Liverpool musician and presenter Stan Ambrose has died, Getintothis reflects on a Merseyside unsung hero.
Liverpool musician, broadcaster, presenter and grassroots champion Stanley Ambrose has died.
Stan was affectionately known as the harp player and voice of BBC Merseyside’s Folkscene which he had presented for more than four decades.
Born in Barking, Essex, he moved to Liverpool to study psychology and psychiatry in 1961 playing in skiffle bands and forming a club in Southport. In recent times he was often seen playing his harp in Bold Street Coffee or among a myriad of music events across the city.
Getintothis’ Paul Riley leads the tributes to this most popular of Liverpool music champions.
“I never planned to be in a folk band. It wasn’t my thing. I liked rock music, riffs and so on. When, as a wet-behind-the-ears first year student, I first ventured into the world of music promotion, it was out of ease and the path of least resistance that I started out with an ‘Unplugged’ night rather than something noisier.
That ‘characterful’ upstairs room in The Pilgrim was the scene of many random things and many lessons learned. In 2005 we didn’t even have the internet at our house. Promoting shows meant spending a large majority of our ‘university’ time trudging the soggy streets of the city, in holey trainers, giving out flyers to students who generally thought we were nutters.
Somehow, we got people through the door. At first, they were almost all students, all except one. One, was a quiet old dude who walked up the spiral staircase one day and ensconced himself in a booth. Quite why he bothered to come to a night clearly run by a bunch of chancers was, at that point, a mystery to me. In retrospect, I can’t think of anyone else in Liverpool who spent so much of their time going to so many small shows, for so long. Quite how he retained the energy and enthusiasm to do this when so often the shows, particularly with the new and naïve promoters, weren’t exactly enthralling, is a mystery.
Stan Ambrose, or Stan The Harper as we knew him, was a fixture of the folk scene, a stalwart for whom no show was too ‘small’. This is key to his legacy for me – he supported us when we had no reputation, nothing more than idealism and a bit of a dream. £30 on flyers, £20 on posters. The first show, one of the acts didn’t turn up and I had to go onstage myself. I think I played an acoustic version of Limp Bizkit‘s Faith (I did mention I wasn’t a folky back then).
Stan came. He was never critical of someone trying something creative, no matter how catastrophically it turned out.
In later years, when I had been bullied into buying a double bass, was playing in The Random Family and was promoting The Family Folk-Up at St Bride’s Church, and later when we embarked on Liverpool Folk & Roots Festival, Stan was there.
He invited us on to his radio show in order to promote our band’s releases and our events. He was always eager to hear about a new booking, a new song, a new artist.
As an artist himself, he was a wonder. Such a gentle personality, softly spoken, he would sit on his stool, with his little amp by his side, and tell stories in between songs. He would give us the history of the words he was about to sing, or the melody he was about to play. He is one of the few who turned me to the dark side, who showed me that music doesn’t have to be loud to be hard. He opened my eyes to the wealth of knowledge and personal history that can be found in folk music, as well as the passion and joy of those who write it, perform it and patronize it. Stan The Harper, thanks for everything.” – Paul Riley, Getintothis contributor.
Here’s a series of tributes sent to Getintothis following the news of Stan’s death – we will continue to update it as they come in.
Chris and Kaya Carney, Threshold Festival directors: “We were so saddened to hear about Stan passing away. Hearing his harp play in Bold Street Coffee or View 2 Gallery amongst many other places, and just watching him engrossed in his art was an absolute joy. Up until recently it was common to see Stan at gigs all over the city, and he was a true supporter of music and arts to the end. We recorded a Folkscene special with him a couple of years ago and it was again an honour to watch him at work in his other great talent as a broadcaster. A rare gentleman the likes of which we’ll surely never see again.”
Getintothis editor, Peter Guy said: “Stan was one of the very first people I spoke to in the Kazimier back in 2008 – he said how it was great to see something so vital again in Liverpool. I subsequently saw him at many many music events in Liverpool – he was always engaging, always keen to help and had a cheeky, opinionated side too. He was a beautiful man, a gentleman and will be very much missed in Liverpool.”
His love and support for Liverpool music knew no bounds. With the legendary Folkscene show he kept the folk flame burning but he really was a renaissance man, and a fantastic musician in his own right… most will know him as Stan the Harpist, but he played with the likes of APATT, and featured on Super Numeris Ninja Tune release, as well as collaborating with a whole host of other Liverpool artists. A true folk hero – in both senses of the word. Rest in peace Stan.“
Getintothis contributor, Paul Fitzgerald: “Stan was everywhere. Always there, always supportive of Liverpool music of any and all genres, a gentle smile, and a real passion for what he believed in. His work as presenter of Folkscene on Radio Merseyside, was outstanding, bringing a mix of the best in both traditional and contemporary folk music to the airwaves, each show felt like an education. This incredible city of music will miss him greatly.”
John Daglish, musician with The Loose Moose String Band, Sparkwood & 21: “For a few years in the late noughties it felt like I couldn’t go out without being in the charming presence of Stan. From bluegrass sessions to psych rock gigs, folk nights to a coffee in a cafe, he’d usually be there with his stories and more often than not his harp. He was political and educational but he’d never push his views, he used music to get his points across. While singer songwriters poured their hearts out over their latest loss of love, Stan would be singing songs from the first world war (long before the centenary celebrations). He was always on the lookout for new music and had some great sessions on folkscene.”
Thom Morecroft, song-writer, said: “I am absolutely heartbroken to hear of Stanley Ambrose passing away.
Stan was one of the most vibrant members of his generation. Originally starting out as a social worker from Way Down South, Stan’s love and interest in local Liverpool folk music brought him to a microphone at BBC Radio Merseyside, where he was truly irreplaceable for over 50 years. A lot of people will know him as the harp player in Bold Street Coffee, and as a musician Stan’s love of music was an inspiration to anyone caught in conversation with him.
“He was a thorn in the side of the BBC establishment – he hated all the new executives calling to make the BBC ‘more competitive’, and would be outspoken on changes to local programming and decision making. He saw his beloved BBC as fulfilling a public service role, and was passionate about the role of local radio.
One turn of phrase Stan was fond of spinning out was this: “Do you know what the most beautiful word in the English language is? It’s anarchism.” This may shock some of you but others will be well aware of Stan’s political beliefs. He saw people trying to order things as the root of much evil and mayhem. Stan hated boxes of all kinds in every way when it came to art and life. He believed in mess almost ideologically.
He refused to be ‘a musician’; instead he ‘played music’. He was not a ‘broadcaster’; sometimes he just broadcasted. He said that once you have a label pinned on you it limits you in life. Nothing was ruder to Stan than someone asking ‘what are you’.
“I just thought he was superbly wonderful and I feel so so lucky to have known him, and totally honoured to have been on Folkscene with him twice. Formatted with no ego whatsoever; Folkscene on BBC Merseyside was set around the musician or the folk artist or band he brought in. He prerecorded an interview with them and edited himself out, leaving the music and person’s words to speak for themselves. A pop singer performs at people, a singer-songwriter sings for people but a folk singer sings WITH people.” Maybe he got this from someone else, but I tend to remember this as one of his. Good night Stan – you were loved.”
Jamie Bowman, Getintothis contributor said: “He was just a nice bloke – always used to chat with him in the Caledonia. I liked the way he was always interested in what young people were doing music wise.”
Mike Neary, actor and star of Cold Feet, said: “He had a completely open mind which is surely the greatest quality any artist can have. It is rare if not more or less unheard of for a virtuoso to have such generosity of spirit. The music world needs more artists like Stan, not fewer.”
John Smith, musician, said: “Stan Ambrose was a true gentleman, possessed of a quiet authority. He spoke with tremendous insight and knowledge, a real lover of music. He was a beautiful harpist and a good laugh. I remember early on, going to noisy gigs in Liverpool and wondering about the old boy up at the front of the crowd, shuffling on his dancing feet. The next day I’d see him plucking his harp in some cafe, maybe I’d have a quick chat with him as he sipped his tea. Stan was always very kind to me and to every young musician on the scene. He was also one of the longest serving presenters on the BBC – indeed, the longest on Radio Merseyside, doing important work on his ‘Folkscene’ show. My sessions on that show were such fun, such a privilege. He knew his stuff like no-one else. Rest In Peace, Stan.”
Angie Waller, Impropriety theatre, said: “I came to Liverpool in 2006 and was swept into the open arms of MelloMello and The Kazimier. Stan was a constant throughout that. He was a stalwart in grassroots music and theatre and supported everyone that he encountered. He was genuinely interested in what everyone was doing and seemed to thrive on their enthusiasm. Many of us know him for his harp playing and he seemed to just genuinely enjoy playing, some examples being; the majority of an Impropriety 33 and a half hour Improvathon; I had a massage in a tent on Princes Avenue to his music during a Princes Parade Street party; he also played for mine and Trev’s wedding ceremony at St Brides church. I just hope that he knew how respected and loved he was from us all and hope he’s teaching the cherubs a thing or two about music!”
Graham Holland, Liverpool Acoustic director: “I’m deeply saddened to hear about the death of Stanley Ambrose. I first saw Stan during the late 1980s when he played the penny whistle in Cream of the Barley downstairs at Flanagan’s Apple on Mathew Street. I used to stand there, underage, Guinness in hand, and in awe at the dexterity of his playing. I got to know him during the ten years I ran and co-hosted the Come Strut Your Stuff open floor poetry and acoustic music night at the Egg Cafe. It was a wonderful feeling to walk up the winding stairs to the sweet sound of Stan’s harp drifting down to meet me.