An inspirational and unforgettable travelling musician who touched many lives with his energy, creativity and charisma has died after a battle with oesophagal cancer.
Chas Ambler was a much-loved figure on the Lancaster district’s music scene and one of life’s great eccentrics.
His friend Frank Melodrome described him as “the most generous, loving, cantankerous man I have ever met”.
“He was flamboyant, an entertainer and for him, it was all about the show.”
While best known as a pianist and keyboard player, Chas could also play guitar and drums, and loved the challenge of performing on unusual musical instruments.
He was a member of many local bands, most notably The Guns of Navarone, and had a weekly Saturday afternoon slot playing piano at the Stonewell Tavern pub.
Chas was also a driving force behind the travelling Melodrome stage that appears at many festivals in Lancaster and Morecambe, and across the UK, as an organiser, performer and compere.
London-born Chas had entertainment in his blood. Both his parents were theatre people and his grandfather was a West End impresario.
He played in bands from an early age and was a drummer in a punk group in the 1970s.
Chas led a nomadic life and said in 2011: “I’ve always liked living in rundown areas. I used to squat in London. I make a lot of mess myself! I need a bit of chaos around me.”
After he settled in the Lancaster area in the early 1990s, he became a big character on the city’s music scene.
“He loved getting different musicians together,” said Frank.
“He played with anyone and everyone. If there was a gap on a running order, Chas would fill it.
“He would go off and do gigs all over the country. Last year he had a spurt where he did eight festivals in a weekend. He was capable of doing five gigs a day!”
One of his most celebrated ventures was with broadcaster and writer Ian Marchant.
Chas and Ian formed a musical duo called ‘Your Dad’, a self-proclaimed ‘middle aged cabaret act’.
Your Dad became regulars at local venues and festivals, singing unlikely covers of modern pop songs and even trying their hand at gangster rap (see video from YouTube, of Chas and Ian performing with the ‘Seagull Cafe’ elderly people’s group in Morecambe in 2010).
They even performed at Glastonbury, where they revelled in their status as a “bottom of the bill” act.
Chas was also a proficient songwriter and released his own album ‘Borders of Love’ in 2010.
Fellow musician Gary Thistlethwaite, who works at Promenade Music in Morecambe, said: “I played on Chas’ album and it was one of the best recording sessions I’ve ever done, so much fun.
“He would come into the shop and we would have great conversations about music and what was wrong with the world. He wore his heart on his sleeve and was one of the most trustworthy, loyal people you could ever wish to meet.”
Chas lived for many years in a boarded-up terraced house in Bold Street in the West End of Morecambe. He loved the solitude and squalor of his dilapidated home because it helped him make his music. He even fought Lancaster City Council when they tried to buy the house off him.
“He was able to play his piano and sing his heart out there, and that’s when he came alive,” said Frank Melodrome.
“Chas had a hippy anarchist side to him, and the chaos in his life was why meditation was very important to him.”
Chas had a son, Ben, who followed in his dad’s footsteps as a musician. Chas was proud to be there recently when Ben graduated from the Liverpool Insititute for Performing Arts with a first class degree.
During his final months, Chas lived in Glasson Dock and passed away peacefully there on Tuesday surrounded by his friends and family.
His fellow musicians have paid tribute to him on his Facebook page.
Stuart Anthony called Chas “a musician’s musician” while Adrian Boardman from The Reggie Mental Band described him as “clever, witty, eccentric, temperamental and talented”.
Kristi Michele, a singer who performed with Chas many times, said he was “a brilliant, intuitive, kind, sweet and joyful musician and human being”.