Memories of sound and vision

Alan Florence first came to The Crow s attention in February, claiming the road outside his home posed more threat than his days working in Northern Ireland and Beirut. Taking time out from his long-running dispute with South Cambridgeshire Highways the m

Alan Florence first came to The Crow's attention in February, claiming the road outside his home posed more threat than his days working in Northern Ireland and Beirut. Taking time out from his long-running dispute with South Cambridgeshire Highways the man responsible for the sound of some of music's greatest artists, talks cricket, Kalashnikovs, rock and roll, and the Pope.

Leaving school at 16, Alan Florence was soon on the road to number one, working with the The Rolling Stones and Status Quo to become one of the country's most respected sound engineers.

In the studio, night and day, Alan made his way from the small theatres to the world renowned PYE and IBC sound labs.

"Music and in particular sound, has always intrigued me ever since I was a little boy. So to be able to work in that industry was unbelievable," said Alan.

From 1960-1979, Alan also made records alongside The Who, The Kinks, Sir Elton John, Chuck Berry, Dionne Warwick, and Sammy Davis Jr.

He even had the The Beatles all to himself for a weekend when recording a TV special in a studio in Oxford Street.

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He said: "What an honour that was. There are not many people that can say they've had The Beatles all to themselves for a weekend are there?

"They were all incredibly talented and very genuine lads.

"When I started at IBC, almost half the records in the charts were being made there. It was definitely the place to be," said the 64-year-old.

In 1962, Alan and his colleague Glyn Johns were asked if they knew of any exciting, up and coming bands. Which Glyn did - The Rolling Stones.

"I remember thinking what a funny name for a band!" said Alan.

"But once we got them in the studio, we were absolutely blown away.

"We recorded eight tracks with them, which I can only describe as raucous R'n'B. They were superb.

"However, nobody seemed to be overly interested and it took quite a while. But we had no doubt that they would become big stars.

"Then out of the blue a man named Andrew Loog Oldham bought the tracks off us for £98 and the rest is history!

"I also had the pleasure of working with them again a few years later," said Alan.

"There was never a dull moment when they were around - let's just say they could be very naughty boys!"

But perhaps the group which Alan has the fondest memories of is those cheeky chaps from Status Quo.

He said: "They were my favourites. I was fortunate to work with them on a number of singles and albums. They were a lovely bunch and great fun to be around."

As Alan's reputation in the studio grew, it wasn't long before offers from foreign shores came flooding in, and in 1975 Alan and his wife Lynne moved to Madrid.

"It was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. I only intended to stay 12 months, but that year quickly became three," he said.

"It was a good time to be out there and I worked with some fantastic artists, such as Juan Pardo, Demis Roussos, and Julio Iglesias."

However, when Alan returned to England, moving to Meldreth in 1978, he found the music scene he had grown to love had changed.

"The scene back here had moved in another direction - one that I couldn't relate to. So I got out.

"I had been stuck inside a studio for almost 20 years and had lost touch with the outside world.

"So I decided to have a crack at television. I had the experience they were looking for, and eventually I started working for ITN.

"I started off mixing live programmes, and in 1982 I was promoted to the news crew as a sound engineer.

"I travelled all over the place, and went from the confines of the studios to some of the most dangerous places in the world.

"Working with the likes of Terry Whaite and Brent Sadler I was part of the crews bound for Northern Island and Beirut.

"It was a remarkable contrast and it really opened my eyes.

"One incident that I will never forget was when we in this small town in Beirut - a place that had been bombed to pieces.

"We pulled over at this old station, where some Amal militia armed with Kalashnikovs were.

"Suddenly there were bullets and shrapnel flying everywhere, as machine gun fire rained down on us from the mountain.

"We scrambled for our lives and managed to hide behind the building.

"Leaving the cameras and equipment behind, the crew jumped into this vehicle with the Amal and we sped off still under fire - I have never been so frightened."

From close calls with Kalashnikovs, Alan's conversation turned more light-hearted as he remembered perhaps his most surreal moment with the crew.

"Over the years I've been thrown out of a lot of places, but none more bizarre than the Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, when reporting on Pope John Paul II's open air mass.

"Security was tight and each news crew had their designated spot from which they were prohibited from moving from.

"And just when the Pope was getting closer, our cameraman got a bit brave and started to edge forward into an area we shouldn't have been in.

"The next thing we had these big arms round our necks and shoulders and were bundled out a side door in a matter of seconds. The Pope looked very puzzled!"

Alan also recounted his five weeks in Kuwait covering the story of Royston's Robin Plummer - who was one of four hostages detained by Colonel Gadaffi.

He said: "I actually became very good friends with Robin, and the whole experience was unbelievable.

"In the end we were even on first name terms with Gaddafi's guards, who used to ask us what the British public thought.

"We'd give our opinions in the knowledge that it would get back to Gaddafi, hoping that it would help their release.

"And I like to think we helped in some little way."

After risking his life in various conflicts and war zones, Alan then moved to the peaceful setting of sports cameraman.

"That was another wonderful time," said Alan.

"I got to cover the England cricket team and travelled to World Cups and Test matches.

"I became quite friendly with Lamb, Gooch, Gower, and Botham, who were all really good with us.

"I have a few tales about their antics, that's for sure!"

Alan was a bit handy with the bat too, and used to play for the England Press team, as well as lining up for Thriplow on a Sunday.

He also ran the ITN team, and gave news favourite Trevor McDonald a game now and then.

Alan joked that despite being West Indian, 'Trevor Mac' was more use at the news desk than he was at the crease.

And to this day, Alan still feels responsible for the demise of friend and England captain, David Gower's international career.

"It was something that grew out of all proportion," said Alan.

"He was having a bit of a tough time and stuck his fingers up behind his back to the crowd in match against Australia.

"The play had stopped and the broadcast was elsewhere, but I had kept my camera rolling.

"I couldn't believe what I saw.

"If I had known that my bosses were going to use it on the news later that night, I would never have shown them.

"To me it was just a bit of fun. The next day it was all over the papers, and the repercussions were quite severe for David.

"He got sacked as captain and I felt terrible. I apologised to him and he took it well.

"A few years later he actually signed a copy of the photo, which is now on the wall at home.

"To me, that showed what a great man he was!"

After being forced to retire in 2000 with an injured knee, Alan's new found passion lies in amateur radio.

He says that music will always be a big part of his life, and has a very impressive record collection.

"And to think I've never bought a single record in my life," said Alan.

"I'm very lucky to have experienced some truly wonderful times. You're fortunate to have had one job you love, let alone three.

"But I'll never forget those days in the studio.

"In my opinion that was the best era of music this country has ever seen - a time that will unfortunately never be repeated."

And with The Rolling Stones back on tour later this month, will Alan be expecting a call?

"I don't think so somehow... but it would be good!