Errol Brown Interview - Errol's still a winner

EMMA OUTTEN Errol Brown, former frontman of Hot Chocolate, is coming to the Theatre Royal Norwich on February 19. From his home in the Bahamas he spoke to Emma Outten about how you can never be too old to be a sexy thing.

EMMA OUTTEN

An interview with Errol Brown, former frontman of Hot Chocolate, had my name written all over it…

Throughout the seventies and beyond, Errol and the band had entered the British charts every year, and one of them was called Emma.

I was to call him at his home in the Bahamas. The interview had been postponed a couple of times, but when I finally spoke to him, it was 8.30am (his time), but it sounded as though he'd risen with the sun.

“The sun does that to you,” said wide-awake sounding Errol, no doubt rubbing in the fact he was in the Bahamas and I was in Britain!

Errol has had a base in the Bahamas for the past few years. He spends most of the winter months there, coming back to England “from time to time”.

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Born in Kingston, Jamaica, where he lived as a small child, Errol moved to London with his mother when he was 11 years old (ask him how old he is now and he says: “I think I'm over 50!”)

In 2003 he was named in the list of 100 Great Black Britons. As he said: “Who I am is someone of mixed culture that grew up in England.”

This month Errol returns to the UK to tour after a three-year break, bringing his distinctive soul-packed vocals to the masses. Since he last performed in Norwich Errol has not only been made an MBE, in 2003, for his services to music: last year he received the coveted Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award.

So will he bring his MBE with him as a lucky charm?

“No! But I'm bringing the thought of it… and the excitement of getting it, of course,” he said.

He regards it as a “real honour”, especially, as he explained, he was one of those children who sat at the back of the class and watched others going up to the front to receive their prizes, never getting one himself…

He summed up the last couple of years: “I've been having a good time.”

Both awards came as a surprise to him, so who knows what surprises will 2005 bring?

Errol harboured no aspirations to sing or gain a record deal. However, a chance meeting with Trinidad-born musician Tony Wilson, during the late Sixties, put a change to all that.

As he said: “Tony and I used to go out ten-pin bowling and while driving I'd start to sing.

“When asked what I was singing, I'd tell him it was just a tune I had in my head. This happened a few times and Tony suggested I try writing songs with him – so we did and that's how I got into song-writing.”

Errol began regularly attending recording studios and learnt to play the guitar. Within six months, Errol and Tony recorded a reggae-styled demo of John Lennon's Give Peace A Chance – Errol having added new lyrics to the song.

By his own admission, Errol wasn't expecting an imminent break-through but once John Lennon heard the cover, the band was signed. The Hot Chocolate Band signed to Apple records, and soon became known as Hot Chocolate.

Although their version of Give Peace A Chance failed to chart, the group's follow-up Love Is Life proved more successful.

With a determination not to emulate American soul singers but instead to stick resolutely to his own musical inclinations, Errol and Hot Chocolate blossomed under Mickey Most's Rak Records Label.

As he said: “When I started Hot Chocolate I wanted a rock'n'roll guitarist because I wanted to give the music that edge.”

Errol Brown and Hot Chocolate helped define the Seventies, musically. “It was a marvellous, marvellous time,” said Errol, adding that the decade was one of “great, great music”.

“I had to keep pinching myself,” said Errol. “For 10 years it was all so easy and simple.”

It was literally a case of he would write the songs and sing the songs and everyone would be a winner – give or take a few chart positions.

Hits included Every One's A Winner, Brother Louie, No Doubt About It, and So You Win Again, which made number one in 1977. He described the decade for him and the band as “really smooth and seamless”.

By the Eighties, Hot Chocolate had become so much part of British culture, they performed at the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana's wedding reception. But was the Hot Chocolate band starting to go off the boil?

“It wasn't until 1981, my writing well began to dry up…” It was as if Errol's emotions were spent.

Errol and the band began to drift apart, after “10 years when we were all as one”.

But for Errol, the memories of Hot Chocolate and its legacy remain precious. As he said: “The greatest moment in my career was gaining that first hit record with Hot Chocolate.”

For Errol, with a wife and two daughters, family life proved a more appealing alternative to life in the fast lane. However, the lure of the stage proved irresistible and he toured again following the success of The Full Monty, which featured You Sexy Thing as its theme. It exposed Errol's work to a whole new audience.

Although a British film, Errol heard about the film through an American friend, when it started making waves across the Atlantic. He had been told the film used You Sexy Thing, but his initial reaction had been “oh yeah?” But then it started causing a lot of excitement Stateside.

Errol went to see it with his wife and a couple of friends, and he thinks it's a “lovely” film (and not just because his song features in it). Three days before we spoke on the phone, it was on TV in the Bahamas and he watched it all over again.

Can you ever be too old to be a sexy thing, I wondered? “I'm not singing about me!” he pointed out. “I'm singing about somebody I cared about.”

He acknowledged that there are older women in his audiences who have just as much right as younger women to be serenaded with the song. Errol said: “Women still want to be considered sexy.”

And women don't stop being sexy at the age of 18, Errol had explained, almost reprimanding me, blissfully unaware that that might be music to my ears, and to all of the older woman who will be in the audience at Norwich Theatre Royal on Saturday!

Last autumn, Errol featured in BBC1's All Time Greatest Love Songs, as one of the special guest stars, and he performed It Started With A Kiss, which was voted as one of the top 20 best love songs ever.

And, just before Christmas, EMI released an album called As Bs and Rarities, of Errol's/Hot Chocolate hits.

Did he have a favourite song? It just so happens that the first song that came to mind was Emma. It was inspired by the death of his mother, Edna, although, thanks to artistic licence, the reference isn't obvious to the listener.

He thought Emma would be better as a name for a song title, than Edna. And who was I to disagree with him? t

t Errol Brown is at Norwich Theatre Royal on Saturday February 19. Box office: 01603 630000. Ticket information at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

 

 

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