MEMORIES - from those who knew or
met Billy Brown
PAT CHESTERS - Plattermen bandleader:
I first met Billy Brown in a hall in Larne in the early sixties. He came along to hear us and came up for a chat after the gig. I had just bought a new baritone sax and Billy was interested in that. Later as we were making changes, we needed a new drummer and we met Johnny Murphy (Ballymena). Johnny and Billy had played with Billy McFarland. The next time we met was when the Freshmen bus broke down in Omagh and the boys had to stay over. Billy stayed in my home that night and we just chatted the usual band gossip. Over the years we usually would come together in the Ashling Hotel in Dublin where both bands stayed. We would have discussed many different things, usually band talk. There is one very famous night in The Ashling when the following bands were present - The Freshmen, The Melody Aces, The Mighty Avons, Rory Gallagher, Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy a couple of English reporters from Melody Maker, Plattermen of course and a few others - I think Sammy Smith may have been there - anyway we drank the bar dry and had a really good night. The guy from Melody Maker wrote a story in the paper saying that he had a fantastic night. We used to meet on and off - one night sometime after The Freshmen had done their big Peace concert I was chatting to Billy about possibly having The Freshmen and Plattermen join up and do a concert together Plattermen brass and Freshmen vocals. Sadly it never materialised. Billy was a great guy no airs or graces, modest and a good talker. We met up often in the Ashling or Barrys Hotel. He was the engine in the Freshmen as Ray Moore was in the Plattermen. In recent years he and Rob Strong became friends and I believe Rob was a great help to him during his illness. Rest in peace Billy, join the big band in Heaven.
Billy Brown was a very talented musician and a really nice guy. In my opinion, during the time he worked, he was the most complete and accomplished musician on the showband circuit.
I played in a beat group for a number of years and many times opened for big well known showbands. One of those bands was often the Freshmen. The very first time we met them we had just bought a new PA system complete with a Binson Echo. While we fooled around with both these units we weren’t sure how to set them up properly so we decided to ask Billy for advice.
He was amazing. He took the time to explain the options and the results and then finally he showed us how he set their sound system up. I couldn’t believe it as many people unsure of themselves would try to keep something like that a secret. Not Billy, he was happy to show us. A great guy. Hard to argue with success so we used those same setting for our band.
Now, remember at that time, he was a star and we were just this bunch of little guys he had never met before and yet he took the time to teach us something.
Over the years we opened for Billy many times and he was always willing to sit and talk with us and give us performance tips. He made a difference to our band. Enough, that over 50 years later, I still remember.
Mark Fitzpatrick (The Crypt)
Growing up in Dublin in the 60’s, I lived within a ten minute walk of ballrooms such as the Ierne, the National, Town & Country Club, Irish Club, Kingsway, Teachers Club, Barry’s Hotel, Matt Talbot Hall and AOH Ballroom. Along with a few pals we started collecting band photos. I got to meet band members, roadies and managers as they unloaded their vans to set up their PA’s etc in the halls.
When I first met Billy at the back of the Ierne Ballroom, he was one of the most obliging and like some others went out of his way to dig out a few photos for us. I remember getting his autograph back then and immediately he made an impression on me, his autograph was the most artistic one of all the musicians I met, it included a spider on a cobweb and I still have it.
At that time, I never realised I would one day be working in the business with a lot of the people I met at the back of these halls, Billy being one of them.
Around 1980 Billy took up a role with Ritz Records as producer/arranger. Ritz was owned by Mick Clerkin who started Release Records back in the late 60's with Jimmy Magee. Among the Ritz artists Billy worked with was Denis Allen who I was managing. It was about this time I really got to know Billy. There are a few people in the business that I would describe as being genuinely nice, humble and down to earth despite their fame and talent. Billy was among the elite of these. Despite his huge talent as a songwriter, singer, musician, arranger, producer and painter he was the nicest and most genuine person you could meet.
Billy could write any genre of song. Contrast his song ‘Look What Jerry Lee Did To Me’* to ‘Wintertime’ which he wrote for Ray Lynam – two great songs but totally different. I believe he would have been an international star if he had got the right breaks at an early age. Where might Elton John be today if he had not seen an advert for Liberty Records back in 1967? I think of Billy when I hear an Elton John song on the radio and wonder what if?
There were a lot of boy bands in the 90’s and shortly before Billy’s passing, we had an idea to start a young pop band who could play their own instruments and hopefully write good songs under Billy’s guidance. For me the heart, soul and musical genius of Billy’s input into this band died with him and very soon I ended my involvement with them.
Maybe it’s time for a record company to issue a compilation of Billy’s songs and even resurrect the Freshmen’s Peace on Earth album.
My brother Harry and I would go to The Adelphi ballroom in Dundalk amongst others 13 miles across the border from our home in Newry whenever The Freshmen or The Plattermen were playing. What I wouldn't have given as a 17/18 year old to play with those bands: they were exceptional, playing all the kind of music we liked and Rob and Billy were heroes to us. Rehearsing all those harmonies in "Carpet Man" that great Freshman hit with Billy when he joined us in Flash was a highlight of our musical time together - a thrill! How I would have loved to have played with Billy in his prime. He loved our group and us as people and musicians and after producing us and seeing the band live he wanted one last crack at it and decided to join us but his health was declining and the road wasn't kind to him - all that travelling et al.
Maurice Cooney (bass-player, Flash)
excellent tribute to one of the greatest
talents to come out of the showband era
pity his solo recordings are not
available on cd as there is the makings
of a great cd there.
I echo FV's comments.I wonder if enough people signed
a petition or something, would it have any sway with
those in power in record companies, or are they
completely beyond redemption? I notice from reading the
likes of Mojo and Record Collector, many reissues of
minor league bands I've never heard of. Surely if some
of these are worth reissuing, work by a great artist
like Billy Brown should be. Some years ago whilst
gigging in Johnstown Co. Kildare, I met some youngsters
who were well clued into their music. When I expressed
surprise at their knowledge, I was told that Billy lived
locally and he had them all "educated" in the ways of
good sounds. Many thanks for the page, Francis,
While I was more into the beat groups rather than showbands, The Freshmen were one of those bands who had a real musical crossover and the Billy Brown Room is a great idea to a great talent.
An excellent tribute to a very talented musician. I
often met Billy on the road during his days with the
Freshmen.I always found him down to earth and friendly.
Gene Chetty, Cambridge
Congrats and well done on creating the Billy Brown
Room. It's a fascinating and very informative seomra and
I'm certain that all of us will learn many fascinating
and interesting musical facts about Billy and his music
over the coming months. As a person who has followed the
musical fortunes of Billy and the Freshmen for more
years than I care to remember, I am delighted that we
now have a place of pilgrimage to visit and we don't
even have to leave our homes to do so.
I only heard The Freshmen a couple of times and I
thought they were fantastic! The Billy Brown Room -
well, what can I say that hasn't already been said? Give
yourself a big pat on the back Francis and a Thank You
from some-one who didn't (until now) know a lot about
Billy Brown. He obviously was man of great talent.
What a wonderful tribute to Billy Brown and the
fantastic showband The Freshmen. They were my favourite
band and I travelled to see them in various dancehalls
around the country - Seapoint in Galway, Abbey in
Drogheda, Dundalk, Dunlaoire and of course the big one
at the time the Television Club and lots more. Its very
easy to imagine/see them performing in my mind's eye as
I write this message. What style, sound and presentation
and I feel very privileged to have seen Billy, Derek and
the lads. What lovely memories. I will keep in touch
with this tribute. My brother Jimmy Fanning of the
Strangers also loved the lads and at one time there was
talk he might join them, not too sure if this is correct
but we both loved Billy and the band.
Martin Fanning (Balbriggan)
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