Laurence Brewer : former singer of Blackpool band Sign language : RIP : obituary


There is that saying that the best get stolen from us too soon.


This is certainly true in the case of Laurence Brewer who died this week after a long battle with the muscle illness ALS with his brave and inspiring attitude towards his illness being both moving and an inspiration.

I knew Laurence from my days in the Blackpool punk and post punk music scenes when he was the lead singer of a very youthful, but very accomplished young band called Sign Language.


Laurence was about five years younger than us which seemed like a century in those days, but somehow he bridged that gap because he far too smart and had fully formed world views and a liberal attitude that was years ahead of his time. People were either in awe of his smarts or considered him lovably eccentric but everyone thought he was cool and he was perfect lead singer material with a charismatic and waywardly awkward presence of all the great singers and his inclusion in local band Sign Language somehow worked despite the rest of the band’s youthful hi jinx and his outwardly serious persona that belied his own sly sense of humour. He was also a very good lyricist.


I even put out a track of the band on the Blackpool Rox EP number 2 in 1982 in my Vinyl Drip label. Their song, The Killing, sounded far better than it should have done for a young band who must have been 14/15 at the time. There was so much potential there, but it all unravelled like it did for so many great young bands trapped in small towns in the post punk period.




I had bumped into Laurence a few times in the last few years after he moved to Bolton with his beautiful and equally smart wife Dani and young son.

Oddly it was always at the Cornerhouse cafe in Manchester where I saw him.

He was still the same youthful and very intelligent boy- man that he had always been- he barely seemed to have aged since those Blackpool days and his open minded attitude to life remained undiminished even after he first told me that he had the disease. Instead of the blind panic the rest of us would have had, he was far more concerned about Dani and his newly born son and he also seemed to relish the challenge to take on this cruelest of conditions with a powerful dignity and this he did with his facebook entries where his withered body, but still fiery and brilliant mind engaged with the outside world in about the best use of facebook I have ever seen.


Luckily for me I saw him again in the Cornerhouse in May. His condition had deteriorated and he was now confined to a wheelchair, his body twisted into an uncomfortable looking position and his speech slurred as the wasting disease grappled with him but, like a fighter, he still seemed undiminished and his face was radiant, pure and beautiful with rosy cheeks and eyes that poured out love and positivity. It was great to see him, and it affected me all year thinking of him in that place and in that condition and yet being unbowed by its’ cruelty.


We chatted for some time, it was thrilling to see him again. I feel so lucky I went into the Cornerhouse that day and I invited him to the Membranes Universe gig in July- I talked to Dani about it briefly until I realised how difficult it was to get him into places. Even on the day of the gig I tried to set it up so he could at least come down to the soundcheck and smell a venue again and feel that rush of getting your ears battered by the noise, but I knew it was going to be too difficult and ultimately, impractical.


Like the rest of the Blackpool music community, all we had to hang onto was those facebook entries. As he stared death in the face he wrote of songs he would like to hear at his funeral, music he loved; ideas that he had until even the hi tech super sensitive keyboard that reacted to his failing body was not enough any more and Dani took over for the harrowing accounts of the last days of his life where he still remained calm and dignified until the last.

It was great to have known you Laurence.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. a gorgeous tribute to the beautiful Laurence. So true, and more memories that will fondly live on for all that knew him.x

  2. He played bass and synth in the Ceramic Hobs and was probably our major songwriter between 2007 and 2011, the Bug Chasers and Oz Oz Alice Project years , which was just a minor footnote in an extraordinarily adventurous, creative and hedonistic life in which he charmed every single person he ever met. All thoughts now to his partner and lover Dani and their son Stan. Just as Larry Language was slipping out of this plane, I was awakening to find myself sharing a bed with a large man with wild hair and multiple piercings. We groaned in torture at the hangovers resembling fever and hallucination which assailed our ageing flesh and swore not to do it again. As I left his flat a wave of nausea overcame me and I greeted Brighton’s busiest shopping street with projectile vomiting. Good morning Brighton, we’re ready to rock. Deciding some sea air might be better I walk to the planned band meet-up down the promenade past the IRA’s greatest hit, the Grand. Watch an afternoon performance in a college theatre that reminds me of the 1970s where an Asian man projects ultra-psychedelic imagery with an accompanying wall of static-based noise, then two young women dressed like sexy librarians make harsh tones of pure electronic noise while facing each other and using light signals. The band I’m playing in tonight contains six over-educated heads with varying degrees of psychosis and spaceyness. We’re improvising for twenty minutes or so in a big concert hall with a decent PA. I’m singing lines from a kind of power ballad by Queen which tries to encourage someone not to give up on life and their dreams. Laurence was a man who pursued every dream and opportunity he could find, with a total love of life and relentless optimism coupled with rare kindness and sensitivity. We do the best we can in this early slot at a very busy and well-attended evening of the festival. I see at least some of most acts of the evening, all rigorously difficult and often barking mad music with barely a melody to be heard all evening, but concentrate on the art of conversation in the bar area. A woman I haven’t seen in fifteen years is reintroduced to me. When we were last in each other’s company she was fisting a man at the front of a stage in Belgium while I pulled a pound of potatoes out of my pants. She says she doesn’t remember much about those days because of all of the ecstasy she did. We swap stories of sperm donation and lesbian parenthood. With a frail and urchin-like blond boy barely out of his teens I talk in great depth about the S&M scene, rare horror films, extreme pornography and fetishism. Laurence was one of the people I’ve had those kind of conversations with before. It’s not the kind of thing which often goes into obituaries but he was in the sexual avant-garde and thoroughly unshockable. A beautiful woman with tattoos on her knuckles joins us and I talk with her about communication with animals and sudden illumination. She’s quite drunk, and I am glad I’m not the only one who is probably becoming less coherent. The exuberant and ultra-effervescent black American girl is here again but I talk with a man whose day job is psychiatrist at the bar next about his personal sense of displacement due to a multi-national upbringing, about new kinds of family units based around different sexualities, about the startling rise of the transgender. I watch a French trio perform with great enjoyment – all intense and peculiar looking bohos the wrong side of fifty, two men and a woman making uncategorisable free sound which occasionally seemed about to burst into dance music or euphoric chants. We all tried to see the good side of things but it was still fucking horrible to see Laurence become so disabled over his final year, despite all the technology and love around him. He should have been onstage having fun for another twenty years, like these old French eccentrics. The guy I woke up next to takes me to a venue open til three. A woman who has seemingly taken all the drugs in the world and then did them again is DJing at this squalid late night dive on a rickety deck playing scratchy old punk and ska LPs while people sway goodnaturedly in advanced states of inebriation. I remember how huge and unwieldy Laurence’s vinyl collection was at one stage. I am invited back to an acquaintance’s for a late night snifter of brandy. There I’m shown a photo album in which I am naked – from onstage at a festival two years earlier. I squint and hope I appear well-endowed enough in this candid snapshot. A trans person I’ve performed in a band with gives me a sweet goodnight kiss on the cheek. I tell all this while writing about Laurence because (i) It struck me immediately as the sort of day he would LOVE, full of freaks, weird art and too many laughs to count (ii) The pleasure, the hope and the possibilities continue for those of us alive. All doors remain as open as we want them. Thank you Laurence for your love and inspiration. This was what I did the day you died. Thank you Dani for the immense love and care you provided him: none of us can imagine what it has been like and there are a lot of people who want to give you a big hug.

  3. Well thank you John for your much more coherent obituary. We were all expecting this but I’m really sad about it. What an amazing and multifaceted man he was, check out these links: httpss:// httpss:// httpss://

  4. Very sad news. I knew Laurence, as you know John, at the same time you did and his intelligence and enthusiastic nature were a breath of fresh air back in the early 80’s from such a young kid. His positivity will always be remembered. Sad loss. Condolences to his family.

  5. I think of Loz as always smiling – whether he was outwardly smiling or not (though, in my experience, he often was) … it was not a smile that needed to be worn for its warmth to be very evidently there.

    Loz’s company, and the thoughts he shared, always opened out, invited in, and were expansive, without any ‘push’ or ‘pull’. He always struck me as being very much in step with life, whatever the particular dance happened to be in any moment. A presence deep and broad, covering so much ground: alongside his sharp wit, I found him a deeply attentive, caring and spaciously accommodating listener; he radiated ease with intensity, and vice-versa; exuded humour through difficulty. “It’s fucking ridiculous”, he said in summarising his condition when John and I visited him last year, and we all creased into laughter.

    It seems so unsuited of Loz to speak, or think, of him in the past tense.

    Hugs to Dani, Stan, and all the many who love him.

  6. i remember fondly,a rainy monday night in blackpool,doing a gig with the elite and sign language at baskervilles night club,home of the vinyl drip club,it was the night sign language and my the outfit love 30 found out we were to appear on the four track vinyl drip single,everyone was in great spirit and the language played a killer set,for a band so young they were confident,slick and had great presence,i had previously had a track on the V.D release a drop in the ocean with my previous outfit pure pink paraffin so the news of further exposure via the label was a great opportunity again to showcase local talent,was it really 30yrs ago?????

  7. Hello It is Stan here, I know it has been a long time since my farther past away. A lot has happened since 2013, I have moved to Manchester Grammar School and I will be turning 12 in 11 days which is exciting. I have settled in Mgs quite well and have made many friends, I have also made it in the water polo team and now play with year 8 and 7s.

    My mother is doing well and seems happy. She can get frustrated sometimes but she will always calm down later. Was she always like that?

    The interesting thing is that my mum and I went to corner house yesterday and my mum actually spotted you John. You seemed busy so we just walked by but it would have been good to have talked to you.

    It is great to hear things that happened before I was born and it seems that Laurence was a really nice man (always smiling). It would have been better to know my dad a little longer and actually find out what he like for myself.

    I doubt that anyone will see this but if they do then please don’t tell my mum that I was up at 12:30 writing messages 9 years later.

    • Hello Stan, Good to hear from you. You should have said hello – I’m never to busy to have a chat! Good to hear things are going well at school. I remember being 12! exciting time!!


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