"The world has lost a good one": A tribute to beloved music composer Steve Brown

Beloved music composer Steve Brown recently passed away, aged 69. In a long and hugely successful career, he worked on albums by Rumer and Laura Mvula, TV shows as varied as Alan Partridge and SM:TV, plays and much more besides. Here, his manager Kwame Kwaten pays tribute to the late musician, and shares some personal reflections on Brown’s life and times.

I can’t quite believe I’m writing this, but the massive personality and musical wizard that is Steve Brown is no longer on this earth. He is probably alongside many of his music heroes right now talking feverishly about what chords they used and what production techniques they tried in which song. Steve died of pulmonary fibrosis aged 69.

Upstairs there will be a big party and Steve will be sat at the piano playing standards and singing along.

Steve was not a trained musician, he just had a natural ear – he taught himself piano and guitar and exited Bromley Grammar School For Boys at 16. That natural ear led him into music via TV where he spent the next 30 years composing the soundtrack to most of our lives – everybody reading this would probably have “felt” Steve Brown’s music in one way or another, his credit sheet reads like a who’s who. You can pick out where you came across him in your life …

Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule
This Time With Alan Partridge 
The Imitation Game
The Goes Wrong Show
Spy School 
Spitting Image
Rory Bremner
They Think It’s All Over
Lenny Henry Goes To Town
Brian Conley Show
SM:TV (for which he wrote the classic Wonky Donkey theme)
Dead Ringers
Saturday Night Takeaway
New Tricks
My Parents Are Aliens
Not Going Out
My Dad’s the Prime Minister
Play School

His work with Steve Coogan included playing Glen Ponder in the Alan Partridge Knowing Me, Knowing You series, he also acted as MD/composer on The Tony Ferrino Show.

To Steve Brown music was music, so distinctions between work for stage, screen, comedy and music – or in fact kids’ TV – just didn’t matter. “He elevated all the songs we did together, to a level they didn’t need to be at to make the joke land,” Coogan said of him. 

Steve spent 30 years composing the soundtrack to most of our lives 

Kwame Kwaten

His recent Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera at The Park Theatre also had many fans (Tony Blair was not one of them I’m sure). Grayson Perry also commissioned Steve to co-write four songs with him for a forthcoming UK tour. Meanwhile, in January 2021 he won an edition of Pointless Celebrities (BBC) with Barbara Dickson. 

Steve also had a long-term working friendship with Harry Hill, completing several UK tours and providing all music on TV Burp, The All New Harry Hill Show (ITV) and Teatime! (Sky). He composed songs and the score for Harry Hill the Movie. 

As a writer of musical theatre, he co-created the award-winning West End show Spend, Spend, Spend – about the football pools winner Viv Nicholson – which prompted fan mail, cherished by Steve, from Stephen Sondheim. It won the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Awards for Best New Musical. He also worked on the X Factor musical I Can’t Sing! and it’s a Wonderful Life, with Francis Matthews.  

To manage Steve Brown really was an absolute joy. For some reason I really got on with him and I say that because we were from two very different walks of life but it just worked like Cagney and Lacey, or Ant and Dec it just worked. He produced really well and I could sell and manage what he was doing because I had total belief in his genuine talent – I called him “The Wizard”.

In fact, I was often flabbergasted and angry when people didn’t understand just how good he was. With Rumer’s album Seasons Of My Soul I remember us both doing 24 showcases to get that project signed – Steve sat at the piano and played at every one of them .We just knew if someone took it on it would go – luckily Atlantic Records’ Max Lousada and Paul Samuels did, and the album charted at No.3 and the track Slow stayed on BBC Radio 2 for months and months. The album sold a million worldwide.

I also remember there being a suggestion really early on that maybe the project needed a different producer as was the tradition then (because Steve did not have a hit biography when the project was first presented). I hit the roof and had red mist and, luckily, Atlantic saw the light and agreed he should be producer. So he set to it. It became a hit album – of course!

When we had a victory we celebrated and when we had a loss we moaned together, but in a really funny way. His humour was dark and dry and he had no time for politicians and let everyone know that. Steve saw me and I saw him.

On the record production side it was simple – I managed the acts, he produced them. He trusted me with A&R – and that oh-so simple manager/producer combo saw Steve produce triple-platinum album Seasons Of My Soul by Rumer, followed by the acclaimed MOBO/Ivor Novello winning artist Laura Mvula, who had gold album success with debut Sing To The Moon for RCA, having discovered both artists. And he did discover them – he just thought it was a good idea that I managed them. He was right – of course!

He also produced Little Black Book by Sarah Walk. My job was to manage and protect the sound of what he and Sarah had set their minds to in the studio and that is what I did. Time and time and time again my job was to say, “No, you shall not enter until the record is done”. 

Steve is survived by his wonderful actor wife Deborah, Lenny his very talented bass playing son, Alfie his oh-so talented writer/director/comedian son, and Manon his fearless step daughter and siblings Christopher and Susanne. 

The world has lost a good one and heaven has gained a force of nature. I am sad but so glad I knew and worked with him for 14 years. I learned so much from him. 

Steve Brown’s funeral took place today (February 19).

Photos supplied courtesy of Kwame Kwaten.

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