Dave Stewart: ‘I was an alienated, Harold and Maude kind of child’

The musician, 65, on meeting Annie Lennox, how he broke his ribs and why he used to dress up in S&M gear for a laugh

People wouldn’t believe how we recorded Sweet Dreams. A bank manager lent us £5,000 to buy equipment, which is amazing in hindsight, but we forgot that we also needed to pay rent on the flat, so we got kicked out of the place halfway through. Some of it we made in a vestry in Crouch End, no bigger than a bathroom.

I’m nuts about balmy, tropical places, away from Babylon, for making music in. Even in my first interview, in the Sunderland Echo, they asked me what I would do if I made it and I said I’d move to the Caribbean. Now I have a place in the Bahamas and a house up in the hills in Jamaica. Toots and the Maytals played in the living room.

I was an alienated, Harold and Maude kind of a child. I didn’t have many friends, so I was inventive. I’d lie in the pond, freezing, waiting for my dad to come home, or walk past my mother with ketchup all round my neck. Anything for attention, to say, “Hello, I’m here!”

My grandmother ended up owning a stud farm none of us knew about. She ran a tiny corner shop, and sometimes she’d give us gifts and we’d wonder where the money had come from. It turned out she’d started betting on the horses in secret. Eventually she won enough to buy a horse and ended up with a whole operation.

Whatever money I’ve made I’ve always put it back out there. I’ve started labels, invested in bands, funded films, lots of other creative projects. When you do that it tends to come back around again, although I wish I’d saved more.

Our scout group once went on camp to Joe’s Farm, just outside Sunderland. If you wanted your “hygiene badge” you had to go up to see “Joe”, where he examined our particulars. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but months later I found my mum sat at home with a couple of policemen. She asked me if I’d got my hygiene badge and when I said yes, she burst into tears.

My first experience of drugs was “Moroccan” or “black” [marijuana], brought up to Sunderland from London. We’d lie around under trees, smoking and strumming guitars. Then our roadies met Grateful Dead roadies, who were bringing unbelievably strong acid with them. When I got married at 18 we gave the guests acid and it took them a long time to find each other. Then the 60s ended and things moved on to coke and speed. I was involved in a huge car crash on speed. I broke ribs and punctured a lung.

I was living in London and a friend told me about this woman who sang and played harmonium. We went to Hampstead to meet her. It was Annie [Lennox]. She worked in a vegetarian café and studied at the Royal Academy of Music. We started talking and didn’t stop for 14 years.

Annie and I had already broken up by the time we reached number one in America. The press often asked us about our relationship so we started to play around with it, buying a load of S&M gear and dressing up for TV appearances. The presenters would look at us like we were aliens. The gay community loved it. Our music helped people escape humdrum lives in Texas or Arkansas.

These days I get the same pleasure from the garden as from a bassline. Fresh tomatoes, cucumber, a bit of feta. My dad was obsessed with his allotment, and it’s coming round again. When I was a kid the whole street would gather round for a night of new potatoes with mint, butter and a bit of salt. That was a great night! As you get older you appreciate things you didn’t really get when you were younger.

The Eurythmics catalogue is being reissued on vinyl (eurythmics.com)


Ed Cumming

The GuardianTramp

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