My favourite guitarist in the world is Mark Pringle, obvs, but – for the time he was active in the London scene in the late sixties and early seventies – Martin Stone ran him a close second. Many nights were spent nursing a pint of that horrible seventies’ version of an alcopop, lager & lime, at the Greyhound in Fulham and watching his band, Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers. Not quite as mellow as Bees Make Honey, not quite as rocky as Head, Hands and Feet, not quite as threatening as Kilburn & The High Road, the Peppers were my favourite band of that period – they swung (Pete Thomas was the drummer), they had vim and attack (especially where Martin was concerned), they played great songs and they were funny (frontman Phil Lithman left to rejoin San Francisco avant wackos, The Residents). When he played something particularly wonderful Martin would peer from under his woolly hat and crack a mischievous smile. Now, Martin (who quit the music business and became an antiquarian book seller/scout) is ill and the NHS won’t fund his treatment as he lives in Paris. It’s time to partly pay him back for those nights when the Kings of the Robot Rhythms reigned over Balham’s Bongos – go to the Just Giving site here.
And here’s an excerpt from a vivid piece by Martin that I loved, written in tribute to a book collecting mentor (and I remember that flat in Cannon Street Road, too – Martin shared it with the aforementioned M. Pringle):
“I first met Peter at the Olympia Bookfair in the late 1970s; he had a table of James Joyce in absolutely marvelous condition, many of them inscribed. I stood there hypnotised. I was new to the game, working the coal face of the book trade, a bottom-feeding outsider. I had never seen books like these; a first edition of Joyce’s Dubliners, brand-new in dust-jacket, that had never been tipped out of a sack at five in the morning in Brick Lane market.
Peter peered down at me with avuncular concern. “Stay well away from Joyce,” he said. “He’s a nightmare to buy and sell.”
He said he’d like to see my books and I gave him my address and phone number. He ignored the phone, and sometime after midnight there was a rapping at my window.
“Fuck off,” I yelled. My home was in Whitechapel; bad people sometimes tried to get in under cover of darkness.
“Now, now, Martin, it’s Peter Howard and I’m here to buy your books.”
A fellow member of the 24-hour club. I hid the cocaine and let him in.
He pointed at the far wall of my storeroom. “What are all those?”
“Minor Edwardian and Victorian fiction.”
“There’s no such thing as minor.”
“Er, no, of course not… I mean, I rather like them all really.”
“How much for the wall?”
I was checkmated; it was the first time I’d encountered the omnivore approach to book buying.
“Well, some of them are a bit more but mostly they’re about two pounds each.”
“Why can’t they be more, Martin?”
No book dealer had ever asked me that question, either.”