Robert Brunning was born in Bournemouth on the 29th June 1943 and grew up in a bungalow in Western Avenue, Northbourne. From a young age he had two passions in life, teaching and the blues. His initial inspiration to pick up the bass guitar arose from watching Jet Harris at a Cliff Richard and The Drifters concert at the Winter Gardens in March 1959. Shortly after leaving Bournemouth Grammar School, he joined The Valiants having answered an advert in the Bournemouth Echo, then an early incarnation of The Dictators, followed by a stint with the sextet Lee Peterson and the Defenders. While gaining teaching qualifications at Bournemouth Municipal College, he taught at Summerbee Junior School and befriended fellow student Tony Blackburn, becoming the bass player in his group The Sabres, joining guitarist Ed Roberts and the drummer from Jan Rafini’s orchestra, Don Neilson. During the summer breaks, he laboured on building sites and flipped burgers in a local eatery intending to save enough money to see him through his first year at college in London, but then he saw a 1959 sunburst Fender Precision bass in a music shop window and blew the lot, approximately £80.
In 1964 Bob moved to London settling into life as a struggling student at St. Marks and St. Johns Teacher Training College in the Kings Road, Chelsea, while keeping a lookout for like-minded scholars with a musical bent. Over time, he assembled harmonica player and vocalist Chris Robinson, vocalist and keyboard player Eddie Broadbridge, guitarist and vocalist Dave ‘Steve’ Jones and drummer Ian Pearson, the nucleus of what was to become Five’s Company. In December 1964 the band cut a four song demo in a Southend Studios, before they played their first gig at a college dance at St. Marks and St. Johns in January 1965 supporting Alan Elsdon and the Voodoo Men. Their repertoire comprised of mainly Animals, Beatles and r&b covers but no originals, even though Broadbridge had been writing songs for a couple of years. As 1965 unfolded, they became fixtures on the club and college circuit and recorded another two track demo at Regent Sounds Studio, which they hawked around record companies looking for a deal. Pye showed an interest however, two weeks before an arranged audition, Chris Robinson suddenly died of a heart attack. The stunned band replaced Chris with Ian Person’s school friend from Barrow, guitarist Colin Jordan, a matter of days after the funeral. They impressed the labels A&R man and released their first single, “Sunday for Seven Days”, backed with “The Big Kill”, in June 1966. They followed up with “Some Girls” in September, followed by a cover of The Kinks “Session Man” two months later, but none of their recordings came close to being hits. Despite the failure of three singles over a six month period, Pye graciously allowed them one more try in the summer of 1967. They submitted a cover of “Friends and Mirrors”, a song written by Bobby Russell who had made his name with the hits “Honey” and “Little Green Apples”, but it was rejected by the label for not being commercial. As their college days wound down and Pye showed them the door, Fives Company enacted their last hurrah in Kilburn on the 14th July 1967.
Not ready to step into the world of academia, Bob scoured the weekly music press looking for a band, preferably with a blues leaning. He found what he was looking for in the pages of the Melody Maker. An advert placed by a certain Peter Green for a bass player to join a “Chicago style” blues band. He turned up at a council flat in Putney, where he immediately made a faux pas by asking the guy who opened the door if knew about the other Peter Green who played with John Mayall. After the guy told the embarrassed bass player that he was the Peter Green, Bob passed a tentative audition and joined Fleetwood Mac on the proviso, that he would step aside as soon as John McVie had been persuaded to leave the lucrative security of the Bluesbreakers. He was happy with the arrangement as McVie was the Mac in the name after all, so Peter’s intentions were clear from the start.
Rehearsals began at the Black Bull pub in the Fulham Road where Peter, Bob, drummer Mick Fleetwood and slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer, an uncanny Elmore James impersonator, cobbled together a repertoire of blues covers and Green originals. Their debut gig was at the ‘Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival’ held at the Royal Windsor Racecourse on 13th August 1967, in front of an estimated crowd of twenty thousand people. The band was understandably nervous and a quick glance at the line-up would of been enough to give anyone the jitters as it was liberally sprinkled with the crème de la crème of the burgeoning blues boom. The headliners were Clapton, Bruce and Baker’s super group Cream, supported by The Jeff Beck Group featuring Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack debuting their new pianist and vocalist Christine Perfect, Ten Years After starring the fastest guitar-slinger in the west, Alvin Lee and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Peter’s replacement, Mick Taylor, on guitar. The Mac followed Chicken Shack onto the main stage early on the Sunday evening and performed a well-received half-hour set, before reconvening a couple of hours later in a marquee on the fringes of the festival, where their nervy debut performance was put behind them as they really went to town and brought the house down. As the bands star rapidly ascended, Bob’s involvement came to an abrupt end in mid-September. McVie, not happy with Mayall’s intentions to delve into jazz by hiring a brass section, finally succumbed to Peter’s overtures.
Bob only appears on three official Fleetwood Mac recordings taped one night at Decca Studios in New Bond Street on 9th September 1967. They are “Long Grey Mare”, the third track on their debut album Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long” and “Rambling Pony”, the A and B side of their first single. Both of the latter tracks can also be found on the compilation The Pious Bird of Good Omen. He also appears on a live bootleg quality CD of dubious origins, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Live at the Marquee recorded two days after their debut in Windsor. Although rough around the edges and dominated by Jeremy Spencer’s obsession with Elmore James covers, the recording highlights a band finding its feet in an intimate club atmosphere.
His next job was with the Savoy Brown Blues Band where he replaced Ray Chappell after a recommendation from Peter Green and a successful audition at the Nag’s Head in Battersea. The band was led by guitarist Kim Simmonds but were dogged by a revolving door of personnel. Only weeks before Bob signed on, vocalist Chris Youlden came in for Bryce Portius and drummer Hughie Flint, recently fired from the Bluesbreakers, stepped in for Leo Manning, the boogie pianist Bob Hall and guitarist Dave Peverett completed the line-up. The reconstituted band entered Decca studios with producer Mike Vernon and recorded a stand-alone single, “Taste and Try Before You Buy”. However, almost immediately problems arose. It didn’t matter how many dates the band performed, the cash remained the same due to a tightly run weekly wage structure. Believing this was unfair, Bob and Hughie confronted Kim and his manager, brother Harry, only to receive the order of the boot. Bob took this as an omen to pursue his true vocation by accepting a teaching post at Woodmansterne Primary School near Croydon.
In 1968 Bob read an article in a music paper which caught his eye. The record company Saga, were planning to release a series of budget albums and they were scouting for new artists. Bob rang the label owner, Marcel Rodd, and convinced him that he needed a blues band and offered his services. Rodd agreed, but there was a snag, Bob didn’t have a band! A quick trawl through his phone book turned up Savoy Brown’s former pianist Bob Hall, Colin Jordan from his old band Five’s Company, guitarist Mick Halls, drummer Jeff Russell and singer Peter French. The newly named Brunning Sunflower Blues Band had the run of Saga’s studio for a day and recorded the album Bullen Street Blues, named after the street where Bob lived in Battersea. Championed by the radio DJ Mike Raven, it sold a reasonable amount of copies, but that could have been down to its cheap price of ten shillings, rather than the contents, as most reviews were lukewarm.
Not content with a blues album, Saga also wanted their own Sgt. Pepper, in short a mini pop opera that could compete with The Who Sell Out or Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake by The Small Face. Bob took a gamble and stepped up again by offering the label Five’s Company. He already had Colin Jordan on board, now all he had to do was contact Eddie Broadbridge who was living in Denmark under the guise of Eddie St John and convince him to write an albums worth of material. Within a week, Eddie presented the band with a song cycle based on the Seven Ages of Man. After one rehearsal at the Black Bull pub in Chelsea to knock the opus into shape, the three musicians descended on a nursery school in Swiss Cottage (Saga utilised the space to keep costs down) and recorded The Ballad of Fred the Pixie in one three hour spurt on a Saturday morning. Half the tracks on the album are percussion free, because drummer Pete Banham arrived late for the session, which adds to the Fred Karno’s feel to the album. Released on recycled inferior quality vinyl in 1969, the muddy sound, basic production values and rushed performances of twelve underwhelming songs sank without a trace, Tommy it wasn’t. In later life, Bob disowned it.
Bob’s next album, Trackside Blues, saw him back with the Brunning Sunflower Blues Band. By this time Peter French and Mick Halls had left to join Black Cat Bones, drummer Pete Banham had come in to replace Jeff Russell and to fill the gaps, Bob’s old boss Peter Green was on board to lift proceedings considerably with three songs, “Ride With Your Daddy Tonight”, “If You Let Me Love You” and “It Takes Time”. For any fans of early Fleetwood Mac not familiar with these three recordings, I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy of Trackside Blues as the three tracks are top draw Greeny. For their third effort, I Wish You Would, Bob returned to his trusty phone book and called up drummer Mel Wright, ex Groundhogs harmonica player Steve Rye, saxophonist John Altman and the brother and sister pairing of Jo Anne and Dave Kelly, listed on the sleeve as ‘Little Brother Dave’ and ‘Memphis Lil’ because of record company contractual restraints. The returning Peter Green contributed the instrumental “Uranus” under the thinly disguised pseudonym ‘Peter Blue’. This average twelve bar work-out was probably a left over from the Trackside Blues sessions as Pete Banham is on drums, not Mel Wright.
Drummer Mick Fleetwood and guitarist Danny Kirwan of Fleetwood Mac also found time to hook up with Bob, Bob Hall, Jo-Ann Kelly and brother Dave to record an album called Tramp. Considering the talent on display, the release was low-key, and sales were minimal. Five years later, in 1974, the same personnel repeated the exercise with Put a Record On. By this time Kirwan was no longer a member of Fleetwood Mac as he was fired in 1972 after flying into an emotional, drunken rage backstage at a gig in America. Dave Brooks and Ian Morton added variety to the record with sax and percussion, respectively.
In 1971 Bob and Bob Hall made The Brunning Hall Sunflower Blues Band a permanent unit with the addition of drummer John Hunt and guitarist Pat Grover. They recorded the self-titled Brunning / Hall Sunflower Blues Band before taking the band out on a series of one-nighters. Life on the road proved to be a challenge for Bob, as he always made it his mission to never miss a day at school, even if he had arrived back from a gig a matter of hours before the bell rang for his first lesson. As if he wasn’t busy enough, he and Bob Hall spent a year running the Studio 51 Club in Great Newport Street, Soho booking bands such as Killing Floor and Bret Marvin and the Thunderbolts. On one occasion while the pair were backing Jo Anne Kelly, she invited the visiting American albino blues brothers Edgar and Johnny Winter up to jam. That was one experience they would never forget.
In the early seventies John Simpson of the Big Bear Agency in Birmingham organised a series of tours under the ‘American Blues Legends’ banner. He brought little known blues men over to play the many blues clubs scattered around the country and assembled a band that included Bob, to record and tour with the likes of Lightnin’ Slim, Eddie Taylor, Big John Wrencher, G.P. Jackson, Eddie ‘Guitar’ Burns, Homesick James and Snooky Pryor amongst a host of others. In 1980 the blues enthusiasts, Mick and Cilla Higgins, had a similar idea and brought over Eddy Clearwater and Carey Bell. This time out the backing band comprised of Bob, Bob Hall, ex-Roogalator guitarist Danny Alder and former Jeff Beck drummer Mickey Waller, this line-up became the De Luxe Blues Band. For their first gig as a band in their own write at Dingwalls in Camden Town, Bob invited a record scout from Virgin to come along, he was impressed and offered the band a one-off album deal. The outcome, Live at the Half Moon Putney, was recorded at their second gig in October 1980. The bookings rolled in along with requests to back more high-calibre American visitors including Jimmy Witherspoon, J. B. Hutto, Lowell Fulsom, Memphis Slim, and Jimmy Rogers. The band also undertook several excursions to Italy where Franco Ratti signed them up for a three album deal on his own Apaloosa label. The first two, A Streetcar Named Deluxe and Urban Deluxe, were produced by pianist and sixth Rolling Stone Ian Stewart, while the third, Motorvating, was overseen by Mike Vernon. Vernon also produced the self-titled follow up, Deluxe Blues Band for his own resurrected Blue Horizon label.
The original De Luxe Blues Band folded in 1990 and lay dormant for four years until Bob resurrected the band with a new line-up comprising of vocalist Phil Taylor and guitarist’s Alan Vincent and Dave Beaumont. They recorded two albums, The Deluxe Blues Band and Bob Brunning’s Deluxe Blues Band, for Bob’s own BB Records. The final version of the band occurred by chance when Bob replaced bassist Pete Barton in the Lonesome Whistle Blues Band, a popular outfit from Streatham in South London. He became their manager and convinced harmonica player Bill Smith, his guitarist son Dan, drummer Reg Patten, vocalist Russell Baillie and second guitarist Dennis McGrath to take the name Bob Brunning’s De-Luxe Blues Band as a way of securing more gigs. Seizing the opportunity to trade on an established name, the band became regulars on the south London blues circuit. As a footnote; Dan Smith left to attend the Brit School of Performing Arts where he met singer Shingai Shoniwa and formed the successful indie band The Noisettes.
In 1999 Bob took early retirement from his head teacher’s job after thirty years’ service and concentrated on running B. B.’s Blues Club out of the Crown pub in Colliers Wood. A couple of years later he moved a short distance down the road to GJ’s Bar and Restaurant, where he provided a platform for local blues talent every Sunday night. He also ran the annual ‘Abbey Mills Blues Festival’ in Merton South London, attracting crowds of up to three thousand people every August Bank-Holiday. He kept his hand in playing bass with the De Luxe Blues Band and occasionally with the Fleetwood Mac tribute band Fleetwood Bac, before finally hanging up his trusty Fender for good in 2005. As well as being a musician he was a published author with several books to his credit. He’s probably best known for the Fleetwood Mac biography, Fleetwood Mac Behind the Mask, which has been updated twice and re-published as The First Thirty Years and then The Fleetwood Mac Story: Rumours and Lies. He also wrote two books on the British blues scene entitled Blues: The British Connection and Blues in Britain: The History 1950s’ – 90s’, plus a series of music books for children called Sound Trackers, covering every style of music from blues, jazz and soul to heavy metal, reggae and rock ‘n’ roll. His final book, The 100 Club An Oral History, was a collaboration with Bill Smith.
Bob died of a heart attack on 18th October 2011 aged sixty-eight and is survived by his first wife Elspeth, their two children Simon and Rachel and his second wife Halina and their son Daniel. He was always on the periphery of the music scene because of his commitment to education, but this unassuming teacher and enthusiastic blues fan from Bournemouth was there at the birth of one of the biggest selling bands of all time, Fleetwood Mac. Over the years they have sold in excess of one hundred million records world-wide.
If you would like to hear the complete recorded output of Five’s Company, buy Friends and Mirrors: The Complete Recordings 1964-68 on the Grapefruit label. The best of the Brunning Sunflower Blues Band CD on RPM Records does what he says on the tin, plus adds a selection of tracks from Tramp and the four Peter Green tracks from Trackside Blues and I Wish You Would. Blues Amongst Friends on Blue Leaf collects twenty tracks by the De Luxe Blues Band.
Bob Brunning Discography
Five’s Company Singles
Sunday for Seven Days c/w The Big Kill: Pye (7N 17118) 1966
Some Girls c/w Big Deal: Pye (7N 17162) 1966
Session Man c/w Dejection: Pye (7N 17199) 1966
Five’s Company Albums
The Ballad of Fred the Pixie: Saga (STFID 2151) 1969
Friends and Mirrors, The Complete Recordings 1964-68: Grapefruit (CRSEG037) 2017 A twenty six track CD compilation
Fleetwood Mac Single
I Believe My Time Ain’t Long c/w Rambling Pony No. 2: Blue Horizon (30561) 1967
Fleetwood Mac Albums
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac: Blue Horizon (7-63200) 1968 “Long Grey Mare”
The Pious Bird of Good Omen: Blue Horizon (7-63215) 1969 “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long” and “Rambling Pony”
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac Live at the Marquee: Receiver Records (RR CD 157) 1992
Savoy Brown Single
Taste and Try Before You Buy c/w Someday People: Decca (F 12702) 1967
Brunning Sunflower Blues Band Albums
Bullen Street Blues: Saga (FID 2118) 1968
Trackside Blues: Saga (EROS 8132) 1969
I Wish You Would: Saga (EROS 8150) 1970
The Brunning Hall Sunflower Blues Band: Gemini (GM 2010) 1971
Long Old Road: Akarma (AK 246/3) 2003 A 3 X CD, 54 track box set
The Best of Brunning Sunflower Blues Band: RPM Records (RETRO 813) 2007 A twenty two track CD compilation
Tramp: Music Man (SMLS 603) 1969
Put a Record On: Spark (SRLP 112) 1974
British Blues Giants: See For Miles (SEECD 354) 1992 A twenty one track CD compilation of both Tramp albums
De Luxe Blues Band Albums
Live at the Half Moon Putney: Hot Box Records (HOT1) 1981
A Streetcar Named Deluxe: Apaloosa (AP020) 1981
Urban Deluxe: Apaloosa (AP040) 1983
Motorvating: Apaloosa (AP 060) 1988
Deluxe Blues Band: Blue Horizon (BLUH 004) 1988
The Deluxe Blues Band: BB Records (BBCD4) 1994
Bob Brunning’s Deluxe Blues Band: BB Records (BBCD3) 1997
Blues Amongst Friends: Blues Leaf (9820) 2003 A two CD twenty track compilation
Bob Brunning Albums as a Guest
Dave Kelly: Dave Kelly: Mercury (6310 001) 1971
J.B. Hutto: Hipshakin’: Flyright Records (FLY LP 502) 1972
Eddie Guitar Burns: Bottle Up and Go: Action (ACMP 100) 1972
Jimmy Dawkins: Transatlantic 770: Excello (8024 SO-1) 1972
Johnny Mars: Blues from Mars: Polydor (2460 168) 1972
Homesick James & Snooky Pryor: Homesick James & Snooky Pryor: Intercord (INT 146.404) 1973
Eddie (Playboy) Taylor: Ready for Eddie: Big Bear Records (BEAR 6) 1974
Big Jon Wrencher with Eddie Playboy Taylor & The Blueshounds: Big John’s Boogie: Big Bear Records (BEAR 4) 1974
Homesick James: Home Sweet Homesick James: Big Bear Records (BEAR 10) 1975
Erwin Heffer: Boogie Piano Chicago Style: (INT 146.401) 1975
Errol Dixon: Listen to the Blues: Bellaphon (BCH 33018) 1978
Doctor Ross: Jivin’ the Blues: (BEAR 15) 1979
Jimmy Rogers and Left Hand Frank: Chicago Blues: JSP Records (JSP 1008) 1979
Jimmy Rogers and Left Hand Frank: Live: JSP Records (JSP 1043) 1982
Bob Hall and Dave Peabody Roll and Slide: Appaloosa (AP 044) 1984
Memphis Slim: Steppin’ Out Live at Ronnie Scott’s: Castle Communication (ESMCD 016) 1990