English performance poet, lyricist, and singer best known for his collaborations with Cream and Jack Bruce. Brown formed the bands Pete Brown & His Battered Ornaments and Pete Brown & Piblokto! and worked with Graham Bond and Phil Ryan.
Pete sadly passed away on May 19. This interview first appeared in The Hastings Independent Press September 2015


In the big comfy kitchen of his newly moved-into house, Pete and I fell to discussing how odd it was that our paths had never crossed during our music careers, and that we were only introduced last year (2014) by my old friend the Newcastle poet Tom Pickard. Tom was reading at Hasting's Black Huts Festival of Writing, Music & Film, and I was intrigued to learn that not only had he and Pete hung out together in Newcastle in the early sixties, but Pete had been the first reader at the legendary Morden Tower, the poetry venue set up by Tom and his then wife Connie Pickard, which attracted poetry luminaries such as Allen Ginsberg, and Basil Bunting. I knew I had to start at the beginning.


CG: I was going to ask you a bit about the pre Cream days.


PB: Well, that was really my first professional experience. I had this mad notion, inspired by reading about The Beat Poets in America, (which I got wrong. They weren't actually doing hundreds of gigs and hitchiking everywhere), nevertheless I ended up doing just that. Sometimes it was ten shillings (50p) and a girl....if you were lucky. There was no "performance poetry circuit" to speak of, so we kind of created one, starting around 1960 when I met Michael Horowitz (founder of  New Departures and publisher of William Burroughs and Samual Beckett). Previous to that meeting I'd been published in America but never in Britain, and Michael wanted some of my stuff for New Departures.


CG: So who was publishing you in America?


PB: Evergreen Review, which was the bible of The Beats and the alternative culture, so I was very happy. I always had this relationship with America - and obviously it was America that really went for Cream, in a big way. Before that I would be sending out reams of poems to British magazines and nobody wanted to know because it wasn't anything like the stuff people were doing currently. Then suddenly I'm in Evergreen Review, which everyone thinks is the best culture magazine in the world at the time......


CG:  So what kind of circulation did the Evergreen Review have?


PB: .......Big, big. It sold in all the hip bookshops in London, and was very successful in America, so suddenly there was this kind of confirmation that what I was doing was not complete nonsense. (laughs). It was just a nice little thing that told me, maybe I'm on the right track.


CG: So this was like an early CV, a message to reluctant publishers; Pete Brown has appeared in the Evergreen Review!


PB: Yes quite. You have to remember that at this point the British poetry scene was in the grip of the establishment, which was the very thing that Horowitz and I were fighting against; for instance you couldn't get on radio poetry programmes, few and far between though they were, if you were from Newcastle or Liverpool, or, like me, had an accent bearing traces of the East End. You'd  have actors reading your poetry! And they all had posh voices which belonged to the kind of class you just didnt figure in. But gradually - particularly via the Liverpool scene and because we were now starting to get around a lot - things began to change. Suddenly you heard these great regional voices on radio and people began to accept them as having an authenticity that seemed to be heralding significant cultural change.


CG: And then bands like the Beatles came through, riding the wave of this huge cultural shift.


PB: Absolutely - and interestingly I remember this disagreement with Ginsberg, at the time, who says to me "The Beatles are going to change the world." - at that point I was a bit of a musical snob because I was in love with jazz - and so I'm saying to him "its just about jazz...I don't hear the other thing"... I could hear the blues of course, because blues lyrics were always an inspiration to me, right from the early stuff. Mamie Smith and Victoria Spivey in particular wrote some fantastic lyrics. Then there were the country blues people.....obviously Robert Johnson who I loved, and particularly Sleepy John Estes who I still, to this day, find absolutely amazing. Blind Willie McTell is another one  - imaginative, incredible lyrics that always turned me on. On another level, I started to listen to Waynone Harris. She featured great lyrics - Dont Roll Your Bloodshot Eyes at Me - I'm Scared To Smell Your Breath - You'd Better Shut Your Peepers Before You Bleed to Death. I mean those lines are so fucking good! I grew up listening to all that.

When the poetry thing took off, after the big Albert hall reading in 1965, we were sort of making a living, some of us anyway.... it was like 5 gigs for £20 a week, but it was growing. A year after that, Cream asked me to write and of course because of my knowledge of all that blues stuff, I was ready...almost..(laughs)..I didnt quite know what I was doing to start with, but I got into it fairly quickly.


CG: Was it an instinctive thing?


PB: Yes, as the lyricist in most of the songwriting partnerships I’ve had, I found a facility there.


CG: Where do you suppose that comes from ?


PB: Its because you listened to all that stuff.....whatever was playing in my house. Rock ‘n Roll from my older brother and sister, Nat Cole & Glenn Miller from my parents. And I would be hearing these great lyricists like Cole Porter And Irving Berlin


CG: Tin Pan Alley!


PB: Well that’s another thing, some of the great standard repertoire is incomparable, and of course I grew up with that too. My particular favourite though was E.Y. Harburg, one of the true american socialists. They called him Yip Harburg, and he wrote "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" "April in Paris" "Buddy Can You spare a Dime?" -  He was at that unique place in American history, and a man who influenced many of his great successors, notably Mose Allison, one of my idols, whose songs, like Middle Class White Boy and Your Mind Is on Vacation but Your Mouth is Working Overtime are just some of the best. I had Mose round for tea once, and we were just talking about stuff that had influenced him and I said "What's your favourite book?" and he said "Well I guess my favourite book is The Journal of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchem." Patchem predessor of the beats and basically a poet, he was another honest socialist who genuinely wanted to change the world and make things better for people. Of his longer prose books ,this was the one I really liked, because it was articulated it in what I considered to be a great way. I found it heartening that Mose was into him as well, because at that time most Americans struck you as being, well terrible capitalists, (laughs), and you know, sometimes you despair. I mean...I won't mention a name.... but one of my managers got me a writing job with a famous guitar player in America. a stadium-type guitarist and a very good musician which is why I wanted to work with him.

CG: So he wanted you as a lyricist?


PB: Yes, but in fact he had hardly anything, so I ended up writing half the tunes as well, because he just had a kind of collection of riffs and chords. Anyway, I won't mention his name, but I was staying in San Francisco, while I was doing the job, and the US Marines Air Display Team were flying outside - I could almost lean out of my hotel room and touch these bloody planes, it was really frightening.

CG: You were in a high rise building?

PB: Well no it was only about ten floors, since they don’t do tall buildings in San Francisco.

CG: Of course - in case they fall down!

PB: Exactly (laughs), and these planes were so low, with all this horrible kind of macho flying, I just couldn’t bear it. And you know one of the things I had in common with Alex Harvey was we were both strong pacifists yet fascinated by war.......and I mentioned the story to this guy I was working with, and he said "Oh yeah,  I've just written an anthem for them" and I thought waaaah? (big laughs).  It reminded me that we once had a request from the Band Of The Finnish Air Force who wanted to do a version of I Feel Free… 

(Interviewer collapses with laughter),


PB: …where.....seriously....they had rewritten all the lyrics, so they were something like; I feel really free because I'm flying over my enemy and bombing the shit out of them...

(Sound of tea being expelled from interviewer's nose),


PB: ...and we went; "Oh no. Fuck no. Definitely not. Thank you very much. Not for us no. Thank you"


CG:  I so want to hear that!  Not a lot of people are aware that the Finns' inherent sense of surrealism, goes way back, despite our notion that it was invented in the 1920s by André Breton.


PB: I know, I know. Somewhere, in a box, I have the lyric they sent me. It was frightening. It was like the 1933 Nazi manifesto you know? I mean, unbelievable. You could certainly say the Finns are off-beat. Those films of Kaurismäki, they were great, but also incredibly miserable too.


CG: Ah yes, but off-beat misery. As a touring band, it can be so easy to get a bad introduction to a beautiful country like Finland, no?


PB: True. I remember our first visit. We went there after being diverted from another gig. they said, "You're not playing in High Wycombe tomorrow, you're playing in Finland. OK we get on a flight to Copenhagen for the first leg, but then get put on standby, and we're thinking we might not make it, so when we finally get there - its been a difficult trip you know - no sleep,  we say, "Where's the hotel?" "Oh no," they say,  "you're onstage in 20 minutes." (laughter) so we go "OK, how many people are there?" - "Oh around 20,000." And we get there and play, and the audience are throwing beer cans and other stuff on stage! So we ask the promoter "Why were they throwing stuff?", and he says "Oh that means they like you" and I say "Oh really? What if they dont like you?" and he goes "Well, then they will throw knives."

CG: It’s in those situations, where you're really not sure what's happening, you recite to yourself that old showbiz cliché, the show must go on. when in reality you should probably have done a runner.


PB: I know, you have to learn! (laughter)


CG: To change the subject, I was intrigued to learn recently that when you first got the invitation from Cream, it was with a view to writing with Ginger Baker, is that so?


PB: Yes sort of. He was the one who made the call, and I did try to write with Ginger. Part of our upcoming documentary is concerned with the controversy about all that. Ginger was not easy to write with, but he did have some very interesting ideas. I did write lyrics for a couple of his things and then he sort of claimed to have "lost them on a plane" and things like that, you know? He wanted to do it all himself really.

CG: I remember we did a couple of his numbers with Airforce (Baker's post-Cream band) , and they were OK.


PB: Yes, obviously I loved Pressed Rat and Warthog, and all that.


CG: I remember a particular favourite of Ginger's was My Baby Has Gorn Down the Plughole which we recorded, and he wanted to put that on the album Airforce 2 .


PB: I know, that was an old music hall song. But  Ginger is a terrific drummer. I loved Airforce, and he could do that whole jazz, rock, R n' B thing like no-one else - as a musician I had no problem with him at all, but he's a horrible person - I mean you know what he's like, and we've all seen the film (Beware of Mr. Baker).


CG: Oddly enough, myself and Kenny Craddock, (Hammond organist & guitarist 1950-2001, who joined Ginger Baker's Airforce at the same time as me) never really encountered any of that, perhaps because being only 20, we came with no baggage. I certainly get the impression, with hindsight, that Ginger is a man with deep grudges, some of them going back to the 1950s! (laughter)


PB:  He enjoys his grudges. He still enjoys them! He doesn't let them go. Kenny was a terrific musician wasn't he?


CG: Extraordinary, and very sadly missed. Of course you had a long association with Graham Bond (Hammond organist and seminal figure in the history of British R 'n B, member of Airforce and leader of The legendary Graham Bond Organisation), whose drummer was Ginger Baker.

PB:  Ah Graham. A couple of years ago I produced a four CD set of all the old Organisation stuff including some unreleased tracks, and I've just finished another one, Volume 2, based on all the BBC stuff plus other tracks I've acquired which is coming out at probably the end of October.


CG:What about Live At Klook's Cleek?  I had that album as a teenager.


PB: I still have it, it's in storage with the rest of my vinyl. It was recorded by Georgio Gomelsky (see link below), who occasionally releases it and nobody gets paid at all. Apart from that one, the four CD set was fairly definitive, and then we began discovering some other stuff from the BBC sessions and ended up with another 4 CD boxed set. I have a good relationship with Repertoire Records, who are putting these out, and I do some archive things for them. I still have a toe in the archive thing, especially when I find it's a worthwhile subject which I think ought to be out there. The first Graham Bond set sold incredibly well and at £40 a pop, we all made money out of it, so we're hoping the next one will be just as good.


CG: You've produced a lot of stuff since Cream


PB: I got to producing quite a lot of records, and then I didn't do it for a bit, just bits and pieces. Then a couple of years ago I was doing a gig in Germany with The Hamburg Blues Band, who I was a guest singer with alongside Maggie Bell and Miller Anderson, and the support act was this guy called Chrissy Matthews - an incredible guitar player, really gives a hundred percent - and he approached me with a view to doing some work together so I said I'd take a look at it, see what he'd got. Anyway I ended up producing his album, and co-writing all the songs except for one Blind Willie McTell cover. And I had a great time doing it because he's such a great guy. I'd been a little bit apprehensive because every now and then you come across things you get asked to do - and people are very precious, they won't move, and they don't listen to you. You've been there, of course you have - and you think "why am I doing this? What the fuck do I need this for? But this was such a nice experience I thought I'd quite like to do a bit more, so I've been doing some bits and pieces, with young acts this time, and they've been going well. But when I do gigs with Chrissy's band or The Hamburg Blues Band, I like doing a few Cream numbers you know?

CG:  That repertoire is yours!


PB:  I've always liked doing the live stuff, and of course yes, I wrote the stuff. There was a time, of course, because Jack was such a great singer, for a long time thought I shouldn't be doing this. But after  I had six years of singing lessons, I felt comfortable with it.


CG: We were talking earlier about the Hammond organist and alto saxophonist Graham Bond, and how much he was willing to encourage younger players such as my (then) self.


PB: The great thing about being friends with Graham, and eventually having a band with him for a year was that he would always encourage you. Unlike a lot of the old jazzers who would go “oh you don’t want to do that” blah blah, you know, that attitude. Graham was never like that. He would always go “do it man…try that” That was the thing, especially about Graham, that he never had that sort of modern jazz attitude although he was a more than capable modern jazz musician, but you knew when you played with him that you would give more than your best, that you would go beyond, you would give it that extra few inches you know? Because whatever you thought of all those guys - Jack, Ginger, Dick (Heckstall Smith) and Graham in particular - they always gave one hundred percent. There was never a time when they wouldn’t do that. They were not coasting – never –they always hit it. Yes sometimes it was a bit wild and ragged, whatever, but most of the time it was right on and always delivered with tremendous power, enthusiasm and passion.


CG: They're not all like that unfortunately.


PB: Unfortunately not, its like you were saying earlier, it’s not always good meeting your heroes. Van Morrison and Hastings favourite John Martyn, both seem to have suffered from it. Goes with the territory, I guess.


CG: It seems so unneccessary to be a shit, just because you are a great artist.


PB: John Martyn, what a madman. I opened for him in Edinburgh, we were doing the soundcheck and there's this spiral staircase coming down on to the stage. Suddenly there's this tremendous crash and he and his brother in law, or his cousin who was his tour manager, the two of them came rolling down the stairs on to the stage, fighting. Two Scots, proper fighting you know.....kill. Blood all over the place, and we're just trying to get out of the way. (laughter)- Jack (Bruce) hated him. He was playing- again in Edinburgh- with his band, and John Martyn comes staggering onstage out of his mind, and tries to jam with him, and you can't really do that with Jack's songs unless you know them, you know? Complex structures and twists and turns. So he tries to play with Jack, Jack wants to kill him and it all kicks off.


CG: Two more angry Scotsmen.

PB: If you’re making a decent living why have a king size chip on your shoulder? If doing what you like makes you so miserable go get a job in a bank, or try digging up the roads, you know?


CG: It all seems a bit counter-productive. I wouldn't particularly want to go for a pint with Van Morrison either.


PB: Zoot Money has a great story. It was when Georgie Fame was playing with Morrison, and he's invited Zoot over to a reheasal, thinking that Zoot would be able to cover for him when he wasn't available. So they go down to Van's house in Bath or wherever to rehearse. Van's manager is there, and Zoot sits down at the piano and starts playing with the band. Van's standing there, and they all seem to be enjoying Zoot's playing, and he's singing a bit you know? Suddenly Van rushes out into the garden. Everyone can see him pacing up and down, poking his phone and the manager is still in there with the band. Then the manager's phone rings, he picks it up and......


CG: No, Is it Van?


PB: It's Van! From the garden! Apparently he's saying "I want him out of here, he's gonna upstage me." He's getting paranoid because Zoot is getting on really well with the rest of the band. As you know Zoot is extroverted, outgoing, pleasant, humerous, in other words everything that Van is not, so Van can't bear it. He can't bear it that everything's going so well.


CG: (unsuccessful ulster accent) "You come round here, cheering my band up. Do you know how long it's taken me to get them that miserable?"


PB: Ha ha! Ridiculous but true.


CG: I see you are featured in the upcoming doc, Psychedelic Brittania. I suspect Zoot's psychedelic band Dantalian's Chariot are in there somewhere?


PB: Oh I loved that band. And I’ve always said this, because I’ve worked with Zoot quite a bit over the years here and there, that Dantalion's Chariot was my favourite psychedelic band. But the reason it didn’t work was because the psych audience didn’t really understand the humor. And for me…I remember watching them at Middle Earth whenever I could, and apart from being really great musically, the humor went way above everyone heads. I fucking loved it. I thought the combination of psych and humor was really great.


CG: You’re saying the psych crowd had no sense of irony?


PB: Not much. Not usually. They were too out of it to get their heads around humour.

The conversation drifted to the days when a "demo" was regarded as de rigeur in the recording process, and was always insisted upon by record labels. There was small independent studio in Islington called "Pathway" where we had both recorded many times.


PB: Pathway studios! Mike Finesilver and engineer Pete Kerr - I did all my demos there. They co-wrote Arthur Brown's hit Fire and set up the studio with the money from that. I did several albums there, and hundreds of sessions as artist and producer, as well as the demos of course.


CG: Demo syndrome! The tracks would never sound as good in a "proper" studio and you spent half the time trying to recreate that "demo" feel.


PB: Very true, but Pathway later became known for its sound, and people like Dire Straits recorded their first album there, Elvis Costello too - it was a magic studio. 





White Rooms and Imaginary Westerns, the documentary by Mark Waters featuring Pete. Featuring Martin Scorcese, Fay Weldon, Robert, Wyatt, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, it will be broadcast in spring 2016, and later released on DVD.

23rd October, before this issue, Psychedelic Brittannia, Mark AJ Waters' documentary about Pete's career went out on BBC 3. Catch it on iplayer.

11th October saw the broadcast from London's Roundhouse of The 50th anniversary reunion of 1965's First International Poetry Incarnation, where over seven thousand people packed the Royal Albert Hall to hear such luminaries of the beat scene as William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Felinghetti and of course Pete Brown. Catch it on iPlayer.


Arthur Brown.

Zoot Money

The Roundhouse

Colin Gibson & Kenny Craddock were members of Ginger Baker's Airforce 1970-71 - useful links:

Kenny Craddock


Graham Bond

Giorgio Gomelsky

Klook's Kleek

Ginger Bakers Airforce


Other useful links: