The recent charity concert for the Charlatans drummer Jon Brookes was a life-affirming affair. Five thousand people witnessed some electric performances by the Charlatans, members of New Order and Vaccines along with Liam Gallagher and James Dean Bradfield with the tunes spun by the Chemical Brothers on the wheels of steel.
One of the evening’s most edifying moments was a performance of the all time classic Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart; a wonderful collaboration from members of New Order, Vaccines and vocals by Tim Burgess. For some reason, this high point summed up the whole evening for me. This glorious moment had pathos and gravitas as one of the most important songs in British music history and was sung to an appreciative full house in memory of one this country’s great drummers.
The gentlemen that is and was Jon Brookes passed away in the summer aged 44. He leaves behind a young wife and family. Jon was first diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2010 and lost his battle some twelve months later. Along with Martin Blunt on bass, they were one of the most impressive rhythm sections in modern music. Listen to their huge hit The Only One I Know and you will hear his rhythmic genius. They were the British equivalent of Benny Benjamin and James Jamerson of the Funk Brothers.
I have known the group since their first release Indian Rope, the funk fused Julie Driscoll/Brian Auger sounding debut single from 1990, and have always found Jon and the group to be the most affable and charming bunch of people you are ever likely to meet. I have watched and listened to their music and have proudly witnessed them becoming one of the most consistent British guitar bands of the last 25 years.
Jon is the second member of the group to lose his life during their career. While recording of the fifth album Tellin’ Stories, keyboard player Rob Collins was killed in a car crash in July 1996, so this is yet another tragedy that the band have had to deal with and recover from.
I spoke to lead singer Tim Burgess on a very emotional night for everybody involved at the Royal Albert Hall a few weeks back. For me it was a delicate balance of mourning and positivity and at times I found it a little difficult to interview everybody without emotions rising to the surface. We were all there for one thing, to celebrate the life and times of Jon Brooke’s and raise money and awareness for the Brain Tumour Charity. “It’s been difficult because it’s been hard to express our emotions and really hard to articulate such conflicting feelings” explains Burgess. “At his funeral and at his request, no one was to be morbid about his passing or to wear black. He wanted to be positive, and we want to honour his request. It is important to keep his memory alive. We all knew what a great drummer and a remarkable human being he was too.”
During the period of his illness the band retired to the studio to start work on what could well be their twelfth studio album. Jon still wanted to be involved, to be active and creative. Burgess explained, “The last recordings we have of Jon are not in any way complete but he just wanted to be part of the new album. We obviously wanted him to be involved and it really helped him during the rough time playing with everyone”.
On a positive note, all proceeds from the night went to The Brain Tumour Charity, of which The Charlatans are now patrons. More than 9,000 people are diagnosed with a brain tumour each year in the UK, with the condition being the biggest cancer killer among those under 40. The charity has also set up The Jon Brookes Fund as a lasting tribute to the drummer.