Stanley is best known as a member of the pop/dance group Saint Etienne for which he co-writes songs and produces. Live on stage, he normally plays keyboards.
After leaving school, Stanley worked in various record shops. While working at Virgin Records in Peterborough he met Andrew Midgley (with whom he would later create the group Cola Boy). The two produced a fanzine called Pop Avalanche in 1986. Stanley also wrote four issues of Caff, a fanzine created with childhood friend Pete Wiggs (with whom he would later create Saint Etienne).
In 1987, Stanley sent an issue of Caff to James Brown, then live reviews editor for NME. This led to Stanley's first commissioned work, a review of a Johnny Cash show in Peterborough. After two years he moved to Melody Maker, where he wrote regularly until Saint Etienne became a full-time occupation in 1991.
Even as Saint Etienne dominated his career, Stanley continued to write occasionally for The Face and Mojo in the 1990s. In the 2000s he has returned to journalism and contributes regularly to The Times and The Guardian. He has also written liner notes for many reissues, including box sets by Joe Meek, Sandie Shaw and The Searchers.
In 2007, with Paul Kelly Stanley edited Match Day, a book of football programme artwork.
In 2013, Stanley published his second book,Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, a history of pop music from the publication of the first British pop chart in 1952 until the advent of iTunes in 2001. In 2015, Turner translated into Spanish,Yeah Yeah Yeah: La historia del pop moderno, Spain, ISBN 978-84-16142-22-4
Stanley is working on his third book, Too Darn Hot: The Story of Popular Music. This book looks at the history of popular music from the start of recorded music until the advent of rock n'roll in the early 1950s. The book is supported by a £20,000 research grant from the British Library.
While recording the album Finisterre in 2002, Stanley, Pete Wiggs and frequent collaborator Paul Kelly made a film to accompany the record, also titled Finisterre, which was described by The Observer as a "cinematic hymn to London". It premiered at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and was screened around the world by one dot zero.
In 2005 Saint Etienne and Kelly were invited by the Barbican Centre to create a film and music event, for which they made What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day, a drama-documentary set in the Lower Lea Valley, the site for the 2012 Olympic Games. In 2007 their third London film, This Is Tomorrow, a history of the Southbank Centre, premiered with a live performance, including a 60-piece orchestra, at the Royal Festival Hall.
Kelly and Saint Etienne collaborated again on How We Used to Live (2014), which has been described as "a cherishable, woozy-hazy trawl of London from postwar days to yuppiedom".
Stanley has curated several film seasons for the Barbican, including Gonna Make You A Star (a series of pop documentaries) and Britain Learns to Rock (early British Rock'n'Roll movies).
In the late 1980s/early 1990s, Stanley briefly ran a record label called Caff, which released 17 7" singles, all limited to 500 copies, including early singles by the Manic Street Preachers and Pulp. Between 1992 and 1994, Stanley and Saint Etienne bandmate Pete Wiggs ran the indie label Icerink Records; the most notable act to emerge from this endeavour was the girl-group Shampoo. In 1996, Stanley ran EMIDisc, again alongside Wiggs, backed by EMI Director of A&R Tris Penna. The label was to be an EMI sub-label devoted to new talent. The label was short-lived and the only major act to emerge was Kenickie. Stanley and Wiggs currently have a CD imprint called Eclipse through Universal.
Stanley is known for his large collection of vinyl records. When Saint Etienne are between projects, he DJs, playing generally 1960s and 1970s pop music and soul. With Wiggs, he ran a club called Don't Laugh in the mid-1990s in Maida Vale. Cherrybomb, a girl group night in Bloomsbury, ran from 2006–2009.