The Early Years.
Roger Anthony Brookes (later changed to Brooks for professional reasons) was born, into the family home on Trent Boulevard, on September 10th 1950 in West Bridgford Nottingham which was considered at that time to be a well to do suburb, an upper middle class area. He was the middle of three children, brother Michael and younger sister Alison, born to his parents, both professional people. Mother, once a reporter for the Yorkshire Times then a teacher and Father an ex R.A.F. Air Gunner during W.W.2 then an executive with Sanderson’s Fabrics. Roger attended school nearby at Lady Bay Infants in Musters Road then Lady Bay Juniors before attending the Private Bluecoat Church of England school in 1961, aged 11. This is now an upmarket secondary academy. Sadly, though perhaps showing a confident flair for independent entrepreneurial commerce, he was expelled both for breaking windows and ‘selling condoms to other pupils’. He’d apparently purloined these from his Dad’s supply! He was transferred to Radcliffe Trent Secondary school but was deemed too academic for that school, so the Head Master arranged for him to be transferred to West Bridgford Grammar School. During holidays and weekends he worked as a butcher’s boy, delivering orders for a local farmer and possibly also helped muck out pigs out on a friends farm, often coming back stinking but carrying goodies such as biscuits which his Mum surreptitiously consigned to the bin!
Developing Musical Influences & Interests.
Being a teenager through the early 1960s meant that Roger would have been exposed to the music of The Shadows, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Duane Eddy, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Kinks and many more. He would also have knowledge of the turbulent world events and the social changes of the so called ‘Swinging Sixties’. He would have heard of major events like, The Kennedy Assassination (Nov 1963), Pirate Radio broadcasts like Radio Caroline which eventually led to the birth of Radio One. The Hippie Movement, Carnaby Street fashion, The Summer of Love (1967), Woodstock, the CND Movement. He’d have heard Davey Graham’s “Anji” – Ralph McTell’s “Streets Of London” and Bert Jansch’s “Needle Of Death” among many other songs. It’s also possible that he knew of and perhaps visited local folk clubs like The Workshop that ran from 1960 until about 1967. Around this time he met and became best friends with Colin Bacon who recalls that they met at the local youth club. Roger turned up on a scooter and was very well dressed though he tarnished this debonair image somewhat by his continual spitting which later earned him the sobriquet of “Spitter Brookes”! Colin and Roger’s friendship lasted for quite few years and having a mutual interest in music and guitar in particular they were most influenced by folk legends Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and they teamed up to learn together and from one another. They frequented the local clubs and places where they could both hear and perform their repertoire. Colin is adamant that Roger was an out and out extrovert then, having no difficulty with shyness in performing to people. Which is at odds with the recollections below from Chrissy Quayle and Julia Ciccone, though perhaps it was being in a duo, having the performance nerves burden shared, that bolstered Roger’s natural and nervous demeanour. Colin remembers that Roger was always outgoing and stylish. He wore a large leather coat he’d got somehow from a theatrical company. It was a full length garment and was created from multiple scalloped patches of different coloured leather, it might have come from a local production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Colin also recalls that Roger’s sense of humour could at times be inappropriate to the point of being cruel to some, in one case a boy with a speech impediment was mercilessly mocked and imitated much to Colin’s shame and embarrassment and of course to the victim’s.
In 1968, Roger and Colin were at College together and dabbling with guitars both having a keen interest in music and attending club nights and other local venues. Roger’s sister Alison thinks he joined the music scene in St. Ives a few years later. Chrissie Quayle who ran the Mermaid Folk Club at Gurnard’s Head recalls Roger playing there as early as 1968. Then around 1969 Roger qualified and was accepted to study Sociology and Maths at Leicester University while Colin went to Sunderland University but they still met up and played music as before, coming into Cornwall together on a visit circa 1969 I guess, as Chrissy Quayle recalls Roger being at The Mermaid and performing solo in the summer of 1968. It is possible that Roger introduced Colin to the Cornish Folk Scene. Roger also went down to London where he became a part of the busking set. Alison also recalls that by then he was getting rather avant-garde and that his Auntie Norine was very disparaging about him, largely about his clothing and top hat some of which, with his typically careless, casual and rebellious attitude, he deliberately wore to Alison’s wedding in August 1976.
Roger dropped out of University during the first year and began busking. Known as “The Wandering Troubadour” he was always popular with women. I suspect that it was during his time at University that he became exposed to many more musical genres. He became more focussed on folk music and was very keen on the guitar works of maestros Davey Graham, Bert Jansch, & John Renbourn, and songwriters like Roy Harper. Some of whom he and Colin saw perform at University Music events. His sister Alison recalls that he “knew lots of the folk artists who were on the scene at the time and even performed with them” and that fairly often her Mum had various musicians staying over night in the time honoured tradition associated with touring folk musicians. These artists included Roy Harper amongst many others, who were given breakfast before they went off on their way. During the early 1970s, while he lived partially at home, Roger travelled all over the country, largely to Warwick and down to St Ives in Cornwall. He had become an extremely talented musician, self taught for the most part but most likely also benefiting from a bit of private tuition in short sessions by touring folk artists he encountered in clubs and on his travels as this was the normal practice in those times. His talent was developing exponentially and he was being booked all over the country gaining a good reputation and winning fans at every performance.
St. Ives, Cornwall 1970 – 1980.
Of course I remember Roger Brooks well….we were good friends and I loved his music…such a talent. Roger played a few times at the little folk club I ran in Gurnard’s Head….this is around 1967..The Mermaid Folk Club. He wowed the audience, was young in those days and always a bit nervous on stage…he hardly spoke….let his guitar do the speaking. His playing was sublime…a tapestry of strings/notes flying off his fingers. He was very dedicated musician, played & sang all day…that’s how he got to be so good! He liked his red wine (didn’t particularly like smoking dope or anything else really…red wine was his thing!) Sometimes, when he’d had a few glasses, he could be quite acerbic in his comments on other people. It was just the way he was but I didn’t much like this side as people could get hurt. “Diamond Rain” is a masterpiece and his legacy song I think.
He lived for a while in West Kensington, this would probably be 1973-1975 I believe….in Motorhead‘s apartment. It was a huge Victorian edifice and the flat had about 5 or 6 bedrooms. Roger rented one and played often at The Troubadour, Les Cousins, & The Speakeasy Club in Margaret Street. Fast Eddie Clarke (Motorhead guitarist) & Philthy Phil (the drummer) both lived in the flat. Lemmy had his own place elsewhere but was round there everyday. I stayed there when I was in London. There was a band called Tir Na Nog whom Roger was good mates with…it’s possible he played with them or on the same bill at that time.
Julia Ciccone: nee Hewitt
Tells of how Roger came to her house when, in 1970, he arrived in St Ives to ask if he could play in her club and she and her husband ‘auditioned’ him in their front room only to be amazed at his skill so she readily accepted him as a resident performer. She too remembers how he was painfully shy to sing in public but how he was eventually coaxed into doing at least some singing. The club ran for two or three years in a large room in Porthmeor Road that opened out onto the beach and it’s probably here and around this time when he met up with Stephen “Sunshine” Val Baker. The club was later taken on by Martin Val Baker and Roger continued to be a part of it though by then he’d been in America for a short time and was also touring UK folk clubs as well as working in local venues to augment his income.
Roger came down from Nottingham in the early 1970s where he had been playing guitar but also pursuing an interest in cricket. His first public performance in St Ives was playing his own tunes at a folk night in the Parish Hall where he harangued a member of the audience for not giving him their full attention. He was playing superbly but the outburst became the most memorable event of the night. In June of the same year he played guitar again at the St Ives Guildhall. His playing was reminiscent of Davey Graham and Bert Jansch but it was very much his own. He began song writing whilst visiting Paris. He also tried busking and as a result his attitude to audiences mellowed. In the early 70s he performed his songs in the summers at the Mermaid Folk Club in Zennor and at Pipers and at concerts in the Guildhall receiving numerous invitations to visit other clubs around Britain. In 1972 Martin Val Baker was the roadie for my group Mask and Roger rode with us to Manchester. I remember he had an impressive schedule of gigs lined up on the circuit. In 1975 (?) he travelled to New York to perform at colleges and on radio shows.
I was in a shared house in Loughborough and we often had visiting musicians come to stay. Roger turned up one time out of the blue, in a blue PVC mac. He said he could play “Anji” (the Davey Graham instrumental folk classic) so we let him in. We became good friends, he bought my old Chamberlain guitar and they became inseparable. At this time he was not writing his own music, but he was becoming a very good player. When I moved to London he would come and stay often and spend most of the time playing the Chamberlain, but he had some funny stories and was a great mimic. One time a bunch of us took some acid and Roger spent practically the whole time hunched over the guitar with a maniacal grin on his face, fingers going non stop up and down the fingerboard. We lost contact for a while and then he turned up at a gig I was doing at the Trent Polytechnic complete with top hat and new guitar and what seemed like a new extrovert personality. Apparently he’d been to New York for a few months, written a whole bunch of great songs, one of them – “ In The Diamond Rain”- was particularly excellent and he was now playing very forcefully with plectrum and finger picks. It took me a while to adjust to the new Roger and mostly due to geographic considerations we didn’t see so much of each other though he organised my first concert in Cornwall at the St. Ives Guildhall and introduced me to a great bunch of people and so Cornwall became a regular destination for me. It took me a while to adjust to the new Roger and mostly due to geographic considerations we didn’t see so much of each other.
New York & Paris.
According to Gina (Palmer), Roger and Stephen “Sunshine” Val Baker were already there and known to each other when she arrived in Paris around 1973. It seems that Roger began visiting Paris in the later 1960s and had then been to and returned from New York, which he spoke about to Gina remarking on the cold and frozen radiators, so this could mean he was in New York during the winter of 1972 into 1973 though in chat during a club performance circa 1975 he speaks of going back in that October.
Nicki Hann was Roger’s steady girlfriend at this time and she is the “Nikki” in his song “In The Diamond Rain” though it seems there was a lot of promiscuity and ‘seeing/having’ multiple partners at the same time which might account for her remark to me during our ‘phone call that: “I was only one he ever really loved.” Nicki was about 3 years younger than Roger, she recalls that they met in Paris circa summer 1969. Nicki was living in a ‘maid’s flat’ and Roger was living with a girlfriend in their own flat. The meeting took place at the airport when both were seeing their friends back off to England. On the bus back to the city they realised they had some sort of affinity as they got on ‘hysterically’ well. So their friendship, which quite soon blossomed into a “torrid” love affair, began.
They also knew Gina Brown, later to become Gina Val Baker, married to Stephen, ‘Sunshine’ Val Baker and later yet to Clive Palmer. Gina was a ballet dancer but was bottling for Stephen and Roger & Nicki when they were buskers. It seemed to be a mad time, typical perhaps of their youth and vitality, with parties, hardships, feasts and famines – lack of money – and food no doubt. There were frequent arrests and incarcerations in primitive caged cells as busking was illegal and there was a very low tolerance of foreign law breakers and after one such arrest Gina and Nicki took Roger a sandwich! In Paris Roger was also friends with Tom Hoy who was then a member of Magna Carta. Nicki remembers that there was a recording made, in a “proper studio with good musicians” after which they went to the cinema and when they later met with Tom at his apartment where Roger may have lived from time to time in a sort of sofa surfing way. As they told him about the recording they then realised they’d left the tape in the cinema and they could not remember which one they’d been too! Which speaks of the crazy, careless way they lives their lives at that time.
Nicki thinks it’s possible that she came to Cornwall with Roger in 1970 when he began to attend and perform at the Mask Folk Club in Porthmeor Road then managed by Julia Ciccone before it moved to Mr Peggoty’s under the management of Martin Val Baker. She contributed a ‘word here and there’ in his songs, notably “Street Riot” which she can be seen performing on YouTube. She mentioned a man called Mick Parsons who played guitar and sang with Roger, who was possibly a friend from the University or College days. They considered themselves the John Renbourn and Bert Jansch of their locale which again gives a clear indication of their influences and possible abilities. It’s not yet certain if Roger was at University; in some inter song chat with an audience on “The Golden Fleece” CD he mentions being at College and studying ‘sociology and mathematics.’
Demelza Val Baker was living in Kensington and it seems there was a visiting sort of friendship going on there too. Demelza was once a member of The Temple Creatures with John Bidwell, Tim Wellard and Clive Palmer. Gina began a relationship with Stephen “Sunshine” Val Baker and when she became pregnant they eventually got married. Roger also busked with I.S.B. legend Clive Palmer during this time and Gina remembers that Roger’s alcoholic drink of choice was Drambuie Liqueur and Merrydown Cider – a potent concoction.
In an article written in 1985 and published in “80 From The Eighties” Martin Val Baker wrote of his decline in popularity (I have slightly adapted parts of the original article to bring it up to date with more recent information and developments.)
By the mid seventies Roger had become a valued and accomplished song writer, whose work was being covered by many of his contemporaries, and was getting regular bookings as a guest artist on the circuit. In 1978 a live recording of his performance at The Golden Fleece folk club in Tremadog, North Wales was taken on tape and this then languished un-played until it was digitised in 2007 and eventually released in 2012 as an Audio CD and titled “The Golden Fleece”. Sadly every copy of this I’ve ever heard has gradually deteriorated into severe distortion, the final tracks being more severely affected. Incredibly though, perhaps because there’s such a scarcity of Roger’s works in circulation, this is still being offered for sale online. Then during 1980 – 1982 a proper Studio Production recording of his own songs was made at Alive Studios, London, Fast Buck Studio, also in London and Steve Parr Studio at Putney using highly talented and skilled musicians. Titled (High Voltage) this was first released as an Audio Cassette, and is now available online as an Audio CD.
Regular appearances on Capital Radio with Richard Digance, and a growing following, indicated a promising future, but Britain’s folk boom was beginning to peter out. Then, since the collapse of the 1970s Folk Boom and the consequent closing down of the major part of the country’s folk club circuit over the ensuing years, many British performers had been forced to travel abroad in search of work. Indeed a number of fairly well known artists had been forced to give up completely and find a new career after twenty years as professional entertainers.
In 1980, contact with a Dutch agent opened up a new avenue, and a long series of one-nighters in Holland and Germany brought Roger much hard work and also enabled him to rent a flat in St. Ives to use as a permanent base. The same year a London agent arranged some bookings in Norway and he had returned to do a month long stint there twice annually. Besides his European ventures, Roger still toured the surviving English clubs and was particularly popular in the Midlands (where he had a fan group called the Leaking Whippets!) and the South Coast.
FaceBook: (1) Roger Brooks | Facebook
“High Voltage”: Roger Brooks (kidmenthal.co.uk)
Audio CD: Roger Brooks 2020 www.micmccreadie.com
Roger Brooks – A Biography: www.micmccreadie.com
During the summer, Roger performed locally in St. Ives as a pub act, either solo or as a duo with guitarist and songwriter Don Fowler (Local Heroes) usually working six nights a week. At the pub and hotel gigs, Roger rarely performed his own songs as he had learned from experience that these kind of audiences wanted more familiar, more commercial numbers as a background to a social night out, and so that it was only when performing in venues like folk clubs or festivals where an admission fee had been paid, that he had a properly attentive audience. For a time, Roger had seemed destined for the ‘Big Time’; his songs were the equal of many, more ‘successful’ writers, but perhaps he was born just a few years too late. As more and more commercial work was necessitated and opportunities to perform his own works declined, the sharp edges got smoothed out. Ambitious as ever, in 1982 he intended to move to London to concentrate on the city venues and record another album: a true survivor who had lived entirely by his music for twelve years. Still busily gigging all over the country though living in London Roger along with Richard Digance broadcast on Capitol Radio and he had a ready outlet for his passionate interest in cricket and football. Richard recalls: ‘I spent many’s a Sunday back in the day with Roger as, along with Ralph McTell and blues guitarist, Cliff Aungier. We both played for The Blue Moon All Stars, named after The Half Moon, Putney, in the BBC League. Roger and me played up front and between us we scored all the goals. We were always the worse for wear after a late night or driving home from a gig but me and Roger never missed a game. He would have scored more goals than me if he hadn’t played in that top-hat he always used to wear.
Roger eventually moved to live and work permanently in Norway, met with and, when their friendship had developed into a romance, married Stine (Steena – approximately!) on November 16th, 1987 and they had two daughters whom Roger naturally doted on. Like many creative artists Roger had his demons and disappointments. It was during his struggles with these that in 1994 Roger sadly came to accept the inevitable result of his behaviours was that he and Stine would have to part and he left the family home. Naturally he stayed in touch with his growing daughters and Stine and they’d often come to see him perform locally. As time went on Roger eventually set up home in an Oslo apartment but when he was given his terminal diagnosis of inoperable liver cancer in 2002 he accepted the extremely shocking news with inspirational courage and equanimity and began to prepare and make provision for family and friends. He visited friends, gifted some cherished items, and made his final goodbyes while he was still fit enough to travel. His strength and fortitude was were very much in evidence throughout the sickness, turmoil and emotional time as he also retained his intrinsic sense of justice, of doing the right and proper thing for his family.
It was my father’s 60th birthday in February 2003, and we had planned to go and see him in France. Roger was dying, and we wanted to cancel, but he insisted that we go. We did, and returned late on the 13th. Roger had a lawsuit going, against his former girlfriend, who wanted to throw him out of their shared apartment (which had been vacated by her some time before, because of a new lover). He was hospitalised on and off, but out on ‘leave’ to deal with the court thing. He won the lawsuit on the 13th, thus securing the girls’ financial interests too. He then went directly into hospital from court, I think. We had arranged to go in to see him on the 15th during the day, but the girls wanted to see him right away, so I called him. He said he was too tired, and wanted to keep to the initial appointment for the next day. I was listed as next of kin, so I called the hospital for their opinion. They botched it up, and put me back to him but Roger insisted on leaving it until next day. So then of course I could not go against his wishes. A couple of hours later, the hospital called, and said his organs were giving up. So we all rushed in, but with an hours’ drive ahead of us, we missed him by 20 minutes or so when he died aged just 52 on 15/02/2003. The girls were devastated, of course, especially the eldest one, but to my mind, he efficiently blocked us from coming, so they wouldn’t see him so terribly changed. The funeral was held in our village, his parents and both his siblings came, and we all got mercifully drunk the night before. Later the British part of the congregation found our local pub, to give him a proper English send off after the more sober Norwegian one.
A lovely performer…
I have nothing but happy memories of a songwriter who had so much to offer to our friendly scene.’
I was a huge fan of Roger Brooks though I had backed out of a deal where we were going to do gigs together. However for my money he was simply the most naturally talented songwriter of our generation. I recorded Roger’s “Apartment Song” on my Audio CD. Technically, it was probably one of the few of his songs that I can play. I don’t really think I can improve on what I wrote in the sleeve notes on that occasion.
‘Roger skipped into my life one night in the mid 1970’s at Nuneaton Folk Club, where he was doing a floor spot. He was wearing a top hat, muffler and leather jacket….looking like some louche but devastatingly beautiful character from Dickens. He’d only recently returned from New York, and his talk that night was all of that city…but then he was always on his way to and from some exotic location. His guitar playing however was the business – bristling with bold inventive chord inversions; his fingers snapping, sliding and syncopating around the fingerboard. The guitarists in the audience stirred uneasily. There were and are no instruction books telling you how to be original. And the songs…. they spoke of a life not lived at a superficial level, but rather at an altitude of emotional and perceptive intensity, that few of us could commit to. And yet Roger did. Flamboyantly, willingly and joyously. The titles say it all: “In The Diamond Rain” _ “Street Riot” – “Wild Bird Flying Through A Cold Black Night”. They are like flowers gathered from the very top of the mountain.
Roger was a brilliant singer, songwriter & guitarist. It seemed so sad that his work was getting forgotten, so I decided to learn all of his songs and arrangements. I felt completely honoured when recently an old friend and fan of Roger Brooks heard my version of Roger’s pièce de resistance ‘Street Riot’, and told me that they thought I played the song as well as Roger himself!
I saw Roger play at a pub in Portswood, Southampton sometime between 1983 and 1985, and bought a cassette of High Voltage. I have seen many folk musicians and thought that he was truly first rate. I remembered some of the lyrics to “street riot” today (almost 30 years later) and put them into Google and found this page. I will be buying the 2 CD’s that are available at this website (see below), and will be having a few drinks to his memory. I only had the pleasure of hearing him once, but he made a lasting impression. I wish I had seen him more often. Thank you Roger for your music
Toni Carver – The St Ives Times & Echo – 20th March 1998
In the old days the musicians that brought the standard of the common folk up a bit were wandering troubadours. Every community could claim them as their own, but no one ever owned them. Such a modern equivalent is Mr Roger Brooks who breezed through town last week. Some people can live in St Ives and never belong, others always seem intrinsically part of the scene even though they may now rarely visit. Roger Brooks has always been a part of the St Ives scene, somewhere in the past he got looped into the golden tread and when he rotates back to our world he never fails to bring back a particular quality and joy we always associate with him. Last week he was the guest of Bob Devereux’s ‘Cafe Frug’ – the Wednesday night occupant of the Western’s Great Room. Even in quite recent times last Wednesday night could have been regarded as a disaster but in the current ‘mood’ it was something of a triumph. The Cafe gave a group of younger St Ives musicians an opportunity to perform as support to Brooks which meant there was a wild mix of music as well as the generations. The old P.A. couldn’t be mastered and was chronic and this greatly enhanced the club atmosphere of the evening which saw professionalism triumph when Brooks gave up with the electronic nonsense and did the second half up among his audience in his old acoustic style.
Roger Brooks has always had the knack of involving his audience. Back in the early ‘70s, for a season or two, Devereux’s Mask Folk Club was located for one evening a week at Mr. Peggotty’s. Here, Brooks would disguise his talent, and considerable professionalism, with an act that parodied the typical, nervous amateur folk club ‘performer’ of the day. Then just when he had everyone thinking ‘Oh God, he’s gonna be rubbish,’ out would come that wonderful, emotionally compelling voice backed with his deceptively simple guitar style, which properly accompanies and complements his singing. Brooks is primarily a singer and entertainer.
Another unusual aspect of those days was that on occasion a young lady (who I believe was Helen Feiler) would emerge from the audience to dance to one of Roger’s songs or to a tune. How spontaneous that was I guess we will never know but I recall Brooks did have to prompt and persuade on occasion so I guess the lady would not have danced if she didn’t feel like it.
This was certainly the case on Wednesday when he gently persuaded local songstress Becky Quick out to sing a number. It was the first time that these two had done a number together and it was one of those spell binding moments, spontaneous and compelling that made the whole evening a Roger Brooks special. The following evening he performed at the Arts Club, Penzance and took Miss Quick with him. On Friday, he wandered off once again, via a few folk clubs, back home to Norway where he now lives. Norway has been good to Brooks so he has remained content to entertain his loyal audiences by singing cover numbers which are often the work of lesser talents. This is a bit of a pity because he is an outstanding songwriter.
Roger was at Leicester university and I met him at that time. He was very influenced by Bert Jansch, Roy Harper and dare I say, myself and in the early days would learn a lot of my pieces very soon after I’d written them. One piece in particular ‘Sleepy Time On Peel Street,’ he’d recorded with a view to releasing it as a single – some rich kid from university put the money together if my memory serves. Obviously nothing came of it and I’ve no knowledge of any recording in existence. I had a flat in Wood Green and R came to stay for what turned out to be months and he did overstay his welcome a tad. It really wasn’t until he went to the States that he started to find his own voice and as I said before, seemed to go through a personality change from an archetypical, introspective guitar picker, to an ‘in yer face’ singer songwriter. At first it was hard to take and I kept thinking “when’s he going to revert to his old self?” but it seems he irrevocably changed and the metamorphosis was permanent. He was always a very funny bloke, but if you told him anything in confidence it would be all around the stews and flesh pots of polite folk singing society.
The last time I saw him was in St. Ives, he burst into the dressing room to tell me that an old girlfriend had died and minutes later to let me know that he too was dying of liver cancer and not expected to live long. I was just about to go on stage. Despite that he was on fine form that night and at the end of it he handed me a guitar case, inside was the old chamberlain guitar which he wanted to return to me. I have since passed it on to my daughter Martha and she still plays it. Writing all this has made me realise I really miss seeing him. He was a real character and he was taken far too young.
My Grateful and sincere thanks to all the people who gave so willingly of their time and memories Bob Kirkpatrick,
Martin Val Baker,
and in particular Roger’s family for their unstinting assistance, encouragement and support.