Picture this: It was 55 years ago that Joe Brown became a youthful, cheery star with the hit A Picture Of You.
He might not be a young heartthrob any more but he still has the cheeky Cockney charm that captivated audiences back when even the Beatles appeared as his support band.
And the energy’s not diminished – nor the trademark spiky hair – from the days even before that when he played guitar for Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent on ground-breaking TV pop show Boy Meets Girls.Joe is known for his tireless live schedule and he is on a marathon 70 date UK tour that keeps him busy though to Easter.
The show Just Joe is pretty much that, the singer stripped to basics with exquisite music and a welter of stories that make you laugh out loud.
“This is a show, it’s not a gig, it’s not a jam session – if I wasn’t a big ham it wouldn’t work,” laughs Joe. “It’s fantastic to be out there in front of a thousand people who are listening to every word you say. It’s a funny old world – it’s not like I’m someone from a soap opera off the tele!”
The music veers from classic rock ‘n’ roll songs, such as Sea Of Heartbreak, to traditional tunes to something by Chas and Dave (they’re big friends) to George Harrison, who was the biggest friend of all (even being his best man).
“I’ll be playing most of my old hits but we’ll also be playing different stuff – a nice Italian waltz, an Irish jig…”
The show isn’t quite Just Joe, though, as he has a guitar-wielding sidekick. Henry Gross is a star-kissed veteran too, having played at the Woodstock festival in 1969 with his outlandish, high-energy rock ‘n’ roll revival band Sha Na Na. The pair met in America’s country music capital, Nashville, where Joe spends a lot of time, with the show influenced by the way musicians there get together to play and chat.
“We do a lot of picking sessions, sitting around singing songs, and that’s one of the things that turned me on to this,” says Joe, now 76. “I’m a bit old for standing up and twitching around with an electric guitar around my neck.”
Joe was only a teenager when he started playing guitar on television, his lively persona and impressive playing catching the attention of the musical bigwigs and making him one of the first home-grown pop idols – and he did it all himself. Unlike modern-day, short-lived stars who graduate from shows such as The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent in those days you made your own career.
Moving away from pop after a string of hits he became a star of musical theatre, even performing alongside Dame Anna Neagle in Charlie Girl. There were films, too, from the pop era fun of What A Crazy World! to appearing alongside Bob Hoskins in the thriller Mona Lisa.
While never leaving the stage, Joe found a new lease of life as the 20th century came to a close and veteran rockers found a new place in the public’s heart. With albums that managed to entertain old fans yet find a new audience for their imaginative and timeless concoction of blues, folk and rock, Joe was not only playing sell-out tours but also popping up at festivals such as Glastonbury.
Joe’s family have joined the business too. Daughter Sam was a solo star while son Pete is both a musician and a producer. After the death of wife Vicki (herself a singer in groups such as the Vernon Girls), in 2000 Joe in married Manon Pearcey who had been the partner of Small Faces singer Steve Marriott. Now daughter Mollie Marriott is making her own records – and is part of the tight-knit Brown family unit, which includes seven grandchildren.
Joe’s professional career is an inspiration to all as it now approaches 60 years, something that was recognised when he was awarded an MBE in 2009 and also a Mojo Magazine award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.
In Just Joe, it’s that career that’s documented in music and lively stories from the very earliest days when he was guitarist in the skiffle group the Spacemen.
And, while Joe is a virtuoso guitarist, he’s no mean player of the ukulele either. He accompanied himself on the instrument (a moving rendition of I’ll See You In My Dreams) when closing the Concert for George tribute and will be playing his ukulele in the show along with banjo, guitar and mandolin. Indeed his album The Ukulele Album still continues to sell well.
Just Joe is a show that unites the humour of music hall with his own timeless take on music over the past half-century and more. It’s almost a history of pop music alongside the chirpy thoughts of someone who was there at the very beginning. .
Engaging and funny, with some terrific music thrown in, Just Joe is a show that’s not to be missed.
Catch Joe at The Wyvern Theatre on Friday 19th January – more information HERE