Ray Brooks – Brother, can you spare the time?

Most famous as the voice of Mr Benn, Ray Brooks made one of the more outré showbiz records ever committed to vinyl. His melancholic observations form a strange yet rewarding set of songs.

Ray Brooks - Lend Me Some Of Your Time

Ray Brooks – Lend Me Some Of Your Time

Ray Brooks,
Lend Me Some Of Your Time,
Polydor 2310 14,
1971

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Ray Brooks is quite simply a national treasure.  If you don’t immediately recognise his name then it is most definitely your fault and not his. Born in Brighton in 1939, Ray has created era-defining roles, be they Reg Ward in Ken Loach’s gritty 1960’s play Cathy Come Home, Tolen in Richard Lester’s swinging beat-era classic The Knack… and How to Get It, and not forgetting of course, in a much more light-hearted vein, the eponymous title role in the enduring children’s TV series Mr Benn.

In between those stand-out roles there have been many other gems to savour. Another generation of children were treated to his narration of King Rollo, and in the mid-1980s he portrayed professional gambler Robbie Box in three series of the popular comedy drama Big Deal. A big screen adaptation of Dr Who alongside Peter Cushing, a sprinkling of cult classics such as Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), The Avengers and an appearance in Carry On Abroad all add to the legend of course. Then of course there was the demanding role of Joe; second husband and eventual murderer of Albert Square’s terminally grumpy matriarchal golem Pauline Fowler in EastEnders. Yes, without a doubt Ray Brooks should be a name deservedly familiar to everyone.

As a veteran actor with all that work behind him, the fact that he isn’t a global megastar might possibly be a source of bitterness. For lesser actors perhaps, but Ray Brooks remains an affable and amiable chap, determined to experiment and persevere as his autobiography and recent debut novel reveal.  Prone to periods of introspection and reflection he may be, but certainly not outright melancholy.  That said though, in the late 1960s Ray was definitely in a much darker frame of mind.

In 1968 while out of work and apparently listening to James Taylor’s debut album more than is really healthy, Ray Brooks decided to attempt to write his own pop rock tunes. There is nothing remarkable about this, many actors and comedians of the era attempted a pop career, as this site testifies. What is remarkable is the direction that Ray’s rock album took. Not for Ray the traditional route of covering some jolly hits chosen by a record company committee or a quick run through of a string of annoyingly catch novelty comedy numbers. No, for Ray only a genuine self-penned melodic pop rock album would do.

The songs are almost all downbeat and melancholy, reflecting Ray’s state of mind and the prevailing taste of the era for introspection and intelligent composition. The title track Lend Me Some Of Your Time is a pleasing psych-folk tune which demonstrates immediately Ray’s ear for a tune and his adept ability to craft solemn meaningful lyrics. The song fits perfectly into the early 1970’s scene of earnest singer songwriters and Ray’s gravelly yet refined vocals demonstrate a competent musical ability lurking in the jobbing actor with pop aspirations. The song was released as a single in the US and its upbeat drive is atypical of what follows.

The opening track aside, there are but a few rare un-melancholic moments on the album. One notable example is the closing track of side one, Oh Carol. A love song with an up tempo beat, Ray really lets his hair down and grooves away to the accompanying electric guitars and horns. With some great lyrics that includes phrases such as ‘legs like sparrows’, it is a cheery end to the first side.

The upbeat feel doesn’t last long though. Elsewhere it is very much gloom and earnestness. The folk rock sound of the opener continues into the second track Without You. Here though the folksiness is used to conjure a mournful, snowy winter of a ballad. It is slow and sorrowful, largely acoustic and led by accomplished harmonies. It is this elegiac tone which sets the pace for much of the rest of the album. Sweet Emma, an autobiographical tale inspired by Ray’s young daughter, seems set in the same bleak wintery landscape of frost and despair. The task of dragging a moody cantankerous child around, undertaken by a downbeat, slightly depressed father, through funfairs and joyless circuses must be a familiar one to many parents. Well, to downbeat parents who wander seaside resorts in winter at any rate.

Similarly, Wish You Were Here is set in the dismal drabness of an out-of-season seaside resort, a desolate landscape lit by fading lights, the growing darkness settling over the sea. It is a scene no doubt redolent of Ray’s own Sussex childhood. The only faint hope in the song is offered by the rainbow at the end of the pier forming amidst the rain. Winter again seems to cast a shadow over Mary Loved Me, a reflection on a summer romance that is far removed from the upbeat world of Grease. There is no romantic reunion for Ray and Mary, predictably Mary is forgotten and lost forever.  Hush, Hush I’m Dying, as the title suggests is really really mournful, not just gloomy but quite hopelessly dejected. A sigh drifting unheralded into the swirling mists of time…

There is much to love amongst all the angst though. Only once does the album feel bitter, and that on the final track Guttersnipe, a portrayal of a scheming showbiz deviant, whose real identity I would be willing to guess would be fairly familiar.

Ray Brooks’ despondent lyrics though are not all the album has to offer. It wouldn’t be much of an album if it were. On tracks such as There’ll Be A Time, Ray’s angelic sounding vocals prove what true talent he possessed. Ray warbles and harmonises amidst some soaring plodding strings, with a sorrowful chorus reminiscent of early Bee Gees.  The music is spot on as well. Under the watchful eye of producer Ray Cameron (fresh from his success with Clive Dunn), a solid group of top session players back Ray’s vocal and interprets his creations to perfection.

Lend Me Some Of Your Time is an album that deserves a lot of playing and thoughtful gentle nodding. It has great introspective lyrics which demand many a contemplative listen.  It is so far removed from the usual slew of celebrity fronted albums of the period that it really does stand out. The sound of the album is suspiciously contemporary, it has stood the test of time well and with a CD re-release available from Ray’s shop, it deserves to sell well.

Here then is a taster for you. If you like it, or want to know more about this remarkable record by a remarkable actor (and singer) then get over to Ray’s site now:

Ray’s web site:
http://www.raybrooksbooks.com/

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