Tim Stenhouse (22nd Oct 1963 – February 2019)

It is with a heavy heart that we are hearing news today that our chief reviewer, Tim Stenhouse, has died at home in Manchester. Tim has been the back bone of UK Vibe for over 20 years and we struggle to find the right words to use to convey our deep sadness.
Steve Williams (Editor)

When Charles Aznavour died in October last year, Tim Stenhouse searched the Internet for the best documentaries and concerts to remember him by. * When Albert Finney died this February, an actor local to our Salford roots, Tim made a point of revisiting Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Tim’s devout commemorative streak affirmed that people mattered, that a purpose of culture was to preserve that recognition.

Now it’s time to reread some jazz reviews and revive memories that affirm Tim Stenhouse as a fellow who mattered: the contribution of his personality and awareness made good copy for anyone hoping society might yet find a way to get civilized.

We went to the same early schools but I was five years senior so that coincidence passed us by till we met in our fifties. I only knew Tim in his last year but here’s how fast we caught up: Tim would call round about once every three weeks around 2pm, usually weekends, and shoot the breeze until 11 or 12 at night. Good company!

His enquiring mind was open to stacks of books and films and vintage posters and magazines cluttered everywhere in my home when he wasn’t sampling his own collections from his bag. And a well-worn notebook: Tim carried with him everywhere not a mobile phone but handwritten notes on topics and titles and contacts to follow up tomorrow. What he was sharing with you, whenever he posted a review, was his latest findings in the culture he was building for himself.

“Through learning French, I discovered Brazilian culture and literature (both Jorge Amado and Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso), Italian and Japanese cinema and even independent American cinema (a season of David Lynch films). Moreover, you are able to place yourself inside the mind of a French national to try and understand why they collectively think the way they do.”

Tim wrote that in his autobiographical ‘Living and Woking in France’ on his linkedin page in 2017.

There’s nothing he didn’t know about the French New Wave or anything that crossed the Channel. His jazz appreciation was off the scale; and he shared his findings by regularly presenting to Manchester’s Jazz Society because there was no difference in Tim’s mind between learning and socialising; and the only thing that exceeded his knowledge was his curiosity, outdistancing his PhD.

“Try Will Friedwald!” Once you’ve read Pete Hamill and Gay Talese, it’s hard to find writing about Sinatra that meets Sinatra’s standards of delivery but Tim found me a zinger, because recommending material to supplement your taste was his everyday conversation.

I showed him a jazzy feature adaptation of Othello called All Night Long from 1962 — Patrick McGoohan and Richard Attenborough and coincidentally featuring Mingus and Brubeck and Dankworth and Tubby Hayes and all — along with the original poster autographed by some of the people — and his ebullience was Christmassy. He spoke like the House of Lords but his vivacious affirmation of the life of the mind spoke of his Irish descent, somewhere between James Joyce and Edna O’Brien. His adventurous sensibility was English, Gallic and Gaelic, and somehow Caucasian Caribbean.

The absurdities of society didn’t pass him by; he carried Jacques Tati’s worldview around in his head. When I told him, more than once, that I was not interested in anything Coltrane had done past 1958, so contrary to his own estimation, he let it go and laughed, and then so would I. His writing and his manner had recognition of personal space, like Miles Davis spacing the notes. I heard it whenever he called at my door: he knocked like a dormouse. Timorous.

When Michel Legrand died in February, Tim was mindful of how much history was going down all the way to The Other Side of the Wind. And so, in one of his last visits, Tim handed me a USB and a request of Legrand documentaries and concerts to copy from YouTube. This was routine since I showed Tim the software that downloaded and converted them to play on his television set. Tim had no trouble filling 2×64 GB USBs that way. Computer technology was one area that overtook Tim, so this way of accessing artists to commemorate at home delighted him like a magic trick.

There was nothing elitist about the knowledge in his head. His boyish sense of wonder extended from local nostalgia to worldwide talent. You hear it in his open and amiable authorial voice, charting discoveries in reviews. You see it openly in his face in the recent photograph on this page — which is why, though 55 years old with a comb-over rather than a quiff, the person he most reminded me of, vividly, always, was Hergé’s cartoon character Tintin. If a snowy white Terrier accompanied Tim’s photo, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

There is at heart no real difference, few intellectuals care to admit, between The Brothers Karamazov and a Boy’s Own Christmas Annual. A book, a record, a film was adventuresome to Tim. Come December, Tim bought for himself such modest treats that he “put away for Christmas” to surprise himself. I imagine him as a pure line-drawing in joined-up longhand: a Yuletide hurrah that Alyosha kept his promises and Snowy had survived a meteorite storm.
A detail in his online career profile:

UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM
PGCE. French, Written: Pass. Practical withdrew through illness (chickenpox).
1987-88

He’s not being ironic in parenthesis: the medical exemption becomes part of the qualification: his illness specialized in chickenpox. That scrupulous fidelity to the facts is, typically endearingly, purely-naïvely- incorruptibly Tintin Tim.

He strategized his line of questioning of what I knew, discounting what he didn’t want to know; he planned his knowledge in his notebook, except for the last thing I ever told him. “How long have we known each other now? six months, a year? If you get nothing else from me, it’s not the British New Wave or film noir technique or any of that but this: Information is worthless.” I was distinguishing between information and awareness but without explaining, leaving space for his own realization. He was trussed up askew at the time against the February cold like a big snowman that kids had equipped too late for Christmas; and with my central heating not on, Jacques Tati in a cockeyed woolly hat made his way down the lobby after ten hours of conversation, and I joked, “Well at least you haven’t asked what the temperature is.”

And obliviously, politely enough, he took it as a cue to ask what the temperature was: what was the temperature? another instance of Tintin Tim. “I don’t know!” I laughed, and repeated my last advice; and it was lost on me then that in repeating it I downgraded the advice itself from awareness to information, so now “Information is worthless” was useless information; and so comedy made chumps of us both.
“See you.”

What a curious blend of intensity and sensitivity and sunny verve in an enquiring mind that could turn an epitaph into the creative celebration of a life. I will miss Michel Legrand and Albert Finney and Charles Aznavour, but I will miss Tim Stenhouse more.

*Tim was delighted to find this YouTube link last October, so it’s an apt sign-off for Tim, too: Aznavour’s club concert, copied over to watch on his television, immediately brought the singer back to life for Tim:

Gary McMahon