Many men have hobbies which they pursue in splendid isolation in their garden shed. But how many could claim that their labours gave birth to something which would bring one of the greatest legends of folk music calling on you ? Well one did and his name was Stan Francis.
George Stanley Francis was born in Barton, Lancashire on the 16th September 1926, the son of John George Francis and Louisa (née Baxter). By the early 1930’s the family had settled in Liverpool and would live for many years at 7 Lorenzo Drive L14. After attending Alsop High School Stan followed an apprenticeship at Camell Laird and then spent some time as an engineer in the merchant navy. He later worked for a variety of companies in Liverpool. In 1950 he found Love – literally – meeting and marrying a nurse named June Love.
Stan inherited two of his father’s interests – woodworking and playing the banjo and in the 1950’s he and his wife were lively participants in the local folk scene. In May 1958 he was persuaded by some friends to join them in a group to perform at a Conservative Party fete held at Aigburth cricket club. The friends were Tony Davis and Mick Groves and the group became the celebrated Spinners. Stan soon decided that the life was not for him and left the group, being replaced by Hughie Jones. It was not the end of his performing life and in the 60’s and 70’s he was a member of Liverpool Fishermen led by Brian Jacques. But his passion for music was to find another outlet in the making of guitars and mandolins.
He produced his first mandolin in 1957, followed by a succession of six and twelve-stringed guitars. High quality steel-strung acoustic guitars were not readily available and as word spread about the unique qualities of his instruments a queue of customers grew which included Lonnie Donegan, Brian Jones and Tom Springfield. Then, in 1960, Pete Seeger visited him in search of a new robust 12-string guitar. Seeger was enthralled by the way Stan drew on his engineering background to create his guitars. He later recalled “He’d worked out this slightly different way of bracing it inside. After all, there’s a lot of pressure in there. He had these diagonal braces, so he had a triangular hole. He made one for a friend, and I saw it and I said, That’s got a beautiful tone.”. The guitar became as iconic a piece of Seeger’s image as his banjo and he subjected it to such labour that by 1966 Stan had to supply a replacement.
Intrigued by the technology of construction Stan Francis had little interest in churning out ‘repeat orders’ each new instrument being a variation and development. The ‘replacement’ he provided to Pete Seeger bore little resemblance to the original. He had no interest in developing his efforts on a commercial basis and was unaffected by the celebrity status that some might confer on him. His guitars now sell for a considerable sum (I saw one advertised recently for £6000).In all he made 18 mandolins and 71 guitars, the last of which he finished in 2009 when he was 83. He died on 27th December 2017.
After he and June married they lived initially in Huyton, moving in 1961 to 8 Glenmarsh Close L12 which remained the family home until his death.
Stan Francis' home until shortly after his marriage in 1950.
The Francis' home from 1961 until Stan's death in 2017.
The 12 string guitar made for Pete Seeger.
A notice from the the Liverpool Echo advertising an appearance of Stan at St George's Hall (October 1963)
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