John Cee Stannard has been a singer-songwriter for more than fifty years and during that time has been privileged to work with lots of talented musicians. Before releasing his first solo blues based album he was a founder member of the folk group Tudor Lodge which was originally formed in 1968. We started playing at the White Horse in Reading, England and later we made appearances at other clubs on the folk circuit. In 1970 Lyndon Green and John were joined by American singer and flautist, Ann Steuart.
Tudor Lodge then toured the English folk circuit for over two years, teaming up with manager Karl Blore towards the end of 1970, and releasing our first album in 1971: “Tudor Lodge” (Vertigo 6360043). Later that year, we appeared at the prestigious Cambridge Folk Festival and also at Weeley Festival in Essex.
In January 2011, I wrote half a dozen songs. One of them was a bluesy number; five of those songs fell by the way side, but the blues number had struck a chord. Over the next few months, a couple of dozen blues based songs had joined the growing list of songs which took me in a completely new direction. It was as if I had found his voice. By the summer I knew that these songs had to be the basis of a solo project. It took until August of 2012 for recording to start, and by December it was done. Mixing took a further three months. In May 2013, the John Cee Stannard Blues Orchestra CD, the “Doob Doo” album, was launched.
01. How did you get started in music?
My introduction to pop music was the late 50’s, the days of Radio Luxemburg, Perry Como still at the top of the charts, then along came rock ‘n’roll. Elvis, Cliff, Tommy Steel, Marty Wilde, and the list goes on. I got my first guitar around 1958 for seven guineas. I started strumming chords to “When The Saints Go Marching In”. Got a lot of help from Bert Weedon’s “Play In A Day”, and concentrated on learning all those Shadows tunes. Hank Marvin was a hero then. Maybe still is. The first group I was in was called (don’t laugh) Jonny Ringo And The Rustlers. OK, you can laugh. This was around 1959 and I played lead guitar a la Hank Marvin, and of course we played Apache, as well as many non shadows instrumentals of the time such as “Walk Don’t Run” and “Perfidia” by the Ventures. Great days. Then the 60’s came and the Beatles influenced the future of pop in a big way.
02 .Where did your direction come from?
Much of my direction over the years has come from what I can and can’t do. I found picking out simple melodies very easy. So the early pop, Hank Marvin direction was clear. I could never play big, fast and furious solos, or be a fast and furious rock person, so that direction was blocked. The mid 60’s saw many brilliant Hammond based RnB outfits burst onto the scene. Zoot Money is still at it, as is Georgie Fame. So I fancied a go at keyboard no, unfortunately I couldn’t really play, but I didn’t see why that should stop me. So I bought a farfisa compact organ and learned to play Green Onions. That tune got me into a local pop group, The Mackandas. The next change of direction came when I gave my sister a lift to the Albert Hall to see Bob Dylan’s first concert there. I knew nothing of this music, but when the Mackandas split, the lead singer (John) his girlfriend and I formed a trio, called The Trio, and we started with some Dylan material. That partnership was short lived, but it led me to the local folk club, the White Horse in Reading (Run by a chap named Sid who refused to advertise in case the government paid him a visit). That of course led to Tudor Lodge and the next 47 years of music. The new change of direction came purely by chance after writing a few blues songs. I did not decide to do that they just came that way. So the change of direction to blues was drivel solely by the songs. This was then reinforced by an absolute love for what I was doing.
03. Who were your major influences and inspirations?
I honestly believe that everyone I see influences me, even if only in a minute way. Mike Cooper was a major influence. I’m talking about his work in the late 60’s, up to maybe 71′. But strangely, it is only now that it is influencing some of my musical style. Paul Mills has also been an influence on this new musical path. He contributed some great piano work to “The Doob Doo Album”. Whilst Hugh Laurie has not influenced the musical style and delivery, his albums, particularly his first album, were quite an influence on the approach to album production.
04. What inspires you to make your current type of songs and sound?
The one fact that inspires to to continue on the path I seem to be treading, is quite simply, that I am having so much fun. It is satisfying and rewarding in so many ways. I’m having the time of my life so of course I want that to continue. What greater motivation or inspiration could there be to continue this current song writing and performance style?
If you are asking what inspires the individual songs, the answer is, almost exclusively nothing. Other than the huge musical heritage of the blues. Outside of that, it is fiction, and I don’t decide to sit down and write a song about this or that. They are never about me (with one very small exception.)
05. What can someone who has never seen you live before expect from your shows?
I find this one hard. Luckily at a show last week, a superb local singer named Richard Cox-Smith came up with quite a good genre title Easy Blues. Although amplified of course, it is essentially acoustic blues tho I prefer to say blues based. It is not hard, full on blues. There is some country blues. Some with a slight rag-time feel, some with a slightly jazzy feel. Rock’n’Reel said the album was “…a very English nod to the blues.” I can’t argue with that. American singer songwriter rock and amazing guitar player Janet Robin said the album is like Doctor John, I don’t really see that, maybe a bit on the album.
06. How do you begin writing your songs? What types of themes and subjects do you deal with?
I guess we’ve already covered this to some extent. To answer the first part I doodle. I pick up the guitar and just play around. If a riff or phrase sounds good I repeat it over and over and see if it takes me anywhere. At the same time I will doodle with words anything random. If I’ve been listening to an album by someone else, then a continuation of their theme may come into it. Once I have a verse of words, I look at it to see if it contains a theme I can carry forward and develop. Often I have no idea what a song is about as I write verse 1. A case in point is “Hid Behind The Door”. This is about domestic violence. When I was doodling the first verse, I was drawing on a song I wrote in 1972 which never went anywhere but I remembered the first few lines. It started random, but the last line of the first verse when it came seemed to be about an abusive situation – so I simply followed the theme for the rest of the song. It was an afterthought for the album – but some people say it’s their favourite track. So I don’t pick a subject or theme equally, I won’t shy away from a theme if it presents itself. For example, I was doodling a tune which wasn’t bluesy at all but I followed it through to see where it would go. As it developed, so the words for the first verse came along when I looked back at it, it seemed rather dark, maybe about someone who had had enough of life and wanted to move on. I thought of people who are terminally ill and desperate to be allowed to pass but medical science, coupled with (possibly misplaced) ethics, force us to keep them here for as long as possible so I had a song about euthanasia and suicide. It was far too dark for the album, and the wrong style of music, so I put it out there as a single called “Let Me Go”. A lovely video by Badger Music Media, see it HERE!.
07. How has your music evolved since you first began playing?
Firstly, with respect to the playing, very little in the way of gradual evolution just the occasional huge mutation. 10 years of flat-picking melodies and strumming fairly rigidly. Then along came the finger picking style (largely claw hammer) for Tudor Lodge, which remained almost unchanged for 47 years, and remains so. But then alongside that three years ago in 2011, the blues/rag whatever it is came along and is now an established line running along side the Tudor Lodge line. During this last three years though, the more bluesy style of playing has continued to evolve and develop. Starting with fairly straight forward songs and becoming a bit more interesting and varied. Learning how what you don’t play can be as important as what you do play. And last year, after over 50 years of guitar playing, I decided I could not put it off any longer, and I started having lessons. Thankfully my teacher is not trying to make me unlearn all I’m doing wrong, but is helping me to stretch my ideas and my playing good move. Secondly the music almost exactly the same pattern of development. 10 years of pop. 47 years of folk starting with the songs I wrote 1968 – 1971, and continuing with the songs Lynne has been writing for Tudor Lodge. Then three years of writing my own blues based material and mixing that with standard covers of people like Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, and one or two surprises in a blues style such as “Raining In My Heart”
08. What has been your biggest challenge? How were you able to overcome this?
Ok objectively standing back from it all trying to be honest, lack of confidence. I never really thought of my music was good enough to stand on it’s own. With Tudor Lodge, I have always admired Lynne’s writing and playing, so I could hide behind that. With my own music, yes I was having fun, then making the album was really for me, I found it hard to take it that seriously. But then everyone who contributed, all these fine musicians who did sessions for me, they all found it credible, the feedback was quite astonishing, that in itself was a learning curve for me. How did I overcome it? Well thankfully it was the process that helped me overcome it. I am now feeling really quite confident with it.
09. If you could pick any song, what would you like to cover most and why?
I always though I should never do a song like ‘Georgia’ because the definitive versions have been done. I recently learned it as an exercise. I was persuaded to try it live. It wend down surprisingly well. My teacher recently gave me “God Bless The Child” as an exercise. I just might try that sometime soon. If I thought a could do them justice, then to cover a classic like one of those would be one hell of a thing. Why would I want to attempt that? because it would be one hell of a thing.
10. Where do you envisage being in five years time?
Hopefully still making music. Hopefully still running Tudor Lodge alongside John Cee Stannard and Blue Horizon. We have been so lucky to get the number of gigs that we have since putting the Blue Horizon trio together last autumn. But to get ourselves on the Blues Festival circuit would be a dream. To get a small tour of the UK, or even the continent would be wonderful. To get, even just a handful of gigs in the states would be slightly WOW. Yes of course big gigs and tours would be great, but to make a living at it would be wonderful.
11. Who would you most like to record with?
I’ve had a few dreams here. For some reason, Sandi Thom was one of them. Karla Bonnof is one, though that wouldn’t work well with the blues. Someone I would love to have guesting on an album of mine would be Beverley Skeete. Yes I do day dream of other collaborations, but these are largely completely unattainable. But then what’s wrong with the occasional fantasy.
12. What should we be expecting from you in the near future?
I have just started work on the next album. This will not be the full Blues Orchestra as on “The Doob Doo Album”. It will be just me and Blue Horizon, (Mike Baker on Guitar and Howard Birchmore on harmonica) with added bass and drum. I hope to get that completed and launched by the end of summer 2014. Then I would like to do an album with a jazz band. The material is more or less sorted, and I have had initial chats with potential collaborators. It would be nice to get that done before the end of 2014. I will definitely want to do another Blue Horizon one after that as well as a couple of other album projects I am still developing. Plus, I spent 5 years writing a novel, and if there is no traditional publishing deal in the next few months, I plan to e-publish it myself. My objective is to achieve that before 2014 is done. I’ve recently started writing the occasional blog, which is fun, so will develop that. I also present an on line radio show most weeks and plan to continue with that. It goes out on Blast1386 Thursdays 1:00 to 3:00pm UK time.