On June 16 (“Bloomsday”), 1964, Pete Brown gave the first ever
poetry reading at Morden Tower, now a literary landmark in
Newcastle, England. The Morden Tower Readings, conceived and
organized by Tom and Connie Pickard, went on to host readings
by more poets than can be listed here, especially from the Beat
and Black Mountain movements, including Allen Ginsberg’s first
European reading of Kaddish.
I’ve always found the connections and cross-pollination of
different “scenes” fascinating, but in 1964, the only poetry I
cared about was surrounded by electric guitars and drums. As
the sixties progressed, I absorbed rock‘n’roll, blues rock, acid
rock, progressive rock, and heavy metal.
Much later, I learned that he was none other than the same Pete Brown who gave the first reading at
Born on December 25, 1940, in Ashtead, Surrey, England, Pete Brown started writing when he was
fourteen. He cites a jazz & poetry recording by Kenneth Patchen as a turning point in his life, and also
names Dylan Thomas and Federico García Lorca as important influences. By age 19, Pete was a professional
performance poet and worked with Michael Horovitz to produce the New Departures magazine, which
published early works by Samuel Beckett and William S. Burroughs. Allen Ginsberg saw the New Departure
group as a counterpart to the American Beats.
As previously mentioned, Brown co-wrote a number of songs with members of Cream, which, at the time,
was considered an avant-garde band due to their extended improvisations and dedication to a
psychedelic version of the classic blues form. After Cream disbanded, Pete Brown and Jack Bruce
continued to co-write lyrics for Bruce’s solo albums, including Songs For a Tailor, Harmony Row, and Into
Pete has been the producer and/or percussionist and/or vocalist for a variety of bands, including The
Battered Ornaments, Pete Brown & Piblokto!, The Hamburg Blues Band (guest sideman), Back to Front,
The Interoceters, and more.
His books include Few Poems (1966, Migrant Press: Birmingham), Let ‘Em Roll, Kafka. (1969, Fulcrum:
London), and The Old Pals’ Act (1972, Allison & Busby: London).
I recently had the pleasure of asking Pete Brown some questions by email.
BILL: Being involved in both music and Beat poetry, did you ever meet David Amram?
PETE: Yes. I have done two gigs with David Amram, both under the name of LIPS Festivals. The first was a
few years ago at the now-defunct Ocean in Hackney. He played piano and French horn. My bassist, David
Hadley, jammed with him. The second time was last November when we did a 50 years of On the Road
celebration at the new Marquee club, now, sadly, also defunct. Amram played on all three nights with
various people including on a poetry/music set with me. I also had my whole band there one night, it was
the last gig of that particular incarnation as I am now back with Phil Ryan and we are planning a much
larger band to tour next year when the new record is out. Amram and myself got on very well,
incidentally- being a jazz fan of old I was quite aware of his work with Miles etc and also saw Pull My Daisy
when it first came out. He is extremely sprightly, and reminded me a little of Mose Allison, one of my
idols, who also seems to go on forever. Would it were the same for me in ten years’ time.
BILL: I understand you were the first poet to read at Morden Tower. Was there any musical
accompaniment during the readings?
PETE: I was definitely the first poet to read at the Morden Tower, and no, there was no music then.
BILL: Can you talk about some of the people you met there?
PETE: The most important person I met there was Basil Bunting, who Tom Pickard had coaxed out of
retirement. What an incredible writer and a great bloke. I later took Ginsberg there and I think Robert
Creeley too. It was a terrific place, great atmosphere and the girls were very friendly!
BILL: How did you and Jack Bruce collaborate? Did one person write the lyrics while the other wrote the
PETE: When I worked with Jack, which I did for over thirty years, the music mostly came first. There were
exceptions, such as Rope Ladder and White Room. As You Said was written almost simultaneously, Jack
playing and me writing.
BILL: Did you ever meet or work with Alexis Korner?
PETE: I knew Alexis quite well, ever since Graham Bond and Dick Heckstall-Smith began playing with him.
When I was doing the New Departures Jazz/Poetry thing we had a residency at the Marquee at the same
time as Alexis’ Blues Inc., and we were allowed in free, so I was usually around. I did the odd gig with
Alexis later on, one memorable festival in a muddy hole in the ground near Hannover in Germany. I think I
also did at least one gig at Les Cousins folk club with him, it was when he was in a more experimental
mode and had a violinist with him. We also had many musical colleagues in common over the years, for
instance Danny Thompson and Zoot Money.
BILL: First I heard that Harry Shapiro was writing a biography about you. Later I heard that you are writing
your own autobiography.
PETE: I’m writing an autobiography. It’s nearly finished, should be ready by the end of the year. I wanted
Harry to do it with me but the publishers, having seen a couple of chapters I wrote, felt it would benefit
from having my voice in it.
BILL: Any other news?
PETE: The only news is that, with luck, Phil Ryan and I will have finished recording the new album, which
also features Arthur Brown, Clem Clempson, Jim Mullen, Richard Bailey, David Hadley, Bob Jenkins, John
McKenzie, Mo Nazam, Taff Williams, Art Themen, Annie Whitehead, and possibly a cameo appearance by
Peter Greene (the elusive founder of Fleetwood Mac). We are still waiting on a decision from Peter
Greene. We hope to finish recording by the end of September and have it mixed by the end of October.
That’s my main effort right now, and the book. There are mutterings of lyric and poetry books but we are
still in negotiation. There also seems to be a plan for me to produce Peter Green again, again its just a
plan right now.
BILL: Are you the Peter Brown mentioned in the song, The Ballad of John and Yoko?
PETE: No, the Peter Brown mentioned in that song was part of the Beatles management team and not
me. Sorry to disappoint.
BILL: I guarantee you, I am in no way disappointed, having actually been able to interview a person who
shines so mythically from my golden past.
I did like to read, however, and I was one of those kids
who not only listened to records, I read everything
printed on the album covers. Musical and production
credits, liner notes, and even the ads on the inner
sleeves. We didn’t have CDs back then, and those 12-
inch wide phonograph disks had plenty of room on the
packaging for text. Polydor Records used to promote
various artists on the paper inner sleeves of their
albums covers, and I remember the curious feeling of
seeing my favorite rockers (Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and
The Who) alongside artists that, to me, seemed arcane
even then (Acker Bilk, Teagarden & Van Winkle, Len
I remember wondering, who is this mysterious person
named “Brown” listed in the credits on Cream albums
alongside Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker?
On the album itself, under each song title, the
composer’s names appeared in parentheses. Sunshine
of Your Love (Clapton, Bruce, Brown). White Room
(Bruce, Brown). I Feel Free (Bruce, Brown).