The story of Chelmsford, England's Mick Stevens is one of persistence, love of a chosen art, finding peace though in obscurity, tragedy -- and then, well after the fact, a new and appreciative audience. That it came too late for Stevens, who died young of throat and mouth cancer in 1987, is a regret, but thanks to the efforts of a reissue label and articles and liner notes by a friend and collaborator of Stevens, John Theedom, as well as Stevens' brother and photographer Andrew, more is now known about this long-passed musician and his four albums, all released on small labels in the 1970s.
Stevens' earliest known musical venture was participating in a local Chelmsford group in the early '70s, Sunday Morning Gothic, where he performed on a variety of guitars as well as sang backup, producing both original material and working on covers such as Harry Nilsson's "One." Theedom, who first met Stevens at this time, speaks of his excellent performances on guitar, something that would place him in good stead when he left Chelmsford to attend Nottingham University to study languages, his other specialty. Between university and visits home, Stevens recorded his 1972 debut, See the Morning, as a strictly solo vocal and acoustic guitar effort (minus a guest flute appearance from friend Della Thompson) on a reel-to-reel tape machine.
Released through the semi-vanity press label Deroy in a run of 30, See the Morning was Stevens' sole effort released while at university; after graduation he performed in a band in Malta for some time, returning to Chelmsford disappointed and apparently in the grip of depression, an experience that fed into his strong second album, No Savage Word, in 1975. Again a mostly (though not entirely) acoustic home recording, but this time with the help of Theedom and other musically inclined friends -- including, notably, bassist Warne Livesey, in later years to become a well-known producer -- it too was released by Deroy, though once more only in a very limited run totaling 50.
As was announced in the liner notes for No Savage Word, Stevens, Livesey, and a couple of other musicians became the Impy Grinners, performing through 1977 in England's southeast, working with both original material from Stevens and a number of covers, including tracks by one of Stevens' favorite groups, Steely Dan. After the group disbanded, Stevens gathered a number of performers, again including Livesey, for his third album, The River, recorded quickly in Cambridge's Spaceward Studios. Reflecting a broader musical range than his two previous albums, from shorter songs to a lengthy semi-prog rock piece "Suite (To a Seagull)," The River was another limited-run effort, this time through Spaceward itself, though John Peel proved to be a fan, playing songs from the album around the time of its release -- no small thing given the punk upheavals of the time. Following The River's appearance Stevens toured, performing more folk-flavored sets with performers such as June Tabor and Richard & Linda Thompson.
In relative contrast to the often moody feeling of The River is the more generally joyful tone of Stevens' final album, 1979's The Englishman, again featuring Livesey but this time with a fully new set of backing musicians, including Stevens' future wife, Hilary Burn, the inspiration for the song "The Other Side of the River." As before, the album was a Spaceward production featuring a limited run, while the end results themselves weren't quite as Stevens had hoped, though the following solo tour opening for Richard & Linda Thompson in late 1979 was, as it turned out to be, a fine farewell.
After Stevens and Burn married, he retired from formally recorded music, moving to Berkshire and raising their children, by all accounts living a happy and quiet life before his cancer diagnosis was confirmed, followed by his passing. As his albums had barely been released and were not reprinted, knowledge of Stevens and his work was almost totally limited to his friends and family. This situation changed dramatically in 2004 when the Shadoks label, as part of its revival of other acts on the Deroy label, re-released See the Morning and No Savage Word as a two-CD set, gaining much attention and interest from a variety of publications and listeners. The following year saw Shadoks reissue The River and The Englishman in a similar two-CD set, this time with the assistance of Stevens' family and Theedom, bringing nearly all the known recorded work of Stevens fully to light.