The Radical Love of Stanley Ambrose

The Radical Love of Stanley Ambrose

By Tom Calderbank

The weekend of the 6th and 7th August 2016 saw the end of an era.

It was the weekend of Stan Ambrose’s funeral. And as strange as it sounds, it couldn’t have been better. The weather was glorious, when me and Iris arrived at his old house in Ampthill Road. Incredible place, Ampthill: the number of key cultural figures that have lived (and continue to live) on this street is incredible, and surely worthy of a future Nerve article.

Stan, though, was always an extra special one.

The News From Nowhere women got it right in their simple window tribute to him in the immediate aftermath of the news that he’d died. Alongside his harp and the incredible portrait by Danny Margetts, they wrote:

A Tribute to STAN AMBROSE 1930-2016. Musician, singer and folk club founder. Critic. Anarchist social worker. Radio presenter ‘Folkscene’. Raconteur. Sublime Harpist. Friend. Pioneer of family therapy.

If it’s possible to summarise a life like his, this is as good as you’ll see (although that should technically be ‘harper’, NfN: Stan would have pulled you on that). Neighbours came out to pay their respects as the hearse arrived. A wicker coffin topped with a beautiful floral display. His harp music drifted out of the windows of the hearse, gently announcing to the world he was on his way out.

The ride around Sefton Park was incredible in the sunshine. The whole day seemed bursting with life. There was a small crowd waiting for him at the Palm House. Someone played ‘Auld Lang Syne’ on a harmonica, sublimely. There was something so poignant in that moment. His hearse like a music box, softening everyone’s grief, a little. Then it was time. As we pulled away, the people gave him a last round of applause. There was a real sense of “Ar ay, we’re really gonna miss you, y’know, Stan….”

The funeral was simple and private, just how he wanted it. Heartfelt. It was all so free of the usual bullshit attached to these things. I know Stan would have approved. Mostly approved. He was buried in a beautiful woodland called GreenAcres in Rainford. It’s Derby Knoll 12, plot number 287, if you’d like to go and visit.

stan-tribute2

Then we had two days of commemorative events to let the community say goodbye. After all, Stan was famous, a genuine folk hero. Not that he ever fell for that particular ego trap. (He once told me of being introduced to someone as ‘a legend’. He looked at the guy and said: “That’s your problem, not mine”).

The first was at The Florrie on the Saturday evening, the second at Sefton Park Palm House on the Sunday. Both venues were close to his heart, for their outstanding beauty as well as the fact that they were brought back from the brink of destruction by people power. Both venues gave their spaces for free.

The Florrie played host to a proper folk session that night, from the school they demolished to build the old school. The sizeable audience included members of Southport’s Bothy Club, which Stan helped set up over 50 years ago, still going strong. There were lots of great performances, including Clive from Bothy, Neil Campbell’s ‘After The Flood’, the Liverpool Socialist Singers, Judy McLoughlin, Buster and John Chandler and notably by Hughie Jones from The Spinners. Stan’s nephew Phil held it all together and gave some outstanding performances himself, including a stunning rendition of ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ with his son Richard. But really, it’s a bit of a red herring to single out individual performances, as this was a group effort, a folk effort, and there was a very high quality of talent on show throughout. Everyone really rose to the occasion. There were times that night I felt I was witnessing the best (and last) of an age of cultural expression. The end of an era. The idea and practice of people getting up, giving a Music Hall-style turn, a song, a poem, a musical interlude. A whatever. This was a community preserving the old ways. This was ritual empowerment, done with the deepest of affection for someone the likes of whom we’ll seldom see again. And to end, sea shanties with Phil and Hughie. Really, you couldn’t have asked for more. Jackie and Bridie would have been proud!

So would Stan….

If Saturday was for performance, Sunday was for reflection.

The Palm House was perfect.

We’d set up a simple tribute to him, with his harp and Danny’s portrait, as before. In addition, there were some crystals, two woven corn decorations, his book on ‘RADICAL LOVE’, and a lovely candle-powered carousel of Liverpool landmarks going round and round. We’d also set out a photo album with some great pictures in (my faves were of him and his fellow members of Super Numeri, looking like avant-garde superheroes), and a book of condolence. His harp music played on the PA and an episode of ‘Folkscene’ (well, it was Sunday). Tea and biscuits all around. A steady stream of people came throughout the day, all to pay respects, console each other, and mark his passing. All spoke of their love for him, and how he’d touched their lives in some profound way.

By the time his nephew Phil arrived to take his harp from the city forever, it wasn’t the sad event I thought it would be. It just was what it was. It’s life.

And it moves

The whole weekend was a thing of rare and fragile beauty.

Even in death, Stan was generous and loving and kind. At the Philharmonic earlier this year, Burt Bacharach and the rest of us sang: “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love…..” Perhaps the outpouring of love sparked by Stan’s demise was just what we all needed at that moment of dire need. A reminder of what really counts in this veil of tears.

When me and Iris set off on our path to walk with Stan, little did we know that we weren’t walking Life with him; we were walking Death. A good Death.

We walked Death with the radical Stanley Francis Ambrose. And it was one of the privileges of our lives. A truly transformative experience. The radical love that he espoused is one that is all encompassing, and includes everyone. We’re all going to the top, all of us. Together. It’s a walk through the fire of alchemical transformation, creating Gold in the Soul. All the teachers since time began have spoken of our condition as humans. They entreat us not to believe the lie that we’re separate, apart from one another, alone. We’re interconnected. We are energy.

We are ONE.

So, as we pick up the gauntlet he threw down (Liverpool’s looking for a new harper-in-residence, if anyone’s got the courage….? Pay’s not good, but the green teas are great), it’s worth thinking about how best to remember him.

Some ideas I’ve heard so far include setting up a Trust fund; establishing an annual festival (‘Stanstock’?); a blue plaque; a tribute album; a playable harp sculpture; and digitising his Folkscene archive and making it available to the people. The latter is certainly a must, and plans are afoot to make it so.

There’s more tribute nights planned. The Kazimier Gardens are hosting one this Saturday 13th, 4-late, at their wonderful oasis on Seel Street. Liverpool Acoustic have one on the Friday 26th in the View 2 Gallery on Mathew St from 8pm. And in a lovely touch, the Folk on the Dock festival at the end of the month is naming its Newcomers Stage in his honour. How apt for a man who so resoundingly passed his audition. Played, everyone.

A few people have said they can imagine him playing his harp on a cloud right now. To which I reply: only if it’s a cloud of dust from the collapse of the world’s tyrannies. An end to all the dictators that unjustly rule us, both inner and outer.

No one involved in this weekend was left unmoved.

Stan Ambrose touched us all with his gentle, powerful, radical, eternal love.

And for that, we’re all most grateful.
Thank you and goodnight, Stan.
X

From The Ambrose to The Planet

From The Ambrose to The Planet
We place our bets and take our chance
It’s not about who wins
But how we step in time and dance.

Across lapping waves
And cries of birds
The old sea shanties
Can still be heard.
The Sea called you;
Your blood surged with the tide.
The Mersey called you:
And Stanley, with all your heart you replied:
‘Yes’.
The Singing City’s adopted son,
Time and tide calling you on.

Through instruments you made your bonding
With the folks on the scene,
As you moved through the fair,
Like you’d been here before, in a dream
And like a tapestry weaving music
You became Simply –
Stan The Man.
Gentle strength rippled through the world,
Wherever you strummed your Pilgrim’s harp,
And as in war you led the line
Forged in a spiritual fire of radical love.
As by heart, a singular Stanarchist you became
You were. You remain…
The spirit of the song reborn, again and again

You were dedicated to preserving the old ways
Through the radio and the sea waves,
Ushering in the new days,
Editing your ego,
Unfettered by convention
And placing the rightful singers of the song.
Centre stage, where they belong.
Your ear blessed many a lost friend
Supported all us misfits and loose ends,
The lonely and the maddened.
The depth of your compassion,
Met only by the heights your music reached
And the graceful aplomb with which you played
A healer with a harp, bending time
So we could all stand at the top of Bold Street, together,
And gaze at the maw of Eternity.

Like when you played…
When you played at my wedding
– 4 days after the planes -, and you
Made everything right again
Made us believe in our higher selves
Made us feel happy, mythic and true
Made time stand still again.
So I could look at my bride anew.
For that alone, I thank you.

Like when you played
In St Luke’s
For a gig against war,
When the wind played your harp
Made our spirits soar.
….
Like when you played
At The Kaz
To a Glorious Faust
And with gentle force
You brought down the house.

Like when you played
At the Service
Of Remembrance and Hope
For all the lost babies at the Women’s….

Like that warm and wise ‘hello’
When we’d meet in Mellomello,
Like when, like when, like when.
You played so much. You did it again.

And we found in your Great Spirit, always
A cosmic solace…
Now the stars spell out your name:
Stan.
Not a legend. Just one hell of a man.
A 1-man Republic: STANISTAN!
You had the courage to be yourself in a world
Trying to make you like everybody else.
“Be a verb, not a noun,”
Now how your life seems like a challenge or dare:
For anyone who cares to listen,
For everyone who really cares.

Race you from The Planet to The Ambrose
We place our bets and take our chance
It’s not about who wins
But how we step in time and dance.

3 Comments


  1. Lovely moving tribute to a very special man.

    Reply

  2. Well written, Tommy. Stan was/is a special presence indeed..

    Reply

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