Joe Brown at Cadogan Hall
It was musicians like Joe Brown that led to the popularisation and legitimisation of rock’n’ roll in the UK – something that in turn led to Beatlemania and the British invasion. Even back in 1960, Joe Brown’s brand of rock ’n’ roll was almost purely based upon a sort of “borrowed nostalgia”; an appreciation for Americana’s implicit feeling of yesteryear that disregarded the transatlantic divide between Chuck Berry and the bells of Bow Church.
This is something that lies at the very heart of Joe Brown’s career and repertoire, both of which have been in development since the end of the 1950s. Sitting amongst a crowd of enthralled burgeoning geriatrics, it’s abundantly clear that a focus on nostalgia is exactly what his audience wants.
Armed with a sharp wig and a sharper wit, Brown’s presence on stage was irrefutable. While hardly a “rock star” per se, he still had that most British star quality – cheeky and entertaining in a very Sid James fashion. Always able to flash a toothy grin that would make the Artful Dodger blush and deliver anecdotage with seasoned charm, there was little question as to whether Joe Brown could fill the stage.
His band was armed with an array of electric and acoustic guitars, mandolins and ukuleles, with Brown even whipping out the old fiddle for a bizarrely fitting hoedown rendition of U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. The evening was split into an acoustic and an electric set, both of which consisted mainly of rockabilly and folk covers of American and British songs, as well as a version of Hava Nagila.
The undoubted highlight was Brown’s own I’m Henry the Eighth I Am, which in many ways epitomised what the singer and his band were delivering. A slice of nostalgic rock ’n’ roll, rife with opportunities for clapping and singing along, the song was itself a living relic from a time gone by.
From the swapping of guitar solos to the CSNY covers, the show did exactly what it intended. Yes, Brown was just “playing the hits” from generations ago in his rather painful “rockney” fashion, but he did so with enough wit and magnetism to draw most cynics into a boisterous knees-up. Besides, his audience would have expected nothing more.
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Watch Joe Brown performing at the Concert for George Harrison here: