Rebus and the rejected Rolling Stone

Author Ian Rankin reveals he based his detective on Ian Stewart, the Stone sacked for being too ugly

In Ian Rankin's Edinburgh-based crime novels, Detective Inspector John Rebus often tries to take his mind off the murders he is investigating by listening to David Bowie, Tom Waits or the Rolling Stones.

Now Rankin has revealed for the first time that music plays a much larger role in his novels: the inspiration for the character of Rebus was one of the original Rolling Stones - a man deemed too ugly to stay in the world-famous band.

Ian Stewart, who hails from a small village in Fife - the same part of the world as Rebus - was in the original Stones line-up and played on all their albums until his death in 1985.

Rankin last night told The Independent on Sunday that he had copied similarities between Rebus and Stewart as he developed the character. For starters, both are outsiders who find themselves on the edge of the action. "When you see pictures of Stewart in the Rolling Stones, his face just does not fit," said Rankin. "Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones' manager, took one look at him and said he's got to go. It was hugely embarrassing to the Stones.

"I just thought, being on the edge, not being a team player - it's so like Rebus. They are both from Fife and they both operate on the outside of some huge, successful organisation."

But while the hard-drinking John Rebus likes nothing more than spending his free time propping up the bar at his local, the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh, Stewart was more at home on a golf course. "He was very un-rock'n'roll," said Rankin. "He didn't go to the pub, he went off to play golf."

Despite officially leaving the band Stewart, who was known to his fellow Stones as "Stu", remained the group's keyboard player. "He had the van," said Rankin. "It was the only way they could get to gigs. So he stayed on as a sort of tour manager."

Stewart preferred the Stones' blues-oriented tracks and can be heard on "Brown Sugar" and "Honky Tonk Women".

Stewart died of a heart attack in December 1985. He was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame alongside his former bandmates in 1989 and is often referred to as the "Sixth Stone". After Stewart's death, Mick Jagger said: "I'm going to miss him a lot. He really helped this band swing on 'Honky Tonk Women' and loads of others. Stu was the one guy we tried to please when we were writing or rehearsing a song."

Cousins of Ian Stewart still live in Pittenweem, in Fife. Joyce Laing, chair of the Pittenweem Arts Festival, said Stewart's life would be celebrated at the festival next year. "We are trying to find a tribute band and we want to get somebody to write a play," she said.

Ms Laing said villagers were "very surprised" to hear that the former Rolling Stone had inspired Rankin. "It is very strange. We were all shocked to hear it."

Rankin has written 15 novels about Rebus - three of them borrow their titles from Rolling Stones albums - and they have been translated into 26 languages. The 16th in the successful series, The Naming of the Dead, is published in the autumn. A new television series based on the books, starring Ken Stott, started on ITV1 earlier this year.

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