This month’s sudden insight from rock’s subconscious – jazz-rock-poetry goes overground!
Pete Brown & Piblokto! Things May Come And Things May Go, But The Art School Dance Goes On For Ever
DRAWN BY Widnes-born jazz trumpeter Mal Dean – who would die young in 1974 – the sleeve of Things May Come And Things May Go, But The Art
School Dance Goes On For Ever featured dozens of likenesses, including Syd Barrett, The Who, the Stones, Alec Guinness, Graham Bond, Dali, Arthur Brown, Davey Graham, Van Gogh, Vivian Stanshall, William Blake and many other cool customers who meant business. “Oh, sure,” says Pete Brown today. “We were as hip as you could get in those days.”
Born in Surrey in 1940 to a Jewish family escaping the Blitz, Brown does enjoy a hip pedigree. He met fellow poet Mike Horowitz at the 1960 Beaulieu Jazz Festival – described as an “outbreak of beatnik violence” by The People newspaper – and joined his arts group New Departures. Affiliated to the Liverpool poetry scene, Brown appeared alongside Burroughs and Ginsberg at the 1965 International Poetry Incarnation, and the following year began his long writing partnership with Jack Bruce, composing the lyrics for Cream hits including I Feel Free, Sunshine Of Your Love and White Room. Having played with John McLaughlin in
The Real Poetry Band, in 1968 he formed jazz rocking outfit Pete Brown And His Battered Ornaments. But as a Buried Treasure piece on the group’s 1969 LP A Meal You Can Shake
Hands With The Dark (MOJO 184) told, Brown was kicked out on the eve of the band’s most prestigious show to date in July ’69.
“They fired me just before we were going to support the Stones at Hyde Park,” says Brown. “At first I was upset, but actually, it proved to be a good thing for me, because I formed Piblokto! almost immediately. It was a step up, musically better, and I learned more.”
With a name translating as the ‘Arctic Hysteria’ involving nakedness, screaming and convulsions found in polar populations during long winters, the band’s core incarnation also included Jim Mullen (guitar), Roger Bunn (bass), Dave Thompson (organ) and Rob Tait (drums). They recorded their debut at Abbey Road: “EMI insisted on it in those days,” says Brown. “You’d queue up behind The Beatles for whatever time there was. Certainly, it didn’t take long because we were on the road all the time, doing sessions in between gigs. I think everybody did get on, though I was probably quite difficult in those days, a little bit self-obsessed. I’d stopped the booze and dr ugs and everything in 1967 and my nerves were still not quite settled yet.”
The results still sound like an urgent transmission from the bohemian frontlines of the late ’60s. The title song boogies fast and hard with R&B amongst the prog and slashing guitars, as Brown bluesily invokes opium smugglers, drunken policemen, sundered lovers, randy vicars and cr ying clowns, framed in the cradle and engine of British counterculture, the art school. “At the art school dance, people were dressed in the costumes of what they aspired to be,” says Brown. “And a lot of people from that generation of art school people actually did get to do what they wanted to do.”
The album continues to move upwards and sideways over such contrasting jazzfolk rock flavours as the oblique circularity High Flying Electric Bird and the glowing, barbed Someone Like You (a song dedicated to Marianne Faithfull), while the apocalyptic Firesong combines a raga for church organ with a rustic jam. Mixing fat organ sounds, wah wah guitar and African percussion, the taunting Walk For Charity, Run For Money meditates on ambition and its hazards, and was a successful 45 in France. A launch party for the LP at the Revolution Club in Mayfair went down well, Brown remembers, though the band arrived at the last minute. “We missed a ferry because the fucking French customs insisted on us taking ever ything out of the van,” he recalls.
Brown and Piblokto! gigged constantly, and were warmly embraced on the continent (The Ram Dam Club in Dourges, France was even renamed The Piblokto Club by superfan owner Albert Warin). They did not, though, enjoy a commercial breakthrough in the UK. Additionally, says Brown, “I insisted on managing myself, which was absolutely not a good idea at all.” The line-up of the group was also prone to change, a situation Brown addressed by 1970 B-side My Last Band. There was a new formation, including keysman Phil Ryan and drummer John ‘Pugwash’ Weathers from Eyes Of Blue, for that year’s grooving 45, Flying Hero Sandwich. “Pugwash had a temper,” recalls Brown. “There are some suggestions that Pugwash was the only person that Ginger Baker was afraid of.”
After a process of what he describes as “diminishing returns,” and Ryan leaving to join Man, Brown decided that Piblokto! had run its course. Portentously, at one of their final German gigs, a talking drum-playing Brown and band were playing a sustained chord when their Selmer bass cabinet burst into flames. Brown split the band, and would next work with his ill-fated friend Graham Bond on the 1972 LP Two Heads Are Better Than One.
After a hiatus in the ’70s, Brown has continued to write, perform and record. “I’ve got to go to the studio now,” he tells MOJO, politely terminating our interview. “We’re doing a record. It may be my last, but, whatever, you know?”
“Pugwash was the only person that Ginger Baker was afraid of.” PETE BROWN