COUNTRY MAN with ex-BBC Radio presenter Stan Laundon

Magic times don’t come around too often but David Bowie had a few with ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Starman’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ where he could be wagging his finger singing the brilliant nursery rhyme lyric ‘My mama said, to get things done, You’d better not mess with Major Tom’.  After watching the TV series Life on the Road with Brian Johnson his guest was Dolly Parton telling him that her two biggest hits, ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ were written in the same night – not just a magic time, that’s a magic hour. With ‘I Will Always Love You’ Whitney Houston banked millions for DP in song writing credits while ‘Jolene’ has been covered by many artists including dark goth rock band The Sisters of Mercy.

Dolly features in this interview with former Radio presenter Stan Laundon who throughout his career has interviewed and worked for many stars… In 1974 I made my first ever visit to Nashville, Tennessee, and because of my BBC connections I met up with a host of country stars including Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty and one of my own idols, Jerry Reed. Jerry wrote US Male and Guitar Man both tracks eventually recorded by Elvis Presley. During my time in Nashville I was looked after by a public relations man who asked me where I was from and I told him Hartlepool, and gave him the story of the Hartlepool Monkey.

(Legend has it that during the Napoleonic Wars a shipwrecked monkey was hanged by the people of Hartlepool, believing him to be a French spy. To this day, people from Hartlepool are affectionately known as ‘monkey hangers’).

Unknown to me he relayed the story to Dolly Parton, who I met three times in the week I was there. On my third meeting Dolly smiled and held her hands to her throat! When I asked her what all that was about she replied ‘You’re a Monkey hanger!’ So I’m proud to have been called that by such a huge star (laughs).

Dolly Parton

Stan with Dolly Parton in Nashville, Tennessee June 1974. Photograph © Shay Brogan.

Are you from a musical family Stan ? No my parents rarely listened to the radio when I was young. I got interested in music when I was at school. There were one or two lads who played guitar at break times and I thought, maybe I’d like to play the guitar one day. I remember I was introduced to the music of Gilbert & Sullivan for the first time when one of the teachers arranged for the schoolboys and girls to stage HMS Pinafore.

However, it was my time away from school when, like many teenagers I listened every night to Radio Luxembourg, early pop music and especially Lonnie Donegan. It was a few years later when the British pop scene took hold and I got into the music of Joe Brown, Billy Fury, Johnny Kidd and The Pirates and so on. It was round this time when I was introduced to country music and enjoyed the early recordings of Johnny Cash, George Jones and Buck Owens.

After leaving school what was your first job ? As my father had been at sea for most of his early life I thought it might be a good idea to try to follow in his footsteps. My father agreed but my mother said an abrupt ‘No!’ she said I’d be better off serving an apprenticeship. So it was off to Richardsons and Westgarth to serve my time as a turner.

Also round this time I persuaded my mother to buy me a guitar. I bought a copy of Bert Weedon’s tutor book Play In A Day and a friend of mine also gave me lessons. My time in the factory also introduced me to another musician, Alan Lindridge. He used to laugh at me singing songs by Lonnie Donegan. The laughter turned to friendship and both me and my neighbour, Billy Crallan, joined up with Alan in his pop group The Trakkers about 1959/60.

You ran Joe Brown’s Fan Club, how did that come about ? When I was about 18 I was a member of Joe’s Fan Club and was told that the young lady who ran the club was about to give it up to go and train as a nurse. The idea of running Joe’s fan club appealed to me so I tried to arrange a meeting with him at a theatre in Sunderland. Thankfully, the management passed on my request and I managed to meet up with him after the show.

Coincidentally, I met Billy Fury in the hotel car park who took me into a reception area when he called Joe to come down to meet me. After some discussion Joe said he’d like me to run the fan club and I had to write to his manager in London about our conversation. After the paperwork was completed the Official Joe Brown Fan Club was run by me from my mother’s house in Dyke Street, West Hartlepool.

What were your duties in running the fan club ? When Joe had his number one hit with A Picture of You in 1962 the number of fan letters he was receiving went from just a couple of dozen a week to hundreds! I was a busy young man at this time – playing with The Trakkers, working in the factory and running Joe’s fan club. This was long before the days of computers – so all fan mail replies had to be written on a typewriter. I couldn’t do it all so I telephoned Joe and said I can’t continue. He said ‘Then pack it in’ I said I was sorry it had come to this and he said ‘No, you don’t understand, I mean pack your job in and come and work for me in London!’ I didn’t think twice, so at the tender age of 19, I did as he said and moved to London and spent four happy years with him down there from ‘62 until ‘66.

On my arrival in London I was fortunate enough to be staying with Joe’s mother in Wanstead and, after six or seven months, things were about to change again. Joe called round one day and said ‘I want you to pack it in!’ I thought what have I done wrong. ‘I’m sorry’ I said. He then replied ‘No, get someone else to run the fan club because I want you on the road with me!’  So I became his road manager – even though I couldn’t drive at the time – and I travelled all over the country with him doing shows with Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Johnny Kidd and others. I even met The Beatles and Roy Orbison at The Empire Pool, Wembley in March 1963.

Eventually Joe stopped touring as he went into the West End to appear in a musical called Charley Girl with Dame Anna Neagle. I was beginning to get a little bored and decided to find another job and say my goodbye’s to Joe which I did in October ‘66 and moved back home to Hartlepool. For the next few years I did some freelance work as a journalist writing a country music column in Hartlepool Mail as ‘Country Boy’ and following motor sport at Croft, near Darlington, and reporting on that too.

How did you get involved in radio Stan ? In 1970 I read in my local paper that a BBC radio station was planned for Teesside. With my musical background I applied for a job and was fortunate enough to be given a position as a technical operator at BBC Radio Teesside in September 1970.

The radio station went on air for the first time on New Year’s Eve 1970 and because of my interest in country music, the management allowed me to present a programme called ‘Country Time’ which was broadcast for 25 minutes. This proved to be popular and in February ‘71 they increased the programme running time from 45 minutes. Then in 1972 it went to an hour before eventually running live for two hours every Sunday afternoon. The programme ran for 21 years!

Looking back how would you sum up your career in radio ? I had 23 very enjoyable years at the BBC, starting as it was as BBC Radio Teesside, becoming BBC Radio Cleveland in 1974 and now BBC Tees. Needless to say I was a very happy man and they invited me back in April 2011 to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of local radio on Teesside when I presented another two hour show on Easter Sunday!

To contact Stan check his official website: 

www.stanlaundon.com 

 Interview by Gary Alikivi  February 2020.