Sam Brown’s in town. Barbara Hodgson hears all about her emotional musical journey.
WHEN she was barely into her teens, Sam Brown was putting together words and a tune for a record and, as a budding songwriter, she’d set herself strict rules: no cliches, no love.
Years later and the 14-year-old’s song Window People is still being performed – and the rule?
“That’s all turned into complete and utter rubbish now,” confesses Sam who, as a mother-of-two about to celebrate her 43rd birthday this week, is rather more worldly wise. “Now it’s all about love – or lack of it,” she laughs.
“Window People is on the B-side of one of the early records, adds the popular singer who is performing at The Sage, Gateshead tomorrow. “We play it live quite a bit – it’s a mad song!”
The daughter of Joe Brown – who had three top 10 hits – and Vicki, a top backing vocalist, Sam grew up in a musical household, often full of famous people, which is why she would listen to music and make her own in the privacy of her bedroom.
“When we were kids, my dad was very overpowering and I’d never have played in front of him or my mum,” she says.
But she would accompany her mother to jobs, which led to their singing back-ups for Marriott’s Packet Of Three, as The Lillettes.
“My dad was always very busy and my mother did backing vocals. I’d go with her and that’s really how I got started in singing. I did what my daughter does now and played records over and over, copying the fashion and exact inflections.”
Sam had huge success with her first album Stop! in the late 80s: its variety of sounds – songs with strings on, jazz, out-and-out Dixieland, dance tunes – set it beyond any fashion of the day:
“That was very successful; it was great for me,” she says. But it was nearly 20 years ago and since then I’ve changed people’s perceptions and done a lot of different things.”
They include considerably changing and developing her own style as well as writing songs for other people, touring with Pink Floyd – with her then six-month-old daughter in tow – and doing “up to 100 gigs a year” with Jools Holland’s band.
After about 15 years of working with Jools, she left the band last summer, to set up her own record label – “a bloody nightmare, I’m hopeless on the computer” – and concentrate on a new album, her first in seven years.
And love and hurt are certainly going to feature. “My songs do reflect my life,” says Sam. One album, 43 Minutes, was written before and after her mother died from cancer in 1991.
“I think people relate to that, to real life, and I hope that’s what my songs reflect. If there’s a core of truth within, I think it’s more moving.”
Her new work also reflects a painful experience in life – separation from her husband Robin Evans, a producer who started out on early Manic Street Preachers.
“That’s what it’s all about really.
“It’s tricky but then all of life can be tricky – there’s no sunshine without rain is there?”
But Sam certainly sounds of a sunny disposition and she is at a contented time in life, both with her music and her family.
She lives near Reading with her son, aged 12, who plays drums, and her 14-year-old daughter who enjoys piano. Both also sing.
As in her own childhood, “there is always something musical going on – and a bit of competition.”
She and her brother Pete, a record producer, and foster bother Richard, a drummer, still occasionally work with their father – and each other.
Now aged 66, Joe Brown is still very busy. Sam has been over to Germany where he was making a live album which her brother produced.
“He’s on tour at the moment,” says Sam. “He does such a lot my dad. He always has a new record coming out and they’re always great.”
Having just started her own tour, she is looking forward to performing at The Sage Gateshead.
“I’ve played there twice before,” she tells me. “I can’t remember when – I’ve a terrible memory.
“I’ve just bought the Readers Digest 101 Ways To Improve Your Memory – but it obviously hasn’t worked yet.” she adds, promising to send me a copy of her new album (which, it appears, she’s forgotten to send).
In the show there’ll be “bits of blues, a bit of jazz, a bit of everything.
“I play piano, ukulele and it’s quite personal – intimate is an overused word, but I talk to the audience and sing songs.
“Because of my age, I’m comfortable with it all. I’ve no desire to compete with the teeny bands.”
Sam Brown, plus support from The Michael Rattray Allstars, is appearing in Hall Two of The Sage Gateshead at 8pm tomorrow. Call box office on (0191) 443-4661.