Steve Bronski, a founding member of the trailblazing British synth-pop trio Bronski Beat, has died, a source close to the group has confirmed. The BBC reported his age as 61. No cause of death was given.
His bandmate Jimmy Somerville described him as a “talented and very melodic man”.
“Working with him on songs and the one song that changed our lives and touched so many other lives, was a fun and exciting time. Thanks for the melody, Steve.”
Bronski, AKA Steven Forrest, formed the band alongside Somerville and Larry Steinbachek in 1983. All three members of the band were out as gay and sought to counter what they perceived as the inoffensive nature of the era’s gay performers by embracing explicitly political themes in their music. America’s Spin magazine described them as “perhaps the first real gay group in the history of pop”.
Bronski was raised in Castlemilk, Glasgow, on what he described to Smash Hits as “the largest council housing scheme in Europe”. He left home “various times”, working as a stage hand, a labourer and a stock controller in Harrods, as well as playing bass in a country and western band. He moved to London in 1983. In 1984, he told Melody Maker of his frustration that his family wouldn’t acknowledge his sexuality.
At Bronski Beat’s first gig, at the Bell pub in King’s Cross in autumn 1983, they performed six songs – and were given six encores. “The audience was so enthusiastic I just knew something was going to happen,” Bronski told Smash Hits. “Mind you, I knew the group was going to go well as soon as I heard Jimmy singing.”
They rejected Paul Morley’s invitation to sign to his label ZTT. His “idea was to have us wear and market T-shirts that basically said that we were gay, because they’d have words like ‘QUEER’ or ‘POOF’ printed on them”, Somerville told Electronic Beats. (Morley signed Frankie Goes to Hollywood instead.)
Bronski Beat’s debut single, 1984’s Smalltown Boy, tells the story of a gay teenager leaving his family and prejudice in his hometown for an uncertain life in London. The record’s inner groove was etched with the number of the London Gay Switchboard.
It peaked at No 3 in the UK singles chart and has become one of the era’s defining hits and a canonical queer pop song, regularly soundtracking contemporary TV shows (Euphoria, Russell T Davies’ Cucumber) and films (Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, French Act Up drama BPM).
The trio’s debut album The Age of Consent, also released in 1984, listed the ages of consent for gay sex in countries around the world. The album peaked at No 4 in the UK. That December, Bronski Beat headlined the Pits and Perverts concert at the Electric Ballroom in London to raise funds for the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign, a performance depicted in the 2014 British film Pride.
Somerville left the band in summer 1985 owing to tensions within the group. He went on to have a successful career with the Communards and as a solo artist; Bronski Beat continued with new frontmen. They released two more albums, Truthdare Doubledare (1986) and Out & About (1987), and then paused until 1995’s Rainbow Nation.
Bronski continued to produce and record, including collaborations with Jayne County, Darryl Pandy and members of Strawberry Switchblade. He spent much of the 2000s living in Thailand.
Steinbachek died in December 2016, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.
In 2017, Bronski spearheaded the recording of a revamped version of The Age of Consent titled The Age of Reason, with vocalist Stephen Granville. “We should be living in an age of reason,” Bronski told Pennyblack Music. “The trans community should not live in fear, and gay kids should not be bullied. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.”