Errol Brown MBE (12 November 1943 – 6 May 2015) was a British-Jamaican singer and songwriter, best known as the front man of the soul and funk band Hot Chocolate.
Brown was born in Kingston, Jamaica. His parents, Ivan and Edna, split up while he was a young child, and he was mostly cared for by an aunt. Meanwhile, his mother had moved to London, and worked for the post office and as a typist until she could afford a mortgage on a house. She rented out rooms to pay off the debt. She brought Errol to Britain to join her when he was 11, and, after he spent some time at school in Streatham, south London, was able to have him privately educated.
Brown never planned to be in pop music and merely aspired to have a regular wage-paying job. However, while he was working as a clerk at the Treasury, he met the Trinidad-born musician Tony Wilson, who suggested they try writing songs together, This worked so well that the duo wrote hits including Bet Yer Life I Do for Herman’s Hermits, Heaven Is Here for Julie Felix and Think About Your Children for Mary Hopkin. Then they recorded their own reggae-styled version of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance, including some of their own lyrics. Realising they needed permission to alter the song, they sent a tape to the Beatles. Lennon heard itand thought it very amusing’. He decided to put it out on [the Beatles’ label] Apple.”
Brown and Wilson’s group was dubbed the Hot Chocolate Band by the Apple press office. The record was not successful but the Beatles connection drew plenty of attention, and they were picked up by Most and signed to his Rak label. Now named simply Hot Chocolate, they began to have success with such Brown/Wilson compositions as Love Is Life (1970) and I Believe (In Love) (1971), and in 1973 had a top 10 hit with Brother Louie, a song about an interracial love affair. Brown and Wilson began to drift apart creatively, but they shared the credits for the big international hit Emma, which Most initially thought was too depressing to be a hit (it reached No 3 in the UK in 1974 and No 8 in the US).
Then came Disco Queen, and in 1975 they followed up a UK 10 hit, A Child’s Prayer, with You Sexy Thing. With its irresistible swaying beat and Brown’s higher-than-usual vocal line, the song was a natural smash, though it had the misfortune to be kept out of the UK No 1 slot by Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Nonetheless it was a hit around the world and reached No 3 in the US. Brown’s radiant self-confidence, shaven head and fondness for bling were turning him into both pop idol and sex symbol.
With Brown firmly in charge of Hot Chocolate and with Most’s acute commercial ear to guide him, the hit machine was in full spate, though their sole UK chart-topper, So You Win Again, was written by Russ Ballard rather than Brown. Every 1’s a Winner, No Doubt About It, Girl Crazy and It Started With a Kiss took them into the 1980s, though after I Gave You My Heart (Didn’t I) reached No 13 in 1984, the band’s magic streak was effectively over.
Brown was a supporter of the Conservative Party and performed at a party conference in the 1980s. In 1981, he performed at the wedding reception following the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, at Buckingham Palace.
In 1985 Brown left the band to take a hiatus from music. He soon went on to have a solo career, achieving success in the clubs with the 1987 single "Body Rocking", produced by Richard James Burgess. His first solo album That’s How Love Is failed to sell, but Brown seemed content to enjoy the fruits of his Hot Chocolate success. Ensconced in the Surrey “rockbroker” belt, Brown could count Mick Hucknall, Cliff Richard and Maurice Gibb among his neighbours, and performed at Conservative party conferences. He also took a liking to holidaying in the Bahamas.
Brown enjoyed a top 20 solo hit with a re-release of It Started With a Kiss in 1998, and toured Germany and the UK in 1998 and 1999. He was appointed MBE in 2003, and the following year received an Ivor Novello award. In 2009 he embarked on a farewell tour, and declared: “When you’ve had your greatest creative years and then to be going out and trying to come back with something – at my age it’s a bit silly. I’ve done what I was very happy with, and that’s it.”
Brown died of liver cancer at his home in the Bahamas on 6 May 2015. (Info edited from Wikipedia, but mainly the Guardian obit)