The band sometimes does the sweet pop lament, Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, and I sing, putting on an exaggerated English accent. The song was written by English character actor Trevor Peacock for Joe Brown and the Bruvvers, although never recorded by them. Actor Tom Courtenay sung it in a TV play called The Lads before Herman’s Hermits did their trivialised hit version.
I don’t like lengthy introductions to songs, which tend to be self-indulgent, or pretentious, or self-glorifying, or all three, so all I say, if anything, when I sing it is something like, ‘Here’s one of the saddest songs in the world’, then I get on with it.
But I always have much more in mind, a kind of unspoken introduction (yes, self-indulgent, pretentious, self-glorifying), which is …
As a green sixteen year old, dithering uselessly in the time between leaving high school (prematurely) and getting a real job (if you can call journalism, then teaching, finally principal-ing, real jobs), one of the places I worked was an English holiday camp, a bizarre form of holidaymaking, unique to England, I think, which offered organised activities (bingo, prettiest grandma, knobbly knees, cards) through the day for vacationing families, who stayed on site in little cabins.
As you can imagine, I encountered a variety of characters who worked there, some on the sketchy side, including a man on the run from the law who cornered me and threatened me one night because he thought I knew who he was and I was about to shop him. I also met some memorable characters who became passing friends, including the musicians who formed the camp band and played during afternoon tea and for the nightly dance, and who, when the dance was over, kept playing, with just the staff staying on. I joined them a few times, playing the piano embarrassingly inadequately, but they were kind. Vince was the drummer. Like all the camp workers, he called me Caesar, because at that time I wore my hair (hair!) in a Caesar fringe. Vince was at least partly responsible for my moving from go-nowhere jobs to journalism, and subsequently to teaching, when towards the end of the season I received a letter offering me a job as a trainee reporter. By that time, with no other prospects, I’d decided to move on to another casual job with some of the staff. I told Vince about the letter, and that maybe I wouldn’t follow it up, thinking he’d approve. (He had another drumming job lined up, he thought, but they never lasted long.) He poked me in the chest and said, “Don’t be daft. Take the job.” Which I did.
A short exchange with a casual friend. And a profound effect on my life.
I’ve heard nothing of or from Vince, or any of those fleeting friends, since then, except a year into my work on the paper I read that he was playing with … Joe Brown and the Bruvvers. So every time I sing Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, I think – I don’t know where you are or what you’re doing, Vince, but this is for you.