STEVE NEW 1960-2010
Even though I hadn’t seen him for a few years, it’s still hard to come to terms with the fact that Steve New is no longer with us.
Those who knew him will probably all agree that Steve was one of the nicest guys you could wish to meet, carrying a mixture of vulnerability, passion and self-deprecating humour even through his darkest times. He was also a woefully overlooked talent, in at the birth of punk and still pushing musical boundaries with his last band Beastellabeast when he sadly lost his battle with cancer on May 24, aged just 50.
Steve, who was born in London and a member of the London Jazz Orchestra at 14, found himself in the middle of the burgeoning punk revolution in mid-1975 when he answered Malcolm McLaren‘s Melody Maker ad for a young guitarist, ‘not worse looking than Johnny Thunders’. This led to him rehearsing with the nascent Sex Pistols for two months. When Glen Matlock was ejected from the band in March, 1977, he called Steve to join him in and drummer Rusty Egan in a new group called the Rich Kids, who would soon also include ex-Slik teenie idol Midge Ure.
The Clash’s Mick Jones filled in at several gigs before Midge joined, which is when I first met Steve as one of their first shows was at the Vortex in Wardour Street in mid-1977. This was my weekly Monday night highlight, a sesh of the highest order which I would usually attend in the company of drinking buddies Mark Perry and Danny Baker. The Rich Kids were great that night, standing out from the punk thrash with their vibrant pop sensibility and songs like first single ‘Rich Kids’ and ‘Ghosts Of Princes In Towers’, which would be the title track of their one and only album, produced by Steve’s hero, the late Mick Ronson, and ironically released on EMI, the label the Pistols had been thrown off a few months earlier. I thought they were great, especially their version of Tommy James’ ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, and stuck them on the cover of Zigzag, the magazine I was running at the time.
In August, 1978, I saw Steve playing Camden’s Electric Ballroom with the Vicious White Kids, formed for one gig by Glen Matlock, Rat Scabies and Sid Vicious to fund the latter’s ill-fated emigration to New York with Nancy Spungen. By then, heroin was a definite presence on the London scene and Steve didn’t actually hang with the anti-drug types. Over the next few years he also played with Iggy Pop [on 1980‘s Soldier album], Public Image Limited [in 1980, by which time both he and Keith Levene were hooked], Johnny Thunders [say no more], Pearl Harbour and Billy Idol, although he turned down an offer to join Duran Duran.
I saw a lot of Steve again around 1982-83 when I was sharing flats with Youth in Ladbroke Grove then Wandsworth Common. It was fairly riotous at both but Steve and his then-girlfriend Emma were regular visitors for nights of imbibing and exhaling [although I never saw him do any smack]. Everyone agreed that he was too talented a bloke to chuck it away like that. He was also great fun, prone to giggling fits at certain moments.
Steve settled in the US after eloping with and marrying Clash manager Bernie Rhodes’ girlfriend Wendy, mother of his daughter Diva. After falling on hard times due to his long-time addiction, he was rescued and flown home by compassionate old friend Chrissie Hynde, who had once pledged to help him if ever he needed it. Finally cured by the early 90s, he signed with Creation Records, releasing 1998’s Ludes EP, then The New album on Alan McGee’s Poptones imprint in 2001. When I was working at Creation between 1997-98 I sometimes saw Steve hanging around in the office, trying to find people who would help his career move a little faster. He was pleasant as ever but seemed quite fragile. I’ve had my own rough patches too so those days are the last time I remember seeing him.
Steve also came out as a transvestite, renaming himself Stella Nova and starting Beastellabeast with singer Beatrice Brown, releasing 2004’s single, ‘The Final Mistake’ and two albums, including last year’s Beastiality album. This was something new, heady and audacious which really could have done something.
The Rich kids reunited in January to play a gig at Islington Academy to raise money for Steve’s partner Laura, son Frank and daughter Diva, supported by Carbon Silicon, ex-Slit Viv Albertine and Beastellabeast after Ure and Egan had revived their days in Visage. New touched many who met him with his warmth and musical passion. I’m still gutted that a long-running ankle problem prevented me from going. I even got Steve’s number given to me by Mel here. But I’m the world’s worst at getting in touch with people. Now I really wish I had because Steve was special and it would have been lovely to see him again. But as Rusty Egan so eloquently put it, he was, ‘Loved by so many….You are now 12 miles high but always in our hearts.‘
Photo by Peter Gravelle