I was just wondering about your parents and family. Was there anybody else in the family that had any kind of artistic bend?
Pete Brown: Yeah. Well, my father had a great voice. I mean, a natural voice which my daughter, if, inherited. I had to work quite hard at it. But yeah, my father could’ve been a very successful professional but that because people were so conscious of security in those days, that he had to have a day job. And that, it kind of destroyed him. But at the same time, that’s what he did. He was stuck with it. He just had a beautiful voice. He worked a bit with the communist theater and was in the East End and with some Jewish organizations. But people knew of him from the East End as being a singer and people loved what he did. He had a incredible… maybe I wouldn’t say… hard to say now whether it was perfect pitch, but it was close. Very good pitch and a natural placing of the voice. It took me a hell of a long time to get to where I am now.
He was also very fascinated by comedy and novelty songs, which I, as a young child, got into quite a lot. Close the Door, They’re Coming Through the Window. The Runaway Train. All sorts of funny little odd… I’m a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch. Lots of odd songs that made the charts. He got me into all that. But then, when I was 13, I fell in love with jazz. I started collecting jazz records and reading as much as I could about jazz. Jazz was… the voices in jazz in particular, because jazz is, even though it’s instrumental in parts, then it’s very vocal, you know? It’s based on human voices.
The first two records I bought, one was by Gerry Mulligan and the second one was by Sidney Bechet. So I was already quite broad-minded. I dived into black big bands of the ’20s and ’30s to start with, and then that broadened into a general love of swing, in particular of the swing greats like Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge and Redd Red Allen and people like that. And then it moved into bebop as well and post-bebop and whatever, and I fell in love with people like Charlie Mingus and Art Blakey.
I was lucky, because in that period a lot of the greats were still alive. So I saw Coleman Hawkins many times. Probably saw Duke Ellington four times. Three of those times at least were with the classic lineup with Harry Carney and Paul Gonsalves and Ray Nance and Cootie Williams and all these people. I loved them all. And, if, culminated, although a lot of the older guys had gone by then, I actually shared a stage with Duke Ellington in the 1970, Mafia Pop Festival in Sicily and we were allowed to remain on stage after our set, and Ellington was playing, which was a great privilege. It was wonderful.
Nick B : What gave you the kind of beat poet thing that came in quite early? I mean, did you writing some form of poetry first at school, or was it something you just-
Pete Brown: Yes, yes. I started writing poetry when I was 14. How I did that was because when I was writing essays and stuff for school work and all that, then I would take off onto weird kind of imaginative shit. And the teachers got fed up with me and one of them, an English teacher, actually said, “Well, why don’t you write some poetry of your own and keep some of your imaginative stuff out of the schoolwork?” So I started writing a couple of things, I wrote a couple of sonnets, just to see if I had the chops. And then, because I’d given birth, as it were, then I felt rather excited with that and it made me feel good. I was a bit of an outsider even then, as a child. And so it gave me a bit more of a raison d’etre to…
Then I started writing and I started looking at what was out there. Inspirations were people like Dylan Thomas and then Lorca. Through friends began hearing about the American Beats and what they were doing, and that they were traveling around and doing poetry readings and stuff like that. Actually, they weren’t doing it that much. Anyway, I became excited with that idea and I loved being on the road which, up to a point, I still do. So I had that background of hitchhiking anyway and then reading On the Road by Kerouac and hearing about the exploits of the Beats.
And then I was at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival in 1960 and I met Michael Horovitz. We got on in certain ways. We both loved jazz and we both loved the idea of trying to incorporate elements of jazz into poetry. And so he had the beginnings of the group which eventually became a regular personnel. We started doing poetry reading together and jazz and poetry things in the early ’60s. Eventually, we had a permanent band with, first of all, with Graham Bond and Dick Heckstall-Smith and people like that, and later on with Stan Tracey and Bobby Willis, which was absolutely wonderful band.
The attraction was… the famous writer, who I love, Nathanael West, and someone once asked him, “What made you become a writer?” And he said, “Well, I was hoping it would make me more attractive to women.” There was that motivation, of course. But then there was also the fact that it was clear from fairly early on that I wasn’t going to fit into any kind of conventional framework of trying to make a living, because I was too much of an anarchist, quite honestly. I mean, I had, when I got thrown out of school, found out that I could… well, my parents found out I could go to journalism school for nothing at the time, so I did nine months of that. Didn’t graduate, but I learnt some stuff, some technical things, which would be good for me later.
It made me think that maybe I could make some kind of a living. I wasn’t worried about making money in the sense of being at all successful. That came on later. Me and Horovitz and we were… he had bookings and we were getting paid. And then I was starting to do my own stuff as well outside of his thing. Sometimes I would hitchhike to Liverpool for 10 shillings and the chance of finding a nice woman. Girl, in those days, of course.
Nick B: Yes. But hitchhiking was… I mean, I did a lot of hitchhiking.
Pete Brown: Yeah.
Nick B: And it was the way you got around, because you didn’t have money for other-
Pete Brown: Well, that’s right.
Nick B : You know?
Pete Brown: Because of the war, you know? I mean, because the servicemen had always been given lifts by the public. And then it turned round the other way, because during the Cold War some of the older servicemen that were still professionals, and they would give lifts to hitchhikers as a matter of policy. And so it was easy to get around. Well, I mean, take you three days to get to Scotland in those days, but, I mean…
Nick B: Having gone through the World War, I think, the World War II, in quite a short period of time after the first one, I think it took a lot of aggression and hostility out of people, really.
Pete Brown: Yes. Oh, yes. I think it did to some extent.
Nick B : Do you have any memories? I mean, I know you were only born in 1940, and, obviously, I think you were in Surrey for most of that time.
Pete Brown: Yeah.
Nick B : Do you have any memories of…
Pete Brown: Well, I have experienced it. I have one memory of, when everyone was asleep in the shelter, then I got out and sat on… or, managed to climb up onto a windowsill and was watching the conflict in the skies out, it was at night, late at night, and watching all the trace of bullets and then searchlights and everything. I was excited by that, of course, and I had two uncles that were in the service. They would come back and teach me obscene military songs, which are quite surreal, incidentally. I mean, they are really fucking weird.
Nick B : Can you remember one?
Pete Brown: Well, there was the one about Roll Me Over, Lay Me Down and Do It Again.
Nick B : Oh.
Pete Brown: That was one. That’s a famous one.
Nick B : Yeah, yeah.
Pete Brown: And there was another one about… oh,
. A Soldier Told Me Before He Died. I’ve never been able to find the whole lyric of that, but that was completely surreal. Quite bizarre. I mean, it had the same kind of surrealism that some aspects of music hall actually had, you know?
Nick B : Yeah.
Pete Brown: Really weird shit. I mean, quite bizarre.
Nick B : Well, under that, in those conditions, I mean, who knows how we’d all behave? My father ended up going to… after the bomb was dropped he went to Hiroshima.
Pete Brown: Oh, I did a gig in Hiroshima.
Nick B : Oh, did you?
Pete Brown: Yeah, it was a very good gig. It was very bizarre. it was on the second floor of the building in November and I remember looking out of the window of the building and it was just like the set of Blade Runner. It was really bizarre. I mean, all the colored lights and everything. It was just incredible.
Nick B : Because I’ve always loved music too, like you. I’ve grown up and the ’60s for me were the explosion of musical ingenuity and originality.
Pete Brown: Right.
Nick B : And I don’t think… there was a sort of period maybe from ’60 to ’70, roughly speaking, where so much of the really good stuff came out. I look back and I can’t think of the time since then when we’ve had such an explosion of such originality.
Pete Brown: No. Well, I think you’re quite correct in that. I mean, things were much more possible in those days, definitely.
Nick B : So peak of all of that came in ’65, of course, with your appearance at the Royal Albert Hall.
Pete Brown: Yeah, that’s right. Well, after that I was making a better living. If you were on that particular show, then there was a lot of kind of legendariness attached to it. And so there was more work out there and it got a bit easier to make a living. And then it was, of course, only a year after that the Cream asked me to write for them.
Nick B : They were very much in the jazz movement before they got into the rock movement. They were-
Pete Brown: Well, Jack and Ginger were.
Nick B : Yeah.
Pete Brown: They were clinging on to the… you know, in Britain there was like a kind of jazz establishment with the Ronnie Scott’s and all these people. Who were fine, they were great musicians and everything, but then there was the next generation which was Jack and Ginger. And there were only, in the early ’60s, there were maybe a small coterie of about, I don’t know, 30 to 50 musicians who were able to make some kind of living out of modern jazz. And when the blues thing came along, when Alexis Korner came along and started hiring jazz musicians, as it were, and build something, because, obviously, well, in order to get better at what you do, you need to play as much as you fucking can.
Nick B : And the Beatles did that in Hamburg, of course, didn’t they?
Pete Brown: I know. The Beatles were extraordinary. I mean, as you say, the Hamburg experience of the Beatles was unique. Well, it was unique in the sense that Alex Harvey, once again, also did Hamburg and he said it did them an awful lot of good. Very good for the chops in particular, if you’re playing five hours at night. Regular work, there’s nothing like it. Alexis and later on Graham Bond, those people used to do nine gigs a week. I mean, it’s like… and get paid not very well for it, but they could develop their thing, which was great.
So, I mean, yes, obviously the R&B thing, when it first came along, was very good for jazz musicians, the ones that weren’t snobby and that… you know, there’s this famous thing whereby Graham Bond was young jazz musicians of the year or something. He got some kind of award anyway and was very happening with the hip jazz fraternity. And when Alexis asked him to do a radio session with him, he did it under a pseudonym, because he said, “Oh, I’ve got to be very careful because now I’m going…” If the jazz police find out, then that’s not good.
Nick B: Did you always want to sing, from the word go?
Pete Brown: No. Not at all. Well, it was Graham’s fault, actually. It was Graham’s fault. Graham called me and said, “I’d like you to write for my band,” and I went, “Great,” because I loved Graham’s band more than anything and Heckstall-Smith was already becoming a very close friend. And I said, “Okay,” so I wrote these songs, right, and I took them to Graham. I sang them through with Graham. And Graham said, I think these were his words, anyway, it was a long time ago, but he said, “That’s great, and I’d like you to join the band.” And I went, “You’re joking? I’m not a singer. I can’t sing.” And he said, “Well, you just did.” And I went, “Oh, that’s interesting.”
And I had already… I mean, by that time I had this group called The First Real Poetry Band with John McLaughlin. Because everyone in that was so great, such great musicians, I was terrified of singing with them. So I didn’t. But I did sort of realize that if I was going to make records or anything, I was going to have to kind of bite the bullet in one way or anything. I was also trying to play the trumpet, but that was not going-
Nick B: Oh, I’ve seen some film of you playing the trumpet.
Pete Brown: Have you really?
Nick B: I found this piece of film of you with Graham Bond.
Pete Brown: With Graham?
Nick B : With the Bond and-
Pete Brown: yeah.
Nick B: Yeah, in France.
Pete Brown: Oh. When I had the band with Graham, unlike a lot of people Graham would encourage you. He was inspiring. You would get up on the stand with Graham and you would start to do things you never thought you would ever do. And, I mean, he did that for Jack as well. I mean, he was… a most unlikely thing for most band leaders to do on their first record was the fact that he gave Jack three songs. Three of Jack’s songs. It was the first time Jack had his songs on record. And Jack, the only problem was that he said, “Well, you’ve got to get these songs down in 20 minutes,” or thereabouts. But they managed to get them down and that was a fucking good songs. That was the beginning of Jack both as a writer and as a lead singer. He would sing odd backups in Alexis’s band and then at the start of the Graham Bond thing, but then Graham must have realized how good Jack was.
Nick B : I think he had a lovely tone to his voice.
Pete Brown: I know, fantastic. Even right in the early days, on the first Graham Bond Organisation recordings, you can already hear that there’s a major singer in there.
Nick B : I read a lovely story, and maybe you can confirm if this is true, that actually what Graham did was, because Jack and Ginger were playing, I think, for Alexis corner, and Graham went in and said to Alexis that he and Ginger and Jack were going off to form a band. And he hadn’t actually told Jack or Ginger that.
Pete Brown: No, I believe that’s true. Yes, I do believe that’s true. I mean, what happened was that they got a gig, it was at the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, Jack and Ginger and Graham, and it went down very, very well. Graham was clearly a leader in the making. And then he came and did that. He decided that… because Alexis in many ways was sort of quite a nice guy. On the other hand, he paid very badly. There were stories like when they used to fill the marquee on the Thursday nights and it was clear… I mean, of course everyone was very green in those days. They didn’t really understand about the music business and money and the functions of all that. And so apparently Alexis at the end of the gig, which was heaving with people, you couldn’t get more people in there, and he would say to the band, “Well, we didn’t do very well tonight,” and so there’s only kind of like with 10 quid each or something. And he would go away with hundreds and hundreds of pounds.
Nick B : I think that happened quite a lot though-
Pete Brown: Oh no, of course it did. Yeah. No. I mean, it happened with band leaders and it also happened with… the promoters, of course, were playing rotten money in those days.
Nick B : How did you get paid as a lyric writer?
Pete Brown: When I first wrote the first song for Cream, which was Wrapping Paper, and somebody said to me, and I can’t remember who it was, probably someone in the band anyway, and said, “You can get paid for this.” And I said, “Ah.” I said, “That’s good. What do I do to get paid for this?” And they said, “Well, you go and see Stigwood, who’s [inaudible 00:22:05] this stuff, and you ask for some money.”
So I went and saw Stigwood, who didn’t like me at all. And he said, “Okay…” and I said, “I’m told that I could ask for an advance on the song.” And he said, “Yes.” I said, “Okay.” And he said, “How much do you want?” And it’s 1966, and I said, “Well, £25?” He went, “Sure.” And I’m crushed. That was the most money I’d ever earned, of course, because, I mean, even the Albert Hall thing, nobody got paid. Someone ran away with all the money from that. Nobody ever saw it.
So I thought, “This is good. I mean, this is unbelievable. This will pay for a whole month of whatever.” Because I was still struggling a bit as a poet and everything, living in a hovel and whatever. Stigwood offered me an exclusive deal and I smelt a rat. I didn’t like it. I felt it was wrong. So I said, “No, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do a song-by-song basis contract thing, but not an exclusive deal.” It wasn’t very much that he was offering me and I thought, “That’s not good enough.”
I mean, I’ve never been great with money. I’m quite good at certain aspects of business, which I’ve learnt the hard way, but even then I made a lot of mistakes. And so I said, “Okay. No, I’m not going to do that.” And I got myself a publishing deal which didn’t include the Cream stuff, and the Cream stuff I did song by song, and that turned out to be a good move.
Nick B : And presumably, you get ongoing payments from that now, it wasn’t-
Pete Brown: [crosstalk 00:24:20] that’s why I’m living in a house.
Nick B: Yes. Which was the most successful of the Cream records from your point of view, financially?
Pete Brown: Well, either Disraeli Gears or Wheels of Fire. I mean, obviously the best songs, as you probably know, were Sunshine and White Room and I Feel Free still does, they all do a lot of business still these days.
Nick B : The whole Cream experience and, I mean, I know, from a distance you sort of thought, “They always seem to be fighting.” But I think I read somewhere that you said, “It’s a creative process in some ways.” They made great music together even if they didn’t always love each other.
Pete Brown: Well, first of all you’ve got this element of conflict, which sometimes can work to your advantage in the sense of, creatively, and secondly, you’ve always had this thing, in particular Ginger and Jack were both very competitive. Musically and in other ways. For some reason, that made for a very interesting chemistry which drove Cream to some extent. And I didn’t see it as that until much, much later when, funnily enough, we were doing Jack’s 50th birthday gig Cologne and Ginger was on that. And I watched them playing a jazz piece to start with with the Dick Heckstall-Smith, and I thought, “They’re really competing with each other.” It was the first time I’d really sussed it.
I mean, nobody ever knew that we would all eventually come to be doing wonderful shows like this and celebrating living for a long time, because we were all living very hard in those days. And it wasn’t like Pete Townshend that we thought, “I hope we die before we get old,” but it was quite a possibility. It was quite a possibility. Some of us didn’t make it. But some of the ones that did make it are here with us tonight and you will be seeing them. And right now, this is the jazz section of the program and you’re in for a very big treat, because what is about to happen is a very unique
Pete Brown: … recreation of a record that happened a while ago called Things We Like which Jack did with some of his favorite jazz musicians and friends. But this is a slightly different lineup with the amazing Ginger Baker on drums. And also with the great Dick Heckstall-Smith on saxophone. My friend and partner, Jack Bruce. The wonderful Jack Bruce. Thank you. See you again.
Jack Bruce: And thank you very much, Pete Brown. I seem to remember meeting him, he was living in a cupboard.
Pete Brown: And I thought, “This is…” because they were moving to areas and kind of dare the other one to go into it and create traps, musical traps. You know, saying, “What about that then? Cop that.” And it was like, very strange that way. But that’s what drove them.
Nick B : So for me interesting hearing that, because, obviously, if one of them had brought you into the band to write, then that might have pissed the other one off. But Ginger Baker, I understand, was the one who actually first invited you.
Pete Brown: Yeah, he called me. Apparently, originally he wanted Mike Horovitz. For some reason, either Horovitz couldn’t do it if he was contacted or Ginger possibly even made a mistake and… but he knew how to get hold of me anyway. And because we, yeah, we’d hung out together up to a point. I mean, for instance, there was a wonderful time, I lived in this kind of incredible sort of hole in Chalk Farm before Chalk Farm was really gentrified. But anyway, when I was living in that particular place, in
Road, and there were musicians and various people living in that place, and so we went back, a crowd of us went back to my place. Probably about three or four o’clock in the morning, because I had a piano, it wasn’t a very good piano, it was terrible piano, anyway, we were sitting there.
And I’m sitting with all these sort of young people, right? The door opened and Ginger put his head around the door, right? And he goes, “Eh, is it all right if we come in and have a play?” I went, “Of course,” sort of like. And Ginger and the bass player, who I think was Chris Thompson at the time, a black guy, really good… he was a friend of mine, actually, and Graham came in and started to play. Just set up and started to play. The guy upstairs who I shared the place with was a drummer, so there was a drum kit there, and they just played.
And all these people couldn’t believe it. We were all sitting on the bed, right? All stoned, of course, and there was this kind of concert going on and this incredible fucking jazz by these guys. Unbelievable. That was the ’60s for you.
Nick B : I love the fact that what you just told me in passing was that you almost weren’t the lyric writer for Cream because you think, A, he might’ve been looking for Mike Horovitz, or even if he was looking for you, if you hadn’t been there, maybe they’d have to grab somebody-
Pete Brown: I know. Sure.
Nick B : It’s almost like an accidental, wonderful thing to happen for everybody.
Pete Brown: Well, yes, it was. I mean, and luckily, again, they were recording in a studio just around the corner from where I lived in Chalk Farm. Initially I was trying to work with Ginger, but then he worked better with Jack’s wife, Janet. And so I got Jack and Ginger got Jack’s wife to work with, which was fine. Jack and I, whatever our differences were, which were considerable every now and then, we had the chemistry. Our chemistry was very powerful. It was just purely accidental, if you like, the fact that we got it like that. And, I mean, 48 years of work, I mean, that’s more than most people. And there were times having two fairly large personalities in one room didn’t work. It’s that kind of like… but as to the fact that he had his problems…
Nick B : I think what you were beginning to get to, and which I remember, before I lost friends too, was the ’60s, despite being such a wonderful time in some ways, I mean, A, we all had the feeling that nuclear war could start at any point and we could be blown apart.
Pete Brown: Well, exactly. Yes, that was… that’s right.
Nick B: Which we don’t have in the same way now.
Pete Brown: No, not quite.
Nick B : But in those days, you just kind of tried to ignore it most of the time.
Pete Brown: Well, yes.
Nick B : But the other thing was that the usage of drugs, especially amongst creative people, went a bit wild and people couldn’t handle it.
Pete Brown: Yes. Well, it’s what I call the curse of Charlie Parker, whereby initially, anyway, a lot of jazz musicians who were in thrall to the work of Charlie Parker, which is indisputably wonderful. Had this kind of feeling at the back of their minds that a lot of that creativity was driven by heroin, which wasn’t true. It was a big, big fucking mistake. And a lot of people got into it for that very reason, that they thought, “If I take all that heroin, then I’ll be like Charlie Parker.” And it was a very common mistake in the ’60s. Killed a lot of people and also ruined a lot of lives.
Love Jack, because Jack was one of the most creative musicians I’d ever come across and he was a genius in many ways. The privilege of working with him outweighed the bad times. Ginger used to call Jack Jekyll and Hyde, because Ginger is nasty, or had this image of… he had the self-image of wanting to be nasty. “I am a nasty person. I do bad things.” But that was… with Ginger you got what was on the tin. I mean, he would switch every now and then, but it wasn’t… whereas with Jack, I believe, anyway, that he was bipolar at the very least. Yeah, you never knew which one you were going to get. Sometimes he was the most charming person in the world, creative, everything working find. Sometimes it was somebody very unpleasant who was very difficult to work with.
Nick B : It was, part of that or a lot of that down to the drugs?
Pete Brown: Yes. It didn’t help.
Nick B : No.
Pete Brown: Well, it probably was… yeah, it certainly didn’t help. Not at all, no.
Nick B: And after Cream, really, I suppose, I mean, I know you got involved in putting your own bands together and so on.
Pete Brown: Yeah.
Nick B : But Graham Bond was a big one for you though, wasn’t he?
Pete Brown: Well, yes. I mean, I loved Graham. I mean, Graham had his problems, of course. He was also a junkie and various things. And a serial fantasist as well, in many ways. When we eventually put that band together in ’72, which didn’t last all that long, it was about less than a year, it was a pinnacle for me at the time, because I liked Graham. I loved Graham’s work and I thought he was wonderful.
Nick B : I thought he was a genius.
Pete Brown: I know, he was. He was incredibly important. And a lot of that was pleasure, but Graham was not in a great place at that time.
Nick B : But he was like the first person to ever use a Mellotron in music in this country, wasn’t he?
Pete Brown: Oh yes, he did lots of things. I think, and I’ve always said this, I always said that I believed that the Graham Bond Organisation was to musicians what The Beatles were to the public. A huge influence and creatively absolutely one of the top things that ever happened in Britain, which is why I’ve been involved with producing reissues of Graham a lot. Two huge box sets and other stuff, because I really think it should be out there and it should get the acclaim that it deserves.
Nick B : But he really didn’t make a lot of money out of it, or did he?
Pete Brown: No.
Nick B : And he never made it in general terms.
Pete Brown: He had a very badly flawed personality. He had a few chances that he blew. The drugs were too important at the wrong time. He wasn’t good with money. I mean, I wasn’t very good with money, but then after 1967 I didn’t have any bad habits, so at least my head was in a reasonable place. Unfortunately, a lot of very creative people, as we were saying, got involved, got addicted to various things and it-
Nick B: Fucked them up.
Pete Brown: It fucked them up and it lost them a lot of chances. I also wonder, because I’m a dedicated left-winger, and even possibly because I’m Jewish, whether that lost me a few opportunities here and there. It’s not impossible.
Nick B: No.
Pete Brown: And that’s when I feel very paranoid and I think, “Well, maybe I…”
Nick B : Well, having said all that, I think you’ve had quite a good career, really, haven’t you?
Pete Brown: I mean, well, mostly. Yeah. I’ve had my doldrums.
Speaker 1: I think you got fairly fed up in… was it ’77 when you sort of-
Pete Brown: Yeah. Well, when the punk thing came along, that was bad news, because it wasn’t based on talent. It was based on silly clothes and rings through your ear and stuff. Well, it was the first thing that the music business actually invented and they then proceeded to try and ram it down everybody’s throat.
Nick B : It was quite contrived, especially with the Sex Pistols and people like that.
Pete Brown: Incredibly contrived.
Nick B: But when you say the first thing, of course, the Monkees and-
Pete Brown: Yes, that was contrived as well.
Nick B: Yeah.
Pete Brown: People like Hal Blaine and all The Wrecking Crew, had great backing singers. So it wasn’t them, really, a lot of that. A lot of people didn’t play on their own records or didn’t even sing on their own records, but-
Nick B: You then formed your long-lasting association with Phil Ryan, I think, wasn’t it?
Pete Brown: Yeah.
Nick B: And you carried on… I mean, obviously, people have gone by the way as they do as you get older, but that seemed to have been very successful for you, musically at least, in terms of.
Pete Brown: Well, Phil was my best friend. He became my best friend. Initially we used to fight. I recruited him for the second version of Piblokto. He was in this band, wonderful band from South Wales called the Eyes Of Blue, whose work you can still find.
Nick B: I have.
Pete Brown: You got it, yeah?
Nick B: I found it, yeah.
Pete Brown: And boy, was singing and playing on that band… I saw them live a lot of times. They were wonderful. And when they broke up, then I grabbed Phil. Being an old socialist, I never feel that comfortable with… I mean, when I first had money, I went crazy at one point. I didn’t know what the fuck to do with it. And I used to get a mini cab and go round to Selfridges with my girlfriend and buy half of Selfridges and keep the mini cab waiting for about four hours while I bought half of Selfridges. But that didn’t last for very long, because I realized that that wasn’t the way to do it.
Nick B: Has your songwriting process changed? I mean, you said that with Jack normally he produced the music, although sometimes you went to him with an idea.
Pete Brown: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nick B: In general terms, do you tend to start off lyrically in your head or do you tend to start off musically?
Pete Brown: Well, when you work with people like Phil Ryan and Jack, they’re very versatile. Heckstall-Smith, I wrote a lot of stuff with him. The versatility of those great musicians means that if you get an idea which just comes from a lyrical idea, then you could just give it to them and you know they’re going to deliver something great. Obviously, in the early days with Cream, because they were on the road all the time, then we had to squeeze in the writing in a very few days here and there. Jack and I were working for a couple of days and because Cream was the cash cow of the Stigwood organization, they were on the road all the fucking time. And so, “And here’s a few days off, write.” So there we go, we’re writing.
It was five o’clock or later than five o’clock in the morning and Jack… we’ve done some work but we were needing more, and we were getting fed up with each other as well, probably. And Jack finally went and… he picked up his double… he was, obviously, a jazz musician and so he still had his double bass. He picked up his double bass and said, “Well, what about this then?” and went… looked out the window and it was dawn. It was getting near dawn and I said, “It’s getting near dawn and…” And that was it. That’s how that happened.
But there wasn’t… you know, Stigwood would never pay for me to go with them on tour and sit there and wait for ideas to happen. So we could’ve had an awful lot more songs. After two and a half years they got bored with each other and they wanted to have… and Stigwood didn’t want to give them more musicians to work with.
Nick B: It’s so true, isn’t it? That you look back at some of them, the biggest bands of that day who are still remembered so fondly and fantastically now.
Pete Brown: Yeah.
Nick B: And most of them were together a very short period of time.
Pete Brown: Quite a lot. Again, I mean, people’s creativity changes. And so you find you have different requirements. I mean, the best band that I had was the one with Phil from 2010 to 2014, and that was a nine-piece band, which was very hard to do stuff with because of the expense, which I was subsidizing. But that was the most happy time or one of the happiest times of my life as a musician, because that was such a fucking great band.
Well, some of you may be familiar with the songs, the traditional New Orleans songs Frankie and Johnny and Stagger Lee and things like that. We always loved those songs and Phil and I decided to write a version of that song, which was… and set it in London in the early 1990s, perhaps. In Camden Town, perhaps. Maybe. Which is a place one occasionally hangs in. So this one is called The Ballad of Psycho and Delia. (singing)
Nick B: Funny that with these things, they don’t always make money.
Pete Brown: No.
Nick B: But they can be hugely satisfying.
Pete Brown: It was, yes, absolutely. I mean, I did two of the best things I ever did in my life with that band. And Phil became like my brother, you know? I mean, I loved Phil. Once we got over our initial sort of hostility, then we were very close. And the two people that I miss most in my life, really, are Phil and Heckstall-Smith.
Nick B: He was a saxophonist as well, wasn’t he?
Pete Brown: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Dick was a wonderful musician and terrific writer, actually. He wrote some great stuff. And the last record that we did together which I co-produced which was called Blues and Beyond, which all sorts of people were on. Jack played on it, Mick Taylor played on it, all sorts of people. Clem. And I’m very, very proud of that record.
Nick B: So you’ve written or co-written with a lot of different artists, haven’t you, over the years and stuff?
Pete Brown: Sure. Oh, yeah.
Nick B: And, I mean, I read something about Krissy Matthews recently.
Pete Brown: Oh, I’d just done two gigs in Norway with him. Came back on Sunday.
Nick B: Haven’t you got another one to do in December? Oh, there’s a Hamburg Blues Band and I saw Maggie Bell as well.
Pete Brown: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
Nick B : A very old favorite of mine too.
Pete Brown: I love Maggie. Maggie, we had her on the Cream acoustic thing doing two-
Nick B: Really? She’s got a hell of a voice.
Pete Brown: Singing one number with Bobby Rush and one on her own. So yeah, no, I love Maggie. We’ve worked together quite a lot.
Nick B: You’re still writing, happily and presumably?
Pete Brown: Yes. Well, as I say, I just wrote a whole lot of stuff with Joe Bonamassa, whose work I like. I don’t know how much of it will get used, but he’s supposed to be recording some of it in January. I did the last Procol Harum album. I did most of the lyrics for that. That’s been very successful, actually.
Nick B: Oh.
Pete Brown: Mainly because they tour a lot. It was in the charts in Germany. Did the last Krissy Matthews album, which we had a sort of almost hit with the single, Level With the Devil, which it has a very funny video of, which got quite a lot of play. So yeah, I mean, I’m working with different people. As long as it’s people that I respect. I mean, I don’t do things for money.
Nick B: No.
Pete Brown: I’m doing a bit of work with this woman, semi-legendary woman called Carla Olson who had a band with Gene Clark of the Byrds. She’s in her 60s. She’s about the same age as you, I think. I’ve started doing some writing with her. She’s in LA. Yeah. Whatever comes along that really interests me. I might do some stuff with Emma Wilson. Emma Wilson’s a really great bluesy, souly, bluesy singer [crosstalk 00:53:24]
Nick B: By the way, I’m with you. Blues touches me soul, which most other forms of music just doesn’t get anywhere near.
Pete Brown: Oh no, blues and soul, next to jazz, are incredibly important to me. I mean, probably about 85% of what I love is black music of one kind or another. I’m a bit racially prejudiced in that particular-
Nick B: Yeah, in the positive senses. Yeah.
Pete Brown: Yeah, in that particular area. That was the interesting thing about the whole ’60s thing and how the British musicians somehow managed to get not just inspiration, but a closeness to the feeling of the blues and soul thing, which nobody else ever did. I mean, there are the odd individual that turns up that somehow can do that. I mean, there’s a kid in Hastings who I love, a guy called Harry Randle-Marsh.
Nick B: I have not seen him yet.
Pete Brown: Okay. Well, he’s wonderful. He’s, I don’t know, 24 or something like that. He’s got a fantastic voice and he… what he’s doing is not particularly retro, but all the stuff that he listens to is Otis Redding and everybody, and James Brown, and he’s completely steeped himself in that music, and it’s produced a very interesting result, which I don’t often hear in younger people these days.
The idea of success as such was something I didn’t contemplate at all for a long time. I went to see a Hard Day’s Night in Camden Town. Of course, by that time I’d done a lot of, a lot of time in Liverpool. I loved Liverpool and I was doing poetry readings and everything. And the possibility goes that we had… there was this regular poetry place we used to do called Streets, and apparently Lennon did come down a few times. I don’t remember him being there. I met him later on, very briefly, getting mobbed by thousands of girls and also communicating to all these fucking thousands and thousands of people. And I was certainly very moved by that.
The idea of success came up. That was the first time I’d ever thought of the idea of success, when I saw these guys that were from a not dissimilar background to my own. The communication was the thing that really fascinated me, because that’s what I’m about to a huge extent, is trying to get across to people and entertain and communicate. It’s very important to me, that people should have some kind of alternative choice rather than the mainstream. And so the fact that they were doing that in a rather fine and rather musical way really blew me away and was very important as a-
Nick B: A motivation.
Pete Brown: A motivation, yes. Yes.
Nick B: Yeah. What motivates you to get up and go about again?
Pete Brown: Well, I guess it’s because it defines me as a person, as a performer. I like performing. I like communicating with people. That’s always been the motivation, really.
I know some of you know Ginger Baker died today. Or this morning, I think, it was. Someone I’ve been associated with for many, many years. We did a project quite recently which is going to come out next year. Cream songs played acoustically with all sorts of interesting people like Joe Bonamassa and stuff. And Ginger played on four of the sessions. Played really good, actually, so it was a very nice thing for him to end with.
And this first poem I’m going to read you is about hopefully not being replaced. Ginger is irreplaceable and I’d like you to know that. This is called Robots. “After the next right-wing revolution, the workers and professionals will be replaced by robots. The ultimate economic solution. They will not strike, require wages or food. The upper classes will then have won the battle against their old adversary. They can relax into the next stage of their lives of leisure. But see them riding around on electronic war horses, dressed to kill, in red and black, hunting in vain for the hungry people who ate their racing thoroughbreds.”