Pete Brown: 25/12/1940 – 19/19/2023

Jon Newey
Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Jon Newey pays tribute to the free spirited and renowned lyricist, beat/jazz-poet and songwriter Pete Brown – who famously co-wrote Cream's 'Sunshine of Your Love' – who has died aged 82

Poet Pete Brown
Poet Pete Brown

“I come from a long line of worriers, not warriors” was a pet phrase of Pete Brown, the beat/jazz-poet, lyricist and band leader who has died aged 82. Yet he was there in the advance guard of the 1960s counter-cultural warriors as the light began to penetrate the bleak, post-war gloom and the barriers began to tumble.

Influenced initially by Dylan Thomas, Brown's interest in poetry was propelled by the American beat writers Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, as well as the sonic fireworks of big band jazz and bebop. He was published in New York's Evergreen Review and met fellow poetry trail-blazer Michael Horovitz at the 1960 Beaulieu Jazz Festival. A vision shared, they read together at the Edinburgh Fringe and Brown joined Horovitz's Live New Departures poetry and jazz events, collaborating on new works such as the monumental 'Blues For The Hitchhiking Dead'. This lengthy, mostly improvised work unleashed their 'jazzpoetry' concept with a mesmerising maelstrom of free/written poetry and jazz, recorded with Stan Tracey, Bobby Wellins, Jeff Clyne, Laurie Morgan and John Mumford at a 1962 CND event at St Pancras Town Hall, eventually released on Gearbox Records' box set Blues For The Hitchhiking Dead in 2013.

"A lot of the writing was driven by jazz and our love of it," said Brown and subsequently their Jazz and Poetry sessions landed a 1963 Marquee residency, which occasionally included San Francisco poet-visionary Lawrence Ferlinghetti, composer Richard Rodney Bennett, Dick Heckstall-Smith and members of Soft Machine.

Pete Brown performing in 1969

But it was The International Poetry Incarnation, also known as Wholly Communion, at the Royal Albert Hall in June 1965 that brought Brown's work to wider attention. Reading alongside Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Christopher Logue, Adrian Mitchell, Horovitz and many others it was a wild, anti-establishment happening which brought together like-minded tribes for the first time, looking for another life beyond the suffocating mainstream. Things now started to happen fast for Brown. His first poetry book Few was published, and his work featured in numerous compilations. Through friendship with Graham Bond he began writing lyrics with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce in 1966 for the newly formed blues-rock power trio Cream with Eric Clapton. Following their initial hits, 'Wrapping Paper' and 'I Feel Free', composed by Brown and Bruce, he went on to write lyrics for Cream's most well-known songs, including, 'Sunshine of Your Love', 'White Room' and 'Politician'.

Now financially afloat, he formed Pete Brown's First Real Poetry Band, featuring guitarist John McLaughlin and bassist Danny Thompson, playing Ronnie Scott's Old Place as well as the pioneering London psychedelic venues UFO, Middle Earth and Happening 44. In 1968 Brown formed a new band, Battered Ornaments, a mix of psychedelic rock and jazz where he sang, shouted and played percussion with Chris Spedding, George Khan and Charlie Hart and recorded the wonderfully titled, A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In The Dark for Harvest, and continued to compose with Jack Bruce after Cream split– a working relationship that would continue until Bruce died. After Battered Ornaments he formed Piblokto with guitarist Jim Mullen, toured the UK and Europe and released two albums before teaming up with Graham Bond for the combustible Bond & Brown band in 1972. By 1977's punk insurgency however, he quit performing and took singing lessons before returning in the 1980s playing percussion and singing with pianist Mervyn Afrika, and recording further solo work.

He finished his memoir White Rooms and Imaginary Westerns in 2010 and returned to poetry for Mundane Tuesday and Freudian Saturday, his first book since 1968. I got to know Brown through Michael Horovitz and commissioned him for an Eddie Harris piece in the September 2018 Jazzwise issue, with a further big band piece planned. At the time of his death, this modest but utterly unique and imaginative poet/lyricist was completing a new album Shadow Club, with contributions from Eric Clapton and Joe Bonamassa, at Eastbourne's Echo Zoo studio near his home of Hastings, where he moved in 2016 and occasionally sat in with fellow Hastonian, Liane Carroll..



Subscribe from only £6.75

Start your journey and discover the very best music from around the world.


View the Current

Take a peek inside the latest issue of Jazzwise magazine.

Find out more