dresses… maybe they were technically bridesmaids although I don’t think their responsibilities were particularly high-maintenance! My mum remembers the wedding as being a simple, no frills affair, with the blessing at the Baptist Church followed by a slice of wedding cake for everyone there, followed by the reception for family and close friends. All I canreally picture is being down in Torquay the night before, staying with members of your mum’s side of the family there, and playing board games with various relatives until way past my bedtime – how radical! And the reception was held in a fairly swish restaurant when I was more used to church halls serving squash and cold meat buffets.
One thing that was very novel about the wedding is that it had its own graphic feel and identity. Your parents had posed together looking very solemn and earnest (all very tongue-in-cheek) in retro clothes and the resulting black and white photograph was used on the front of the invite and the order of service on the day itself. That sort of thing is commonplace today with everyone designing their own invites and customising photos on the web, but this was 1977 and invites rarely broke away from identikit white cards featuring doves, horse shoes and wedding rings. Finally, unless I’m very much mistaken, the wedding took place on Saturday 31st December 1977. I think that in the wedding photos there’s that sense of winter about them: not much sunlight and I reckon everyone was probably a bit cold!
What was he like with his mum, the legendary Nanny Fairnie (a.k.a. Mistress of tatty soup and fluff)?
Theirs was a very loving relationship, although seeing them together it was really as if two distant galaxies had somehow momentarily collided. She never quite understood what it was he got up to beyond the Fish Co. years. In those very early days Rowles and Fairnie actually labelled their work together as a form of “ministry”, so that kind of made sense; it was all part of a grand evangelical masterplan. With the shift to Writz though I think your dad refrained from giving her the big picture; the shift into the secular entertainment world was a fairly major deal for her and I think she was always quite scared of where it might lead! He would always be popping in to see her though, particularly in the mid-80s when your folks were back in Bristol and Fairnies Senior were on Falcondale Road (Westbury-on-Trym). Your dad would take up residence in the mythical “front room” (where no-one really went that much during normal operations), eating biscuits, drinking cans of Coke (which he’d always leave half-full) and reporting on the progress of the “tots”. But whatever he’d been up to and whoever he’d been with, getting back and seeing his mum was always like coming home… especially if tatty soup and fluff were on the menu!
I think he was a bit of a hero to all his nieces and nephews – we all used to adore him and he returned the attention in bucket-loads. He was actually godfather to me, but I think he was godfather to everyone he met really! I think I really felt his influence when I was in my teenage years when I realised how effortlessly wise and witty he was. We moved back to Bristol in 1986 and saw a lot of him from then on. He’d come round to ours and go through my latest 7″ and LP purchases, commenting on the various connections he might have with the musician/producer/label (delete as appropriate). I’d play him bits and bobs and he’d always be very encouraging. He’d always pass books and magazines on to me. There was a period when we were between houses and I didn’t have a decent record player to listen to music. He took pity on me and turned up with his record player and lent it to me for as long as I needed it – it was a then rather cool vertical record player too.
So I think the influence was him constantly feeding me with music, ideas, suggestions, observations, opening my eyes to artists, schools of thought, approaches to art and, indeed, life… he was just a rather cool uncle to have around. Sometimes bits of his street cred would rub off on me: one day he gave me a tape of U2’s The Joshua Tree which was still three months away from being released. I played it to a friend of mine who was a massive U2 fan and must say he was rather impressed!…
Again, from that period, lots of memories remain, but they’re sharper and more specific: seeing The Technos live at Greenbelt ’85 and in various guises and situations over that weekend, including a late-night interview where they appeared wearing masks alongside the distinctly square George Hamilton IV, and a mainstage performance where I was petrified he’d fall off the rigging. Steve had invited me to latch onto them possibly that very afternoon and I just wandered around feeling popular and famous by proxy. He took me up onto the mainstage during their soundcheck, that sort of thing.
At one stage the two Technos and I were meandering aimlessly, and I spotted passers-by taking a photo. Steve and Bev hadn’t noticed and I pointed out there was someone who’d taken a photo of them. They stopped, turned back, called the photographer and took time out to pose! I was just very impressed that they were so attentive to all-comers and prepared to do that sort of thing – I’m sure that event has probably stayed with the lucky person, who had a great photo of the two of them to boot. At another Greenbelt, I remember one morning when there was someone scraping away at my tent – it was your dad bringing me some complimentary LPs he’d been given. Maybe it was just out of convenience – he possibly didn’t want to have the albums tucked under his arm all day – but still, he was a busy man at Greenbelt and here he was, first thing in the morning, going out of his way to pass goodies on to me! He’d also do the classic thing of getting autographs during Greenbelt weekend (and elsewhere), and they’d come back with wording like “Any friend of Steve’s is a friend of mine”…
Another time back in Bristol I went along to a local drum shop for a personal appearance by Simple Minds’ Mel Gaynor. Must have mentioned this was on the cards to Steve, who’d toured with him a few years prior to that, when Gaynor was drumming with Imagination I believe and the Technos were support. The drum demo was very precious and dull and the only good thing about it was the free Tama t-shirts everyone got. Then your dad turned up, Mel suddenly seemed very pleased to be in Bristol and the atmosphere changed completely… although how happy the guys at the drum shop were I don’t know – Mel soon made his excuses and headed off to Royal York Crescent!
And did you know I bought my first set of wheels from your folks in 1991? A distinctly low-fi yellow Austin Metro which I proceeded to drive into the ground over the following two-three years, and which cost me £750 of my hard-earned cash (the 1/3 tank’s worth of petrol was a gift, your dad was pleased to point out). Rewinding a couple of years, soon after I’d passed my driving test, he was giving some night-time lecture somewhere out in the sticks – there was probably a Weston College connection there anyway. For some reason, possibly just to have a bit of company, he asked me if I’d be his chauffeur, handed me the keys to the Volvo he then had, and we headed off into the country. I remember all the students there being inspired by his talk and also showing him artwork to see what he had to say. Again, I was proud to be along for the ride – and I was in the driving seat!
I also remember some great events organised at The Hope Centre in Bristol, such as a Casualtease performance which I didn’t quite get – but I don’t think anyone else did either – and, of course, his 40th birthday do which my cousin Heather and I were so chuffed to have been invited to. Ended up viewing the one-night-only rebirth of Writz while alongside me Simon Mayo tucked into a bag of fish and chips. That was quite cool…
I think he would always enquire, go rooting around for information and then offer his take on whatever transpired. Conversation topics that I remember included football, songwriting, the pop scene and who was hot and who was not, concerts, music journalism (whether Smash Hits or Q Magazine, which at the time was more like what The Word is today), cars, places to be seen out and about in Bristol, and even the odd tip about guitar playing; after his Fish Co. years he was rarely seen playing anything other than a rubber-necked electric guitar but, lest we forget, he was a fine rhythm guitarist. He showed me a few things that I probably still use in my guitar-playing today! But other than those sweeping generalisations as to conversation topics, much of his chat was just spontaneous banter, observations and humourous asides. He was extremely on-the-ball and alert, and it was great fun trying to keep up with him. Finally, one Fairnie-ism was the unique “tcchhhh” sound he would make when expressing interest, delight, amazement or wonder (and which actually features in the introduction to “Night Nurse”, just after Rowles’s vocals come in!…). A lot of us in the family have developed our own form of the Fairnie “tcchhhh”, and I for one continue to use it regularly!
What was funny, quirky, different or unusual about the man?!
Well, for a start, physically he would always stand out from the pack. Wherever he was it was if he’d just landed from another planet. Then I think it was the aforementioned wit, dry humour and eloquence, as well as an ability to make people see what they were doing in a different light. While the story of his trademark track “Muscle Culture” is a dark take on totalitarianism, the recurring chant of “We must improve ourselves” is an apt description of his philosophy – I think he helped everyone he met to improve themselves through his advice, guidance, observations and wisdom, and in the way he would focus on each individual as if they were the most important person on Earth!
Thanks a million for keeping the Fairnie flag flying Tim.