Steve Fairnie (1951–1993) was a British musician, painter, sculptor, actor, board game designer and chicken hypnotist, best known as the frontman of the post-punk band Writz, and as one half - with his wife Bev Sage - of the 1980s pop outfit Techno Twins (later just The Technos).
Born in Fraserburgh and raised in Bristol, Fairnie excelled in fine art, eventually graduating from London's Royal College of Art with an MA in Sculpture (contemporaries included Turner Prize winner Tony Cragg). He began the acoustic gospel duo Fish Co with fellow singer-songwriter Steve Rowles and released the albums Can't Be Bad in 1975 and Beneath the Laughter in 1978, the latter with a full backing band - now including Fairnie's wife Bev Sage - that would form the nucleus of their subsequent project Writz.
Writz became a fixture on the post-punk London scene, headlining at major venues including the Marquee Club. Outright commercial success was elusive but 1979 single Night Nurse (produced by 10cc's Kevin Godley and Lol Creme) was a minor hit and was followed by the album Writz. The band - now Famous Names - played in the Dennis Potter LWT production Cream in My Coffee. Famous Names folded in 1981, many of the band and crew moving on to other musical projects, most notably Willie Williams, who went on to become an integral part of the U2 entourage. Sound engineer Ken Watts has been tour director for George Michael since Wham! days and monitor engineer John Roden went on to become one of the industry's foremost live engineers with clients including Paul McCartney.
|Writz / Famous Names|
Writz, 1980 publicity shot
|Origin||Bristol, London (UK)|
|Past members||Steve Rowles (vocals & guitar), Steve Fairnie (vocals), Bev Sage (vocals), Jules Hardwick (guitar), Nick Battle (bass), Arry Axell (drums)|
Fairnie and Sage continued as the Techno Twins, covering Falling In Love Again, which charted in 1982, and releasing Swing Together, a Glenn Miller-meets-Marilyn Monroe pastiche. The album Technostalgia followed, and in 1985, as The Technos, Foreign Land—produced, amongst others, by Anne Dudley of Art of Noise—was issued to critical acclaim but minimal sales. In August 1985, the Technos performed their last-ever live show at the Greenbelt festival, an annual Christian event with which they had been heavily involved from its inception more than a decade earlier. After a three-year hiatus, the Technos' final album Songs for a Nervous World was released. Parallel to their Technos output, Fairnie and Sage formed the avant-garde performance art collective Casual Tease. As well as an album, credited to the Techno Orchestra, there were sporadic outbursts of Casualtease productions throughout the 1980s.
As a fine artist, Fairnie's most prominent pieces were created in the second half of the 1980s to his death in 1993. He also received many commissions to illustrate magazines and books, including for US poet Robert Lax's 24th and 7th. Other creative projects included the rock'n'roll board game Hype, conceived and designed in partnership with Willie Williams, billed as "the only board game with all the slime and grime of the music business". Fairnie also starred in a silent TV comedy series called The Kid, broadcast by the BBC in 1986. He was a part-time Charlie Chaplin lookalike, assignments including some of the 1980s IBM newspaper ads. Finally, Fairnie was an accomplished chicken hypnotist, to the delight of mostly bewildered crowds…
In 1993, Fairnie died from an asthma attack while on a field trip to Brixham, Devon, with a group of students from Weston-super-Mare College, where he was a lecturer. Despite his limited commercial success ("The thing I hate most about myself is my complete inability to make money."), in his lifetime he inspired scores of up and coming musicians and artists, the most notable example being U2. During the Zoo TV tour, Bono would close shows citing a 1979 Fairnie lyric from the Writz track 'Muscle Culture': "I have a vision, television".
- 1979: Writz - Night Nurse 7 (with free paper facemask) and 12" version
- 1975: Fish Co - Can't Be Bad
- 1979: Fish Co - Beneath The Laughter
- 1979: Writz - Writz
- 1982: Techno Twins - Technostalgia
- 1982: Techno Orchestra - Casualtease
- 1985: The Technos - Foreign Land
- 1988: The Technos - Songs For A Nervous World
- 1975: Houseworks - Home Is Where The Art Is exhibition, London (with Mark Dunhill)
- 1983: Techno Exhibition, The Art Centre, London
- 1987: Casualtease Video Missionaries performance art show, Bristol
- 1993: Illustrations for Robert Lax's 24th & 7th (Stride Publications)
- 1980: Cream In My Coffee, LWT
- 1986: , The Kid, BBC
- 1985: Hype (Virgin Games)
- Full listing of 1979 Marquee headliners on the official Marquee site
- Cream In My Coffee at the Internet Movie Database
- Record label Refuge press release, 1988
- Involvement notably referred to by Tom Davies in his 1996 book Landscapes of Glory (SPCK, ISBN 0-281-04908-4)
- Stride Publications, 1993, ISBN 1-873012-66-7
- Detailed description available at The Boardgame Geek
- The Kid at the Internet Movie Database
- Obituary in The Independent, 10th March 1993