There will be a send-off for Stan on Saturday 6th August and Sunday 7th August. Full details here.
I was deeply saddened to hear about the death of Stan 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 total awe at the dexterity of his playing.
I got to know him during the eleven 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. He was such an integral part of the event that on the very rare occasions when he couldn’t make it his absence was noticed by everyone.
Many people across the city knew him as ‘Stan the Harper’ as he would turn up and play at venues such as Bold Street Coffee, the Bluecoat, and Sefton Park Palm House (to name but a few). Stan performed a featured set at Above the Beaten Track a number of years ago and revealed to the captive audience in the Bluecoat’s Sandon Room that he first decided to play the harp after walking into a music store and asking the shop assistant which the hardest instrument was to learn to play. He walked away with an Irish Harp and set about teaching himself how to play it.
Other people primarily knew Stan as the voice of folk on BBC Radio Merseyside’s Folkscene for almost 50 years. For much of that time Stan shared the programme with fellow Folkscene presenter Geoff Speed, with each of them taking turns to produce shows each week. The fact that Folkscene is the longest running specialist music show on UK radio is a testament to Stan’s and Jeff’s dedication. For Stan the show as all about the music and the musicians. He would record an interview then edit out the questions to leave just the musicians talking and playing songs. To be able to ask questions where the answers and responses on their own made perfect sense was one of Stan’s many talents. Stan was never precious about the label ‘folk’ and was generous in giving many local musicians what for some was their first ever radio exposure.
The word ‘legend’ is so often overused, but in Stan’s case it really doesn’t fully capture the stature of the man. His contribution to, and support of, local music and musicians through folk clubs, live performances and presenting Folkscene on BBC Radio Merseyside was truly inspirational. In recent years I discovered just how much and for how long Stan had been involved with folk music in one form or another across Merseyside. It’s a real mystery why he was never recognised through the honours system, although knowing Stan he would probably have turned it down!
He will be sadly missed.
RIP Stan Ambrose
Graham Holland, Liverpool Acoustic
Many people have left comments on the Liverpool Acoustic Facebook page. Here’s a selection.
“Stan was a lovely, gentle man and a very skilled musician who I enjoyed seeing many times performing on whistle and Celtic harp. His dedication to the development of folk music and in particular publicising my own annual Wirral Folk Festival has been outstanding. As most ‘folkies’ will know Folkscene is the longest running folk programme on UK radio due in no small matter to Stan’s excellent contributions. The north west folk scene has lost an icon of the folk and acoustic scene. R.I.P. Stan.” John Owen, Wirral Folk Festival
“Really sad to hear this news about Stan Ambrose. A true legend, champion of music, one of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. His presence was ubiquitious, alas, the city, the music scene will be that much emptier now. Rest in peace Stan.” Mark Pountney
“Had the honour of doing my first BBC session with Stan Ambrose on Folkscene back in 2012. Truly awesome guy and a great inspiration to many!” Simon Madison, Silent Cities
“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 SingerSongwriter 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 x – Thom Morecroft
“Stan Ambrose was a lovely, lovely man. I was introduced to him by Stuart for which I am forever grateful. Ronnie and I had the privilege of sharing his company for Southbound Attic Band cd releases on five of hisBBC Radio Merseyside Folkscene shows and he was always most supportive, great fun and fascinating company. He played for us atAcoustic Dustbowl on several occasions at View Two Gallery despite the gruelling stairs and played his wonderful harp music at Americana 10 at the sadly defunct Contemporary Urban Centre, where he gave the whole event an air of dignity and warmth, his trademark. I was lucky to chat with him on many occasions at the Bluecoat, Bold St Coffee and the Green Fish and introduce him to my family, who loved him. He was a caring, gentle, man I feel very lucky to have been able to call a friend. RIP Stan the Man.” Barry Jones, The Southbound Attic Band
Remembering Stan Ambrose
Graham Holland is the owner and editor of the Liverpool Acoustic website, and runs Liverpool Acoustic’s award-winning live music events with local musician Stuart Todd. In real life he’s a Web Development Officer, has been producing podcasts on a regular basis since July 2006, and runs a number of websites for other organisations. He lives in Wavertree with his husband and their cat Xiao Hei.
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