Independent obituary

This obituary, written by Martin Wroe, appeared in The Independent, dated 10 March 1993.

“Steve Fairnie’s life was characterised by a mischievous interest in pushing back barriers in whatever artistic medium he happened to be pursuing at the time. What made him particularly unusual was that, whether touring in a rock band, modelling clothes or hypnotising chickens in a stage show, he never let go of the orthodox Christian faith of his upbringing in a Scottish manse.

He studied sculpture for seven years, completing a Masters Degree at the Royal College of Art, but Fairnie could never confine himself to pursuing adventure in any one aesthetic field. Art for him was a fairground and he wanted to try all the rides.

In the late Seventies and early Eighties he achieved some success as frontman and creative force in a string of post-punk rock bands, recording four albums with Fish Co, Writz, Famous Names, and the Technos. His creative thirst could not be quenched in just rock music. He was a regular compere at arts festivals, took bookings as a Charlie Chaplin lookalike for the Ugly Agency and worked as a fashion model. He conceived, wrote and performed the lead role in The Kid, a 13-part BBC silent comedy for children, and won commissions to devise several television game-shows.

He also directed a clutch of pop-videos and, with the lighting-designer Peter Williams, created Hype, a rock-and-roll board game for Virgin Games which spawned a host of imitators. Later he was involved in creating the first holographic board game. Canvas Chair, the company he formed with his wife Bev Sage – invariably his collaborator on projects, notably their two children Famie and Jake – specialised in design and photography. Recently he had been concentrating more on painting and his work as a lecturer in graphics and design at Weston-super-Mare College.

Despite the colouful blur of projects Fairnie instigated, he never achieved fame or fortune. His legacy is in the scores of people, particularly from conservative church settings, who were inspired by his maverick example to cut loose in the arts regardless of theological upbringings demanding they “shun the world”. He had a healthy disregard for fundamentalism – if he thought you were at risk he might lay hands on your head to “deliver” you.

His quiet Christian faith, his conviction that this life was just one of the acts, not the whole play, afforded him a neat line in self-deprecation. He called one of his bands Famous Names, even though they weren’t. He confided to a friend: “The thing I hate most about myself is my complete inability to make money.” But he was a millionaire in the currency of friendship. Nine hundred people came to his funeral in Bristol.

Steve Fairnie was something for everyone and someone for everything. He had recently prepared a PhD proposal to study left-brain / right-brain functions in creative people. He joked that he would end up as a Doctor of Creativity. In fact he was already fully qualified.”

Martin Wroe

Stephen Angus Fairnie, singer, performer, artist, lecturer, born Fraserburgh 21 February 1951, married 1977 Bev Sage (one son, one daughter), died Brixham 22 February 1993.