(Steve's last days, 1978-1980)
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It has often been claimed, that during the final two years of his life Took, in the words of Clive Zone "spent more and more time getting out of his head." Steve Sparks, ex Ilford 'ace-face' and by then a general music business shill, acidly recalled in Jonathan Green's 'Days in the Life' coming across an incoherent Steve one night out. However, perhaps it should be born in mind that a large amount of Sparks' attitudes owe their existence to some degree of antipathy towards Bolan, largely resulting from encounters during their teenage years - in the same text, Sparks referred to the younger Marc as "a shit, a cocky little shit" and quips that Decca's mismanagement of Bolan in the mid-1960's was a "Good move. Not as good as turning down the Beatles, tho." Another Steve, Steve Mann, recalled in the same book how often Took "would come onstage and the Fairies would quickly try to get him off again. This terrible shambling figure would come onstage, crashing into cymbals and things." Mann, incidentally, also claimed that Took had "a very small talent [but] a very large talent for taking drugs", although in the opinion of Russell Hunter, these remarks were not informed by ignorance, cynicism or other malice but more simply by Mann's own ideological views on the concept of 'talent.'
However, whilst the demise of Steve Took's Horns marked the last significant chance in his life that Steve Took had to get off the small-time treadmill and climb the ladder towards proper fame, he had still not given up hope of getting his career off the ground and surprisingly, he did manage to get some more musical work done although, as his thirties fast approached, one has to wonder whether a man who had already reckoned himself to be "getting old" at 23 felt much remaining aptitude for serious stardom. To this end, Steve had split from Tony Landau at some point during 1978/9 and found new management in the shape of one Les Best. Having written some fresh material, his first port of call was the aforementioned Inner City Unit, the band Nik Turner had formed with Steve's then-current musical partner and former Horns guitarist Judge Trev Thoms, and which at the time also features the Horns' drummer Ermano Ghisio-Erba operating under the stagename Dino Ferrari. The group's bass player, yet another Steve, this time Steve Pond, recalls Took turning up at two squat-based rehearsals by the new band in 1979, toting a brand-new guitar plus Crate amplifier and accompanied by someone who may or may not have been Best, but to whom Pond refers only as Took's "shadow". According to Pond, on these occasions Took attempted to blag his way into the new band, but was rebuffed resulting in endless non-progressive circular arguments on the subject which served only to eat away at rehearsal time.
Perhaps Steve's attempts at speculative approach were not entirely unsuccessful, however. He was also still playing gigs with various friends during this time, but his occasional guest appearances onstage were conducted more for his own amusement than the audience's - he would do what he wanted to do onstage for fun and as a momento of the old days for his friends in the crowd. A good example of this would be what is generally believed to be the final gig of Steve's career which took place at the Camden Palace in June 16th 1980. This gig was a subsection of a performance by Inner City Unit, (whose lineup still featuring Judge Trev although Ermano/Dino was on sabbatical from the band at this point) and Took had been included on the bill more as a favour to an old friend than as any kind of attraction. Indeed, much of the NWOBHM orientated, Iron Maiden/Saxon loving audience, (many of whom doubtless made very good Guns 'N Roses fans just a few years later), actually failed to recognise Steve when he staggered up onstage, glass in hand and loudly proclaimed that he had been given some acid, most of them simply assuming Took to be one of the roadcrew or something similar.
Things soon progressed from bad to worse as for several minutes he was left alone onstage shouting fairly incoherently such epithets as "ICU ICU ICU!!!", "Missed me you fuckers" (when dodging an audience missile) and "Bob Calvert's turquoise jacket ain't as good as mine!" at the largely hostile crowd, who were chiefly egged on by the slyly cynical DJ, until eventually his old friends Calvert and Thoms joined him onstage and backed him up through renditions of "Brainstorm" by Hawkwind and "Slow Down" by the Beatles, with Steve screaming the lyrics. Although his vocal performance on these two covers was surprisingly strong, clearly, Steve no longer fitted into the scenes descended from the underground which once housed him. In the new decade, Steve Took was now a relic of a bygone age. The old Underground was long dead and gone, the old squatting hippy communities in Camden and Ladbroke Grove finally evicted from their squats which were promptly demolished, the marketplace in the former commandeered to eventually become effectively the nation's Indie Supermarket, and even the Punk era essentially over with its survivors graduating to professional pop careers (although the followings of Anarcho-Punk bands like Crass would, by 1984, merge with the surviving evicted ex-squatters to forge a travelling New Age underground that still thrives to this day.)
Ironically Steve's efforts at recording during this time appear to have been somewhat more productive - Lou recalls him touting a song entitled "My Sweet Cherie" around this time (ironic in the light of what was to follow) - and it was at this late stage that he finally managed to complete and submit to Best what was according to some sources, a tape of sufficient material that an album could have been compiled from it, although Best himself has claimed that it was just the master mixes of the 1977 Horns session. How far Best ever got with getting this material released at the time remains a mystery, however there was probably no serious question of making a real impact on the mainstream market. In 1980, Steve Took was a man from the past, so if he were to survive and thrive, it would have to be in some sort of enclave where the past lived on. One possibility, which even if not appealing to Steve, certainly seems to have caught the eye of Best was the world of Marc Bolan's posthumous fandom - indeed, Steve was forever haunted by Bolan in that people who would him out were not interested in him as a person, songwriter or performer, but only wanted to ask "So, tell us about Marc?" Fee Warner, for example, sought out Steve in '78 with the express purpose of gleaning information on the then-dead Bolan. One day, she got talking to a busker in Ladbroke Grove about Steve - upon seeing a picture of the older Steve some years later, she says she realised that the busker she had met had indeed been Steve. "At the time I was a standard blinkered Bolan Fan." she recalls. " It never occurred to me to wonder what Steve had been doing all these years. Now I could ask him so many questions - but then all I wanted was Bolan, Bolan, Bolan. Sorry Steve."
An example of this is an interview held in a public house in 1979 as part of research for a well-known book about Bolan, the tape of which is in circulation to this day. The sound quality of this is fairly poor (there is a conspicuously noisy Space Invaders machine in the background) and things are not generally helped by the fact that Steve was somewhat stoned and disinterested during the interview and talks only fairly slowly and in an undertone, the only real moment of life being when Steve recalls the plaque on the back of the Unicorn LP sleeve, "'Love one another' - Sew one another's mouths together with SINGER!!!". The interview, as might be expected, concentrates mainly on the Tyrannosaurus Rex era and Bolan, with recollections by Steve of the disastrous début gig at the Electric Garden, the two discarded extra band members ("One geezer [Ben Cartland] smoked a pipe, the other had a beard, they were a mistake!") the recording of what later became the 'Beginning of Doves' LP, Steve's role in the band, etc. Unfortunately the tape cuts out before things can progress to later eras, however, as well as being the second prolonged piece of recording of Steve in conversation, it does represent an example of the interaction the between Steve and T.Rex fandom. It is noteworthy that at one point, the interviewer namedrops Les Best, in a manner that leaves little doubt as to how the interview was set up, and even raising the possibility of it having been seen as beneficial to a fresh publicity drive for Steve.
Whatever the hazards and hassles of meeting and greeting devotees of Took's late ex-boss, when records are released they have to be promoted and so if Les Best was indeed seriously planning on getting Steve's songs released, then perhaps, going into 1981, the Bolan scene might well have provided both a target market and even a venue for live exposure, via the circuit of "bops" held around the country. If any such plans existed, they were all to fall by the wayside, however, when Steve's life ended on Monday 27th October 1980. Steve by this time was sharing a flat just off Portobello Road with a woman by the name of Valerie Billet. Just before the weekend, a royalty cheque had arrived in the post - due to Secunda's financial activities back in 1972 these now arrived somewhat more frequently and efficiently these days (the lack of deprivation ironically somewhat stripping Steve of incentive to go out and perform and advance his career) - and the previous day, Steve had bought some drugs for himself and Valerie, mainly some powdered morphine and a bag of magic mushrooms. Billet would later recall that she and Took both injected themselves with the morphine. Steve died of asphyxiation after inhaling a cocktail cherry. He was just 31 years old.