Ray Brooks: Lend Me Some of Your Time (Polydor)
Singing actors are rarely a touchstone of sincerity. A thin veneer of polish on ordinary furniture. Too showy. Too faux emotional. Too used to having words put in their mouths of songs they didn't write. The efforts of Burt Reynolds, Richard Harris, and John Travolta spring to mind, for a myriad of farcical reasons. So this forgotten curio from 1971 by the English actor Ray Brooks is something of a trend-bucker. Sincere, accomplished, and self-penned, it suggests genuine songwriters such as Bill Fay, Al Stewart, and Cat Stevens.
As bed-sitter maladies go, this quintessential piece of wintry Englishness is compelling and all the more remarkable for being so neglected, and something of a surprise. An air of chamber gloom pervades the affair, as do a host of delightful hangovers from the best of Sixties songwriting.
Brooks appeared in gritty Sixties dramas such as Cathy Come Home and The Knack, and some of that edge has penetrated to the hearts of his songs. (He is currently appearing in the long-running British soap opera Eastenders.) His vocals are hauntingly intimate, with a nervous, confessional edge that draws the listener in. He at times, during the more uptempo songs, resembles John Lennon at his solo and eager best.
On the scribbled sleeve notes on the back of the album, Brooks writes, "I started writing songs in 1969 as therapy, an escape" The lyrics display the integrity of being written in need, without the restraint of thinking about an audience. It appears to be an album made with a small element of luck, contacts, and some record executive thinking that Brooksâ€™s profile as an actor might shift a few units.
The title song is redolent of the more catchy elements of Roy Harper and Cat Stevens. It was the single, and still commands attention on initial hearing. The delightfully morbid and morose "Hush, Hush, I'm Dying" proves a mesmerizing piece of folk-psych; with its nagging string motif, it possesses a melancholy sense of remoteness and drama.
There is an element of "out of season" British seaside towns that goes through this record like a stick of Brighton rock, especially on "When Mary Loved You" which is wistful and world-weary. "Oh Carol"suggests a final sojourn round the dying haunts of Carnaby Street, snapping on the heels of the likes of the Herd and the Amen Corner, while "Butterfly" is another languid piece of moody, elemental introspection, all strings and yearning piano undertow, with a loose sketchiness that continues to slink around the mind long after the song has ceased.
"Without You" sounds like something Bill Fay might have written for his beautiful debut album, and Brooks does plow a furrow not far distant of his. On "Wish You Were Here" he reveals his uncanny ability to harness wistful sorrow:
"When the summer isn't here, And the rainbow rains on the pier, Wish you were here, wish you were here. Mrs. Baker sends her love, And Mr. Noah's sent out a dove"
Brief and achingly meaningful.
Some songs pull the listener along with them, and "There'll Be a Time" throbs and aches with a ground-swelling sense of emotion, holding some of the better elements of "Where Do You Go to My Lovely" while lines such as:
"And the good times seem much fewer, My eyes blur at the door, Rosemary's on my mind, Reflected in a glass of wine"
from "Bluebird" pull at the heartstrings in a whimsical, slightly detached manner, over things going wrong once more.
This album insinuates itself in your soul and stays there. It is a true and rewarding experience, one that can be presently found for little outlay. Snobbery may keep things that way, but I've a hunch that, as people become more aware of its unique qualities, a reputation and following shall develop.
On the strength of this showing, I imagine Ray Brooks may still craft small songs of great beauty from his more quiet moments. The cover was shot by the legendary Gered Mankowitz, who shot the Rolling Stones, and Mr. Brooks does look like a rebel with a cause. If you never knew he was an actor, you'd consider him a bona fide singer-songwriter with things to say, and you wouldn't be far wrong.
So lend him some of your time, and he'll give you some beautiful songs in return. - Robert Cochrane
RPM Records will reissue the Ray Brooks CD later this year.
Mr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published three collections of poems, and is presently completing Gone Tomorrow, a biography of the rock singer Jobriath, which will appear via SAF in 2007.