Monday 23 October 2017

Obituary: Errol Brown

Hot Chocolate lead singer was 'very special - so many great songs', Louis Walsh tells Barry Egan

ACCLAIM: Errol Brown, with his wife Ginette, having received his MBE,
ACCLAIM: Errol Brown, with his wife Ginette, having received his MBE,
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

High praise - and high notes - indeed: international pop impresario Louis Walsh answers the phone for a chat about the late Hot Chocolate singer Errol Brown singing maybe the most enduring chat-up line ever set to music.

"I believe in miracles! Where you from, you sexy thing?"

"I loved Errol," Louis says of the bald soul superstar who died, aged 71, last week, of liver cancer at home in the Bahamas with his wife Ginette and daughters Colette and Leonie by his side.

"He was a god. The songs of Hot Chocolate were just so brilliant. They were absolutely one of my favourite pop bands. I loved all their songs, not just the obvious hits like You Sexy Thing," Louis says breaking into song again.

"Everyone's A Winner and It Started With A Kiss. I loved, too, the early songs like You Could've Been A Lady, Love Is Life and Emma. Errol had just so many songs.

"I actually think Mickie Most [English producer and iconic hit-maker] was the brains behind him in some ways, but there was no doubting Errol Brown was very, very special. He had that rare thing in the pop business - class."

His band were a part of the feel-good Zeitgeist of the mid-1970s and the 1980s. Anyone who tells you they never boogied badly to You Sexy Thing at a school disco back in the day is quite possibly a liar.

His band Hot Chocolate were, of course, funk-lite cheesiness incarnate - the irrefutable proof of which was surely that they performed at the pre-wedding bash for the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana in July, 1981.

The world-famous soon-to-be newlyweds came to the band's rehearsal, remembered Errol, "to check us out. Charles said, 'It won't be too noisy, will it?'"

"All I could see was tiaras glistening in the night," added Errol of the actual show. "You know, the kings and queens from around the world were there. I particularly remember doing the sound check at the palace, when one of the roadies shouted 'Princess Diana's coming up the corridor!'

"And how some people were so in awe of her that they were like scampering out because they couldn't face the fact she was going to be walking in the same room!

"I remember her coming over to me to thank me for coming, and thinking what a tall and pretty lady she was!"

The general consensus appears to be what a lovely man Lester Errol Brown - born November 12, 1943, in Jamaica - was. This was despite him never knowing his father; and his mother placing him in the care of his aunt when she went to England - where Errol would later join her when he was 12. When he was 60, the young man from Kingston, Jamaica, was awarded an MBE by the Queen.

He also received a prestigious Ivor Novello award for his outstanding contribution to British music in 2004.

"When you don't have a solid family base," he told Blues and Soul, "that does all impact on your emotional character."

A 2009 article in the Daily Telegraph, however, perhaps summed up Errol's character: "He is a man who has stayed with his wife for 30 years despite being pelted with ladies' pants wherever he plays, who has owned racehorses but never bet more that £100 on a race."

His manager Phil Dale remembered Errol as a "gentle man who will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him.

"His greatest legacy is that his music will live on," he added referring to Love Is Life (Hot Chocolate's first single in 1970 and number six hit in the charts), Everyone's A Winner, and, among others, You Sexy Thing (which charted in three decades internationally: in the 1970s and 1980s, then again when the song was in The Full Monty in 1997 - complete with the film's star Robert Carlyle gyrating goodo).

Errol's break into the music business was all quite accidental in 1969. He and Trinidad-born musician Tony Wilson sent their "very amusing" reggae rendition of Give Peace A Chance to the song's author John Lennon, expecting that that would be the end of it. "Amazingly, " Errol told BBC Breakfast in 2009, "a week later I got a call to say John Lennon approved it and wanted to sign the band to the Apple record label - and that's how we began."

A secretary at Apple called Errol's loose collection of musicians The Hot Chocolate Band. It was later shortened to Hot Chocolate. The rest is post-disco hysteria.

He never tried to be hip - he was Errol Brown not James Brown - or remotely trendy. When most singers in the 1980s were slamming Margaret Thatcher as the Devil's Daughter, Errol was publicly supporting her and her party, even playing Imagine by his old pal John Lennon for Thatcher and assorted Tories at The Conservative party conference in 1984.

Lennon, presumably, turned in his grave.

Sunday Independent

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