I was saddened to hear of Stuart Fraser’s passing earlier this week. Here are some reflections on the impact he, and his bandmates in Noiseworks, had on my musical and personal journey…
One of the first bands I got really into was Noiseworks. The first real jam I had with friends, in The car sales lot owned by my high school friend Michael Brolly’s dad, we did our best interpretation of “Take Me Back”, among other hits of the day. My best mate Ashley and I used to get home from school and put on the Noiseworks: Live at Selinas video and watch, over and over again. We’d then go and try to mimic the sound of the intro to “Welcome to the World” on his keyboard and sequencer.
As a young, aspiring musician learning to play bass, I loved the moments when Steve Balbi was on screen. The octaver-fueled bass line on “Edge of Darkness” a standout fave. But no-one stood out above anyone else to me. I was equally enraptured by vocalist Jon Stevens, drummer Kevin Nichols, and guitarist Stuart Fraser. I adored the fiery guitar tone that Stuart brought to bear on those tunes. Magical sounds that seemed to emanate from his beat up old Strat with the mismatched pickups. None more so than the opening passage of “Burning feeling” that introduces Noiseworks’ debut album. I still get goosebumps listening to that at times—just pumps me up. It says “we are here, pay attention”. The guitar throughout “No Lies” at the Selinas gig, from the build-up in the intro to the solo, is another standout example that comes to mind. If I recall correctly, Stuart was smoking onstage in that video of the Selinas gig.
Suffice to say, Stuart’s playing made an indelible imprint on me.
As I looked up at them on the screen, the band members that made up Noiseworks were the epitome of cool, and I couldn’t help but think: “I want to do that!” They were a key contributor to my motivation to become a musician and to perform.
They were part of a cadré of bands of that era that really defined “Aussie music” for me growing up. Noiseworks, Midnight Oil, Icehouse, INXS. Each of those bands went on to some degree of international success, something that didn’t seem to work out for Noiseworks, though I never really understood why.
Noiseworks put out three tremendously good, dare I say “crackingly good”, albums. What Stuart brought to those songs, his guitar playing and songwriting sensibilities, are in integral part of that sound, forever a part of my teenage memories, and journey as a musician and songwriter.
Post-Noiseworks, Stuart went on to do a stint with John Farnham, in his touring band and playing on later albums like “Chain Reaction”. And he also joined Noiseworks lead singer Jon Stevens on some of his solo recordings too, if I recall correctly. Hearing him play on those albums, he demonstrated he had a unique voice on guitar—immediately recognisable. That’s a rare thing, in my view—Dave Gilmore, Brian May, Joe Satriani, Wayne Krantz, Eddie Van Halen are a few other guitar players that I can say that about. Esteemed company.
In more recent years I’ve started to play guitar a lot more (more than I play bass nowadays, to be honest). I still hear Stuart Fraser’s phrasing and musical sensibilities in how I play, how I approach parts, in the sounds and note choices I hear in my head. And that tone… The way he’d sail over the rhythm section’s foundation at times, at others lock into it with a strong rhythmic drive. I loved how he could have searing lead tones, but then drop into a crunchy rhythm tone. And it just sounded right.
Friends who have heard my play in my band often comment that my influences aren’t necessarily that obvious, but I can guarantee Stuart is present amongst them. My rhythmic approach to guitar playing owes as much to Stuart as it does Ani Di Franco.
I was saddened to hear of Stuart’s passing earlier this week, from lung cancer. Those years of smoking having gotten the better of him. I just wanted to pay my respects and to acknowledge that, while no longer here in the flesh, his music and influence lives on in the hearts and minds of fans, like me.
Vale Stuart Fraser.