Pete Brown's camp invited me into the studio in April for what would likely be his last record due to health issues. He was obviously not doing well and sometimes had to search for words, which he never did. But Pete, who was a man of words, was as eloquent and honest as ever and had no illusions about his condition.It was written beforehis death last week at the age of 82, here is the latest interview with a British counterculture hero.
It's an overcast afternoon at Echo Zoo recording studio in Eastborne and Pete Brown realizes these sessions may be his last. "I'm 82 and trying to survive cancer," says the singer, poet laureate, Cream lyricist and bassist Jack Bruce's partner of 48 years. "I'm probably trying to finish my last record - which we had a great time with."
The bass guitar of Malcolm Bruce - Jack's son - is overdubbed on Brown singing Shadow Club, the title track of his new album, due out in October. "There's a little Jack Bruce in there," Malcolm jokes midway through. "Maybe we should replace it!" Brown sits on the couch and listens intently. "It's the first time I've made a record with a good budget and with two great producers, so it's a new departure for me," he says.
Shadow Club's after-hours atmosphere pays nostalgic homage to the sweaty clubs and their performers during the British R&B boom that Brown emerged from in the mid-1960s. "I've always been interested in ghosts," he says. Brown, "especially the musical ghosts, and certain presences like [keyboardist and bandleader] Graham Bond and [blues saxophonist] Dick Heckstall-Smith and people like that. They were very important in my live because they werelargerthan life".
Brown was already an established jazz poet in the early 1960s, supported by the leading musicians of the British jazz scene, as well as the burgeoning blues and R&B circuits, before becoming a songwriter and singer. He had a jazz poetry residency at the now legendary Marquee Club in Soho, led by Pete BrownPoetryHe formed with guitarist John McLaughlin (later a key collaborator of Miles Davis) and toured with Bond's R&B outfit in the Graham Bond organization. In 1965, Ginger Baker, another member of the Graham Bond Organization, invited Brown to join him and Bruce in completing Cream's first single, Wrapping Paper. The chemistry was instant: Brown and Bruce formed a writing partnership that blossomed through the Cream years and beyond.
Brown wrote lyrics for Cream classics such as Sunshine of Your Love, I Feel Free and Dance the Night Away, a song inspired by Brown's transition to sobriety in 1967. "I had some really bad experiences with drugs and alcohol" , says Brown, describing a shocking incident after the show: “I had just done too much of everything and was paralyzed for a couple of hours. I thought I was dying. I had visions of my brain coming out of my ears and nose like mincemeat and such and such. I realized my body was trying to tell me something and it became clear overnight.
The experience had many unpleasant consequences. "I had a lot of shaking, panic attacks and claustrophobia," Brown recalls. “I couldn't go on the tube for years. Being more involved in music has been very therapeutic for me - I don't know what I would do without it. The experience also left behind another Cream classic, White Room, the meaning of which - it begins "in the white room with black curtains near the station / Black roof, no golden pavements, tired starlings" - has been hotly debated. "I had the real breakout in the real white room," Brown clarifies, saying he returned to the room to write the song as "kind of a post-drug experience."
"I've known Pete all my life," reflects Malcolm Bruce, whose mother Janet Godfrey also co-wrote Sleepy Time Time and Sweet Wine on Cream's debut, Fresh Cream. "When I was very young, he was always at home."
"I was in awe of Jack," Brown recalled. Cream disbanded in 1968 and the partnership between Bruce and Brown continued, but not without the occasional challenge. "Sometimes we had to take a break from each other – two very big personalities in the same room sometimes wasn't good and his addictions got in the way." However, the partnership endured through every Jack Bruce solo release (apart from second album Things We Like), as Brown fronted a number of other groups, produced records by some of his contemporaries such as Heckstall-Smith and Peter Green, and eventually wrote a memoir , 2010's White Rooms and Imaginary Westerns. Brown and Bruce's collaboration ended after another feud following Bruce's 2003 release More Jack Than God, but Bruce, suffering from liver disease, called a truce and invited Brown to collaborate on what would become his last of traffic, Silver Rails since 2014. . "Jack told me he wanted it to be 'an old man's record,'" Brown recalls. "I was very proud of it - it was my farewell to him."
The family connection continues with Malcolm, who became Brown's touring guitarist some 20 years ago, leading to occasional songwriting collaborations. "Of course we're attracted to each other," says Brown, who plans to co-write material with Malcolm for the latter's next album, "as long as I can stay alive for a reasonable amount of time."
The seeds of the Shadow Club were sown when Brown moved to Hastings from London afterwardsBest friend and collaborator Phil Ryan died in 2016. "I was devastated when Phil died and I didn't think I'd ever make another record," says Brown. Soon after, he met John Donaldson, producer, musical director and pianist at the Shadow Club. "I started learning to play the piano so I could write my own music, and I asked John to teach me," says Brown. This led to some gigs and some writing. "There was good chemistry and I was surprised to discover it late in life."
The Eastbourne studio is a stone's throw from the Grand Hotel, which gave the title and cover to Procul Harum's 1973 album. Like Cream, Procul Harum were also a band with their own lyricist - Keith Reid, the who replaced Brown for his 2017 album Novum, andwho passed away in March. Bruce himself passed away in 2014 and the title track of Shadow Club references his bandmates from his days at clubs like the Marquee and the Flamingo. It feels like he's taking stock of his life.
"Well, I can't avoid the age I am," Brown replies. “Part of it is a reassessment. trying to determine where you are and where you need to go. But some of them take a very strange path. It's actually confusing. and about musical influences and things you know and how they stick with you. It's also very varied - you've got a cat song, a dog song, three songs that are kind of tribute songs and a crazy song that's very British called Whodunnit. My mother-in-law, who suffered from severe dementia, stayed with us for two years. He watched reruns of Poirot, so I got to know all those British crime clichés. I put them into a song and made them crazier."
Whodunnit is sung with Arthur Brown, known for "Crazy World of" and Fire. Although the two Browns first worked together on Pete's 2010 album Road of Cobras, their friendship runs deep - in 1969, when Arthur's band broke up in the middle of a US tour, he returned to London homeless and destitute and moved in London. with Pete for a few months. "I love Arthur and I have a lot of time for him," says Brown. "He is a very talented man – very funny and very human, one of the great British voices."
Other guests include Joe Bonamassa - a fan of 1960s British blues with whom Brown collaborated on Bonamassa's 2020 release Royal Tea - as well as Bernie Marsden, formerly of Whitesnake. Mississippi blues veteran Bobby Rush. and songwriter and producer Carla Olson, who were recorded remotely. Eric Clapton lends some guitar on the title track. "Eric is behind an impenetrable fence," says Brown. "We contacted through his management. Originally, Eric wasn't going to do it because he was quite busy, but when he found out I wasn't doing too well, he changed his mind, so that was great.
I can't help but wonder if his diagnosis colored the record at all, but Brown has always combined poetry with pragmatism. "I've known for a while that I've had several cancers," she says. “I have had several operations, but now I am incurable, though by different remedies they can postpone the fatal day. But I've always tried to take stock of what's going on and where I'm at - especially in recent years."
It's the end of the day and the recordings have ended all around us. Was making this album cathartic? "I think so," Brown replies. "I don't know what I would do with myself during this period. It gives you concentration and you can see a goal in front of you."
His next plans are to finish a musical and a book of poetry. "Sometimes you can generate reasonable energy, other times it just doesn't work and you have to overcome it," is his assessment of the path he has taken. "If the goal is still there and there are more things to achieve, then it's worth keeping yourself as much as possible to try to do them."
What does music do to the brain? ›
It provides a total brain workout. Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.Does music affect your mood experiment? ›
Study participants experienced improvements in worry, anxiety, and restlessness when they listened to music. It's widely accepted that listening to music is a good strategy to manage stress, emotions, and overall mood.Why does music make us feel happy? ›
Our favorite melodies release dopamine, known as the feel-good hormone, which activates our brain's pleasure and reward system. Music can have a positive, immediate impact on our mental state; fast tempos can psychologically and physiologically arouse us, helping energize us for the day.What does it mean when we say music is psychological? ›
Music psychology, or the psychology of music, may be regarded as a branch of both psychology and musicology. It aims to explain and understand musical behaviour and experience, including the processes through which music is perceived, created, responded to, and incorporated into everyday life.Why music is so powerful? ›
Listening to (or making) music increases blood flow to brain regions that generate and control emotions. The limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions and controlling memory, “lights” up when our ears perceive music.What is the best music for the brain? ›
1. Classical Music. Researchers have long claimed that listening to classical music can help people perform tasks more efficiently. This theory, which has been dubbed "the Mozart Effect," suggests that listening to classical composers can enhance brain activity and act as a catalyst for improving health and well-being.