Sheffield is known for producing steel but it also produced rock band Def Leppard. There're still performing but here I am at the grave of one of the original members who didn't make it. He's been dead for more than he was alive. Until his early death Steve was a songwriter and co-lead guitarist and I can remember seeing him on television when I was in my early twenties and thinking...blimey, a group doing well globally....from Sheffield!
Steve was born not far from his grave. At six he saw Cliff Richard and the Shadows and aged 11 he got his first guitar. His dad it bought it for him on the condition that he learned to play. He did this for about a year. At a friend’s house he heard a Led Zeppelin album and started to play stronger music. He had a small group called Electric Chicken then met Pete Willis of Def Leppard, auditioned for them (playing all of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird) and was accepted aged 18. They practiced in a derelict warehouse in Sheffield and did their first gig for £5. At the time Steve had started a four-year apprentice as a lathe operator in a factory but never finished it as the group signed a record deal.
The band had two co-lead guitarists - Steve and Phil Collen - and none had egos. Both easily swapped roles playing rhythm and lead guitar. As the group gained commercial success Steve carried on drinking whereas Phil stopped. Soon Steve was addicted to it. Financially the group was super-successful through the 1980s and 1990’s selling millions of albums. Americans loved them and if you're successful over there it ramps up all the sales figures. Their catchy songs tickled rather than tore out ear drums and though heavy rockers considered the music to be lightweight they knew that lads wrote and played their own stuff.
Sadly Steve’s alcoholism worsened and spells in drying out clinics failed. He bought a flat in Chelsea and even though he had stacks of cash he was in the pocket of the booze. Following the hugely successful Hysteria album the band wanted to make the next album but Steve’s often had “the shakes” and was a mess. He was given six months leave of absence. He probably knew he couldn’t surmount the alcoholism and this broke his will. One Christmas he left his flat in Chelsea and returned home to Sheffield, his haggard appearance shocking the family. When his dad warned him the booze would kill him if he didn’t stop he replied, “I don’t care.”
Aged 30 he was living with girlfriend Janie Dean in Chelsea. One night he visited a nearby pub with a friend and they returned drunk to watch a video. Some time through the night his body couldn't cope and gave up. He died from a codeine overdose though the autopsy added that his blood also contained alcohol, prescription drugs, Valium and morphine. After his body was released the family buried him here in Sheffield near their home. I found the cemetery to be in a semi-rural location and the entrance was easily missed. Normally there’s a church to guide in a grave-seeking geeks like me. The cemetery is down a slant and a circular road goes round the cemetery wheel-like.
I had to sit on bench and let twenty minutes pass before I could take a few photos of the grave. An unsmiling dour couple were attending a nearby grave and it seemed only right to wait for them to leave. It's a well-furnished grave even though the rock dude died over 30 years ago. Has the miscellany of items been left by fans or family?
Perhaps it'd been better if he'd lived a normal life and continued working in a factory in Sheffield. The quiet, shy, softly-spoken lad might have gone on to have a contented life. He left no will, about 75 guitars and millions of pounds of income. He was ranked No. 11 on Classic Rock Magazine's "100 Wildest Guitar Heroes". That’s pretty good for a lad from Sheffield. I did a salute and left.
You’ve just got to do some air guitar…