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How Stansfield man Jamie Spencer swapped music management career for blooming floristry business Mr Spencer's Flowers

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When Jamie Spencer was working with big names in the music business he might have stressed over record release dates, tour plans, and making it to the airport on time.

Getting up at 4am to check the cat hasn’t knocked over the roses, or willing peonies to pop open in time for a birthday bouquet would not have been on his radar.

They are now, since Jamie swapped music management, marketing and publicity for floristry. And while it has its own anxious moments his business, Mr Spencer’s Flowers, is also his dream job.

Florist Jamie Spencer at work in his studio in Stansfield. Picture: Mark Westley
Florist Jamie Spencer at work in his studio in Stansfield. Picture: Mark Westley

His ‘now or never moment’ came in his mid-50s,. After more than 30 years during which he worked with the likes of Madness, Ian Dury, Swing Out Sister and U2 he began to get disillusioned.

Now his life is filled with flowers. Not the kind on sale at supermarkets and petrol stations – he goes for glorious blooms mixed with cottage garden favourites and delicate sprays for a more informal, countryside feel.

But he wonders if it would ever have happened without the foresight of his mum, Meg.

Florist Jamie Spencer in his studio with feline supervisor, Buzz. Picture: Mark Westley
Florist Jamie Spencer in his studio with feline supervisor, Buzz. Picture: Mark Westley

Even in the 1980s, living in London, he would fill his home with magnificent flowers from the Sunday market down the road ... and she noticed.

“I lived near the Columbia Road flower market and would go there every Sunday. The stallholders got to know me and would tell me to wait until later when the flowers would be cheaper,” he said.

“I did a couple of floristry courses. My mum bought me both of them. Maybe if she hadn’t encouraged me with my passion I might not be doing this today.”

Jamie – who lives in Stansfield – grew up in Newport, near Saffron Walden, and went to school at Saffron Walden County High.

Natural wreath by Jamie Spencer
Natural wreath by Jamie Spencer

“In those days it was a rough school. I left without a lot of education. I wanted to be a chef and that didn’t work out so I became a waiter. That didn’t last long either.

“My father had an electrical business in Newport and he said ‘you might as well come and work for me’." He admits he was not a model employee.

“It was the mid-1970s, I was a punk rocker and used to follow bands about. Then I went through a skinhead phase.

“I was following bands like Madness and The Specials. I’d say ‘Dad, I’m not coming into work next week ....

Wild arrangement by Jamie Spencer
Wild arrangement by Jamie Spencer

“I followed them all across Europe, and because I was such a regular the bands got to know me, and I’d find myself blagging my way on to their coaches.

“In the early ’80s I was thinking of photography as a career, and wanted to move to London.

“A friend from school was in a band, I went up to London and started taking photos.

“I met the right-hand woman of the boss of Stiff Records. A job came up in the postroom there.”

Planted arrangement by Jamie Spencer
Planted arrangement by Jamie Spencer

Stiff was famed for having lit the touchpaper of the punk explosion in the ’70s with The Damned, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, and Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

“It was a label where all the bands were in and out all the time. Madness would come in, and I became their PR person at Stiff, working with them and various other bands.

“Then Madness left Stiff on the day I had just turned down a job with another label, and they said come and work for us, so I joined their management company.

“When we were touring Australia in 1986, I got a call from a friend at a record label saying we’ve got this band and this song, and they need a manager.

“The song was Breakout, by Swing Out Sister. I played it and it gave me goosebumps.”

Breakout reached number four in the singles chart, followed by a second top 10 hit. Their album, It’s Better to Travel, went straight into the charts at number one.

“I managed Swing Out Sister for a number of years,” said Jamie. “After a while I got offered a job at Island Records, but we remained friends. Now I manage their tours.

“They don’t tour a lot and it’s at their own pace in places like Japan and the Philippines.”

He went on to do marketing for bands like U2, The Cranberries, and folk artists such as Joan Baez, Janis Ian and Emmylou Harris.

Later, having moved on to an independent label, he worked with the uniquely talented Ian Dury, whose sometimes shocking lyrics had seen his songs banned more than once by the BBC.

“I worked with him on his last albums, and his last concert at the London Palladium,” said Jamie. “He could be a difficult character, but I always got on well with him.”

Dury had been battling terminal cancer and the concert with the Blockheads in early 2000 was in aid of the charity Cancer BACUP. The singer died six weeks later aged 57.

Jamie continued in the music business until around six years ago. “I was getting a bit disillusioned with it all,” he said.

“It was harder trying to break new artists. It used to be if someone looked good, performed well, and had a great voice a record company would get involved.

“Now, instead of that they will go online and see how many streams they have had.”

Over the years he had picked up a few floristry commissions. “Friends noticed I had a bit of an eye for putting things in a vase.

Bridal bouquet by Jamie Spencer
Bridal bouquet by Jamie Spencer

“I did a friend’s wedding and was then recommended to do the dressing room flowers for two ‘Mrs Robinsons’ – Jerry Hall and Linda Gray, from Dallas – at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End.

“But I had never really had the nerve to give up music. Then a friend reminded me ‘you’re really into your floristry’

“So I did another course, in my mid-50s – I thought if I don’t do it now I never will. I was encouraged to give it a shot.”

At around the same time Jamie moved to Clare and, in what seemed like another encouraging sign, discovered that one of his floristry heroes, Paula Pryke, had grown up in the village.

A few years later he moved to Stansfield. He has built a studio in the garden of the cottage he shares with his partner, Sharon, where his floral artistry is often supervised by his ginger cat, Buzz.

”I didn’t want a shop with overheads. Flowers are expensive,” he said. “I’m not a carnations and chrysanthemums man, I like a more countryside feel.

“I wanted to try something a little bit different. I try and offer something that’s a bit wilder and informal.”

He also tries to buy locally when he can, although he is unable to get everything this way. All his packaging is paper and biodegradable.

“I thought I would like to buy British and save on air miles. But I have to get deliveries from Holland and top up with locally-sourced flowers when they’re available.

“At the start of the business I wanted to be recognisable, so I went to Holland and bought my 2CV van. I do Clare market once a month – selling flowers and plants and hand tied bouquets.”

Florist Jamie Spencer outside his Stansfield home with his 2CV van. Picture: Mark Westley
Florist Jamie Spencer outside his Stansfield home with his 2CV van. Picture: Mark Westley

Orders come in daily for bouquet deliveries. He also does wedding and funeral flowers.

“I never thought I would be interested in funeral work but it’s really satisfying, to brighten someone’s very sad day with some wonderful flowers of remembrance.

“I do biodegradable casket sprays, made out of willow with living plants and moss.

“I prefer not to use floral foam or plastic trays but sometimes needs must,” he added.

“It’s hard to say what are the most popular flowers. Customers generally leave the choice to me because they’ve seen what I do online. I try to use seasonal flowers as much as possible.”

His busiest times are Valentine’s day, Mothers’ Day, Easter, and Christmas for wreaths.

“I have lots of returning customers. Word of mouth is important. I also get some fantastic reviews.”

Flower arrangement by Jamie Spencer for a workshop
Flower arrangement by Jamie Spencer for a workshop

He can cope with unexpected challenges. “You can’t keep too many flowers in stock because they have such a short shelf life.

“But sometimes I get a call saying ‘can you do some flowers for my wife’s birthday.’ When is it? ‘Today...’

“There’s a grower in Wixoe, Floriston Flower Farm, where I can get last-minute flowers.

“I also forage from the hedgerows sometimes, wildflowers, and foliage. There’s some really good foliage out there. It’s great especially for the country-style weddings.

“The music business has its stress, but so does this job. ... especially weddings because it’s such an important day.

“I know it’s going to be fine, but that doesn’t stop me waking up at 4am thinking is it going to be okay?

“I sometimes come across to my studio to check the flowers are still all right and the cat hasn’t knocked them over, or something.

“I won’t completely knock the music on the head,” he added. “But this job is enjoyable, and I want to make the most of it.”

For more information go online to www.mrspencers.flowers