Whilst visiting Paris this month, I caught up with Jersey born multi-instrumentalist, Owen Thomas aka Stanley Forbes. As well as his many adventures of musical discovery and living a bohemian life in Prague, we discussed his mind-altering experiences and how he has ended up living in Paris for the last three years.
So Owen, when did your interest in music begin?
I don’t remember ever not liking it, although my tastes have changed over the years. My first ambition, aged about five, was to be in a Wham tribute band. I started piano lessons at 8 years old, and moved on to drums when I was 12. Playing in a teenage rock band, Dionysus (hell yeah what a name!), meant that my pals kept leaving their guitars at my house, so I taught myself to play songs by artists like The Velvet Underground and Leonard Cohen, and started writing my own, gut-poppingly awful songs at about 14. At 17, I joined a local jazz/latin/funk group called The Loneliest Monkfish, playing the bongoes, and used to record demos on a four track with a great unknown talent of Jersey, Robert Watkins, and Chris Wackrow from Velofax, who’s now in an excellent group called The Oscillation.
Did you go on to study music at University?
I studied Enterprise Management, which wasn’t Star Trek training, but was supposed to be management of the performing arts industry. I say ‘supposed to be’ because the course sucked harder than a Murray Mint addict, and I couldn’t complete it because I ended up losing part of my brain on LSD and ecstasy playing bongoes in a drum ‘n’ bass club every week with the best DJs of the genre. I left after just one year of living in a haunted house with six evangelical Christians, and moved back to Jersey for about two years, before moving to Prague to take a TEFL course.
How long did you live in Prague for and what did you get up to there?
I arrived at the end of May 2001, and fell in love with Prague straight away, literally on the drive from the airport to the city. During the TEFL course I met a lot of great people, most of whom are socially awkward nincompoops I am honoured to still call my friends. Although I left in September of that year for a teaching contract in Milan, I was back in Prague by January, and I stayed until August 2003, hanging out with some brilliant bluegrass musicians and playing in a group called Supercool with a thalidomide victim on bass, who plays with his feet and is one of the most inspirational characters I have ever met, and a soft porn-star on vocals. Prague is a beautiful place, with beautiful women, beautiful beer, and an incredible literary, musical and artistic history. I fell in love five times a day. I also recorded an album there with Robert Watkins in a £1.50-per-hour studio run by a massive speed freak called George. One day, I got religiously high (my dealer was called Moses) and became convinced my body was possessed by the ghost of a dead Russian pianist called Dmitri, who for about three months afterwards would channel beautiful piano concertos through my head. Dmitri had made a bad choice however. I couldn’t actually write music down. So I decided to go to Bristol, become a famous musician, and employ someone to notate Dmitri’s oeuvre, to worldwide acclaim. This is actually true.
When was Stanley Forbes created?
I managed to convince Robert to come with me to Bristol, but it didn’t work out for him, so he decided to leave after about six months. I was musically alone for the first time, but still had the burning desire to play, so I started writing my own lyrics. I found that I could write silly songs pretty easily, but any attempt to write from the heart would descend rapidly into arsemilk. So I stuck with the silly songs. My first song with lyrics was called Hello Vera, about a crush I had on a 62 year-old beautician student of mine. After writing my next song, Everybody’s At The Orgy, I realised that this music needed a name, and in drunken conversation on holiday in Jersey I settled on Stanley Forbes. I played my first solo gig in 2004 during the same trip, for Martin Coxshall’s Monkey Mondays at The Blue Note, and I ended up winning a Golden Banana award for the performance of that year, which was very encouraging. Back in Bristol, I formed a band with some utterly fabulous musicians, including a 67 year-old Hells Angel called Doctor Doom (who’s almost died three times in his life due to his former job as an intravenous amphetamine tester) on banjo.
We were either called The Cocks Of Steel or The Goats Of Fury, or something else, and we played many festivals, burlesque shows, poetry nights, and ‘normal’ gigs. I also started a radio show, The Anti-Sobriety Variety Show, which invited fantastic Bristol bands and poets to perform live. I lived professionally as a musician for a couple of years with The Cocks Of Steel and we became well-known in Bristol and London’s burlesque scene.
And now you’re in Paris, how did you end up here?
Well, every expat everywhere ran away for a reason, and mine was a broken heart. In Bristol I fell in love with a concert pianist called Rossanne Hamilton, who was also the first president of Bristol University’s pole-dancing society, but ultimately she broke my heart, so in April 2008 I was lost, blown apart, and needed a change. In June, Tony Wrafter asked me to play a gig with him in a chateau in Cognac. This was definitely the most decadent gig of my life. There was free wine and cognac, a cacophony of illicit substances, most of which I’d never even heard of, and we had the mother of all parties for two weeks. There was a constant movement of people, with a minimum of twenty at any one point, but the main event was one Saturday night, where everyone from the nearest villages came (about 300), and the birthday girl Marie arrived in a helicopter. Now she’s in prison for dealing ecstasy. Don’t sell drugs, kids! At the chateau I met Mivsam Noiman, an exquisitely talented violinist, and her astrophysicist partner Jeremy, who offered me a place to stay if ever I considered moving to Paris. I thought, why not, and so in October 2008 I moved here and found a job teaching English. I’ve also continued music in Paris, producing an extremely lo-fi YouTube series of songs from my room, imaginatively entitled ‘Stanley Forbes – Songs From My Room’, which includes a song detailing the entire 10,000-year history of Jersey in nine verses. I’ve also produced the soundtracks to four films with totally different themes: Auschwitz, LSD, dead dogs, and holidays, one of which apparently won a prize at an International Film Festival. This year I have also produced some horrid, hackneyed tunes that no one’s ever gonna care about, and put them up on Myspace under my own name. Paris has been great, but I’ve sort of had enough now. Paris is like the most beautiful girl at school – everyone wants to be near her, even though she has no idea how to be nice to people.
So, where in the world next?
Who knows? I thought I was going to China until only three days ago, but that’s fallen through at the last minute. In two weeks’ time I’ll have nowhere to live and no job. I’m not too concerned, though, because if there’s one thing the world needs, it’s musical satirists from small islands. Oh sorry, I mean English as a Foreign Language teachers.