A new box set from Cherry Red chronicles the mid-70s heyday of thespian musician Brian Protheroe
Artist: Brian Protheroe
Album: The Albums 1974-76
Label: 7T’s/Cherry Red
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Brian Protheroe is indeed a renaissance man.
He has been an actor since 1966, appearing in several plays and currently narrateing UK Channel 4’s First Dates programme, and he’s extrapolated from his thespian roots in the creating of his music, bringing an urbane sensibility to his songwriting and musicianship. His songs are always sophisticated, but the listener gets the feeling that Protheroe is having a grand time, and either by himself or with his partner in song, lyricist Martin Duncan, he’s created works that are very British and very enduring. Perhaps Protheroe’s greatest strength is that he’s able to conjure amazingly clear images through both his lyrics and his music, and the extraordinary range of his beautiful, smooth voice serves as a glorious messenger. This new collection, The Albums 1974-76, is a fine illustration of his talents.
On his first album, Pinball (originally released on Chrysalis Records, 1974) Protheroe gleans from several styles, including samba and jazz, resulting in a quirky delight that would please fans of 10CC and Chris Rainbow, to name a few. The first track, “Clog Dancer”, sets the tone; its salsa beat and offbeat lyrics are very engaging. The next track, “Money Love” has a light vocal phase and an electrifying chorus. Other exemplary tracks are “Goodbye Surprise”, a quirky number that’s not unlike the Flo & Eddie tune of the same name, the exquisite “Changing My Tune”, a beautiful piano ballad that shows off his dynamic vocal instrument and builds to a crescendo of soft strings, the Eastern European inflected “Lady Belladonna”, and the majestically lilting “Interview/Also In The Limelight” (from the Duncan written musical Lotte’s Elektrik Opera Film), which illustrates another Protheroe strength, brilliant vocal counterpoint in the refrain.
Protheroe’s next album, Pick-Up (originally released on Chrysalis, 1975), ahem…pick’s up where Pinball left off. From the salsa “Enjoy It”, to the quirky polka poppy (how’s that for a desciption?) “The Good Brand Band”, to the gleefully spooky “Gertrude’s Garden Hospital”, to the light, jazzy “I Spy Lady” to “Pick-Up”, a story of dicks, dames, and robbers with more movements that someone on a laxative diet, it’s very clear that Protheroe is still having a good time, and the listener is enmeshed in a musical journey into the benevolent weirdness of various places and characters.
The same cannot be said for Protheroe’s third album I/You (originally released on Chrysalis, 1975). It appears that he’s in a creative dry spell, and the heavierproduction does nothing but exacerbate the stilted, forced material. There are some nice moments; there’s the opening cut, the delightfully frenetic “I/You”, the olde-English “Under The Greenwood Tree” (with guest flautist Ian Anderson), and a version of “Lucille” which is creditibly sung, but won’t give Little Richard a run for his money (not that Protheroe had any pretentions of doing so). However, only on the goofy “Never Join The Fire Brigade” is there a glimmer of the previous Protheroe twinkle.
Each disc contains bonus tracks, the best of which being the Pinball outtake,”‘Play”, which is as good as almost anything on the album.
The liner notes by Michael Heatley, with quotes from Protheroe,are very informative. If you purchase this box, you’ll be treated to the wonderful stylings of a true pop sophisticate.
VIDEO: Brian Protheroe “Enjoy It”