Steve Redhead: He Danced Critically, He Raved Off


By Guy Osborn, University of Westminster

Steve Redhead’s passing hit me hard. It was out of the blue, and I had not seen Steve for over 10 years, although we were in regular contact via Twitter, email and text. Slowly the sad circumstances unravelled and a great outpouring of positive recollections and anecdotes were shared via Twitter and elsewhere. A measure of his influence, and the affection and esteem he was held in can be gleaned by reviewing the timeline of his wife, Tara Brabazon when his passing was announced.

Steve was certainly a prolific author and academic. He published 17 books, supervised over 30 PhDs to completion, held posts in the UK, North America and Australia and wrote literally hundreds of shorter pieces. I know this as, in later years, I was one of Steve’s academic referees and the breadth of his accomplishments was astonishing. Some of his ground breaking and memorable books in particular are worthy of more comment. His Football with Attitude was memorably a remix of his earlier Pluto text Sing When You’re Winning, and both were great examples of his way with titles that gave a knowing nod to popular culture (references to The Smiths feature A LOT as chapter headings for example!). Football with Attitude, alluding of course to west coast gangsta rap collective Niggaz with Attitude, was lavishly accompanied by some beautiful photographs taken by Richard Davis. Many of these photos, though by no means all, featured his beloved Manchester City. On one of my early visits to the Manchester Institute of Popular Culture, Steve pointed out the fact that he could see the Maine Road ground from his office window and much of our discussions over the years focussed on football, along with another of his passions, music. Sometimes these passions coalesced and intertwined, Post Fandom and the Millenial Blues for example, featured an appendix of “soccer players’ pop songs”. In what is surely a first, he was credited on a critically acclaimed LP, in this case Adrian Sherwood’s ‘Barmy Army’ project The English Disease, for support and providing crowd samples.

Steve was, in fact, a man of firsts. The first Professor of Law and Popular Culture, perhaps the first PhD student to focus on sport and law, with his PhD somewhat less snappily titled than his later work, (‘The Legalisation of the Professional Footballer: A Study of Some Aspects of the Legal Status and Employment Conditions of Association Football Players in England and Wales From the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present Day’). His education took him from the University of Manchester where he read Law and completed an LLM, before registering for a PhD at the University of Warwick. His academic career was, as you would expect, thrillingly varied and eclectic, and Steve ended up half a world away in Australia, happily settled.

For me the work that really caught me and inspired me was Unpopular cultures. The birth of law and popular culture. This came out during my PhD, with Steve as my Director of Studies, and many of the ideas outlined here, particularly his formulation of panic law and theoretical take on ‘law and popular culture’, were catalysts for my PhD and some of my later work.

On a personal level, and for me most importantly, he was the first to show me that you could work academically on things that mattered to you and touched on your everyday life, that popular culture as a field was important and should be celebrated. He taught me that ‘dancing critically on the edge of disciplines’ was something to be proud of and should be carefully nurtured, that inter-disciplinarity should be seen as the norm and not the exception. In many ways, some of these view are unexceptional now – the academy now see inter-/trans-/cross-disciplinary approaches as increasingly desirable, but it cannot be overstated how groundbreaking Steve’s approach was in the late 1980s and 1990s. Whilst there were legal scholars who adopted socio-legal or CLS (Critical Legal Studies) framed approaches, none were immersed in the breadth of areas Steve was concerned with; from critical criminology to the sociology of leisure and beyond, and connecting these to a wild and eclectic array of sources, artifacts and disciplines. A great example here is his book The Repetitive Beat Generation; a text that nodded not only to the Beat Generation poets but also to the attempted policing of dance subculture, along with other areas of popular culture via the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 that he covered in Unpopular Cultures. The launch of The Repetitive Beat Generation was held at the now long gone Borders bookshop on Oxford Street in London, and was attended by many of those involved including Hanif Kureshi and Adrian Sherwood, whilst others in the audience included the actor Rhys Ifans. A surreal afternoon ended with lots of us in The Ship on Wardour Street and I still dine out on the time I went to the pub with Hanif Kureshi.

Thrillingly, a reviewer once called Steve ‘the high priest of legal pop’, perhaps echoing the late Mark E Smith’s Hip Priest with its ‘He is not appreciated’ refrain. Underappreciated is certainly not something I will think of when I think of Steve.

For Steve, anything was possible and anything was permissible. He forged a path that allowed many to follow in his giant footsteps. His passing leaves a giant void but his legacy lives on. Steve’s musical tastes were famously eclectic, but one of his favourite songs, ‘Half a World Away’ seems particularly apposite and poignant today and an excerpt appears below:

And when I leave this planet
You know I’d stay but I just can’t stand it and
I can feel the warning signs running around my mind
And if I could leave this spirit
I’ll find me a hole and I will live in it and
I can feel the warning signs running around my mind

Here I go, I’m still scratching around in the same old hole
My body feels young but my mind is very old
So what do you say?
You can’t give me the dreams that are mine anyway
Half the world away, half the world away
Half the world away
I’ve been lost, I’ve been found but I don’t feel down

No, I don’t feel down
No, I don’t feel down

(Noel Gallagher, ‘Half the World Away’ Sony/ATV Music Publishing)

Steve Redhead RIP – he danced critically, he raved off.

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