It’s always difficult to begin a review when you receive the news that the artist in question has sadly passed away… John Cee Stannard survived skin cancer in 2004 but, last year, saw it return and spread to his liver and lungs and he finally succumbed on 17th March 2020.
Before that sad day, he poured his soul into completing three albums: a folk album called Folk Roots Revisited; a final Tudor Lodge album called Life Goes On and the one I will discuss here, the blues album When The Time Is Right. Bluesdoodles sends heartfelt sympathy to his widow, Angie, and all who knew and loved him. We will always remember him as a consummate musician and riveting storyteller, with the unerring ability to share warmth, humour, and passion.
I think the best summary I can offer of this talented man’s career is to share my introduction to his last album, Moving On…
The Berkshire, UK town of Reading is normally thought of, to music lovers at least, as the town near London that is home to the festival of the same name. However, it is also the birthplace of such notables as the creator of Paddington Bear Michael Bond, David Byron of Uriah Heep, John Sykes of Thin Lizzy, Alma Cogan, and none other than Oscar Wilde spent time in prison there. (Read his ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’ to see that he was a genius as well as a consumer of absinthe). You can also add to that list the country, folk, blues musician, John Cee Stannard. He is a founder of the folk group, Tudor Lodge, and has been involved in music for over forty years. If that wasn’t enough, he also finds time to be a radio presenter, novelist, and actor…I am reliably informed that he has been an extra in “Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire”, “The Da Vinci Code” and “Skyfall” amongst others. The fascinating thing is that he has used this varied career as a source for his music. His albums to date are blues with country and folk, and one a big band experience; Moving On falls into the latter category and should be listened to as moving on from his 2013 release that went by the self-explanatory name of The Doob Doo Album. It isn’t all brass but more of a horn fuelled blues with country sensibilities collection.
This latest blues based album holds a surprise, for me at least…a few of them were written during a song writing course that John attended…the surprise being that he felt he needed to go on a course when I consider him master storyteller and musician anyway…I suppose you can teach an old writer a few new tricks.
The first song however that was originally destined for Moving On called A Little Bit More; it’s a visit to the barrooms of old with swing, jazz, and a touch of ‘movieness’ with the coned trumpet and classic guitar tones. Biscuits at 02:00 was written during that course and tells a simple story so cleverly with some fascinating music that defies easy description backing it all up.
Nothing In This World was written for John’s wife Angie…the old blues rhythms make this, in hindsight, an even more emotional ride. It has the feel of the old song, That’s Life but with a really neat guitar piece rounding it out. Late In The Evening is a rolling blues written with the harmonica to the fore…there’s another vocal providing some nice counter call pieces and the harp is delicious as its played musically and not overblown.
Go Now is not that one..but it does have a similar drama with the lyrics taking you all over as we get lines like “if a Sparrowhawk knew how to talk”…nonsense perhaps but listen to the rest to hear how well structured John’s work is as he writes words that mean different things to each listener…a rare skill. Musically it is a complex blues-is piece with keys and guitar deserving close attention as they paint nearly as many pictures as the words. Upstate New York was an assignment on the writing course: to write a song in the American Songbook style (Sinatra, Martin, Garland etc.) Mission accomplished and, although not my usual fare, it is still worth a listen.
Devil Behind Closed Doors moves back into a more familiar blues-based song with harp adding colour to the careful piano and guitar phrasing. When The Time Is Right is firmly in the jazz/blues style and could easily come from the 50s lounges as it creates that atmosphere except the slide guitar piece which, though very short, puts a cleve complexion on the whole song. Why Did It Take So Long is about communication, and his co-attendee, Rosa Rankin-Gee contributes massively on this simple yet deep song…both lyrically and musically.
Devil Gonna Take My Soul is more my cuppa as the traditional blues approach is celebrated in all of the song’s makeup…and the all too brief restrained guitar solo is a delight. Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms is a lovely slice of rock ’n’ roll with piano and harp laying down a great background and the lead guitar is perfectly toned for the era. The final track, Still Wild, is the best for me, as it is blues-rock with cerebral touches that mean a few listens are needed…”I’m a product of yesterday’s child” indeed.
So here is the final work of a class musician and it does embody his ability to cross every genre with panache…not a true blues album, but with so many memorable tracks it is certainly worth listening to a few times before you judge because, as with all of John’s work, there is so much more to gleaned from every song that one listen will never do them justice.
Bluesdoodles rating: a Wonderful and varied addition to any blues collection.
1. A Little Bit More
2. Biscuits at 02.00
3. Nothing In This World
4. Late In The Evening
5. Go Now
6. Upstate New York
7. Devil Behind Closed Doors
8. When The Time Is Right
9. Why Did It Take So Long
10. Devil Gonna Take My Soul
11. Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms
12. Still Wild
John Lee Stannard: guitar, vocals
Howard Birchmore: harmonica
Mike Baker: guitar
Spencer Cousins: guitar
Craig Broadfoot: keyboards
Les Calvert: bass
Nick Pentelow: sax
Dean Robinson: drums