Contributor’s Note: Over the last 20 years, celebrated actor Brian Protheroe has collaborated with fellow actor and multi instrumentalist, Julian Littman to produce a number of self released singles. Brian has now brought these songs together alongside a selection of demos and live tracks to create a brand new album – ‘Desert Road’ – which was released on November 27th.
With nine of the songs taken from his more recent works, the album also contains a previously unreleased live track of ‘Monkey’, from the Pinball album and two demos, one being of the very recently discovered, and earliest known recording of Brian’s most iconic track ‘Pinball’ which was the first introduction to the world of Brian Protheroe the “musician” and not just “the actor” Brian Protheroe. His debut single, it reached number 22 in the UK charts and remains a cult classic of the 70’s to this day.
Brian adds, “I have been working on a collection of self released music over the recent years and I thought it was time to bring it all together. They will of course be released digitally but I also wanted to make it a physical release so I commissioned an artist friend to paint a picture representing an image from the lyric of the first song called All The Stars to be the cover of a CD. The digipak will also include an 8 page booklet. “
Brian was already an established actor in 1973 when he signed with Chrysalis Records and produced three albums from ’74 to ’76 that were recently celebrated in the release on Cherry Red records as a 3CD digipak covering all the recordings from this period including some bonus tracks and remixes.
In this interview with Madness To Creation, Mark Dean converses with Brian Protheroe on coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, “Desert Road”, and his acting and singing career. Fans can find Brian Protheroe at the following locations:
Mark Dean: The global pandemic has hit us all, but the arts industry does seem to have been particularly hard hit ,certainly in terms of government intervention and financial assistance. How has it affected you personally Brian?
Brian Protheroe: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s made no difference, but it’s not made any difference to my work. I mean, I’ve slightly adjusted my way of work in that I regularly do voiceovers for Channel Four’s First Dates. And I’ve been able, since the lockdown, to do the voiceovers at home in my front room, where I am now on the very microphone that I use for that.
That’s not too bad. I’ve just started a couple of new series of First Dates. I’ve also been working on an album over the last, probably a couple of months, almost three months now. And that’s relatively easy to do … Well, it’s the first time I’ve put out a CD of my own. And it’s easy putting digital stuff out on the internet, but it’s not so easy putting out a CD by yourself. There’s lots of technical knowledge and data that you need to know. So that’s been frustrating, but in the end satisfying when it’s all done, not too bad. Missing my grandkids, that’s all.
Mark Dean Interviewer: You have a foot in two different artistic professions, both acting and singing. Which came first for you?
Brian Protheroe: Both came round about the same time, when I was a child, I suppose. Singing in church, and acting in the church pantomime, then in amateur theatres, and rock bands, and folk bands in my teens. So I mean, I became a professional actor before I became any sort of professional musician. And that was in the mid-sixties. The two things have sort of gone parallel. When I was in rep in the late ’60s, I was learning my trade as a musician as well as an actor because we were having to do. Everyone does everything in a company when you’re together for two years in rep in those days. And so, you paint the green room. You make the coffee. You act, and you write the music, in my case. Neither came first. Both came together, but acting has always just stayed slightly ahead. But at the moment, a lot of what I’ve been doing is to do with music.
Mark Dean Interviewer: You mentioned the album there. I’ve actually managed to obtain a copy of it from Pester Pr already. Desert Road, when was it done? I see it’s a collection of songs, maybe some old, some new.
Brian Protheroe: Yep, some … Well, seven of them are songs that I’ve worked on over the last 15 years. I would say mainly over the last six or seven years. Some are even 20 years old. There’s one brand new song, the first song on the album, called All The Stars. That’s new.
There’s a remix of a song from the ’90s called City Song. And there are a couple of … No, there’s a live track of a song that was on my first album, the Pinball album in the ’70s, called Monkey. That was from a live concert in the ’80s. Suddenly discovered a few months ago from the very early ’70s. And the first demo of Pinball, again, from the early ’70s, which I only discovered recently. So just a collection of various bits and pieces.
Mark Dean Interviewer: The album itself marks the continuation of a creative process with Julian Littman. I just wondered how that all started. How did you first meet, and how does it operate in terms of the musical creative process?
Brian Protheroe: I don’t write with him. We’ve been friends since … We were in a play. He’s also an actor, though he hardly ever acts now. But we were both in a Play for Today called Bavarian Night in 1981. We were in a band that were hired for an end of term school dance and do. And I was the singer/bass player, and Julian was the guitarist.
And we kept in touch, and I went into the studio a couple of times around that time. He came in and did some sessions. We were then in a show together called Pump Boys and Dinettes in 1984 at the Piccadilly in The West End. He was the guitarist. I was the pianist.
And we’ve stayed together ever since, and become great mates, really. We’re very close. He is a multi-instrumentalist. The only thing he doesn’t play is anything you can blow, although he does play a bit of blues harp. But trumpets and trombones, he doesn’t play. Everything else, virtually, he plays. He’s a great drummer, a very good guitarist and mandolin player. Also, he has a personality. He’s very calm and patient, which is what I’m generally not. So what happens is I write the song. I made a little demo.
I send it to him, and I say, “What do you think of this?” He says, “Great, come round. We’ll have a go.” And then, we might just do it on our own, or we might get a couple of session musicians in, friends of his or acquaintances of his that he’s used. And then finally, when we’ve got a final mix, I send it off to the engineer that I worked on my first three albums in the ’70s.
His name is Richard Dodd, and now he lives in America. He’s a very successful music engineer, sound engineer. And then he does his magic, and then I put it out. Generally digitally only, but this time a collection of songs on a CD. And it’s been great fun.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Yeah. How would you describe your style of music? I’ve heard the album several times. It seems to illustrate a variety of musical styles and influences.
Brian Protheroe: Yeah.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Is that representative of your eclectic musical taste, yourself?
Brian Protheroe: Yeah, I think I had a naturally eclectic musical taste. I mean, in my teens I loved Elvis, Lonnie Donegan, then Cliff Richard. But I was also in a choir, and I loved some choral music that I was singing in church. I also love Dave Brubeck, and I heard Take Five. It blew my mind, and bossanova, I’m very fond of. Yeah, quite a bit of Brubeck I was listening to. So it’s a combination of things, and I was encouraged not only to write conventional songs by The Beatles.
The two of them, Lennon and McCartney were a huge influence on all of us really, in different ways. But for me, it was their eclecticism that really connected. You never knew what you were going to get, whether it was going to be something dark from John, or something jolly and uplifting from Paul, or something silly from Ringo, or Indian from George. That encouraged me to be eclectic in my choice when it came to making records.
Mark Dean Interviewer: What sort of expectations do you have for the album? Have you planned … Obviously, it’s difficult at the moment … some live shows to promote it?
Brian Protheroe: Nope.
Mark Dean Interviewer: No?
Brian Protheroe: Not for the moment. I think I may … If I do another live show, it will be quite a simple one, like an Unplugged in a small venue, about 100, 150 seater with Julian and maybe one other musician, maybe two, maybe four. Let’s say that, but nothing yet. I mean, it’s difficult in lockdown anyway.
But no, I just wanted to do it, as just something I’d never done. And I thought it would be satisfying to do in its own right. I mean, if people buy it then it’s the cherry on the cake. If people buy the CD, that’s an even bigger cherry on the cake. And they have started to buy the CD, but in small numbers. But I don’t mind that. It’s rather lovely. And I used a thing called Bandcamp, which is an American site. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.
Mark Dean Interviewer: I have, yeah.
Brian Protheroe: It works really well, and they take very little money, and you’re able to distribute your music through that website. You have to send the CDs, if it is CDs, or any other kind of merchandise yourself.
They cope with the digital downloads, but they give you the name and address of the people who want your CD. And you pop them in an envelope, and print the labels, and post it. But that’s great. I enjoy doing that. It’s a nice process, and you get some feedback.
Mark Dean Interviewer: And it’s good, that personal connection between yourself as the artist and the fan.
Brian Protheroe: Yeah, it is a personal connection. I haven’t had much … I’ve had a bit of interaction. I’ve got a website as well, an official fan website that I got a lot of interaction from. So that’s nice, yeah.
Mark Dean Interviewer: You mentioned the difficulties of playing live in the current climate. Do you feel that the arts, the entertainment industry can recover?
Brian Protheroe: Yes, I do. I think there’s too much enthusiasm, and there’s too much power in the acting profession for us not to find a way of doing it. There will be … There have started to be ways of doing it. I mean, even online. I don’t know if you saw that thing with Michael … What’s his name? The Welsh actor and David Tennant … They did a thing, a series of short videos, which was absolutely brilliant.
And using the fact that they couldn’t do it live, and invented a new way of performing. And people are starting to do that. I mean, theatres are starting to get back to some way of working, but I think that will continue. There are so many people working on it, and so much enthusiasm and determination that eventually we will be back.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Has it actually surprised you how harshly the government has actually treated the industry in terms of no support, lack of funding?
Brian Protheroe: Well, of course the government … It’s been chaotic right from the word go in almost every aspect, but finally we’re getting this vaccine. And the scientific world has been extraordinary in the way that they’ve developed these various vaccines throughout the world. And so quickly, and it looks like it is guaranteed safely. So I’m very disappointed and depressed about our government, but I think science will save us in the end.
Mark Dean Interviewer: You mentioned earlier about your voiceover, your narration on several dating shows. I just wondered if you had any sort of personal anecdotes about your own dating, first date.
Brian Protheroe: My own what?
Mark Dean Interviewer: First dating experience.
Brian Protheroe: My own dating?
Mark Dean Interviewer: Yeah.
Brian Protheroe: My first date… Oh, yes, I do. Well, I lost my virginity when I was 19. I was in an amateur group in Salisbury, which is my hometown. And this girl joined the group. And I was playing … At that time, I was rather good at character parts.
So I was playing even 60 year old colonels when I was 18, 19. But anyway, this girl joined and we were in a play together, and we had to kiss in the play. And finally, I just got up the courage to ask her out. And we went out for a bit, and bless her heart, she was a little bit older than me. And she allowed me to lose my virginity with her one lunchtime, which was lovely, in front of a coal fire in her little flat.
And then, after, I suppose, about six weeks, she announced that she was having dinner with an old flame of hers, a soldier. And she says, “It’s fine. We’re just old friends now. It’s fine. Don’t worry. I’ll see you in a couple of days.” And the next time I saw her, she said, “We’re getting married next week.”
And of course, I got on my bike on the marriage day, and went down to the church and … like James Dean, sat outside on my bike and waited for them to come out. And then drove off, went to my bedroom, and cried for three days. So that wasn’t terribly successful, but it didn’t happen to me again.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Which is more pleasurable for you? Is it doing something like narration, or do you prefer actual on screen acting, either on stage, or as I say, screen? What fulfils you more? What do you enjoy doing most, or do you enjoy them both?
Brian Protheroe: Well, narration is very easy. I mean, in my case … I mean, it’s not like … Oh, what’s that other dating show, the dinner one? The guy who does that, I think he does a bit of improvisation, and he’s able to input some stuff himself. I just got a script. I go in … Well, I used to go in. Now, I just do it like this, over the internet. And I just read a script, and it takes about … I don’t know, about an hour at the most. They’re lovely people. They’re a really good and efficient dating service above all. And they genuinely try to match people up, so that’s very easy. I love being onstage. It feels … I think the last time I was onstage was … Oh, it was an old play, and we took it to America, over to New York, called The Roundabout. I’m playing the lead in that, and when it works, being onstage with an audience responding to you, it feels like home. It feels like this is where I belong.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Yeah. I note that most of your resume is actually physically onstage, literally treading the boards, rather than doing something in the background-like voiceovers. Obviously, you’ve done screen as well, but most of it seems to be in theatres and the like.
Brian Protheroe: Yeah, it has been mainly theatre. I mean, I’ve done … In the late ’80s, early ’90s, I had a five year spell where I was doing quite a lot of television. It was a series, Gentlemen and Players, Shrinks, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, things like that. And occasionally … I mean, I was in the second series of His Dark Materials, actually, but a tiny part. And it was also a year ago, I did a BBC thing, a series called Scarborough. I just get bits and pieces now, but my main source is … I mean, mainly because of lockdown, is the voiceovers. And it’s well paid, and it’s very comfortable, and they’re nice people. I love it.
Mark Dean Interviewer: During your career, you’ve played many roles, many parts. But who’s the real Brian Protheroe?
Brian Protheroe: Well, that’s an impossible question to answer. You’d have to ask my wife, because she’s a research psychologist. So she’d be able to tell you in great detail, maybe. None of the parts … Oh, well, I think … One of the most enjoyable things I’ve done fairly recently, seven or eight years ago, was playing Feste in Twelfth Night. And the part of Feste, I’ve never felt drawn to. My agent phoned me up and said, “There’s a production of Twelfth Night.” And I thought that they were going to offer me Malvolio. I don’t know if you know the play. I’ve wanted to play Malvolio for years and years, since I was in school.
Mark Dean Interviewer: The fool?
Brian Protheroe: And he said, “No, it’s not Malvolio . It’s Feste.” So I went to meet the director, and he offered me the job straight away. I met the composer who … I can’t think of his name, but he did the music for One Man, Two Guvnors. A wonderful musician, and he wrote some great songs for Feste to sing. And I played the piano and the guitar, and did a lot more in the play than Feste normally gets to do. In this production, he opened the play in a crumbling old house, which was the setting for, some years ago, the events that happened in Twelfth Night. And he starts to sing, and eventually the story is uncovered, and the play begins. And there were a couple of extra songs that Feste doesn’t normally have. That was very satisfying, and that felt like, if you like, being truly me. But of course, it wasn’t. Truly me is what I am generally with my wife and family. I don’t know how to describe that.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Yeah, just a final one. Do you still have goals, dreams, and ambitions?
Brian Protheroe: No. Well, my ambition immediately is to see my grandchildren for Christmas. It looks like it will happen. No, to carry on … I’d like to be on stage again. I’d love to do a decent part on television, not particularly interested in film. Although, if that came up, I’d grab it. But I’d like a nice juicy part on the tele, I think.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Yeah, what about musically? Any goals in that direction?
Brian Protheroe: Just to write a song that is resonant, maybe funny, maybe melancholic, but that people for some reason … Oh, and has some sort of mystery about it, that I love, will love working on with Julian, and people will pick up on it. That’s all. I mean, continuing to do that well. It itches a very important scratch in my psyche.
Mark Dean Interviewer: That’s great. Brian, thank you very much for chatting. Have a great family Christmas.
Brian Protheroe: Thank you, nice to talk to you.
Mark Dean Interviewer: And you, bye.
And there you have it! Check out the UK cult classic single “Pinball” via Spotify:
Fans can check out Mark Dean at the following locations:
Fans can check out the album “Desert Road” via Spotify in its entirety below:
* Photo Credit: Pester PR