The sad death of the Charlatans’ drummer Jon Brookes from a brain tumor at the far too young age of 44 is the end of a long battle he’d been fighting against the condition that we first became aware of when he collapsed on stage at a gig in Philadelphia in 2010.
Having met Jon many times over the years- from The Charlatans’ earliest gigs, to interviewing and reviewing them in the Manchester clubs and American halls and onto their big time, it’s with great sadness that we have to report his death.
He was a genuine down to earth man, a great musician and a powerhouse that was key to the band’s music and personae. His powerful and intelligent drumming was a vital part of the band’s sound and his affable, no bullshit nature was also important, as was his help to many young musicians. A really top bloke.
Born in Burntwood in Staffs, Jon was one of the last two original members of the band. They were formed in the Midlands 1988 by bassist Martin Blunt with Jon and then keyboard player, the late Rob Collins, Jon Baker on guitar and Baz Ketley on vocals.
When they burst onto the Manchester scene in the wake of the Madchester explosion they quickly defined their own space instead of being second wave copyists. Their Hammond-driven sound had its own vibe and their songs were too good to be ignored. The time they had spent before the breakthrough, without the iconic Tim Burgess on vocals, was ample proof of their genuine deep love of the music they played and makes them more pioneers of the new kind of British guitar music that swept the nation in those heady post-Madchester days.
Although eventually associated with Manchester the band spent its early time playing around the Midlands’ pub circuit where they swiftly honed their punk fired rhythm and blues sound that had that Midlands’ soul twist and flavour of the Dexys and Spencer Davies – sharply dressed, modish – yet with that industrial power of their region.
Blunt had spent many years in his previous band Makin’ Time, honing down this sound which reached perfection in the Charlatans before they were managed by Northwich record shop owner Steve Harrison who got them the early, pre-fame Stone Roses’ support slots in venues including the International in Manchester – the gig that he took a young waif and music nut that hung around in his shop, Tim Burgess, to see them and meet the band with a view to joining them.
Tim was singing in Northwich-based band Electric Crayons at the time whose debut seven inch was about to be released. Their Happy To Be Hated single stands the test of time and weirdly sounds like the Charlatans but at that gig that night with the Stone Roses he was afforded a glimpse into the future and when he switched bands and joined in the intense rehearsal room rush to finish the songs off and break the northern wave there must have been a lot of excitement in the camp.
Initially ploughing the mod / scooter circuit they had already built up a catalogue of great tripped out sixties songs that were nailed to that powerful rhythm section of Martin Blunt’s driving bass and Jon’s drums – that combined a power with a deep intelligence and rhythmic flare that made them their eventual releases staples at club nights up and down the UK.
Their debut demo cassette, with its photocopied sleeve, that I hold in my hands now having pulled it from my archive box, went round the Manchester inner circle with much excitement and a gig at the Boardwalk a few weeks later was a triumph and the band swiftly burst through into the mainstream with a deserved rush and a catalogue of great songs.
Tragedy was never far way though and with line up changes, the imprisonment and then eventual death of Rob Collins and management problems they seemed to become tougher and tougher and make great records with Mark Collins joining on guitar, giving them a Keef edge, that saw them establish themselves in the top end of the classic nineties UK band scene.
They had their big years in the nineties but had settled into being a very popular cult band – still able to score top 20 albums and sell out venues like Manchester Apollo. It had even seemed that the tragedies that had stalked the band for years had stopped until Jon collapsed on stage in Philadelphia and found himself unable to breathe and was saved by the prompt action of doctor. It was here that he found he had the cancer and fought bravely against the disease until his death. His attitude to his condition was, like his drumming, an inspiration.
The band had been working on new material with Jon and it’s hoped that it will all get released as a tribute to the drummer, and that the band’s spirit will be able to embrace another tragedy.