RIP Martin Stone – guitarist, bookseller, hustler

I first met Martin Stone, who died this week of cancer in France, at at exhibition in a Mayfair bookstore. It was a display of countercultural ephemera and included a flyer advertising a gig by Mick Farren’s Deviants. Stone, thin, toothless and full of mischief, regaled me with a terrific anecdote about the time he saw Mick Farren – “once one of the three coolest men in London after Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix” – doing a rather desperate book reading in front of a barely interested audience at a branch of Borders in California. He cackled a little in the telling, obviously amused by the fall of one of the underground giants of the 1960s.

stone

Stone himself was an intriguing figure who in later years looked a little like a more crumpled William Burroughs and came with a fascinating back story and the vibe that you wouldn’t want to get on his bad side. When I wrote about early 1960s R&B in south-west London, his name recurred as one of the best guitarists on the scene, able to hold his own against the likes of Page, Beck and Clapton. He was even said to be on the shortlist to replace Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones. Stone stayed in music throughout the 60s and 70s – he played for a variety of bands including The Action, Mighty Baby, Pink Fairies and 101ers – but later branched into bookselling, where he became a mythical figure, “running” books from one shop to another, which basically means finding something underpriced in one place and selling it for its true value in another.

Stone was friendly with Iain Sinclair (who wrote about him here), appearing as a character in one of Sinclair’s early books and as himself in one of the strange films Sinclair made with Christ Petit. This was an odd trajectory to take, from 60s counterculture musician to  bookdealer, but it’s worth recalling how many other musicians of that generation did something similar. Jimmy Page ran an occult book shop in Kensington, Pete Townshend ran the Magic Bus bookshop in Richmond and worked for Faber & Faber while Paul McCartney was closely involved with Indica. Thurston Moore is doing something similar today.

Stone developed a reputation as being an astonishingly adept runner, capable of finding rare books in all sorts of unusual places. Sinclair, naturally, believed he had some sort of mystical talent but having seen Stone in action and discussed it with others better informed than I, he was really just a man who knew his market and was capable of going wherever it took and spinning whatever seductive yarn was required to get his goods. He was a hustler essentially, with all that is impressive and sordid about that skill.

Having recently enjoyed Keiron Pim’s book about David Litvinoff, I’d put Stone in a similar category. A curious character with one foot in a London underworld, waspishly intimidating, unreliable but decent company, who flitted in and out of the lives of many people better known than he. His Wikipedia page gives a good flavour of this –   casually namedropping Michael Moorcock, Jimmy Page, Iain Sinclair and Marianne Faithfull.

I last saw Stone two years ago, wearing a pink suit and strolling casually down Cecil Court. He popped in to see a mutual friend, smiling and self-confident, delivered a couple of carefully barbed asides and then went on his way, looking for bargains and preparing to ambush the unprepared.

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11 responses to “RIP Martin Stone – guitarist, bookseller, hustler

  1. I bumped into him when I worked in the Oxfam bookshop in Paris. At first I had my eye on him because, with his slightly “artful dodger” look, I thought he might try a bit of shoplifting. It was only later that I learned his back story, amazing geezer. R.I.P. -_-

  2. Lovely anecdotes about the man

    • Spooky detail. I mentioned him to my wife, neither of us had ever talked about him in 40 years of marriage and it turns out that she was his girlfriend for a while when he was playing in the Pink Fairies. They split up because she couldn’t handle some of the other band members (no names)

  3. i knew martin in the early 70s,when i worked at hatchards and hung about at dark they were and golden eyed,he was a lovely guy a good hippie and a great guyto talk books with.gonna play my chilli willi lp,s now .bless you martin

  4. Pingback: Martin Stone RIP | POMPEY POP

  5. Linda Moorcock

    Some years ago Mart and Michael M were sitting outside in Paris at a small table enjoying tea at The Luxembourg across from the garden of the same name when a tourist asked if he could take their photo. They said Certainly, to which the tourist remarked It’s so nice to come across two true Parisians these days. Michael suggested they go out together as Les Deux Parisiens Verités! They adored one another.

  6. I m devastated just knowing Martin passed away. I was in the Homewrekers album with him and talk To him a month ago because i got some books he used To purchase in my home and wanted him To get them back so he could get money to take care of his health. I just find out tonight that he died. I feel so sad about that.He was a very special human being. I will always love him.

  7. I first met Martin in the ’70’s at a book fair (where else?) and over the ensuing decades parted with most of my salary in his direction since he and I had a deep interest in drugs,decadence and erotica of the Fin de Siecle and he lived in the only city in the world where the shops (then) were crammed with the requisite stuff. Last bought some eye-watering depravities from him this year. And we used to phone each other on a regular basis. He had some other prime stuff reserved for me which I will not now be collecting! The star has now gone out and will not re-awaken. An end of an era. But what an era and what a star! Thanks for all the good memories, Martin!

  8. I had no idea Martin had been hunting books for so long, but really it should have occurred to me. The earliest clue was revealed in the wake of the month long flurry of memories when the cataloguer at Frank Hammond in Sutton Coldfield remembered Martin of the man fitting the descriptions. This was during the tenure at Frank Hammond between 1967 to 1972. The memorial in Paris was packed, mainly by the book crowd but never has there been a person so missed

  9. Pingback: Curiocity – the book | The Great Wen

  10. I first met Stoney at a jumble sale, must have been about sixteen, I had just bought a pile of comics for 50p, when Mister Stone said to me…give ya a quid for ’em..to tell you the truth, I didn’t know what I had just bought, but I was bright enough to spot a hustle when I saw one…nah m8, ya alright, I replied…it was only sometime later I learnt the Basil Wolverton stuff was priceless_

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