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Newham rock ‘n’ roll legend wants the music to continue

09:00 30 March 2014

Joe Brown sings at the Rock

Joe Brown sings at the Rock'n'Roll Show, Wembley.

PA Archive/Press Association Images

It has been more than 50 years since rock n’ roll legend and former Newham resident joined his first band.

From his friendship with Beatle George Harrison. who was best man at Joe’s wedding, to his trip to Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE, the 76-year-old talks about his eventful life ahead of his upcomign tour this April.

Veteran rock guitarist Joe Brown after receiving an MBE for services to music at Buckingham Palace, London.Veteran rock guitarist Joe Brown after receiving an MBE for services to music at Buckingham Palace, London.

Jovial Joe Brown’s childhood growing up in the Plaistow pub his parents ran was the launchpad for a career which half a century ago saw him make waves in the music industry. The 76-year-old is still touring today and has no plans to give up.

Back in the sixties it was Joe who was headlining major tours, supported by an emerging and little- known young band called The Beatles.

From those humble East End beginnings the carrot-topped artist became one of the most respected performers in music.

Growing up in wartime London, Joe candidly explains the lack of security and roaming the bomb sites of Plaistow as a boy.

The Sultan. Joe was brought up in the Sultan pub in Grange Road, Plaistow, East London. It was once commemorated with this sign. Pub SignThe Sultan. Joe was brought up in the Sultan pub in Grange Road, Plaistow, East London. It was once commemorated with this sign. Pub Sign

When he was very small his family uprooted from Lancashire, where his parents had worked on farms, and moved to London where they took over the Sultan pub in Grange Road.

Years later, to commemorate that Joe once lived there, his image was immortalised on the painted sign hanging outside with him portrayed as a sultan wearing traditional Arab headgear.

As a youngster he vividly remembers being a bookies runner with his friend Dennis collecting bets from drinkers and taking them to the bookmakers nearby.

He supplemented his earnings by selling cockles at the weekends and collecting scrap metal.

Left to right, Shakin Stevens, Joe Brown and Alvin Stardust taking a break from rehearsals at the Astoria Theatre.Left to right, Shakin Stevens, Joe Brown and Alvin Stardust taking a break from rehearsals at the Astoria Theatre.

It provided him with the income that, through a twist of fate, would change his life.

He says: “I lived in the pub and there used to be a bloke who came in, a local musician Georgie Dance. He was from a musical family and played the guitar.

“When I was about 10 years old I was fascinated by the instrument and I bought this guitar for a pound. That’s how I started in music.”

The purchase catapulted Joe on a road to stardom and ignited his lifelong love of stringed instruments.

Mark Knopfler (left) and Joe Brown performing during the Lonnie Donegan - tribute concert at the Royal Albert Hall in central London. Some of the biggest names in rock took part in a tribute to 'King of Skiffle' Lonnie DoneganMark Knopfler (left) and Joe Brown performing during the Lonnie Donegan - tribute concert at the Royal Albert Hall in central London. Some of the biggest names in rock took part in a tribute to 'King of Skiffle' Lonnie Donegan

After leaving school at just 12, Joe went from working on the railways and firefighting to getting involved in skiffle groups when the genre was at its peak.

While touring the east London pub circuit as a teenager, Joe swapped the skiffle scene for rock ‘n’ roll.

He spent the 1950s as a television performer and singer, playing for visiting Americans like Eddie Cochran and Johnny Cash before pursuing his own music.

Throwing in a plethora of television appearances and musicals, he collaborated with some of the biggest names in the industry.

Veteran rock guitarist Joe Brown receives his MBE for services for music from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace in London.Veteran rock guitarist Joe Brown receives his MBE for services for music from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace in London.

Joe says: “I’ve been very lucky; I’ve worked with some lovely people and always respected them for what they do.

“I have always thought that I could learn something from them. You never stop learning.”

Joe has released 30 albums, the most recent of which is 2012’s The Ukulele Album honouring the instrument that cemented his lifelong friendship with Beatle George Harrison.

Their mutual appreciation for the ukulele led to several collaborations.

He explains: “George was a great friend of mine. We were always around each other’s houses and talking about ukuleles. He was best man at my wedding.”

Joe adds: “He was good to work with. He was like me; he wanted to get it right all the time. He wasn’t the sort of man that would rest on his laurels. He was a real professional.”

Over the last few years Joe has tirelessly embarked on regular tours and appearances.

He charmed a new generation of fans with his 2002 Glastonbury performance and later that year played to a worldwide audience at The Concert for George, a tribute to George Harrison who died in 2001.

Having been asked by widow Olivia Harrison and Eric Claption to sing at the show, Joe moved listeners with classics Here Comes The Sun and That’s The Way It Goes. He closed with a ukulele rendition of I’ll See You in My Dreams, a favourite song of George’s.

In 2009, Joe was awarded the outstanding contribution to music award by Mojo magazine. Just two days later he found out he was to be awarded an MBE.

“It was nice to get awarded both of those things. What more could you ask? They give you a medal and honour – in my case, for my contribution to music – for something that you have loved doing all your life.

“Mind you, they’ve never heard me play the five-string banjo,” he joked.

Joe has been trying to get accustomed to the instrument in preparation of his next UK tour. He says audiences can look forward to entertaining music and a genuine performance.

“It comes over that we enjoy what we are doing. I don’t think you can fool an audience and it is a great feeling when you go out. I could have the flu and a twisted ankle but I go out on the stage I don’t get any pain at all.”

Just as well that Joe hopes to continue his tours for as long as he can, bringing his music to loyal fans and new audiences.

For tour dates visit joebrown.co.uk

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