Peter Brown was first drawn to the blues in the 1950s on hearing a Leadbelly album at a party. He became friends with Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason at school, was inspired by 60s folkies Bob Dylan and Donovan, released a clutch of folk-inspired albums in London in the 70s and 80s. He later moved to Malaysia with his wife Markiza, where he has been making music ever since, while giving moral support to younger musicians trying to get a start in a crowded-market local music scene.
Initially, trying to figure out who this was, I was spoilt for choice. Not Peter Brown, disco producer, who had a soft rock hit with chasing fireflies in 1999? No. Was it Pete Brown, son of Joe, brother of Sam, who has produced The Mighty Lemon Drops, Soup Dragons and Big Country, as well as having issued a respectable album in his own right? Not him. Or Pete Brown, lyricist for Cream, Jack Bruce and Colosseum, who wrote Sunshine of Your Love and recorded two classic solo albums in the early 1970s? No, not him either. ‘People get me confused with Pete Brown of Cream’, says Brown, ‘but we’re two separate gorillas’. This oblique reference to Vivian Stanshall and the Bonzo Dog Band – proto-Python humourists and musical satirists, the court jesters of classic rock – tells me that this is not someone who is likely to be turning in a showbiz blues album, the kind of generic ‘heritage’ stuff you’ll find on Jools Holland’s show on any given week.
So this must be Hassan Peter Brown, British satirist and songwriter, currently based in Kuala Lumpur? Yes.
Brown’s new album Blues is very much a personal take on life, the universe, the global music scene, and the iniquities of life as seen from the vantage point of someone who has the courage to pursue his own muse, avoiding making concessions to the dictates of current fashion or trend – the soul-death of the artist-as-corporate-stooge, and the path that so many seem compelled to take, and will continue to take, to the detriment of all concerned. Consequently, the search for a cue, a reflexive response to the all-pervading heterogeneous background drone, the universal soporific that is the global muzak for the elevator of the mind is missing: to ‘get’ his music, you have to work at it.
If you do, the rewards are considerable: Brown’s music, with its echoes of both the British folk music of the 1960s, and his beloved Dylan – and by association, the solo work of T-Bone Burnet, Dylan’s one-time amanuensis – is steeped in the erstwhile role of music as commentary on contemporary society. Once you realise where Brown is coming from – and the references and influences take a while to decode – you’re hooked. His songs have an intensity belied by the relaxed, almost offhand execution of much of the music. There is a lack of urgency to his vocals that disguises the strength of his views and convictions: this can seem at first disengaged and throwaway, but repeated exposure reveals a subtle subversion of the norm, where an ersatz earnestness can disguise the vacuity of sentiments expressed: noise and fury signifying corporate blandness.
This is an unexpected gem, and Brown’s is a voice to celebrate.