Pete Brown’s camp invited me to the studio in April for what was prone to be his final ever file, as a consequence of well being points. He was clearly not nicely and at instances needed to fumble for phrases, one thing he by no means used to do. However Pete, being a person of phrases, was as articulate and frank as ever and beneath no illusions about his situation. Written previous to his death last week aged 82, right here is the ultimate interview with a hero of British counterculture.
It’s a cloudy afternoon in Eastborne’s Echo Zoo recording studio, and Pete Brown is all too conscious these classes may very well be his final. “I’m 82 and making an attempt to outlive most cancers,” says the singer, beat poet, Cream lyricist, and collaborator over 48 years with bass guitarist Jack Bruce. “I’m making an attempt to complete off most likely my final file – which we’ve had a good time doing.”
The bass guitar of Malcolm Bruce – Jack’s son – is being overdubbed to Brown singing Shadow Membership, the title monitor of his new album, slated for an October launch. “There’s a little bit of Jack Bruce there,” jokes Malcolm mid-riff. “Possibly we must always exchange that!” Brown sits on the couch listening intently. “It’s the primary time I’ve ever carried out a file with a correct funds, and with two nice producers, so it’s a brand new departure for me,” he says.
Shadow Membership’s after-hours vibe is a nostalgic tribute to the sweaty golf equipment and their artists through the British R&B growth that Brown got here from within the mid-Nineteen Sixties. “I’ve at all times been excited by ghosts,” Brown says, “particularly musical ghosts, and in addition by sure presences similar to [keyboardist and bandleader] Graham Bond and [blues saxophonist] Dick Heckstall-Smith and folks like that. They had been essential in my life as a result of they had been larger than life.”
Brown was already a well-established jazz poet within the early 60s backed by the highest musicians within the British jazz scene, in addition to the nascent blues and R&B circuits, earlier than turning into a lyricist and singer. He held down a jazz poetry residency at Soho’s now-legendary Marquee Membership, fronted the Pete Brown Poetry Band with guitarist John McLaughlin (later a key Miles Davis collaborator) and toured with Bond’s R&B outfit the Graham Bond Organisation. Then in 1965, Ginger Baker, one other Graham Bond Organisation participant, invited Brown to assist end the primary Cream single, Wrapping Paper, with him and Bruce. Chemistry was rapid: Brown and Bruce fashioned a writing partnership that blossomed by the Cream years and past.
Brown wrote lyrics for Cream classics similar to Sunshine of Your Love, I Really feel Free and Dance the Evening Away, a music impressed by Brown’s transfer to sobriety in 1967. “I had some very unhealthy experiences with medicine and alcohol,” Brown says, describing a harrowing post-gig incident: “I had simply carried out an excessive amount of of every part and I grew to become paralysed for a few hours. I assumed I used to be dying. I had visions of my mind popping out of my ears and nostril like mince meat and issues and that. I realised that my physique was making an attempt to inform me one thing and kind of received straight in a single day.”
The expertise had loads of nasty after-effects. “I had loads of shakes, panic assaults and claustrophobia,” Brown remembers. “I couldn’t go on the tube for years. Getting extra concerned in music was very therapeutic for me – I don’t know what I’d have carried out with out it.” The expertise additionally left behind one other Cream traditional, White Room, the that means of which – it begins “within the white room with black curtains close to the station / Black roof nation, no gold pavements, drained starlings” – has been fervently debated. “I had the precise freakout within the precise white room,” Brown clarifies, saying he returned to the room to put in writing the music, as “a kind of woodshedding post-drug expertise”.
“I’ve recognized Pete my entire life,” displays Malcolm Bruce, whose mom Janet Godfrey additionally co-wrote Sleepy Time Time and Candy Wine on Cream’s debut, Contemporary Cream. “Once I was very younger he could be on the home on a regular basis.”
“I used to be in awe of Jack,” remembers Brown. Cream break up up in 1968 and the Bruce-Brown partnership continued, however not with out the occasional challenges. “Typically we needed to have a relaxation from one another – two very large personalities in the identical room typically wasn’t good, plus his addictions received in the best way.” However, the partnership endured on each Jack Bruce solo launch (besides the instrumental second album Issues We Like), whereas Brown fronted a collection of different teams, produced information by a few of his contemporaries similar to Heckstall-Smith and Peter Inexperienced, and ultimately wrote a memoir, 2010’s White Rooms and Imaginary Westerns. The Brown-Bruce partnership went on pause after one other falling out following Bruce’s 2003 launch Extra Jack Than God, however Bruce, affected by liver illness, referred to as a truce and referred to as up Brown to collaborate on what was to be his remaining launch, 2014’s Silver Rails. “Jack instructed me he needed it to be ‘an outdated man’s file’,” Brown remembers. “I used to be very pleased with it – it was my farewell to him.”
The household connection endures with Malcolm, who grew to become Brown’s guitar participant for gigs about 20 years in the past, resulting in occasional songwriting collaborations. “We’ve naturally gravitated to one another,” says Brown, who’s planning to co-write materials with Malcolm for the latter’s subsequent album, “so long as I can keep alive for an affordable period of time”.
The seeds of Shadow Membership had been sown when Brown moved to Hastings from London after best friend and collaborator Phil Ryan died in 2016. “I used to be devastated when Phil died and didn’t assume I’d ever do one other file,” says Brown. Shortly afterwards he met John Donaldson, producer, musical director and piano participant on Shadow Membership. “I began to be taught the piano so I might write my very own music and I requested John if he’d give me classes,” Brown says. This led to some gigs and a few writing. “There was a correct chemistry which I used to be amazed to find this late in my life.”
The Eastbourne studio is a drumstick’s throw from the Grand Resort, which gave the title and canopy to Procul Harum’s 1973 album. Like Cream, Procul Harum had been additionally a band with their very own lyricist – Keith Reid, who Brown changed for his or her 2017 album Novum, and who died in March. Bruce himself died in 2014, and Shadow Membership’s title monitor names a roster of colleagues from his years in golf equipment such because the Marquee and the Flamingo. It feels as if he takes inventory of his life.
“Effectively, I can’t keep away from the age that I’m,” Brown replies. “A few of it’s a reappraisal; making an attempt to find out the place you might be and the place to go. However a few of it goes off on fairly an odd path. It’s kind of about confusion, actually; and about musical influences and issues you already know and the way they stick with you. It’s additionally very diverse – you’ve received a cat music, a canine music, three songs that are the form of tribute songs, and a daft music that’s very British referred to as Whodunnit. My mother-in-law, who had critical dementia, was staying with us for 2 years. She would watch reruns of Poirot, so I received to know all these British crime cliches. I put them in a music and made them much more foolish.”
Whodunnit is sung with Arthur Brown, of “Loopy World of” and Fireplace fame. Although the 2 Browns solely collaborated for the primary time on Pete’s album Street of Cobras in 2010, their friendship runs deep – in 1969, when Arthur’s band dissolved in the midst of an American tour, he got here again to London, homeless and penniless and moved in with Pete for just a few months. “I like Arthur and I’ve received an terrible lot of time for him,” Brown says. “He’s a really proficient man – very humorous and really human, one of many nice British voices.”
Different visitors embody Joe Bonamassa – a fan of 60s British blues with whom Brown collaborated on Bonamassa’s 2020 launch Royal Tea – plus Bernie Marsden, previously of Whitesnake; Mississippi blues veteran Bobby Rush; and songwriter and producer Carla Olson, who all recorded remotely. Eric Clapton lends some guitar on the title monitor. “Eric sits behind an impregnable fence,” says Brown. “We communicated by his administration. Initially Eric wasn’t going to do it as a result of he was fairly busy, however when he discovered I wasn’t very nicely, he modified his thoughts, in order that was nice.”
I can’t assist questioning if his prognosis has colored the file in any respect, however Brown has at all times matched poetry with pragmatism. “I knew I had varied types of most cancers for fairly some time,” he says. “I’ve had a variety of operations, however now I’m incurable, though they’ll delay the deadly day with varied therapies. However I’ve at all times been making an attempt to take inventory of what’s occurring and the place I’m at – particularly in recent times.”
It’s the top of the day and the recording classes have wound down round us. Has making this album been cathartic? “I undoubtedly assume so,” Brown replies. “I don’t know what I’d have carried out with myself over this era. It provides you a spotlight and you’ll see a objective forward.”
His subsequent plans are to complete off a musical and a e-book of poetry. “Typically you possibly can generate cheap vitality, different instances you simply can’t and you must get by it,” is his evaluation of the street he has left. “If the objective continues to be there and there are nonetheless extra issues to attain, then it’s value making an attempt to protect your self so long as potential as a way to attempt to do them.”