Artists: C J Stone

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GONZO MAGAZINE #280: Jon meets Steve Andrews

I first read about Steve Andrews in one of C. J. Stone's books, in which he chronicles his comings and goings within various sub-groupings of what could generally be referred to as the 'Alternative Society' in the UK. He described how Steve lived in a house in Cardiff, surrounded by houseplants, and with a giant Madagascan hissing cockroach for company.

He told the story of how Steve had achieved a certain degree of cultural notoriety in the early 1970s when he appeared on stage at various rock festivals singing a peculiar song about "extracting the latex from a rubber ducky". This song attracted a fair modicum of Andy Warhol's mythical 'fifteen minutes of fame' and Steve, who also appears under the moniker of 'The Bard of Ely', ended up with a small, but significant, cult following.

I first 'met' Steve on Facebook, some years ago, following the addition of Chris Stone to the roster of Gonzo Weekly contributors. We exchanged pleasantries occasionally, but nothing more significant than that.

However, last summer, I - as I have recounted elsewhere in these pages - discovered the joys of Twitter, and took to it like a (rubber) duck(y) to water. There is something about the restriction in the number of characters that one is able to use in a post which engenders a sort of zen haiku sensibility. And, although I had successfully managed to avoid becoming  too addicted to any other social media (I use Facebook, but begrudgingly), I fell hook, line and sinker for Twitter.

So, it appeared, did Steve Andrews.

Over the past six months or so, I have become increasingly interested in what it is that Steve does. As well as a musician, he is an environmental activist and a fan of killifish, which - if you don't already know - includes some of the most dazzlingly beautiful small fishes you are ever likely to see; but, tragically, these fish only live for a few months, making them almost like swimming, annual, potted plants.

Steve is now living in Portugal, but is very pivotally involved in a whole slew on environmental activist campaigns. One of the most depressing at the moment is in reaction to - what appears to be - an entirely unnecessary, brutal and environmentally unsound programme of tree felling by Sheffield City Council, which has not only destroyed a bunch of perfectly healthy, beautiful and much-loved trees, but has also destroyed an important colony of very rare butterflies.

If the fact that he has a bright green beard and sings songs about 'rubber duckies' wasn't enough, his sterling work in publicising the protest against the powers that be in Sheffield, meant that I am unquestionably on his side.

So, it seemed a perfectly logical step to give him a ring and get him to talk about it all for Gonzo Web Radio...

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C J Stone Biography

C.J. Stone was born on 16th June 1953 in Birmingham, England, the eldest son of Mary and Eddy Stone. He has two sisters and a brother.

In 1971 he went to Cardiff University to study English Literature but dropped out after two years (it was the hippy thing to do). In 1981 he resumed his studies in Bristol Polytechnic (now the University of the West of England) where he gained a 2:1 in Humanities.

In 1984 he moved to Whitstable, where he has lived ever since. He says he always wanted to be a writer. In 1993, after many unsuccessful attempts to write the great English novel – he wasn’t clever enough - he decided to simplify his approach and to write for magazines and newspapers instead.

Someone lent him a copy of Post Office by Charles Bukowski. C.J. was impressed by the street-level poetry of everyday life he encountered there. He took this as a model and began writing what was to become his Housing Benefit Hill series.

The first was a story called Witch Way Out Of Here, quickly followed by Still Life Behind Drawn Curtains, both written in the early part of 1993. He sent these off to the Guardian Weekend on the off-chance, having read a story about council estate life there.

A few weeks later his A4 stamped addressed envelope returned, but without the manuscripts.

His stories had been accepted!

The first Housing Benefit Hill column appeared in the Guardian Weekend in September 1993 and the column continued for three years, until September 1996. It was a great success, and made the writer temporarily famous. Other columns followed: On The Edge in the Big Issue, Free Party Chronicles in Mixmag. C.J. Stone’s Britain, which replaced Housing Benefit Hill in the Guardian, and which continued till March 1998.

In this time two books were also written: Fierce Dancing and The Last of the Hippies, both published by Faber & Faber.

Further columns have included Written in Stone, for Prediction magazine, Offline in the Big Issue Cymru and On Another Planet in the Whitstable Times. Features, reviews and articles have also appeared in the New Statesman, the Glasgow Herald, the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, the Independent on Sunday and in Saga Magazine, amongst others. There have also been two more books: Housing Benefit Hill published by AK Press and the Trials of Arthur (with Arthur Pendragon) published by Thorsons/Element.

Current columns include Written in Stone in the Whitstable Gazette, and Tales of Ordinary Magic in Kindred Spirit.

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