Stephen: The post-punk Bullie
Updated: Feb 7, 2022
A musician needs to find the right collaborators. People that can bring out the best in you. Share the highs and lows of the killing road. Companionship? You don’t need a band. You need a dog.
1982 was a big year in the life of John McGeoch. His work with Magazine and Siouxsie had cemented him as one of the finest guitarists on the scene. It was also the year where his credentials and determination to achieve and survive in the ‘business’ would be pushed to the absolute limit. First things first, 1982 was the year of Stephen the English Bull Terrier.
John had married his long-time girlfriend, Janet, the year before and the young couple had bought a property in Cricklewood, North London. This was a long way from grotty flats above stinky fish shops, of John’s student days, in rundown Rusholme. John had moved up in the world. Courtesy of his creative endeavours he had made some brass and invested wisely (it wasn’t the norm back in the early 80’s for up-and-coming pop stars to own their own homes, and this was certainly true of his comrades in the Banshees). On a journey home via Kentish Town, John happened upon a pet shop and was sold on the young Bullie pup staring up at him. ‘Should I? Shouldn’t I? I definitely should…’ Thinking on, John kept his wallet in his pocket and showing great restraint… thought better of making an impulse buy. I mean, it would be a formality, but best run it past, the then, Mrs McGeoch first. Ever the modern man!
Hurriedly bounding home John’s enthusiasm and determination to return to the shop and bring the would-be addition back to Cricklewood was not met with the same level of excitement by Janet. “John came home and said ‘I’ve seen this puppy in a pet shop in Kentish Town and I really want him! We can go and look at him now.” Janet attempted to apply the brakes conceding “I said no, no. It really isn’t practical.” This was never going to a convincing argument against all the fun and laughs that a puppy provides. John won out. Enter Stephen.
Janet’s initial misgivings were predictably borne out. John was away from home. A lot. If he wasn’t in the studio then he would be off somewhere touring. There were numerous press events and there was the downtime in the bars and clubs of London. For all of that and given that most Stephen duties fell on her shoulders Janet says, “Even though I was really responsible for Stephen, he was John’s dog. I don’t remember him being great at walking him though! He would sit at the top of the stairs and throw a ball down. Stephen would flop and roll to the bottom and scramble back up ball in mouth. I’d be sat there thinking ‘why don’t you take him out for a bloody walk!’”.
John did however enjoy taking him into the studio or when meeting up with his mates. The two were a common sight. He was proud of him and enjoyed showing him off. Stephen was also a dapper looking pooch, after all he was in the company of a stylish and successful musician with a lovely Lewis Leather jacket. Malcolm Garrett’s girlfriend, Annie Symons, designed one for Stephen, as Janet remembers. “If I remember rightly, Annie, was a fashion student. So, she made Stephen this jacket for her degree show. She measured Stephen up for this leather jacket. Eventually she took it back for an exhibition, but Stephen had it for about a year and he did wear it. It was a really nice-looking thing and he did look pretty cool in it”. Stephen would rock the ‘rock’ look and even turn out to the odd gig looking like John’s cuddly, leather jacket wearing twin, not content on getting into a venue (a fair achievement, or was it the disguise?) he even made his way to the stage. It is hard to gauge whether the metal or hard rock scene of the 1980s was to a Bull Terrier’s taste, but Janet says, “He actually went on stage with Def Leppard once. He stayed to the side, bless him, but his ears were flapping excitedly. Poor thing, he probably couldn’t stand the noise but we were young and a bit irresponsible in those days”. Maybe he was just not that keen on Def Leppard.
Stephen was a friend to John. Always eagerly waiting for him to return from a day at the studio or to come home from a show or tour. The pair would sit and share fish finger sandwiches while lobbing a ball about. Stephen was well known and loved by John’s mates. Quite what record producers and A&R men thought of having him about the place is another thing. It was unusual. It was the 1980s.
Stephen’s life wasn’t without his own trauma, being hit by a car across the road from the house (following a mishap with the front door) and rushed to the local vets with both John and Janet in floods of tears. Happily, he made a recovery and there was no lasting damage. Stephen would live to play ball another day.
By 1986, Janet and John went their separate ways and a new era was to begin for John. Sadly, due to other reasons, Stephen couldn’t be part of that future. He remained for a while with Janet before retiring to North Wales to see out his days with his girlfriend Tess on Janet’s sister’s 20 acres of land. Stephen had tasted the rock n’ roll lifestyle, but he liked it better in the rolling hills.