Dr Brown (Review/Interview)

by Jerry Kranitz

From Aural Innovations #12 (September 2000)

Dr. Brown - "Inside" (Beard Records 1999, CD)

Formed in Portsmouth, England, Dr Brown has been around since 1986 though this disc was my first exposure to their music. The music has that classic rockin' festie band sound that fans of the Ozric Tentacles, Omnia Opera, and others will enjoy. The band has experienced a number of lineup changes over the years but on "Inside" consists of Kev Ellis on vocals and harmonica, Pete Manger on backing vocals and tambourine, Grant MacNaughton on guitar, Steff Olesinski on guitar, Al Shaw on bass, Rick Anderton on drums, Andy Radburn on keyboards, Jason Lihou on keyboards, and Nick "Bevis Frond" Saloman guesting on electric sitar and dulcimer.

The disc opens with "Camel". A strong Ozric Tentacles influence is in the forefront though Dr Brown is far from being an all-instrumental band with Kev Ellis' prominent vocals singing and chanting. The guitars and rhythm section are relentless and the swirling synths embellish the music in classic Ozrics fashion. A great tripped out spacerock tune. Similar to "Camel" is the 17 minute title track. The tune is a great psych journey with a driving rhythm section and drums blasting away, while the guitars, synths, and efx'd chanting vocals jam. The rhythm section's pace is steady but the rest of the instruments vary in their intensity, from trippy psychedelic bits, to feverish cosmic freakouts, and even ambient soundscapes. The music could have easily gone on beyond its 17 minutes and still kept my attention.

Somewhat different is "G.B. In Dub" on which the band lays down a strong Reggae beat and Ellis does his Bob Marley rap. But things get suitably trippy and even a bit bluesy when Ellis jams on his harmonica. "Blow" is a bluesy psych rocker with jamming guitars and shooting synths. And "No More War" is more of a standard rock tune though the space synths are there to keep things suitably cosmic.

In summary, fans of the Ozrics and any of the British festie bands will certainly dig this disc. Mucho cosmic!!! Knowing the band has a lengthy history I decided to throw some questions at them via email.

AI: Your web site pictures page go back to 1987. Was that when the band formed? Rick Anderton is the only current member I see in those 1987 pictures. Is he the only remaining founding member?

Kev: No, I am the only original member of the band. The band was formed in 1986 and there were three drummers before Rick, however only one previous (Ady Brown ) made it onto vinyl with us (The Land Of Red and Gold LP). Rick has recently moved onto pastures new, forming a new band with Rat (ex Great Imperial Yo Yo) called Cusp. They have done some high quality digital recording. It kind of puts me in mind of Zappa. I won't bore you with a long Dr Brown history, but if any of your readers are interested, there is a detailed Dr Brown biography in the "Adrift In The Ether" book by Chris Williams, the text of which can be browsed at http://www.delerium.co.uk. Maybe one of the other guys here has an amusing Dr Brown anecdote for you?

Steff: We played a gig in Opwych, Belgium and were staying upstairs at the venue. We were about to go on, but Kev was just finishing a cigarette he was rolling and told the rest of us to go down and start jamming. This we did, thinking minutes later Kev would appear. He did, but only after about twenty minutes! Unbeknown to us, he had stood up and, in his "confused" state of mind, hit his head on a metal chandelier hanging low from the ceiling. Blood everywhere, he had gone to the bathroom and washed the blood out. When he came onstage, we thought he had kept us waiting so he could wash his hair!

Kev: On the same tour, I seem to remember Steff being so "confused " that he ended up swinging from pipes from the ceiling of the dressing room like a baboon.

Steff: After that gig (at about 4 in the morning) we went on to host a live radio show. All I remember is some chap phoning claiming to be my mother....

Andy: Yes Kev and then there was the time that you only worked out that The Double Locks in Exeter England was so called because two canals and locks ran either side of the pub. It wasn't as you first thought a fishpond you fell into, but one of the canals...

Kev: Enough already!!!!!

AI: Your music, and the varied influences, reminds me a lot of the so- called "festie" bands (Ozrics, Nukli, Omnia Opera, etc) of the 80's in England. Did Dr. Brown develop out of that scene?

Kev: Not exactly, the band was formed whilst I was a student at Portsmouth University. We did however attend and play at a great many free festivals (singer go's into drem like state remembering 4 hour Ozric gigs at the legendary Torpedo Town festival). I saw Nukli once or twice and Omni Opera once (thought they were really good), but in the eighties it was Ozrics who you could virtually guaranty seeing at any free festival. Also all the Ozric family of bands, Ullulators, Oroonies (a legendary set at Treeworgy Tree Fayre) et al.

AI: I like the variety of styles in your music. Harder rocking psychedelia, Reggae, and I see on your web site there's been some Ambient Dance, Drum&Bass, and Blues projects as well. Is this a reflection of the various band member's interests?

Kev: I guess so. The thing with Dr Brown is we have always primarily been music fans. When I play at a festival, I like to spend the whole weekend there and check out as much stuff as possible!! We are big fans of Suns Of Arqa and it was cool getting to see them at Glastonbury a couple of years ago. There is a huge seventies influence with a lot of our tastes, Lemmy period Hawkwind, Edgar Broughton, Gong, Man etc. Also like a lot of new hippy trance dance stuff - Astralasia, Eat Static, Leftfield, Underworld. My personal fave CD of the last couple of years was the Gong is You remix CD. I think it's a shame that some space rock fans are so Luddite in their approach to new music. Maybe it's the mix of stuff I've heard at festivals, but I can hear a direct link between this stuff and say "Space Ritual" (still probably my favorite LP of all time - although Quark Strangeness and Charm gives it a run for it's money). To ignore new music is as daft as those in the sixties that spurned Dylan for daring to pick up an electric guitar; psychedelia is meant to be about pushing down barriers, not creating them. Bass player Al has got me my love of dub and reggae (Prince Fari, Burning Spear, Gladiators and so many more). I like a lot of trad blues as well (Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf..) which I see as protest music from the same root as the reggae.

Sonic Arcana is Andy's (keyboards - also my brother in law) ambient project. Been going since 1990, featuring various Dr Brown family members. An excellent Sonic Arcana Tape, "Enter" is available from Music and Elsewhere (http:/www./music-elsewhere.hypermart.net/) It was recorded in a remote Welsh cottage by myself and Andy and is an undiscovered masterpiece!

Cosmic Voyage is an ambient drum and bass project of our good friend Simon "Smutley" Mansfield. Myself and Andy were involved in the early recordings and gigs, but, being based in Liverpool (which is about 400 miles from our base in Portsmouth) this was never going to be permanent. Played some very interesting gigs with Simon, some with Liverpudlian actress Margi Clarke (most famous for her film role in the eighties film "Letter To Breznev" and in the UK for her TV work in Coronation Street and The Good Sex Guide!) and a festival in Cornwall with a guest spot from The Damned's Captain Sensible (he's a Dr Brown fan by the way! Has all our LP's). The Cornish festival was played on a outdoor stage with an inflatable roof (a bit like a children's bouncy castle). Thanks however to some bad wiring in some of our equipment, the generators fail safe cut and the whole lot came down on top of us. 5000 people see Cosmic Voyage and Captain Sensible buried under several hundred pounds of tarpaulin. Still, it got our pictures in DJ magazine...

Terminal Blues was a trad. blues project by drummer Rick. They recorded one CD, "Want some", to some critical acclaim and toured extensively in the UK.

For about a year in the mid nineties Dr Brown disbanded and I played in festi dub band Heliotrope. Played a lot of UK festivals and gigs and recorded a tape "Rolling Over Albion". Weirdest gig we ever played was a witches pub in Crawley, near Oxford, UK. It had a pagan witch landlady, broadswords on the walls, was lit entirely by huge candles, and had a floor covered with two inches of sawdust. Slept in the pub after one gig. Woke the next morning to find a huge shire horse wandering inside the pub amongst our equipment. It didn't faze the bar staff who said it came in all the time, fed it some hay and it walked out! When this band split Grant (guitar), Al (bass) and Peter (vox) came with me to reform Dr Brown. More about Heliotrope in Adrift In The Ether.

AI: Are the Ozrics a big influence? I hear a lot of similarities.

Kev: I think it is closer to say our influences are the same as inspired the Ozrics in the early years: Gong, Hawkwind, Krautrock etc. To be honest I prefer the more freeform Ozric tapes to the later LP's/CD's.

AI: There have been a few instances where I've heard [other] bands referred to as having former members of Dr. Brown in their line-ups. Do you have a lot of coming and going of members involved in various projects?

Kev: Yes! Band members have been and are involved in:
Great Imperial Yo Yo
Tribe Of Cro
Sonic Arcana
Cosmic Voyage
And This
Nunz On Napalm
The Marones
Blue Juice
Ode To Jo
and probably a million others

If we ever did a Pete Frame family tree I reckon we could get every band in the UK on! I am the John Mayall of British Psychedelia! (sic)

AI: I see where Huw Lloyd Langton was an earlier member. How did that come about? Did he play on any of your releases other than Dreamscape? Perform much with Dr. Brown?

Kev: When our guitarist player left, we had just introduced Simon from Mandragora to his bass player Alan Jenkins and he returned the favour by introducing us to Hughy. Only recorded the one EP with him, but played numerous gigs including some gigs in Belgium and a tour of Italy. Did Italian tour in rusting van. The starter motor packed up before we got on the ferry, had to push it to start it every time! Played a squat in Naples where they'd dug into the road and connected up to the national grid via a couple of large wires. The venue was a derelict car park where the furniture, bar and stage were made from broken bottles and cement. Insane!! Still, we did a storming set and got payed. The alternator bolts all snapped off while traveling through The Black Forest in Germany on the way home. Pulled up in a lay by, 600 miles from the nearest town, no phone and the alternator just held on by the wires. Suddenly drummer Rick shot off round the car park with a spanner. He'd noticed that the trusty Germans had built their roadside trash bins with 14mm nuts bolts and washers, just the right size for our alternator. So we made it home. Came back to England a Lira millionaire (at the time 2000 Italian Lira = 1.5 Dollars!) Went into a bank in Portsmouth with carrier bags filled with Italian monopoly money, but after we got the van repaired we only had about 20 dollars left. Still, I didn't do this to get rich... Couldn't pay Hugh much money, and there was a great deal of chaos, but it must have been a laugh, cos he stayed twice as long as he had originally intended. Last time I spoke to Hugh he was playing in a band with Ariel Bender (ex Mott the Hoople) and also Nick Turners Hawkwind.

AI: I'm a Bevis Frond fan and see where Nick Saloman has recorded with you a couple times. Has he ever performed live with Dr. Brown?

Kev: We have done a couple of supports with the Frond. I jammed on harmonica with them a few times, but I don't think Nick has played live with us (although I could be wrong). Check out the Dr Frond LP on Delerium if you can, although I think they may have sold them all.

AI: Your music sounds like it's meant to be heard live. Do you feel like Dr. Brown thrives in a live environment? Do you get to perform much?

Kev: Not any more! A lot of venues are closing in the UK at the present time and with petrol here at around 7 US dollars a gallon (no, this is not a mistake) driving a van is a very expensive business. Hawkwind have not done a large UK tour for several years. It is pretty desperate. We do however have some sympathetic promoters and so are still playing every couple of months or so. Due to this expense, we are now working on an electronic project, "Earthloop" and myself and Andy are thriving as psychedelic/trance/dub DJ's (streaming radio shows wanted. We already have our sets down on CD). There is an excellent live Dr Brown CD (Live in The Minds Eye) now deleted (but still available if you look hard enough on the net) featuring the Kev, Dave Shah, Dave Cook, Rick line up and a live tape (Live at Hebden Bridge) (the Kev, Mik Stanger, Marcel Hone, Rick line up ) on the Music and Elsewhere label both of which I would recommend as, in my opinion, the best of our live recordings.

AI: Is "Inside" Dr. Brown's most current release? You had mentioned another that's coming up soon. Tell me about that.

Kev: No, we have recorded volume 2, "Trolleyed. This is a whole weirder darker trip. Both recorded digitally on a free blag at a famous London studio once used by the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. "Inside" features a guest from Nick Saloman. Unfortunately at the present time we have no record deal and so the only way of hearing this material is on streaming radio shows such as your own. Maybe somebody is out there?

AI: Any future news, comments, or profound words of wisdom you'd care to pass on?

Kev: The darker the bongwater, the lighter the headstate. Remember, Sonic Arcana DJ's are looking for streaming real audio radio shows and Dr Brown would love a record deal and to play Strange Days 2001! We won't bring the Transit van though!

For more information you can email Dr Brown at drbrown@btinternet.com.
You can also visit Dr Brown at their web site.

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