I only met Steve a handful of times, but at second hand, I was aware that people I was connected to were hugely influenced by his music and character. I am deeply shocked by his death, and feel an (I hope natural) urge to find out how such a vital and energetic person could die in his sleep aged only 53.
Typically, as a young-ish composer, my experience of meeting him was enormously supportive. The first time was at the 1995 Cheltenham festival: he was leading a workshop with Psappha, and he had proceeded to more or less tear apart all the previous pieces. My heart was in my mouth as I waited for him to give his verdict after the first performance. Finally, what he came out with was “Well, this was music of a different order to the last piece”. I knew the composer of the other piece, and couldn’t help feeling embarrassed on his behalf, as well as grateful that the boot hadn’t been on the other foot. But that was Steve, direct, clear, unafraid of offending anyone. Later I was grateful to him for selecting a piece of mine – Stop/time – for his ensemble the Premiere Crew at Spitalfields festival.
At the start of the 90’s Steve had been employed by us at the then University College Salford as composer in residence, working mainly with the popular music performers. He told me at the time on one of the many occasions I bumped into him looking for a room in the overcrowded Adelphi Building – plus ça change – that this was a real challenge, as they weren’t ready for the ideas in his music. Yet a seed must have been planted, as a generation later, via the mentorship of Steve’s protégé Joe Duddell, also a Salford graduate, we get Dutch Uncles, an indie pop ensemble who embody many of the compositional principles of Steve’s work. What Steve foresaw and worked with was a closing of the gap between contemporary classical music, jazz, and popular music; years later, that fusion is still generating both heat and light.