The Song Remains: Brendan Croker (1953-2023)

Steve Phillips & Brenan Croker

Tribute to the British Ry Cooder

Really sad news that one of the titans of roots music, Leeds-based Brendan Croker, sadly passed away on 10th September.  He died after complications from leukaemia and his death prompted a slew of tributes. Amongst them was Mark Knopfler, who met Croker early in his career and played with him before forming Dire Straits. When he wanted a sojourn from his mega band, he approached his old musical chums Croker and master guitarist Steve Phillips, to form The Notting Hillbillies, who went on to have enormous success with their ‘Missing…Presumed Having A Good Time’ album. Knopfler said of Croker “he could sing you the entire Lead Belly songbook, deep country blues, jug band music, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, calypso and reggae. It was like having someone like Taj Mahal in the band. Also, he had vocal range, he could be crooning like Slim Harpo one minute and grinding out a Howlin’ Wolf the next.”

Having had an interest in music since he was a child, he’d met Phillips and in the late seventies started playing as a duo with him. In 1978, DJ Andy Kershaw saw them play live in a pub in Leeds and was instantly hooked. Kershaw championed Croker and eventually, Croker formed a band, The Five O’Clock Shadows. Their subsequent albums ‘A Close Shave’, ‘Boat Trips In The Bay’ and ‘Brendan Croker and the Five O’Clock Shadows’ are some of the finest roots albums released in the UK. Kershaw said Croker was “blossoming into an enormous talent, a world-class guitarist with a white soul voice like Frankie Miller …the nearest thing we had to Ry Cooder”.

Other musicians had taken notice and the likes of Chet Atkins and Eric Clapton (who recorded with Croker) were fans and he recorded with many, including Tanita Tikaram and Kevin Coyne. After The Five O’Clock Shadows disbanded, Croker recorded a set of solo releases in Europe and performed live with Bruno Deneckere.

Although his non Hillbillies material is a little hard to come by these days, if you can track down the compilation ‘Not Just A Hillbilly’, you’ll be hooked. He was a true one-off, eccentric, witty, passionate and a consummate musician, with the most beautiful and graceful of voices. He really will be sorely missed.

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