Sunday, 13 December 2009

1968-70 - "The phone never starts ringing"

In the midst of his long residence at Ronnie Scott's where he accompanied visiting stars virtually every night, Stan somehow found the time to compose new music and make his own records. This gruelling non-stop regime meant that to Stan the swinging sixties were little more than a rumour.

STAN : When I hear stories and see documentaries about swinging London it's like another town. It was nothing to do with me because y'know if I wasn't down at Ronnies I was at home, and if I wasn't writing at home I was sleeping. It was like that for most of the sixties. Sleep, write, play, with the occasional mini skirt for inspiration, but that flower power thing I wasn't too aware of that.

You're whole life was 'dug in' like.

Yeah, not very pleasant for Jackie I suppose. Living with somebody who totally devoted to going out at night and playing, getting home at 4 or 5 in the morning or staying up all night writing, then sleeping. I just gave myself to it completely.

And you were devoted to it.


Were you having a good time despite being stretched like that.

I was, Jackie wasn't. She was looking after the kids for a cad. (laughter)

You were doing a lot of stuff despite having no time to do it in. A lot of different stuff.

I was even managing to go to places in Wales and up into Manchester with the quartet. I've got all my work diaries from day one. I must go back some time and look how I did it. I also did that solo album...

In Person?


How did you feel about that? Did you regard that as a good opportunity?

I did at the time.

That's a good record.

Well... I'm not too happy with it.

Oh, the way you play Sonny Boy.

..Yeah well I was pretty messed up at that time, when I made that album. In terms of substances and over work, no sleep and the rest of it.

When that record was made were you getting to the end of your span at Ronnies?

Yeah that's getting near the end. Yeah I was getting well messed up at that time. That's one of those albums I regret making given the state I was in. If I'd been a little straighter I'm sure I could have produced something a little better. Maybe it because when I've listened to it on the odd occasion, when I dared put it on. It takes me right back to that time and what was going on in my life then and I guess I hear the music through those ears to do with what was happening to me then.

So despite the fact that you enjoyed it, it was clearly taking it's toll and you knew that to.

No, that's one of the great things about substances, you think you're fooling everybody particularly yourself and you think yeah this is good and you put a little space between the event and er.. say like now I can hear why I thought it was good and I can hear why it wasn't. Y'know complete self delusion.

So if you kept feeling like that you needed some kind of external thing to take you out. So how did it happen.. you decide to leave?



Well it was Jackies idea. She could see what it was doing to me and she had a word with Pete (King, Scott's club manager). She said "he's got to leave". I was a total wreck. So much so it took me nearly two years to recover physically from that whole experience.

So you left when.. January '68? Is that right?

Your recollection is better that mine, given the state I was in I can't recall.. but it sounds about right. Like I say it took me two years to straighten out. I can remember just walking up stairs was a ghastly experience. Going one step at a time. I was so drained, tired.. and then sometime during that period Tubby Hayes' first wife came over and she was into macro-biotic food at that time and she was going to stay with us for a period. She said OK we'll all go on to macro-biotics. Maggies like that y'know. If she's eating stuffed chips.. you eat stuffed chips. So we went on to macro biotic food.. rice, the whole bit, and I have to say that it really did me good. I mean all that toxic thing that was still inside me, that all came out.. and I'll gloss over that. But y'know after a couple or three months I felt great. I really felt good. I think a lot of it was to do with that diet. Didn't stick to it of course, but it had something to do with me coming out of it. Our finances at that time were completely down the tubes. I was on social security and I remember there was a gas bill we couldn't pay and we had to go to some committee down in Brixton who dealt with people like me. I remember we pitched up and there were a couple of Rolls Royce's outside and a couple of other expensive cars belonging to committee members. People who decide, and I know Jackie presented my case. The history and the financial state we were in. I think the gas bill was £35 and they were very sympathetic and suggested I retrain into some other job. I remember Harry Miller, the bass player, played quite a good bass at that time, He was also in financial trouble, couldn't pay the gas bill or whatever it was and around about that period he went to the same people and appealed for a hand out and they said "how much is your bass worth?". He told them and they said "well sell it and get a cheaper bass". So yeah, that was a dodgey time financially. I guess the odd bits I got were helping but I couldn't have been doing that much because I was on social security, I was still an honest lad, I would have declared it. I know there was a period when I was working at the Plough in Clapham and I had one gig a week for quite a long time, I mean months. One gig a week, 11 pounds on a Saturday night and I even use to tell them I earned 11 pounds.. and they would make the adjustment to my payment.

During this difficult period Stan received some regular employment from Dennis Preston who produced the Lansdowne Series for Columbia Records and offered Stan work as a leader and arranger for a variety of orchestral projects. It was he who had originally commissioned Under Milk Wood and he seemed at least initially to have Stan's best interest at heart.

It started out that way.. giving me my head but then he tried to mold me into something else. I could be Jack of all musical trades for whichever artist he wanted to project at that time.

He wasn't a jazz person really.

He was a devoted Ellington fan. I don't think he really understood jazz musicians. He did tend to treat them as someone you give a few bob to that keeps them happy. He did seem to have that attitude I seem to remember.

You found later projects considerably uncongenial.

Particularly 'Latin American Caper'. I wasn't interested in Latin American music. I didn't know anything about it but that's what Dennis wanted and what he got was something else.

Did he want to turn you into an up market studio arranger.

I think that was the way it was heading.

Because you did all that stuff with Acker Bilk.

I particularly enjoyed the Acker Bilk albums. 'Blue Acker' and I forget the title of the other one.. 'Horn Of Plenty'. Yeah that was the one with strings. I enjoyed Ackers playing. He's a no bullshit guy. I found it very easy to work with him and like myself not the worlds greatest reader (music) so we got on rather well together.

But he is a jazz player.

Oh yeah.. I enjoy his playing.

By 1970 Stan was fully aware Dennis Preston's plans for him did not coincide with his own. His misgivings occasionally appeared in the titles of his compositions.

Yeah I was getting angry with Dennis at that time and a couple of those titles were digs at him. But he never knew. It was for my own satisfaction.

There's another tune.. I think it's on the 'Perspectives' album, is it JIC.

'Just In Case'

Was that what it is?

Yeah, Dennis had annoyed me, we were having disagreements about the music or whatever. It was something and I called it JIC. It was like an extra tune that we did just in case, but I know it was to do with what was going on him and me at that time. The final thing was he wanted me to write straight work for a classical pianist and a string quintet. Like half an hours written music.. no little funky holes for anybody to blow a couple of choruses in and eat up the time that way. He offered me a hundred pounds to do that... and well, did I want to climb Mount Everest for a £100, and I said no and we just went on our merry way. We parted company there.

Transcript of interview by Geoffrey Smith.
BBC Maida Vale Studios. 12 January 1994