17 Comments (since 2 Aug 2015)
For the next Jam, I turn (unusually) to the national press - in particular, Alexis Petridis' blog attached to the "Guardian Online" setup at www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/. Alexis has particular views about Errol Brown and 'Hot Chocolate' - and I'd rather feature something like that than just a bland, toadying celebration of the subject. So here's his take on Errol and 'HC', warts and all, with a brief mention of today's Jam:
"'Hot Chocolate' were a peculiar band. They were a hugely successful chart act that had hit singles over three decades, but their albums barely scraped into the Top 30, unless they were 'greatest hits' collections. They were best known for fluffy, hook-laden 'pop disco', but their back catalogue was packed with other stuff: music that was far weirder, darker and more intriguing.
"Errol Brown was a great singer, possessed of the ability to convey anguish with a chilling falsetto shriek, but it was a sound he rarely used: instead, he tended to unflustered cool, an imperturbable loverman who wouldn't have broken sweat if someone had set fire to his tight satin trousers.
"They began life as an opportunistic novelty act, born when he and bassist Tony Wilson took up an offer to join a group of Brixton-based musicians who were employed recording reggae covers of current hits. One track, a bizarre version of 'Give Peace a Chance' with a stentorian vocal and additional lyrics courtesy of Brown – 'Rubbish! Rubbish!' he kept shouting, for reasons that weren't entirely clear – found its way to John Lennon and was released on 'Apple'.
"Signed to Mickie Most's 'RAK', they floundered, devoid of a direction – scoring the occasional 'pop soul' hit, like 1970's 'Love Is Life', trying their hand at everything from 'glam' to 'bubblegum' to 'hard rock' in the vein of Free's 'All Right Now'.
"It wasn't until Most steered them in the direction of social commentary and brought in string arranger John Cameron that they settled on what appeared to be a winning style: the bleak funk of 'Brother Louie', the astonishing 1974 hit 'Emma', an impossibly morose tale of poverty, failure and suicide. The latter featured a remarkable vocal from Brown: he's the model of resigned stoicism until the song's closing minute, where he unleashes a series of harrowing screams.
"It's hard not to wish 'Hot Chocolate' had made more records like that, had made more use of Errol Brown's voice in that way. That said, you could see why they ultimately didn't. Emma made No. 3, but the band's success was far from assured.
"Setting what was to prove a pattern, their subsequent debut album, 'Cicero Park', failed to make the charts at all, despite being a genuinely great record, offering a far tougher, sparser take on the nascent 'disco' sound than the one they would subsequently become famous for." Forever my favourite offering by them, as it heralded my release from the much-hated secondary school system which had tainted me, into the horizon-broadening, less regimented arena of college life.
A merciful release, without question. This recording also featured the filled-out backing sound of "The Trinidad Singers" - a fact not often noted, and without whose performance this song would not have been half as good. "Love Is Life" was not issued in the US, but made it to a healthy No. 6 after five weeks in the UK Top 40 singles chart of September 1970. It eventually dropped back out after a ten week run. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Is_Life
My first G/F was a huge Hot Chocolate fan. During our brie liaison I attempted to wean her off such lightweight stuff (as I felt it to be back then) and onto the likes of Yes and ELP. I now acknowledge Errol and the lads' musical legacy it at least as worthy as these prog behemoths.
brie = brief, of course.
@ian38018 Cheesus, man, get a grip!
With age comes differing perspectives, I suppose. But perhaps I over-egged that particular pudding :-)
@ian38018 Great personal background! @daved Har har!!
big love from years ago...
I knew at the time that there was something about them not to be overseen. In retrospect I think that it was the voice that I felt attracted to.