Wednesday, 6 May 2015

RIP ERROL BROWN, YOU SEXY THING, YOU

It was lunch in the Groucho, as usual. It started with a kiss. 
'You sexy thing,' he said, or she said. 
'Put your love in me.' 
'Everyone's a winner,' quipped he, quick as a jumpin' Jack...
I believe in miracles. No doubt about it. I think of him every time I have a bedtime drink. So you'll live forever, dear Errol. You win again.
It was the last interview I ever did with him. For the record, here:

"Errol Brown, who famously believes in miracles, reckons that marital commitment need not rule out the spontaneous, instinct-driven encounter, which he calls ‘the most erotically-charged and thrilling of all’. Describing the complacency of a stale marriage as ‘hideous’, he claims ‘total’ love for and devotion to Mauritian-born Ginette, his wife of 32 years and the famous ‘Sexy Thing’ in the song which has been a Top Ten hit in three decades, as well as the signature tune of blockbuster ‘The Full Monty’. As for ‘sexy’, the rubber-hipped star whose name is synonymous with that adjective is unequivocal:
‘Sexy girls have no idea that they are, which is what makes them so. But sexy men are well aware of what makes them tick. The more blasé a man about getting it on with a woman - to the point of seeming happy to let it slide – the more she is going to want him. This is my understanding, and it has never let me down.’
The point he is trying to make, explains the legendary former Hot Chocolate frontman as we share a bit of Soho fishcake, is that men are not women, and women are not men. Not only that, but no two scenarios are the same when it comes to love, marriage and infidelity.
'We all need to learn not to judge each other and stay out of people’s business. Look how much easier life would be if we could just live and let live. We must also acknowledge the rhythms of our own relationships, the ebbs and flows, and know when to keep our mouths shut. If a man strays, going home to his wife and confessing that he ‘has something to tell her’ is not wise: it’s only going to break her heart. The family will crumble, the kids will cry, everyone will start hating you. If he loves her, and wants the stay in the marriage, he must keep his errors to himself and not project his guilt onto his lady. If he has been weak – in other words, if he has been a man - he should shut up, and suffer in silence. There’s a bigger picture to honour, you see, which so many seem to forget. One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my life is that the whole truth is not always the nothing-but.'
A talent for being creative with the facts of life must have proved invaluable to this smooth, understated, self-effacing musician in his songwriting. Errol shrugs, insisting he simply says what he sees. After more than 40 years in the limelight, an incredible 26 Top Forty Hits and countless international tours, there can’t be a lot which has escaped him. Two decades since our last encounter, we sit kidding each other that we haven’t changed. 
He barely has.
With a legacy of hit-the dance-floor numbers that charm grandmas, toddlers and teenagers alike, as well as those of us who grew up on it, Errol Brown remains an enduring household name.
'There does come a time to retire,' he insists. ‘I’ve crashed around the world for years, doing the fame thing. Maybe I don’t own a private plane, but I have nothing left to prove. I live a beautiful life in the Bahamas, near the water. We spend a lot of time on boats and just chilling. Now is the time for my family – my wife, and my daughters Colette and Leonie - and my friends. But I couldn’t just fade away without bidding the fans farewell. This last tour is for them - my way of thanking them one last time for all the support and loyalty they have shown me over the years. I couldn’t just decide to retire without going out one last time to say goodbye.’
Refreshingly, there is no new album, no ‘product’ to flog. The tour is a simple celebration of an extraordinary career which has earned a humble and lowly-born lad global fame, a comfortable fortune, the respect of his industry peers - marked by an Ivor Novello Outstanding Contribution award - and an MBE (even Her Majesty is said to be partial to shaking a leg to ‘You Sexy Thing’).
Not bad for a boy with all odds stacked against him when he was born in Jamaica in the Forties.... not even he is exactly sure when. His teenaged mother Edna was single, his policeman father Ivan, ‘a typical Caribbean father with children everywhere’ who was only an occasional visitor. Money and food were scarce, but Edna was determined to scrape her son a better life.
When I was 7 years old, my mother left me with her younger sister Mary and came to England to stay with relatives in Gipsy Hill, London, and find work. It broke my heart,' he recalls.
‘I felt terrible. I didn’t have much, but without my mother, I had nothing. I no longer remember the details, maybe my memory has erased it all in some way. I do remember her letters, which came every three months. She worked as a secretary, and always planned to bring me over to be with her. But that didn’t happen until I was 12. I couldn’t wait to get away – my uncle was a cruel man, who used to beat me and take his frustrations and disappointments out on me. I remember the day they put me on the plane alone – I didn’t even look back. London was a challenge, a huge culture shock. There weren’t many black faces, and I did find myself treated as an outsider at school. There were signs in windows around the neighbourhood which said ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’. It was the reason why minorities gathered together and made their own communities. But with my mother’s help I found ways to rise above.’
Diligence at school paid off, and Errol wound up in the Treasury as a clerical officer.
My musical talent only emerged unexpectedly after my mother died of cancer when I was 20. After her death, I started to hear melodies in my head. It was as if a duck had found water. I have always held that my mother sent me the music. Though I don’t believe in religion, I do believe in God. I’m also certain that people who die help those still living. Whatever, I know that I’m not alone.
'Maybe music was her way of compensating for her death, which I didn’t get over for many years. I had dozens of girlfriends – it’s what a pop star does – but I never let myself get close, for fear of the loss. It was different, though, when I met my wife. I found her at a party in Gulliver’s Club, behind Curzon Street. It wasn’t love at first sight. But she was the most beautiful girl in the room, very easy to be with, and if we hadn’t become lovers, we’d have been friends for life.’
As the UK’s third multiracial pop group - preceded by Eddy Grant and the Equals, and by the Foundations ('Baby Now that I've Found You', 'Build me Up, Buttercup') - Errol says that Hot Chocolate (named by John Lennon’s secretary at the Apple Corporation) knew instinctively how important to show that harmonious working relationships could exist between people of every colour and creed.
Mix it up, was our philosophy. That way, we opened up our appeal to wider audiences. It was the way forward, it felt right. I feel proud to have played even a small part in the quest for racial equality in this world.'"

With thanks to Jon Kutner, Author of The Complete Book of the British Chart and 1000 UK Number Ones 
www.jonkutner.com 


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