Born John Denver Stanley, Dublin 1960, Stano grew up in Artane and showed
no inclination towards a 'musical' career as a child. Attending the local
Christian brothers school and then the technical college, his first choice
of lifestyle was that of the army. After five months there he settied down
to become a carpenter But Stano had always been a non-conformist. His early
schooldays had been chequered by a rebellious streak and at the tech. he
had been noticed for his distinctive writing abiiities. Even though an
avid fan of Bob Dylan's, it wasn't until punk happened that Stano took an
active interest in rock music. During the late seventiff!early eighties,
Stano hung around the Dublin punk scene, went to gigs, and befriended
Johnny 'Rotten' Lydon of The Sex Pistols, who then often came to Ireland
to get away from the hustle and bustle of London's whirligig music
business. Stimulated by the energy of punk, Stano teamed up with Dublin
combo The Threat and started to play synthesiser. Purveyors of a gritty
ultrarealist sound their first single 'Lullaby in C'l'High Cost of Living,
(Web 1980) was well received and made British radio airplay. Like a lot
of groups of the punk period they didn't stay the course and broke up
after a short time.
Not to be discouraged, Stano used all his free time away from his carpentry
job to experiment with sound. Acquiring two tape machines he began recording
from everyday sources, inventing his own version of musique concrete from
television transmissions, gurgling tap water, walking footsteps, tinkling
bottles and clattenng plates. Stano found that by walking around with a tape
recorder on him he could chance upon interesting combinations of sounds
Later these would be re-mixed into other things to make suitable collages.
He was also wnting a lot of poetry--word associations that were not
literally translatable. Open to much interpretation, Stano's wnting was
intended to work on the level of the subconscious like a form of dream
stimulus. Exploring many areas, he used his carpentry to design physical
sculptures, visual constructions that could accompany the sounds he was
hearing in his ears. Through a musician friend, Vinnie Murphy, Stano was
encouraged to follow his muse in a studio context and early in 1982 his
first solo record was released.
The single 'Room "/" Town' on Vox Enterprises was an interesting debut.
Lyncally two icy observations of fragile, broken reality, the arrangements
sound quite unusual. In a deadpan voice Stano sings of stagnant isolation
in a room, to the accompaniment of Vinnie Murphy's plaintive piano. His
own drum machine rhythms and crashing background noises enhance the gloomy
mood of the piece. 'Town' is more in the traditional punk mould, Stano
angrily evoking the sense of desperation in alcoholic street violence
through a funky rhythmic sound. Its quirky drum-machine segments, synth
parts and grand piano ending all help to communicate a chaotic scenario.
On the strength of this one record Stano made a reputation for himself
among the public and press of the rock underground. Saving his money he
bought more time in the studio and with a deal from Deke O'Bnen's Scoff
label completed an album's worth of material. Content to Write in I Dine
Weathercraft came out in 1983 and demonstrated to those who thought Stano
a depressing artist how varied and lively his work could be. Including
'Room', the album has eleven tracks in all. Acting as Iyrical contributor,
sound arranger and producer, Stano involved the talents of many musicians
during the recording sessions. Ex-Van Morrison man Jerome Rimson plays a
neat slap rhythm bass on 'White Fields (in Isis)', a real dance cut.
'Seance of a Kondalike' features the acoustic strains of 'Mo Chara'
(my friend), a sitar-like instrument played by its inventor Michael
O'Shea. Here Stano experiments with his vocals, screaming and screeching
behind the Arabesque pattern of O'Shea's beautiful string tapping.
O'Shea's Eastern infuence is also felt on the poignant 'A Dead Rose'
where he plays both Indian sitar and his Mo Chara to Stano's elegiac vocal.
'Whale' is equally sad; a short song about the cruelty of animal killing,
it is unusually scored by a chunky mid-tempo acoustic guitar riff. This is
an album of much variety--tape-loop experiments, heavy guitar sounds and
BrechtlWeill-type burlesque tracks all snugly fitted together under Stano's
direction. 'Out of the Dark into the Dawn' is the record's finest take and
relies heavily on the emotively powerful piano playing of Roger Doyle. To
this Stano adds an aquamarine-type drum sound, the sweet voice of Suzanne
Rattigan, and a hint of other vocals. Almost Ambient in texture, this
soothing composition has the effect of enthralling one to reverie.
Content to Write in I Dine Weathercraft is a uniquely accomplished collection
of music from an untutored, inexperienced 'non-musician'. Even the early
experimental solo work of Brian Eno looks pale in comparison Wrapped in a
simple, 'homemade' grey sleeve, the album made no impression whatsoever on
the Irish or English record-buying public. Very few people actually heard it
at the time, but those few critics who did raved about it. One English writer
went so far as to label it an'eccentric classic'. Words like introverted,
recluse and outsider were thrown around too readily by rock journalists who
really couldn't see the enormous ground-breaking nature of Stano's work.
Here was somebodly with little or no knowledge of avant-garde music and
electronics who was in reality applying all the innovations of twentieth-
century music to his vision of sound. In the studio, Stano would just let
things happen. If an idea entered his head, then it would be tried
Musicians were brought in not for their virtuosity in a particular style
but because they made a specific sound. Positioning of micraophones,
splicing of tape, backward tracking--whatever the studio threw up to him-
-Stano woud incorporate into his compositions. Vocals were more important
for their intonational qualities than their literal meaning. Few could have
guessed the spontaneous methods in Stano's designs from the highly plolished
music of Content to Write. In time the album would become globally recognised
as exemplary of new directions in contemporary music.
Mixed-media performances, involving slides, film and other artists/musicians,
as well as more advanced recordings using computer electronics, made up his
1984 projects. His unorthodox mixture of words and unprepared music became
more rock-oriented on his second album, Seducing Decadtnce in Morning
Treecrash (a record that did not receive a general release until 1986!).
Although more Iyrical the eight-track Seducing Decadtncc is a much darker
affair than Content to Wnite. Utilising the unusually treated guitar sounds
of Gurdi (ex-Microdisney) and Donald Teskey, a harder rhythmic drum sound
courtesy Sean Devitt and the multi-instrumental talents of Vinnie Murphy,
Stano pushes his creations fully into the desolate territory of post-
industrial decay. Full of chaos, sliding avalanches of sound, disintegrating
images and junkyard/scrapheap elements, Stano's new visions chart a downward
spiral of human alienation and confusion in the face of the problematic
state of late twentieth-century Western capitalism. 'Destruction'
acknowledges the negative side of man's make-up, his uncontrollable
tendency to destroy life in the name of 'progress' and is potently delivered
through a series of liquid textured guitar passages. 'Cry Across the Sea'
relates to the damaging effect of the consumer society on individual
integrity through a style of music that stitches familiar dance beats and
mesmeric polyrhythms into a documentary-type soundtrack. The thunderous
noise of 'Ascendancy' is so subversive that it communicates an aural
recreation of the rioting, chanting hordes of Russia's 1917 Bolshevik
revolution. And just to knock a few more noses out of joint, Stano weaves
Arabic, Oriental, Arctic and Slavik stylisations into the album's overall
The sounds of Seducing Decadence lent themselves to film and othervisual
media. For live presentations in Ireland and the UK, Stano collaborated
with Dublin artist Donal Ruane. Instead of treating the stage like a
normal performer would do, Stano chose to pre-tape his music and relay it
back on a reel-to-reel in conjunction with Ruane's projected cut-up slide
shows and film sequences. Stano would murmur and shout his 'poetry' into
a microphone. sometimes sitting down, sometimes out of sight completely.
Audiences were befuddled by it all, particularly the violent nature of
Ruane's imagery. A thoroughly self-taught expert on media art, Ruane
collaged several thousand excerpts from news-reel, film, advertising,
documentary and other sources and re-edited them to synchronise with
Stano's stage output. At times these images would become nauseatingly
repulsive and the entire show resembled an audio visual compendium of
the reality outlined by such writers as William S. Burroughs and
Marshall McLuhan. This was the first time that an Irish rock artist had
ventured into such territory and its only real equivalent was in the
'media rock journalism' of Sheffield band Cabaret Voltaire.
Residing in London between 1985 and 1986, Stano maintained his association
with Ruane. Through an independent outlet called Food Records, two tracks
from his first album and two from his second (which was still unavailable)
were released on an EP under the title 'The Protagonist 28 Nein'. The cover
of Content to Write was re-designed and made available in Greece and
Scandinavia. But like a lot of composers working in the avant-garde area,
Stano found it very difficult to get large commercial record company
backing. Disillusioned with the staleness of the English scene he returned
to Dublin late in 1986 to find that interest in what he was doing had
increased enormously during his absence. Scoff Records had acquired
European distribution for Selucing Decadence through a Berlin label,
Dossier. Playlist statements received by Scoff showed that Content to Write
had been aired on the radio of twenty-seven countries world-wide, including
Russia and America, Central and South America, Scandinavia, Eastern and
Central Europe and the Far East. In response, RTE Radio featured a lengthy
documentary on Stano's art, presented by serious music academic Dermot
Rattigan. In this context Stano was given the incisive analysis that his
work required. Here he spoke of his music as an attempt to provoke 'smells'
and 'feelings' in the mind of the listener, as a way of painting memories,
as a form of sculpting in time.
Similar attitudes to musical composition had been expressed by other figures
in modern avant-garde music, most notably Brian Eno. The radio programme
also included excerpts from Stano's third album Daphne Will Be Born Again
(Dossier 1987). An entirely instrumental excursion, this record is a more
relaxing and uplifting work than its predecessor. It is difficult to
associate the optimistic tone of this selection with the unpredictable
Stano's pessimistic 'Protagonist' product of 1984/1985. Most of the album's
sound originates from his exploration of the Fairlight computer music
instrument, a piece of equipment that seemed tailor-made for Stano's
requirements. On 'Dream and the Little Girl Lost' he creates a tastefully
romantic violin section to go with the bubbly funk riffing and spoken
French dialogue of the track. 'Majestics of Majesty' is a spacey concoction
of bells, flute and percussion that has very Japanese connotations. The sound
of the Japanese koto can actually be heard on 'Nuit Blanche--Winter in
Summertime'. A moody set-piece, which displays Stano's gift for getting
the best out of any electronic equipment he touches, its Fairlight
fabrication combines the shimmering strings of the koto with the sounds
of waves, birds,screams and a fearful backing orchestra that aurally
describes a sort of Gothic Little Red Riding Hood scenario.
Again the music had a powerful soundtrack quality. In fact a lot of Stano's m
music had been licensed out for television, radio and film use. In 1987 a s
election of tracks from his flrst two albums including the momentous 'Out
of the Dark into the Dawn' were chosen for the French film Kalndostol)e.
Addicted to studio work, Stano recorded another album before his third one
had had the opportunity to make the record stalls. Titled Before May I Will
Change (not released to date), he considered it the most 'accessible' vinyl
proposition of his career. Not content with that he simultaneously began
work on a classical piece with Dermot Rattigan as arranger. A multi-talented
operator, Stano's contribution to Irish rock cannot in any way be ignored.
He is the first Irish rock artist to play the studio like an instrument,
the first to allow intuition with regard to electronics, sound and chance
occurrences to govern his output. While professing no prior knowledge of
historical movements in modern avant-garde music, his work easily slips
into the mould of the world's foremost innovations in that field. For
Stano it's his gift for the natural arrangement of sounds, no matter from
what source, into a highly original music that is the key to his success
as a recording.