Andy "Thunderclap" Newman RIP
I first had the pleasure of meeting Andy Newman in 1978 when we had just moved the Contemporary Wardrobe collection into an old warehouse in Borough Market, we were having some building work done and on the recommendation of the builder, Mr. Newman came along to look at our electrics. Dressed as he always was, from head to toe in ex-army combat gear and enormous work boots, he appeared like a big friendly giant armed with an old lady’s shopping trolley bulging with tools and of course his faithful tiny Yorkshire Terrier, Miss Thing.
As we were discussing the detail of the job, with Andy everything was always discussed in great detail, I noticed that tiny Miss Thing was throwing up behind him. He just said in his dry manner, Oh dear it must have been the duck a l’orange I gave her last night…!
Of course at the time we didn’t know he was Thunderclap Newman, but my friend Will English recognized thought he him, so we asked him, he hedged around the subject for some time before he finally owned up, and then of course went into great detail about how the record industry was entirely corrupt.
Andy was an incredibly man knowledgeable who could talk for hours about a single subject, and given the opportunity he almost certainly would. My wife Izabel once bumped into him on a bus, having just left a lecture about John Cage. Andy not surprisingly, knew far more about Cage than the lecturer.
A year later he helped us with building Words End for Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, he did all the wiring and hand made the sculptural copper chandelier as a centre piece for the shop, with its verdigris effect which he created at home by experimenting by with acetic acid. At some point during the build we had to go to a wholesaler and choose some light fittings for the shop, Vivienne asked if she could come along, so we all piled into Andy’s very old car, I think it was a Renault and full of holes, anyway as I got into the back seat I noticed there was a field of grass growing on the back window ledge, and about 4 inches of water in the foot well, when I mentioned it, he said he wasn’t at all surprised as the car was full of holes, but he wasn’t all that bothered, he had acquired the car as part payment for a job he had done.
As we pulled up at the traffic lights, the water in my foot well surged forward under the front seat that Vivienne was sitting in. Vivienne thought it was amusing and she ended up with her feet on dashboard for the remainder of the journey. At the end of the shop build we worked all night to finish it off, in fact Andy and I were still there in the morning when it first opened, the shop was packed with customers, when suddenly there was a massive explosion and all the lights went out, people were running out of the shop tripping over each other and screaming, and I could hear Andy in the background telling Vivienne he hoped it was nothing to serious and just a short, as it happened it was just a blown fuse…
In 1981 McLaren and Westwood asked me to design Nostalgia of Mud, their new shop in St Christophers Place, so of course I asked Andy once again to do the electrics, he built both the amazing handmade lighting chandeliers, which looked really dramatic.
I used to bump into him on a regular basis in the 80s as he lived in Clapham and we lived in Battersea, and he was always fixing stuff at our home. When we moved into the Horse Hospital in 1993 he did a major overhaul of the electrics, and lighting for our first exhibition Vive Le Punk, in fact his footsteps can be heard in the background of the film we shot about the exhibition.
I saw him from time to time after that and whenever I did see him, he would always ask if I had seen Malcolm McLaren, and then go into a long dialogue about how he had heard him talking on the radio, commenting, he has a lot to say for himself…which was true irony coming from Andy.
The last time we spoke was a couple of years ago when he called to say he was reforming the band and to invite me to a gig, but sadly I couldn’t make it.
He was a truly wonderful character who enriched and educated everyone who was fortunate enough to know him.
Roger K. Burton