Saturday, 3 March 2012

Fritz Van Helsing obituary

Writer, Musician, Promoter
Born - July 2nd 1960; Died – February 15th 2012

Without Fritz Van Helsing, who has died aged fifty-one following a
prolonged battle with hepatitis C, Edinburgh's nascent 1977 punk scene
would have been a very different place. Whether as the precocious
brains behind the Wrong Image fanzine, scribbling out early paeans to
Edinburgh's first wave of punk and post-punk acts of his generation
such as Scars and TV 21 – both recently reformed to reclaim the spoils
that should've been theirs – or else playing mine host at various
incarnations of his all too appropriately named Full Moon Club, Van
Helsing was at the heart of a boisterous scene that remained truly
underground in the best sense of the word.

As some of the posts make clear on the Scraps, rags, factions,
splinters and glitz Facebook page, set up to document the crucial years
between 1977 to 1982, when a fast-changing Edinburgh music scene seemed
to promise the world, Van Helsing was at the epicentre of a very
special social circle who, inspired by punk's unleashing of new
freedoms, were determined to do things on their own terms. While every
town probably had a similar gang of misfits, in the case of Van Helsing
and co, the endless round of gigs in long-gone venues and parties in
his East Claremont Street flat carved out a rites of passage for a now
scattered community whose lives were changed forever.

Born in Inverness, Van Helsing studied at Milburn Secondary School (now
Milburn Academy), before moving to Edinburgh in 1976 aged sixteen.
Flushed with the sense of year zero reinvention the punk era inspired,
the highland teenager took his diabolic nom de plume from Dracula's
vampire-slaying nemesis usually played by Peter Cushing in Hammer's
increasingly camp restyling of Bram Stoker's original gothic novel. Van
Helsing took on the very of-its-time pen-name of Lou Kemia for his
excitable scrawls in Wrong Time, but kept the eventually legally
acquired Van Helsing name to the end, his former pre-teen identity a
closely guarded secret.

Where others of his generation moved on to more respectable outlets,
Van Helsing kept the faith throughout the next two decades, be it
through his zines Asylum and Full Moon, or playing drums in equally
wilful bands including FRAK and Nicotine Fingers. In 2000, with two
friends Van Helsing began the Full Moon Club in the suitably
labyrinthine confines of Bannerman's, the former folk pub in
Edinburgh's Cowgate. For seven years on the last Thursday of each
month, the Full Moon operated an anything-goes speakeasy policy that
could see solo troubadours on the same bill as stand-up poets and punk
guitar duos in an off-radar cabaret that attracted a loyal fan-base
without ever attempting to curry favour with the rest of the city's
music scene.

When the Full Moon moved to a Sunday afternoon slot at the infinitely
different vibe of the Three Tuns bar on Hanover Street, there were some
who thought the club wouldn't work. The child-friendly licence held by
the establishment, however, actually helped the atmosphere, according
to some. When the venue closed, Van Helsing effectively retired, his
hard living past having had a detrimental effect on his health. He was
told by doctors that he was unlikely to live past 2009, but proved them
wrong, his lust for life getting the better of his illness, even though
growing old gracefully was never going to be an option.

In 2006 Van Helsing started a relationship with Mary, and enjoyed the
next few years with her and his daughter Jet from a previous relationship. He and Mary were
engaged in 2008, and married on Halloween 2011. At his funeral,
the humanist service opened with the demented pseudo-goth of Release
The Bats, performed on record with self-destructive verve by Nick
Cave's first band, The Birthday Party. After thirty-five years at the
frontline of an equally messy musical community, it was the perfect way
to go out. A tribute gig to Van Helsing will take place at Bannerman's
on April 15th. Mary and Jet survive him.

The Herald, March 3rd 2012

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