Monday, January 26, 2009

Hot Chocolate (Errol Brown 1943-2015)

In 1969 Errol Brown and Tony Wilson started writing songs together. Tony Wilson was an established session musician and they were both signed to Apple as songwriters and demo singers. The song writing duo penned hits for Herman's Hermits, (Bet Yer Life I Do), and Mary Hopkin, (Think About Your Children). The latter was a hit in 1970.

Errol and Tony recorded a reggae version of "Give Peace A Chance" and Errol changed some of the lyrics. At the time all Lennon’s material needed to have his seal of approval and when he heard the cut, he was impressed.

There are different stories on how the group got their name, one was after Lennon heard the demo, he declared them hot chocolate; the other is an Apple secretary named them the Hot Chocolate Band. Either way the band released their version of ‘Give Peace a Chance’ on Apple. By this time the Beatles Company was in receivership and the Hot Chocolate Band was signed to Mickie Most’s RAK records. It is he who is given the credit for shortening their name to Hot Chocolate. Their first single on RAK records was a Brown and Wilson composition called Love is life and it reached Number 6 in the UK charts.

Unlike other bands of the time, Hot Chocolate took the decision not to rush release a follow up. When “You could have been a lady, another Brown and Wilson composition was eventually released it gave the band their second hit record.

By the time of their third release, I believe in love, in 1971, pre-sales guaranteed the single entered the Top Ten.

Again the group refused to rush into a follow up and with now three hits had not released and album nor were the group seen to perform live. By now the band had chart credibility but continued to remain unperturbed about quick follow ups. Occasionally this meant some of their singles failed to reach the charts but at the same time the band cleverly avoided being typecast as they were seen to follow the popular music trends of the time. The group finally went on tour in 1973. The lineup was Errol Brown (vocalist / songwriter); Tony Coonor replaced the original drummer Ian King; Larry Ferguson (keyboards); Harvey Hinsley (guitarist); Patrick Olive (congas) and Tony Wilson (bassist / songwriter). They were a two tone band with two white musicians. Cicero Parke was released in 1974 but met with a poor response whilst their singles continued to enjoy large sales.

Influenced by African American soul and R&B the group released “Brother Louis” (featuring Alexis Corner).

The subject matter dealt with racial tension and a cover version of the single went to Number One in the US. Disappointed not to have been able to break into the US charts themselves they release Emma in 1974 and that gave them their first US hit.

Tony Wilson and Errol Brown fell out and Wilson left the band in 1975 to follow a solo career. Hot Chocolate recorded a couple of hits written by other composers including Russ Ballard (So you win again -1977); and Don Black and Geoff Stephens’ (I’ll put you together again – 1979).

More hits followed with You sexy thing and Don’t stop it now in 1975 and 1976 respectively; then Every 1s a winner and No doubt about it.

In 1981 Erroll Brown went to live in LA and see if he could get inspiration this seemed to work because a year later Hot Chocolate were back on the top of the charts with Girl Crazy, It started with a kiss and What kinda boy you looking for (Girl).

Over a fifteen year career the group amassed a total of over 30 hits and became the only group in the UK to have a hit for fifteen consecutive years. In 1985 Errol left the band to spend more time with his family and the band disbanded a year later. Hot Chocolate’s success was a combination of high production standards, strong song writers and tight harmonies. Errol Brown died of liver cancer at his home in the Bahamas on 6 May 2015.

Worth a listen
Give Peace a Chance (1969)
Love Is Life (1970)
You Could Have Been a Lady (1971)
I Believe (In Love) (1971)
Brother Louie (1973)
Emma (1974)
Disco Queen (1975)
You Sexy Thing (1975)
Don't Stop It Now (1976)
So You Win Again (1977)
Every 1's a Winner (1978)
I'll Put You Together Again (1978)
No Doubt About It (1980)
Girl Crazy (1982)
It Started With a Kiss (1982)

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