Chris Groom Interview conduicted by Alan Hewitt.

TWR: First of all Chris, congratulations on the book, an excellent examination of a fascinating subject! Now, on with the questions if I may…

CG: Thanks for inviting me into The Waiting Room, Alan. Interesting decor. I’m a little worried by that giant green pot plant in the corner and is that a stain on the wall-mounted croquet mallet? Nice carpets, though. I’m very pleased to be here.

TWR: What made you select Strat as a subject for a book?

CG: I think he’s a unique and fascinating character, so very different from other music industry figures and one who was in slight danger of being overlooked and written out of rock history. My way in to the subject was as an unashamed fan of the Famous Charisma Label. Buying records by Lindisfarne, Clifford T Ward and Monty Python, (and Genesis, of course) I was surprised to see they all shared the same stable and wondered who this mysterious man was, that could bring all these disparate artists together. The more I looked into Strat’s background the more interesting he became, and generally I found him to be a very likeable man, too. I was surprised that no-one had tried to write his biography before, although I suspect a couple had started but were stumped by the lack of available information on his early years.

TWR: When did you begin work on the project?

CG: I tell people it has been about 8 years, but it’s probably more like 10 or 12. Initially the research didn’t start out as a book, it was purely my own personal interest into the big man behind the label. It didn’t take long before I became completely engrossed in the subject and knew that Strat’s story had to make it into print.

TWR: Did you encounter any difficulties during the writing process?

CG: Not really. There were several moments wondering if it was going to be good enough, a lack of confidence in my writing ability. The research was a long task, but always enjoyable. The interviews were great. Almost everyone I spoke to seemed pleased that I was taking it on and were only too happy to talk about someone they held in such high regard. If anything I wrote too much. The original draft was twice as long and it was only the editing skills of Chris Charlesworth that trimmed it back to something a publisher might consider.

TWR: Strat's life encompassed so many different areas, were there any that took you by surprise?

CG: Definitely. Where do I start! I knew that he was a sports journalist, but had no idea just how far he climbed in the profession. He seemed to have covered every major football and cricket event during the fifties and early sixties. Then his ‘South American’ adventure turned out to be bigger and more life-changing than expected. The horse-racing connections were all new to me, as was how much time and money he spent trying to break into the film business. So many strands to bring together.

TWR: How easy/difficult was it to reconcile so many different facets into one coherent story?

CG: Some aspects were quite difficult. There were/are a lot of myths around Strat, some I think were deliberately of his own making and trying to unravel those could be tricky. I certainly didn’t manage to uncover all the answers. Different people have different versions of the same event and in the cases where I couldn’t give a definitive answer, I just stated the possible outcomes and left people to decide for themselves. Other times, new information came in that joined the dots perfectly. I loved the connection between the previous owner of his house at Coombe Lodge and the French studio that Julian Lennon used. There were several nice pieces of syncronicity.

TWR: How familiar were you with Strat's story before you began writing and were there any aspects that took you by surprise?

CG: When I first started I knew the same basic information that everyone else had, the same three line biog that seemed to turn up everywhere. I knew a few extra stories about his time with Lindisfarne, as I had been following their career avidly (and still do). I was surprised by some of the names that cropped up during his early management years, albeit briefly, Beryl Marsden and Al Stewart for example. I was always amused by how many people confused the two ‘Tony Smith’s’ – which just confirmed to me that so much of Stratton Smith’s background was still a mystery to many.

TWR: How did you go about locating sources for material/interview and were there any people you would have liked to talk to (apart from Strat himself of course!) that you weren't able to?

CG: I started out by collating as much material from written sourses as possible and scoured the internet, putting together a very rough timeline. Then once the interviews started, it became a domino effect; every person passed on two or three names or contact details, plus I had my own ‘wish-list’ of people to work through. Sadly I missed talking to Tony’s sister June by a few months, who died during the process, as did David Gideon-Thomson from the film side. Cracky would have been the source of some great stories too, although probably not all of them printable! I would liked to have tracked down the mysterious Trevor Billmuss, but overall I was very lucky with the people I spoke to.

TWR: What do you think Strat would think of the book?

CG: I must say that I endorse Gail Colson’s comment that it’s such a shame he never got around to writing his own story. Strat crammed so much into his too-short lifetime, that I’m left with the impression that I only just scratched the surface. I hope he would have been pleased with what I did manage to uncover. As I say at the end of the book; “What would he have made of it all? He would, I imagine, have chuckled loudly, shaken his head in disbelief and wiped away a joyful tear. Then he’d buy everyone within earshot a large drink to toast such outrageous success. “Anything good of its kind, dear boy,” this most avuncular of men would have said as the glass touched his lips. “Anything good of its kind.”