Obituary: Jon Brookes, drummer

Jon Brookes. Picture: AP
Jon Brookes. Picture: AP
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Born: 21 September, 1968, in Burntwood, Staffordshire. Died: 13 August, 2013, aged 44

Jon Brookes, drummer with indie rock group the Charlatans, has died at the age of 44 after suffering a relapse of a brain tumour first discovered in 2010 when he collapsed onstage in Philadelphia.

One of two remaining founder members of the group, he enjoyed every stage of the Charlatans’ success through the late-Eighties’ Madchester era, the mid-Nineties’ Britpop period and continuing into the 2000s with further album releases and tours which were warmly supported by an audience who had remained loyal as they grew with the band.

Born in Burntwood, Staffordshire, in 1968, Brookes founded the Charlatans 21 years later alongside bassist and initial driving force Martin Blunt, keyboard player Rob Collins, guitarist Jon Day and singer/guitarist Baz Ketley. Much of the group’s very earliest gigging and demo recording experiences came in the West Midlands area, particularly the town of Dudley and the city of Birmingham, although it was through their excursions to play in Manchester that they were swept up as a definitive element of the musical trend of the moment.

Originally influenced by classic rhythm and blues, and particularly mod styles, the group made a feature of Collins’ signature Hammond organ playing, as well as Brookes and Blunt’s powerful rhythm section. It was as they played support at an early Stone Roses show in Manchester that the city had its first effect upon them – in the crowd was a receptive Tim Burgess, Salford born and Northwich raised, who became the group’s lead singer when Ketley left.

The new combination clicked, and the band members moved en masse to Northwich. Numerous buzz-building shows around Manchester ensued over the coming months, culminating in the 1990 release of the debut single, Indian Rope, on their own Dead Dead Good label. It proved a moderate indie hit.

Soon afterwards they signed a full record deal with Beggars Banquet offshoot label Situation Two, and in the same year released the top ten hit The Only One I Know – still regarded by many fans as one of the band’s finest songs – as well as the lesser hit Then and the number one debut album Some Friendly.

Despite this early flush of hard work and tangible success, the Charlatans saw their career wane alongside the so-called Madchester scene which had spawned them and made the fortunes of its two most prominent bands, the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays. The two albums they released in the early Nineties, Between 10th & 11th (1992) and Up to Our Hips (1994), failed to hit the heights of their predecessor.

Eight singles were released in this period and only two scraped into the Top 20, including another enduring favourite and a number one on the US Modern Rock chart at the time, Weirdo. Day was replaced as guitarist in 1991 by Mark Collins (no relation to the keyboard player), while 1992 saw Rob Collins sent to prison for four months on a charge of assisting an offender after driving a friend away from an armed robbery the friend had perpetrated.

Yet as the Britpop era and the popularity of bands like Oasis, Blur and Pulp grew, the Charlatans discovered a survivor’s instinct which saw them subtly adapt their sound to fit the times.

Confirming a tendency for hard work which didn’t go unremarked upon in the music press, 1995’s self-titled album was their fourth in five years and it took them back to number one.

Taken from the record, One to Another gave them the highest singles chart placing of their career, going in at number three, its key musical motif being not Collins’ keyboard, for once, but Brookes’ thunderous drum intro, a sound which made the song a favourite of their live sets at the time. In a purely commercial sense, a halcyon period for the Charlatans’ career had begun: their next dozen singles all went well into the UK Top 40, culminating with 2006’s Blackened Blue Eyes, and of the six albums released between 1995 and 2006, only one failed to reach the top ten.

Yet there was also tragedy, when Rob Collins was killed in a car crash during the recording of their sixth album, Telling Stories, in 1996.

Eventually the changing tastes of the record-buying public appeared to move away from the Charlatans, with neither of their following two albums reaching the Top 20, although they had remained a popular live draw up until the point Brookes was taken ill onstage at the Johnny Brenda’s venue on 15 September, 2010, nine days after the release of the group’s 11th and final studio album to date, Who We Touch.

Returning home to be near his young family, Brookes had the tumour removed during a three-day operation at the Priory Hospital in Edgbaston before undergoing an extensive course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Nevertheless, his association with music continued, and he returned to play with the Charlatans, as well as managing Birmingham band Arcadian Kicks and setting up rehearsal and recording space JB Studios in the town of Cannock in Staffordshire.

Jon Brookes died in hospital on the morning of Tuesday 13 August with his family alongside him. He is survived by wife Deborah and their three daughters, Lola, Ruby and Coco.