Last updated: 07/31/2008 12:00:00 PM
Ian Stuart was born Ian Stuart Donaldson on the 11th of August 1958 in Poulton-Le-Fylde, near Blackpool in Lancashire. He was educated at Baines Grammar School where he met Kev McKay, Sean McKay, John Grinton and Phil Walmsley. These five formed a band called Tumbling Dice, named after one of the many hit records by the Rolling Stones who were Ian's biggest influence at that time. In turn, following the departure of Sean McKay, Tumbling Dice became known as SKREWDRIVER in May 1977.
Tumbling Dice, who were the first band Ian ever played in, were formed towards the end of 1975. As their name suggests they played mostly Stones' cover versions, although covers of classics by The Who and Free were also included in the band's set, as indeed were four or five original songs. They played at various working men's clubs in the Poulton-Le-Fylde and Blackpool area.
Following the formation of Skrewdriver in the late spring of 1977, the band started to write more of its own material. Right from the start Ian Stuart took on the bulk of the writing and while he credits much of the music which influenced his early writing to the Stones and The Who, he admits that the Sex Pistols were a vital early influence. He saw the first Sex Pistols gig in the north of England at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester in very early '77, when they shared the bill with Slaughter and the Dogs and the newly-formed Buzzcocks. Punk was, according to Ian, 'different' and 'full of energy' and it influenced Skrewdriver's early recordings greatly.
While Ian names the Sex Pistols as the punk band which he most liked he also remembers being impressed by The Jam who were just starting out at the time. He also cites American bands like the New York Dolls and The Stooges as being particular favourites when Skrewdriver started.
Skrewdriver's first record release was the single "You're So Dumb / Better off Crazy", which was released in 1977 by Chiswick Records.
"You're So Dumb" was extremely punkish in its overall sound which is not altogether surprising since the band were all punks at the time. Indeed, it established Skrewdriver's credentials as a punk band, particularly in London where most copies of the record were sold.
The follow-up single to "You're So Dumb" was "Anti-Social", which was backed by a cover version of the Rolling Stones' classic "19th Nervous Breakdown". At around the time of the release of Anti-Social, near the end of 1977, Skrewdriver were undergoing the first of their many metamorphoses. First, Phil Walmsley left the band to be replaced as guitarist by Ron Hartley.
Second the band forsook their punky image in favour of cropped hair and DM's. In short, Skrewdriver became a skinhead band. Thus it is that the cover of Anti-Social shows a photograph of Skrewdriver as punks while their debut album "All Skrewed Up", which was released about the same time shows the band as skinheads.
Nevertheless, while the visual appearance of Skrewdriver may have changed at this time, there was no drastic change of musical direction. On the contrary, the pulsating punk which was the hallmark of "You're So Dumb" and "Anti-Social" continued to characterise the thirteen tracks on the album.
Following the band's utter and complete disillusionment with the punk scene, becoming skinheads seemed the most natural thing to do. Towards the end of 1977 there was a skinhead revival and many skins were starting to go to Skrewdriver gigs. The four members of Skrewdriver were friends with many skinheads, not least because they all had been skinheads themselves during the early seventies. Thus it was, at the end of 1977, that Skrewdriver became a skinhead band.
Perhaps, when one considers the scathing invective by Ian Stuart against punk 'poseurs' who were just there 'to be seen', it is not altogether surprising that the new-look Skrewdriver spat out their venomous revenge in the lyrics of songs like "We Don't Pose" on the "All Skrewed Up" album.
The album itself, while not representing any great change in musical direction to mirror the change in the image, did represent a move towards more meaningful - or, at least, less facile - lyrics. For example, the shallow nihilism of "Anti-Social" "I Don’t Like You" and "I Don't Need Your Love" on side one of "All Skrewed Up" are counter-balanced by "Nine to Five" and the excellent "Too Much Confusion" on side two.
My personal favourite track on All Skrewed Up is undoubtedly the powerfully aggressive Too Much Confusion which opens the second side, yet it is interesting that Ian Stuart's favourite from the album is Won't Get Fooled Again. It is interesting because his choice is the only cover version on the album, being a rendition of The Who classic, and it illustrates his real rock roots which owe more to the sixties than to the Sex Pistols. These roots were destined to bear fruit much later.
To say that Skrewdriver have had a bad press in the ten years since they first started would, to say the least, be an understatement. From the moment their first single "You're So Dumb" launched an attack on drug takers the music media have generally eyed the group with hostility and suspicion.
Nonetheless, it must be remembered that Skrewdriver were not particularly political when they first arrived in London to sign for Chiswick Records and none of the band were involved with the National Front. This being so, the band did get some fairly reasonable press coverage in the early days. For example, as Ian recalls, "New Musical Express gave the 1.p. (All Skrewed Up) quite a good write up, and Sounds gave a decent write-up. Even Melody Maker and Record Mirror were okay."
No doubt the press interest in Skrewdriver during the heady punk days of '77 and early '78 sprang from their growing popularity. The group's reputation grew steadily with the demand for Anti-Social and All Skrewed Up outstripping by far the demand for their debut single You're So Dumb. Live too, Skrewdriver were pulling in the crowds achieving house records at the Roxy - the mecca of punk - and at the Vortex. Prior to their ditching of the punk image, their live audiences were comprised mostly of punks with only a few skinheads dispersed amongst the crowd.
Nonetheless, Ian Stuart's decision to stand by his supporters very nearly destroyed Skrewdriver also. They paid dearly for their stand against the music establishment. They were barred from playing any gigs and in the end the pressure told. In the middle of 1978, unable to play live or get a new recording contract, the band split up.
Disillusioned with the corrupt set-up of the music business in London, the band packed their bags and returned to Blackpool.
In the meantime, however, he was paying dearly for his principles. He returned to Blackpool from London without a job, as did the other members of the band. Several of the others eventually found work on local building sites while Ian ended up working in a car wash!
Unable to face another day in the car wash, and echoing the sentiments of Nine Till Five from the All Skrewed Up album, Ian got itchy feet and returned to London. He stayed at Suggsy's mum's house. Suggsy had been one of Skrewdriver's roadies back in 1977 but now, two years later, he was lead singer in Madness who were about to make the big time themselves. It was during this period that Ian and I first met in the Hoop and Grapes on Farringdon Street to discuss the possibility of reforming Skrewdriver. It was not to be. Ian only stayed in London for three months before returning to Blackpool.
Pretty soon, after enduring spells at another couple of dead-end jobs, Ian got the wanderlust again and moved to Salford near Manchester. He and Kev McKay then joined up with Glenn Jones and Martin Smith, two Mancunians, to reform Skrewdriver. Thus the new line-up was Ian Stuart on vocals, Kev McKay on bass, Glen Jones on guitar and Martin Smith on drums.
The new Skrewdriver played quite a lot of gigs in and around Manchester and eventually got a recording contract with TJM, a local record company. They played regularly at the Mayflower Club near Belle Vue and quickly built up a good local following of skinheads and punks.
Along with the old favourites such as "Anti-Social" and "Government Action", the audiences at the Mayflower Club also heard new songs, mostly written by Ian Stuart or guitarist Glen Jones. Three of these new songs found their way onto the bands first - and only- record release on TJM.
The e.p., Built Up, Knocked Down, was recorded and released soon after the new-look Skrewdriver were reformed towards the end of 1979. The title track, as Ian Stuart recalls, "was about what happened to us, our experiences of the music business up until then. For instance, you got built up by the record company then they turn round and completely knock you down." In fact, the scars left by Ian's experiences at the hands of the music business in London are a feature of the other track he wrote on the e.p., A Case of Pride. The stark realism of this song's lyrics, borne out of bitterness, contrast completely with the romantic fantasies of Glen Jones' lyrics on the third track, Breakout.
Breakout is a typical rock song in the mould of so many others which build up an illusionary romantic aura around the music business. It's about a musician 'breaking out' of his mundane surroundings and going down to London to make his living by making music - not so much a case of wishing on a star but of wishing to become one!
A Case Of Pride, on the other hand, is more down to earth. It is more down to earth simply because Ian had already reached for that star which Glen Jones can only dream about; he had reached for it and had literally been 'knocked down' to earth again. Thus it is that A Case Of Pride covers the same theme as Breakout but puts a whole new, realistic, perspective on it. A Case Of Pride is about someone leaving home, having no money but having too much pride to ask for any from either parents or friends. Neither is there a happy ending since the person in question ends up dying. Not only does A Case Of Pride 'break out' from Glen Jones' romantic fantasy, it shatters the dream and turns it into a nightmare.
Ian Stuart states quite clearly that having Jones as Skrewdriver's guitarist was a major contributing factor in the group's decision to progress from punk to a heavier form of rock: "Glen was a brilliant guitarist, he really was good. He would have been wasted on doing punk music. The guitaring on Built Up, Knocked Down is amazing."
After the release of "Built Up, Knocked Down" the band continued to play regularly at the Mayflower Club and at various other venues around Manchester. But the breakthrough they were looking for remained elusive. The music press still had neither forgotten nor forgiven Skrewdriver for defying them two years earlier. The group were branded as a 'National Front band' and the barriers were put up to block their road to success. Unable to make any progress outside the Manchester area because of a ban on advertising of their gigs in the music papers, the band got more and more frustrated. At the end of 1980 they decided to call it a day.....
Biography by Joe Pearce