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