How We Met: Peter Stringfellow and Larry Adler

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The Independent Culture
Born in the USA, Larry Adler, 84, has enjoyed a long and distinguished international career as a harmonica player. He is also a writer and currently has a column in the 'Oldie' magazine. Larry has been married twice and has four children and lives in north London. Peter Stringfellow, 57, was born in Manchester. He came to London in 1980 and, with his style and business acumen, quickly established himself as a successful night-club owner in London's West End. He has been married twice and has two children and two grandchildren

PETER STRINGFELLOW: We met in 1980, my first year in London - in Lan-gan's, the restaurant. I was there at lunchtime to meet a girl, but she didn't turn up. I was at the bar, and Larry was at the bar, and apparently he also was going to have lunch with someone who didn't turn up. I didn't recognise him at first. We shared a table and hit it off immediately. Once he mentioned who he was, I'd got something to talk about, because he was my mum's favourite artist.

I had permed hair, I was wearing a leather suit - and pink shoes, I think that's how we started talking. We had this silly conversation. He said, "Why do you wear pink shoes?" I said,"Well, why don't you dress better? You're Larry Adler." Eventually, he became very much the dresser.

I see more in him than a lot of other people do. He can be pretty pompous in interviews, but I love him for that. He can also be very direct, straight. He doesn't stroke your hair or pat you on the head.

But he's the only man I've ever met who can talk about so many characters who you've seen in films or read about - a man who can talk about Humphrey Bogart, with knowledge. He's talked to him, had a run-in with him, didn't like him at all.

Larry's in-depth knowledge of the political scene amazes me. I'm what I call a superficial capitalist, and I call him a pretentious socialist. We don't sit and talk about politics but, for example, he was disgusted with Thatcher and I was a big fan, still am. But I never took offence at anything he had to say. He was just solidly of his opinion. It was pointless having a discussion with him.

He understands the world and I like him for that. Sure, he can tell you the odd story he's already told you once before, or maybe three times, but that's OK. If he didn't get the right laugh last time, he'll change it a little bit. But if he comes and sits down at your table, and you've got ladies, you can relax: he'll never tell anything that's remotely vulgar.

From that first lunchtime meeting, we've never truly been in each other's company without other people around. It's always in the club: if I invite you for dinner it's in the club. I've never been to Larry's place, I don't even know where he lives. But that's not shocking because I have three brothers and I only know where one of them lives.

He's had 15 birthdays at my club. At his 84th party in February I wanted him to relax, the party was finished. I said: "Have your glass of wine, I'll have your car driven home for you, with you." I look out for him a little bit.

I've seen Larry play in Miami, Car-negie Hall in New York, in intimate clubs, the Royal Albert Hall, with orchestras, on his own with a pianola ... I see this guy walking out on stage and taking his mouth organ out in front of hundreds of people and - boom!

It always amazes me that he's never been officially recognised by the Amer-ican government, so I'm going to write a letter to Clinton, laying out Larry's story and suggesting he looks into it. Larry left America due to the McCarthy witch-hunts and never truly went back. It had a tremendous influence on the way he lived his life after that. He has been a successful musician all his life; he's given a great deal of pleasure to lots of people. I know from my mum's era how big he was. In his middle-80s he should get some recognition. Maybe Clinton could invite him to the White House, that would be a nice touch.

He's a bit of a loner. It used to worry me. But I've seen Larry coming in on his own. He'll take a table, have a bottle of red wine, and then I'll bring him over to my table. He's the only guy that ever sat at my table with his eyes closed when my Angels were taking their clothes off. He just doesn't find it at all interesting.

I get great pleasure from him being a bit cantankerous, it makes me laugh. He doesn't suffer fools gladly. If there was someone at my table who I didn't find interesting, if someone said something foolish, I'll change the subject, but Larry won't play like that, he won't let something flow over him. He'll stop and question it, whereas to me it's not important.

Larry is a big tennis fan. He was shocked about a year ago when he wasn't playing tennis as good. I had to have a very strong word with him. I said: "Larry, stuff it: if you get out there and play two hours' tennis in your bloody 80s, you're not impressing anybody - you're going to kill yourself." I think it took him a while to realise he's got to lay back a little bit.

There's literally nothing I want from Larry, and nothing he wants from me - and that's the basis of a very good friendship. One time he was quite upset for a while when one lady decided she was going to get married to someone else, and I'd never seen anything really affect Larry before on the emotional side. He's very emotional, but he's not one to show it easily, whereas I'm very outgoing in that respect.

I think Larry knows that if he ever needed help he'd just have to ring me. I've never told him, but he must know that if he had a problem I would drop everything and go and help. When I first met him he was very self-contained, powerful, but over the years I've known him he's got emotionally much softer. Much more loveable. He may be 84 but he's so sharp - and I say that in the nicest way: he may be slowing down physically, but his memory is 10 times better than mine.

LARRY ADLER: We clicked right away. I met him at Langan's Brasserie. My girl had stood me up, his date had stood him up. Peter Langan said: could you two fellows share a table? Peter was wearing a purple suit and mauve shoes, and all through lunch he was trying to get me to dress like him. He said Larry you'd look great in this outfit. I said I don't think I would.

We talked about the fact that he knew a hell of a lot about my work and seem-ed to admire what I'd done. This man struck me as a completely unspoiled, natural guy, and 15 years later he hasn't changed at all.

After our first meeting, I would just drop in at the club. I would invite Peter to any functions that I had: he always accepted, I always accepted his invitations. We just liked each other and liked to be in each other's company.

We talk about show business mostly. He thinks it's very funny that I can't stand loud music. I never go down to the basement: the music is so loud that it hurts my ears, and I said to Peter, "That kind of thing will destroy your hearing." And now it turns out that he's lost the hearing in one ear and is losing it in the other. I just won't take loud music at all.

Also, I won't come into his club when he has the naked girls running around. I say: "Peter, they're running around and I'm too old to run after them." I don't like sex exploited in that way.

I go there on a Friday night when he doesn't have the naked girls running around. I'll drop in about 10 o'clock and may have dinner with him. It's a damn good restaurant ... Peter has become a very considerable figure: he's changed London's nightlife with his clubs.

He's far more towards the Conserva-tives than I am. I'm very much a left- wing guy and as time passes that doesn't alter at all. We don't argue about it because we get on so well. We've never even come close to having a quarrel.

He gets along very well with my friends - and I with his. I met Sting at one of the Stringfellow parties, and I didn't know then that I would eventually have a professional connection with him, because I thought we were living in different worlds, but it turns out that we have a very strong connection. It led to a recording session together - and flowers: he sent me flowers for my birthday.

On my 80th birthday they had what's called a roast for me. You're supposed to make very uncomplimentary speeches about the guest of honour. Peter tried but he couldn't do it. Victor Lowndes, who used to run Playboy, was the only one able to do it. It works very well in America: it's the tradition there.

Peter has incredible kindness and a real interest in people. When he talks to you he looks you in the eye, he devotes his full attention to you. I've never seen him be rude to anyone, ever, and as far as I can see, his staff have a great respect and liking for him.

His great weakness is his choice of girlfriends. They're nice, I like them all, but they don't match up to Coral, his first wife. I very much liked Coral, and I was very sad when they split up, because she was a marvellous lady. I thought she was so good for him: she had just the kind of mind to appreciate what he was doing, and to help him, but she was a little too much competition in intelligence and I don't think he liked that. Peter goes with the bimbos. I've had relationships with ladies much smarter than me: I love them for it. I admire anybody who's my superior in intellect, and it doesn't bother me.

Once in a while I might ask his advice on something: for instance, he gave me some advice on how to publicise my Gershwin record. We had a publicity party at the club. He's always been an immense help, with whatever project I've had. It sold two-and-a-half million copies and got me into the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest musician ever to have a top chart record. Nothing to do with talent, just age. They're going to re-issue the record in March.

We know that we can depend on each other for anything. I came to court in his defence. There was a product - strips of fried potatoes - that called itself "Stringfellows". They were using his name, and the commercial for the cover looked as if it had taken place in his club. Peter went to court on that and he asked me if I would be a witness, and I said: "Sure, I would". I went to court - I was a food critic at the time for Harpers & Queen, and I said: "To me, Stringfellows doesn't mean fried potatoes, it means a restaurant and I don't think this product has any right to use the name." And Peter never forgot that I did that.

He's a very fine friend, and I trust him implicitly. If I had a terrible scandal in my life I'd say: "Peter, how can I hush this up?" and he would give me the benefit of his advice on hushing it up. He wouldn't exploit it in any way. I know that I could trust this man whatever I told him, and he knows that he can trust me.

! A programme about Larry Adler's life and work can be heard on BBC Radio 2, at 9pm on Tuesday.