Message In A Bottle

steve-byrd-gillan-guitarist

The death of Steve Byrd reported earlier this week, first by a social media message from bassist John McCoy, was something of shock to say the least.  Sheffield born, we might have been in the same class at school.
Steve’s long career reminds us how a musician with only a relatively small role within the Purple universe can have a huge impact. If pushed to list my favourite Gillan albums in some sort of order then the Japanese Album (as it tends to be known) would always come a safe first, while I would probably juggle the rest depending on when I was asked. I was more than proud to be able to work with Ian on the first ever (and only authorised) reissue of the album (on RPM), and listening to the tapes in a studio only strengthened my admiration of the record and the band.
Steve was offered the job when Colin Towns spotted his new-wave group Neo recording in Kingsway (my younger sister had their single!) and his contributions in 1978 helped define Ian Gillan’s new sound after the dalliance with jazz-rock. And while the album was never actually issued outside Japan, Australia and New Zealand, it acted as the best possible calling card and enabled the band to get a new deal in Europe and embark on a very successful few years both on the live front and in the charts, starting with the Mr. Universe album.
We were lucky enough to catch the Steve Byrd line-up on a wintery day in Salford in 1978 when they played there before an indifferent crowd of uncomprehending students and some hard core fans, and still remember it well (I would show a photo from the gig, but had my camera confiscated after five minutes before the dry ice had even cleared…). Others may have caught them at the Reading festival in August that year. By early 1979 though the moment had passed, Byrd went and Bernie Torme arrived to complete the best remembered Gillan line-up.
Steve eventually ended up working with Kim Wilde for over a decade (and can be seen in some of her videos) and she has posted a great photo of Steve from those early days on her website which I’ll show here, but he also played with many other big name acts in a session capacity, as well as worked on film and tv music.
Steve was in recent years getting back out there doing his thing on stage, working on his own production company and label, and connecting with fans regularly. He was always trying to get me to connect to his Linked In profile (I had to explain I’d joined that particular social media group early on but left almost as quickly!), and I know others he was regularly in touch with too (he and my brother were even discussing trying to get a gig going in Steve’s hometown of Sheffield earlier this year.)
I hope Steve took some pride in his contributions to the Gillan story and the fact that we should all recall the album so fondly almost forty years on. RIP.

The DPAS family tree gives more information on this part of the Gillan story

http://www.deep-purple.net/tree/gillan/gillan-1.htm

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17 Responses to “Message In A Bottle”

  1. Chris Aston Says:

    Sad to hear this. Rest in peace Steve.

  2. Victor Luchits Says:

    Finally had the chance to listen to the Japanese album a few days ago for the first time in my life: obtaining a copy is near damn impossible these day! I must say that was impressed with Steve’s guitar playing: fewer Hendrix overtones and whammy bar than Torme, overall more consistent and mature sound. I’m sure Steve will be remembered by the Deep Purple family. RIP.

  3. Mal Says:

    Sad to hear about this passing, I remember buying Mr Universe way back and hearing the differences between Fighting Man and the rest of the album. Only years later through the web did I find out about the Japanese album; it seems as often with Ian’s career what could the next album have been like……

  4. Dave Streeten Says:

    Living in New Zealand at the time I was lucky enuf to get this upon release, still my favourite Gillan LP. At the time we had NO info as to band members etc, but now I feel that Steve should be acknowledged a bit more in the history and evolution of the band. Sick of the ‘didn’t look the part’ comments etc, he was great, the band crossed punk red with rock, Torme was the obvious progression, but Steve deserves his 15 minutes of Gillan fame.

  5. Roy Davies Says:

    Nice piece on Kim Wilde’s website….. https://www.wilde-life.com/news/2016/steve-byrd-1955-2016

  6. jonaspetersson2013 Says:


    really good playing by Steve on Fighting Man Live, wish he’d stayed, always thought his playing suited Gillan better than Tormé.

    • simon robinson Says:

      Thanks for that Jonas, it was shot in Japan for TV when they went over to promote the album, but the quality isn’t great. Be good if the show was found!

  7. David Hobbs (@HazyHazyDavy) Says:

    Fighting Man was the best thing that Gillan ever did. I know it was Colin Towns’ work, but Steve Byrd’s solo sets it apart.

    • simon robinson Says:

      Someone told me Steve said he was keen to try his guitar again but the others persuaded him not to, and that they tried to redo it for the Mr. Universe album but gave up!

  8. Simon Collins Says:

    RIP Bro x We had some fun times and I am so sorry we never got together in Spain to have some more fun and make more videos.

  9. Tom Dixon Says:

    And so we lose another significant link.
    I well remember seeing him at the Redcar Bowl with Gillan – I have some photos somewhere; I’ll try & find the negatives (ahhh, remember them?). It was a good if understated performance by the band and a pleasure to see Gillan for the first time since 1973 with Purple.
    On a similar sombre note, I also hear that Michael Casswell has died recently. He performed with Cozy on some solo stuff as well as in the Brian May Band.
    I’m not usually one for deep thought, but Wordsworth said it all rather well…
    “What though the radiance which was once so bright
    Be now for ever taken from my sight,
    Though nothing can bring back the hour
    Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
    We will grieve not, rather find
    Strength in what remains behind.”
    In this instance we always have the music they were an integral part of – I’m off now to put the original vinyl of ‘The Japanese Album’ on the turntable.

  10. Neil Cutler Says:

    Check out the Gillan line up with Steve Byrd on a TV special from Tokyo 1978 which has appeared recently on You Tube. Great guitarist and its a pity we didn’t see the evolution of Gillan with him on lead. Ok, maybe he didn’t look the part, but then again, Gillan always was a bit of a band of misfits! Correct me if I’m wrong but I think that’s him on Fighting Man, fantastic song and one of the stand-out Gillan tracks, if not THE one.

  11. IAN DOUGLAS Says:

    Yes sad news indeed – and being from Australia – the “Gillan” album was indeed a refreshing return to rock from IG and the (LP then!) was in good supply around Sydney at least… why it never got full release beats me – I still like the first IGB Child in Time though as my sentimental favourite. Good tribute and thanks Simon.

  12. Gmail Says:

    Hi Simon,

    I was at that Salford gig at the University. My mate and I had helped the roadies during the day and got to meet Ian briefly. Personally I’ve never heard Gillan’s voice as good as that night (first time I saw him), the screams in Child In Time seemed effortless for him.

    I actually thought Steve Byrd seemed a little bit out of place in the band as he looked a bit “punky”. I remember his intro to Smoke on the Water was quite cool though, the riff emerging from a series of staccato riffing.

    Cheers Phil Stockton.

    • simon robinson Says:

      Thanks Phil, Maxwell Hall, October. Apparently a tape has turned up – not me I hasten to add – on t’internet.

  13. Timothy Says:

    That’s a very touching obit, Simon. What a superb photograph – it’s got everything that sums up the old school of working musician – it’s black and white, it’s got some great looking ‘vintage’ gear (Les Paul custom, fender twin reverb amp), guitar cases lying around, amp propped up on footstool, water bottle ready to kick over and the most essential plastic cup in hand!

    • simon robinson Says:

      Yes, it’s a great shot and just sums up the life of a working musician. It’s a bit like that classic one of Roger Glover flaked out after one of the last Purple gigs.

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