The music scene here is familiar with Hassan Peter Brown’s folky travails, but this time around, he dips his hand deep into American backwaters on his latest solo album.
Not many people get to say they went to school and were friends with Pink Floyd’s drummer, Nick Mason. Likewise, few will be in a position to say that British folk legend Davy Graham tried to buy a copy of his own duet record with Shirley Collins Folk Roots, New Routes from them. And it’ll be near impossible to meet someone here who watched the late great guitarist Paul Kossoff live before he etched his name in the rock pantheon as the axe grinder for Free.
Then again, Hassan Peter Brown is not your ordinary, average guy. Far from it, in fact. He grew up in post-war Britain and lived through the kaleidoscopic 1960s, when London was swinging and the sun’s rays shone brightly across the Atlantic during the much-eulogised Summer of Love. He married his Malaysian musical partner Markiza Halim and then moved here to make music with her, but not before releasing a handful of albums in the 1970s and 1980s, namely Young & Foolish (1979), Wild Place In The Sun (1981) and The Searcher (1984), all folk-driven efforts with Brown’s trademark observations of life.
Arriving in 2015 with his fifth (2001’s Warm was his fourth) solo album in tow, Blues laments the technological age of today and the rancourous times we live in. He addresses the narcissistic “me” syndrome, the state of the music scene and even some environmental issues.
Brown has largely ploughed a folky furrow throughout his career, having been weaned on Donovan and Bob Dylan, but the blues, it seems, was never far way. “I’ve always been attracted to the blues, but my technical ability has held me back. This was something I wanted to do, so I worked out some blues chord routines and put them in song for this album,” Brown said modestly at his home in Kuala Lumpur.
His introduction to the rootsy sound of the blues came in the late 1950s when he attended a party and heard 12-string guitar folk blues legend Leadbelly on the record player.
Warm and Blues are separated by 14 years, and in that time, Brown has grown older (he’s at the ripe age of 72) and opted to do things differently now.
“Blues is a more heterogenous album, it’s more satirical, while Warm displayed more social commentary and was more evangelical in theme. I wanted to experiment with more sardonic songs this time round, which is why I have songs like Gotta Make D Music.”
The proof is in the pudding, and with tunes like the aforementioned Gotta Make D Music, Nit Head Blues, If You Leave Me and Open Mike, satire and sardonicism are well represented.
If anyone qualifies to make an educated observation of how little progress the music scene here has made, it’s Brown – he plied the club circuit from 1987 and has remained an ever-present sight at gigs with a cause through the years.
“It’s been the same thing for more than 20 years now – people still want to hear the same old songs, and musicians are accorded very little respect.” And by the same songs, he probably means Smoke On The Water, Hotel California, Wonderful Tonight and their ilk. He’s dead on the money, too. It’s not hard to see how this rankles with him (and many of us, too). After all, he lived through music’s golden age of the 1960s and 1970s.
“My heart doesn’t bleed for me, but for the musicians out there who are genuinely trying to do something different,” he asserted, name-checking the likes of Seven Collar T-Shirt, Monoloque, Reza Salleh and Tempered Mental, among others.
He also weighed in on the technology versus talent debate, but surprisingly, doesn’t feel that the digital age has desecrated the sanctity of organic music-making. “Technology has definitely not sapped artistry.”
Blues sees some familiar names in Brown’s stable of collaborators, with usual suspects including film producer/musician Khairil Bahar, who plays some nifty acoustic blues guitar on the title track, and long-time associate, guitarist and bluesman Julian Mokhtar, of Blues Gang fame.
Old hand, guitar player Ihzwan Omar, who played with Brown and Markiza years ago, makes a welcome return on the track Golden Moonbeams. According to Brown, the music on the album had taken into account the musicians that were identified for their respective contributions.
Ultimately, everything fell into place exactly the way he had envisioned. “I was already happy with it, but (producer) Khai(ril) did a great job. I just hope nobody is offended by the heavy stuff.”
As much as he has given this nation plenty of music, Brown has always provided the music scene with numerous opportunities, too. He was a driving force in the indie movement in the 1990s through to the mid noughties.
It all started off as a novel way to promote the Open Secret album in 1993 — which he shared credits with Markiza as part of the duo Passion — but eventually grew into a movement. Those gigs, not only promoted Passion’s album, but catered to the burgeoning indie scene’s live exploits.
Around the time Warm was released in 2001, Brown began organising a series of acoustic shows, highly anticipated events hosted, variously at, the Commonwealth Club, The Box at KL’s Actors Studio and Actors Studio Bangsar. The show, billed Acoustic Jam, lasted 16 sessions from 2001 to 2003.
Brown is modest to a fault about his contribution. A host of bands, not only cut their teeth, but got a leg up by appearing at shows he organised. The likes of Reza, Spunky Funggy and Seven Collar T-Shirt, while earning musical merit on their own, are indebted to the exposure that came from Brown’s unwavering belief in local talent.
But everything is about Blues today. Brown doesn’t dwell on past successes. He has no reason to, not with a stellar, earthy 14-song excursion tucked under his belt, one he is merely looking forward to sharing with an audience who will understand his take on the idiom. There’s plenty for any listener to sink their teeth into. In fact, there’s so much, a line in the title track perfectly encapsulates this: “Blues, always in the plural.”