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Duncan Browne

Born 25th March 1947, London, BROWNE’s musical manifesto ranged between baroque-pop to Brit-folk, lying somewhere between his earliest influence, BOB DYLAN, and his twee contemporary COLIN BLUNSTONE. Sadly, he’ll be remembered for his one-off one-hit-wonder of the early 70s, `Journey’, a bright and summer-day dirge of unique quality and charm.
Dogged by ill-health as a youngster (which halted his intentions of following in the footsteps of his Air Commodore father into the Royal Air Force), Duncan spent a good period of his formative adult life busking around the capital and travelling Europe on a little sum of money he’d borrowed from his dad; his acceptance into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts gave BROWNE grounding and a platform to take his classically-trained singer-songwriting abilities to a higher level.
Duncan’s demos impressed Immediate label guru Andrew Loog Oldham, who signed his folk-rock trio, Lorel, although a disastrous Bach-cloned/PROCOL HARUM-like 45 (`Here And Now’) nearly found a quick exit rather than a big hit. With BROWNE gaining confidence and momentum by working as an arranger for other Immediate acts, he was given a lifeline to produce his own solo music.
Summoning old student chum David Bretton to be his lyricist and confidant, Duncan was ready to unleash his solo debut, GIVE ME TAKE YOU (1968) {*8}. Dismissed at the time and virtually un-promoted by a flagging label who’d set their sights on bigger things for prog-rockers The NICE, the album itself was quintessentially English in its pre-Raphaelite leanings and Baroque-styled arrangements; released a year prior to NICK DRAKE’s similarly moody and melancholy debut, one can vouch for tracks like `On The Bombsite’ (a flop 45), `Chloe In The Garden’, `Ninepence Worth Of Walking’ and the opening title track. On hearing the set itself, the overly-ambitious KEITH EMERSON was impressed enough to offer BROWNE a place in his band, and although they supported each other on subsequent tours, the pairing only found time to combine efforts on one track, `Hang On To A Dream’.
A one-off platter for Bell Records – who were just about to take off with US signing Dawn – came to nothing, leaving entrepreneur Mickie Most at RAK Records to try his hand at breaking DB into the charts. Initially successful with the aforementioned Top 30 entry, `Journey’, the producer basically forgot to accompany the hit with an “immediate” album, and when the eponymous, self-penned DUNCAN BROWNE {*7} was finally delivered early ‘73, it failed to generate needed sales figures for another. A poignant single which was omitted from the original vinyl version of the set, `Send Me The Bill For Your Friendship’, was profound and a nice swansong for the exiting DB; listen too for `Babe Rainbow’, `Over The Reef’, `My Old Friends’ and finale `Last Time Around’.
Disillusioned, and like every other former folkie falling foul in the fickle world of the pop music, Duncan was left to earn a crust as a session man (working with BLUNTSTONE and Tom Yates respectively); his only muse was to glam-up with Peter Godwin in their power-pop duo, Metro, releasing one forgettable eponymous set in 1976. The pro-glam appeal continued with two unrecognisable and Americanised DUNCAN BROWNE solo LPs, the synth-friendly, BRYAN FERRY-esque THE WILD PLACES (1978) {*5} – a US Top 200 entry – and STREETS OF FIRE (1979) {*5}.
Back on hallowed ground in Old Blighty, a second journey into the charts came via his laid-back television soundtrack `Theme From The “Travelling Man”’ hit, although the accompanying TRAVELLING MAN (1985) {*5} OST was lost on many of his old fanbase; as were the rest of Duncan’s media scores for film documentaries (Jonathan Miller’s `Madness’ was one). Sadly, after a lengthy struggle with cancer, DUNCAN BROWNE died on 28 May 1993, an undeserved ending to one that (nearly) got away.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Mar2015

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