Stump: A Fierce Pancake 30 Years Old Today

If you read the press blurb about Stump, the general consensus seems to be that they didn’t quite ‘make it’. But rather we should probably be thankful that they got it together for as long as they did.

The Anglo-Irish band made me smile (and continue to do so), released a great mini album (Quirk Out) and one full-length one, A Fierce Pancake. Released 30 years old today, the latter is probably in my ’80s top 10 (and is reportedly one of Faith No More/Mr Bungle frontman Mike Patton’s favourites too).

It was never going to be easy: the drummer (Rob McKahey) sounded like he belonged in Beefheart’s Magic Band or Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, the fretless bassist (Kev Hopper) was into sampling, Pere Ubu and Brand X, the guitarist (Chris Salmon) sounded like a cross between Hank Marvin and Adrian Belew and brilliant frontman/lyricist (the late Mick Lynch) was more than likely to engage in a bit of onstage belly dancing.

But it somehow works. A Fierce Pancake is dedicated to the life and works of physician/psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and writer Flann O’Brien. It was released on Ensign Records, mainly known for breaking Irish acts like Sinead O’Connor and the Waterboys. Recording sessions at Hansa in Berlin were apparently long and difficult – original producer Holger Hiller jumped ship halfway through and then ‘stabilising influence’ engineer Stephen Street got summoned away to work with Morrissey.

But the album’s sometimes hilarious (‘Bone’, ‘Charlton Heston’, ‘Chaos’, ‘Eager Bereaver’), sometimes touching (‘Alcohol’, ‘Boggy Home’) and always musically interesting. I think of it as something like a cross between Viz magazine and XTC. It’s a shame that they couldn’t maintain the John Peel-endorsed momentum of their early days.

Their manager persuaded them to call it a day after a disastrous Camden Electric Ballroom gig supported by The Blue Aeroplanes on 21st December 1988. A Fierce Pancake hadn’t come close to recouping its costs and the Rave scene was in full flow. It was all over, barring a one-off comeback gig in May 2015.

For more on the band, check out this excellent podcast.


Mick Lynch R.I.P.

Stump featuring Mick Lynch (second from left)

Stump featuring Mick Lynch (second left)

Big bottom
Swing big bottom
It’s blubbery Burberry, baby
It’s blubbery Burberry
Big bumpy-bump
Big bumpy
In terylene tartan, lady
In terylene tartan, lady
How much is the fish? How much is the fish? How much is the chips?
Does the fish have chips?

I don’t want a drink but I’ll go to the bar
I’d go for a walk but I ain’t got a car
Exclamation mark, click-click-click…
I like when it’s different but it’s just not the same
The weather is perfect except for the rain
Immaculate molars, baby
Immaculate molars, baby
How much is the fish?
Don’t mention hamburgers, Harry…
How do I get off the bus?

‘Buffalo’ by Stump, lyrics by Mick Lynch

I was planning a piece about the 30th anniversary of Stump’s marvellous mini-album Quirk Out recently when inadvertently came across the sad news that their singer and main lyricist Mick Lynch had passed away on 17th December 2015. He was one of those fascinating, unique, highly-intelligent music-biz characters that could only have emerged during the ’80s.

Stump’s inclusion on the fabled ‘C86’ NME cassette (alongside Primal Scream, The Soup Dragons, Half Man Half Biscuit and The Wedding Present) was many people’s first exposure to the band, but it was their November 1986 video performance on ‘The Tube’ that will forever be etched on my memory. Lynch’s Tintin quiff, bulging eyeballs and brilliantly rubbery dance moves couldn’t obscure the fact that ‘Buffalo’ was a warped pop gem.

Lynch’s lyrics were some of the 1980s’ greatest, channelling Flann O’Brien, Beckett and Joyce, with a soupcon of Mike Leigh, to depict the more surreal aspects of Irish immigrant life in London. There were tales of dodgy landlords, bit-part actors, disastrous booze-ups, gormless American tourists (see above), pirates, part-time strippers, coffin-followers and even a classic song about Charlton Heston filming a Biblical epic (‘Lights! Camel! Action!’). Many lyrics still make me laugh out loud, his melodies were great and he was also a brilliant frontman.


In a very rare interview with The Quietus, Lynch once said, ‘My lyrics are essentially ballads, I write in ballad time and still do to this day. Stump had no love songs. Everything was from a very oblique angle. “Boggy Home” would be closest to a love song. It was about being in London but desperately wishing to be on top of a mountain in Kerry!’

Though Stump’s tenure was short – consisting of only two studio albums and a handful of tours between 1984 and 1988 – but their impact was powerful. Bassist Kev Hopper has written a heartfelt tribute to Mick on this MOJO message board.

In the early 1990s, Lynch moved from London back to his hometown of Cork where he was a founding member of Dowtcha Puppets, a children’s puppet theatre company. Stump reunited for a one-off Cork gig in May 2015. Would love to have seen that.

Mick will be missed. He is survived by three sisters, Julianne, Noreen and Marie.

Recommended listening: ‘Stump: The Complete Anthology’ CD

‘Lights! Camel! Action! The Story Of Stump’ podcast

The Strange Story Of Stump

Blimey. That appeared out of nowhere on ‘The Tube’ in late ’86 or early ’87. I was amazed and amused. Who were these mutants? Though the clip was forever etched on my memory, for some reason I didn’t seek out any recordings by Stump until a few years later when I came across a cassette of debut mini-album Quirk Out in the corner of my local HMV.


I love this band. Built around Rob McKahey’s tribal drums, Kev Hopper’s fretless bass, Chris Salmon’s whammified Strat with no effects or barre chords and the joyously insane though highly-literate gibberings of singer Mick Lynch, Stump’s music should never have worked but it did. It reminded me a bit of Belew-era King Crimson and XTC at their most unhinged but otherwise I was clueless.

Lynch told surreal tales of TV extras, low-rent strippers and out-of-control bodily functions over seemingly improvised ‘post-rock’. In the intervening years, I’ve detected influences from James Joyce and Flann O’Brien in his brilliantly surreal storytelling, and Hopper has cited Pere Ubu, Brand X and Captain Beefheart as musical influences. But Stump could only have happened in the ’80s.

They got quite a live following in ’86, mainly among London’s Irish population, and a John Peel Session, Mud On A Colon EP and appearance on legendary compilation C86 followed quickly. Quirk Out came out on their own label Stuff Records and featured favourites like ‘Tupperware Stripper’, ‘Our Fathers’, ‘Bit Part Actor’ and, of course, ‘Buffalo’. More appearances on ‘The Tube’ followed, the gigs went from strength to strength and everything seemed rosy.

The first album proper, 1988’s A Fierce Pancake, fulfilled their potential. Ensign Records, who specialised in popular Irish acts like Sinead O’Connor and The Waterboys, schmoozed the lads and they duly signed on the dotted line, despite having no real idea why they had been schmoozed. Beautifully produced by Holger Hiller at Hansa Studios, with lots of detail and a bit more sonic punch than on the debut, Pancake was a minor classic. Surely a minor hit single would follow. The Cure’s mainman Tim Pope even directed the video for the most likely song, ‘Charlton Heston’.

But nothing. So Ensign tried to scare up a few remixes – nada. Even their charmingly ramshackle live shows were starting to flatline. During the long period of recording Pancake, the live scene had changed completely, and now rave and house were prevalent. Stump’s brand of funky insanity was out. It’s another classic case of mismanagement and squandered budgets. No matter – the album contains such ’80s classics such as ‘Eager Bereaver’, ‘Bone‘, ‘Alcohol’ and ‘Boggy Home’.


Recent box set The Complete Anthology includes demos that were intended for the third album and they sound mainly marvellous, particularly ‘The Queen And The Pope‘ and ‘Warm In The Knowledge’, but things couldn’t go on as they were. The band called it a day in 1989, apparently £250,000 in debt to Ensign.

But a few ‘celebrity’ fans have emerged over the years, most notably Mike Patton of Faith No More/Mr Bungle fame. The latter band certainly has Stumpy elements.

There has even emerged a really weird YouTube video of the rest of Stump looking for missing singer Mick Lynch in Cork. Is a reunion on the cards? (A reunion gig actually happened in May 2015, and Mick Lynch sadly passed away in December 2015 – Ed.)