Book review: White Rooms & Imaginary Westerns by Pete Brown
Pete who? Beat poet, jazz man, musician of various degrees of skill, self-proclaimed weak singer who got a lot better, Battered Ornaments, Piblokto...
No? How about Dick Heckstall-Smith, Clem Clempson, Phil Ryan...
Er... Jack Bruce Getting warmer...
Ginger Baker...Eric Clapton...Cream...Sunshine Of Your Love...He co-wrote it you know.
Ah, THAT Pete Brown...
An interesting life, Pete’s. Right at the heart of the phenomenon that was the Sixties and beyond, yet, to most people, quite invisible, quite unfairly, too.
A poet of note and from a ‘typical’ London Jewish family, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and the Liverpool scene before turning his hand to lyrics, making music, playing instruments, producing records, dabbling in film, championing other bands.
Chances are, if you’ve listened to any music of note from the Sixties onward, Pete’s had a hand in it somewhere. If not co-writing it (qv Cream), then, at least, chivvying along those who perform.
Like many a muso affected by the cynical Khmer Rouge-type swamping and destruction of musical skill that was punk, Pete had to find recognition in Europe before re-emerging after artistic hibernation in the Eighties to achieve some kind of respect in the Nineties, if only along the south coast.
He teamed up with Jack Bruce to co-write several of Cream’s top songs (the royalties come in handy) and, up until a few years ago, was still working with the Scot on his solo albums despite, as he says, never quite knowing whether he was regarded as a friend or an employee as their relationship was at times, shall we say, varied.
Pete spares few details. From his desperate attempts to woo many a lass (and initially failing) to descriptions of life on the road and the many characters with whom he’s come into contact, this is a who’s who compendium of British popular music by a man who’s lived enough for two lives.
Anecdotes cram every page, peopled by folk you either don’t know, or have come across fleetingly in your own musical taste odyssey.
It leaves you looking at that era of British music in an entirely new light and an increasing respect for the people who created the rhythmic backdrop to post-war culture.
If you want to know where you are or are going culturally, you need to know where you’ve come from. This book is an essential A-Z guide of part of that jigsaw.
(JR Books, hardback, £18.99)