Can’t play around with Kathy Brown

Accidentally FaceTiming house music royalty from my pocket wasn’t perhaps the way I’d hoped the conversation would begin. I recovered my composure by remarking how having listened to Kathy Brown sing so many times it felt like meeting an old friend. She was typically reassuring: “You are meeting an old friend!” The first thing you need to know about Kathy Brown? She is seriously nice.

House music legend Kathy Brown

Like many people my first experience of her music had been in the early nineties but her roots lie in gospel with her entree into house music coming via the busy New York soul scene. “I had a friend named Karen Bernard who was one of the singers in a group called the Jones’s. New York back in the day, there were just so many artists just walked the streets! She introduced me to a guy called David Shaw who was looking for someone to sing a cover which was Can’t Play Around.” If she had any nerves about that first session, it turned out she was in the best possible hands. ”They called me at two o’clock in the morning! I met her at the studio and when I got there it was Fred McFarlane, Louie Vega, Kenny Dope, Dave Shaw — there were so many people in the studio I was like ‘Wow, OK, right then!’ They had to turn the lights down in the studio for me! And that was how I made the jump into dance music.” We moved on to talking about different producers that she’d worked with. Diplomatically she wouldn’t name a favourite, but she did give an insight into what it takes to get her attention. “If the music is good and it hits my soul, and it touches my heart, I don’t care who it is coming from! As long as the music is good music and it compliments what I’m doing.” 

Before we spoke I both did and didn’t want to ask about Turn Me Out. It was probably her most famous track certainly here in the UK and I wondered if she was sick of talking about it. She laughed, “Oh it was funny! We thought the track was funny! So we were in the studio after recording Can’t Play Around and we needed another single so we’re in the studio just bouncing ideas around, and they played the track and we each just started singing a verse. And it was just born!” Given that it arguably defined the original sound of UK garage in ‘97, it’s perhaps no surprise that the Sol Brothers Turn to Sugar remix is her favourite. “I was like OK, if you’re gonna keep doing a song, take it away from its original sound and give it something a little juicier, but still keep the same flavour in a sense…” I asked what it felt like to help define a genre. “That’s what we’re here for isn’t it? To leave our mark in what we do, and leave a stamp on whilst enjoying what we do. I feel good about it!” It’s fair to say most dancefloors since then do too.

Her music is an intrinsic part of my own musical taste, to the extent if anyone asks about what I like to play, I almost always cite her music as the best example. What would she say the special ingredient is behind the magic? “I think what all of us singers have is spirit: the spirt of giving love, of spreading love, of singing about different subjects. There’s more to singing than just singing – there’s a lot that we have to give through our singing. I would call it ministering – that’s basically what us singers are. We tell stories and as long as we can do that, that’s what keeps us strong.” These aren’t just concepts though. As she speaks there’s a clear sense of having a role to play in the lives of the people she entertains. “There’s so much going on today. Singers have lots to talk about. I think at this time it is love we need, and we do need spread a lot of it because without it, there’s nothing. I used to get people say to me ‘why do you sing so many love songs’ and I’d say ‘because we need it!’” We were speaking just as the Coronavirus pandemic was starting to gather momentum which made her underlying sense of duty all the more poignant and, to me at least, reassuring. 

And so as we drew to a close, like all good fans I was itching to know what was coming next. Lots it seemed, though she wasn’t giving too much away. “I have a track out now called Burn I did with the Brookes Brothers and Kove, so that’s out now. Ooh, I’ve done a couple of tracks so you’re gonna hear a couple of things coming for 2020 – I’ll keep the rest as a little secret, I won’t give everything away. We will be talking about them soon though!” We will indeed. This is one old friendship that I will not be turning out.

Martin Gale, March 2020

Published by Martin

Geek, DJ, runner, family man.