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Jon Brookes

Drummer with The Charlatans;

Born: September 21, 1968; Died: August 13, 2013.

JON Brookes, who has died aged 44, was a founding member of English indie rock band The Charlatans.

Born and raised in Wednesbury, a West Midlands market town, the drummer formed a formidable pairing with bass player Martin Blunt. It was a partnership forged in the Black Country that gave energy, muscle and a solid-rock groove to The Charlatans' sound, drawing comparisons with the famous Stax rhythm section featuring Booker T and the MGs in the 1960s and '70s.

Brookes learned his craft on a kit above his parents' pub, and fine-tuned his skills gigging in the '80s with bands such as The Gifthorses, when he first worked with Blunt.

It was in The Charlatans, though, that he made his name, and came to be considered one of the finest drummers of his generation.

From the debut single Indian Rope in 1989, whose sleeve featured the musician in full cymbal-crashing flight, through 11 studio albums and hundreds of pulsating live performances, Brookes' powerful yet considered playing made a crucial contribution to the band's output for more than two decades.

His premature passing, which saw him succumb to cancer three years after collapsing on stage with a brain tumour in Philadelphia, marks a further sad chapter in the The Charlatans' story.

The band, fronted by charismatic singer Tim Burgess and featuring Mark Collins on guitar, has already survived the death of keyboard player Rob Collins (no relation) in 1996. Collins, whose driving Hammond organ was equally pivotal to the band's early sound, was killed in a car crash in 1996. His death came after he had completed a short spell in prison for his part in an off-licence robbery, an experience that, his colleagues later reflected, he never fully recovered from.

The Charlatans' journey has also seen them fall victim to embezzlement by a former accountant and serious illness, with Collins' successor, Tony Rogers, having overcome testicular cancer.

But to view the band solely in terms of their ill-fortune would be to do a disservice to their musical accomplishments, which includes three No.1 albums and a raft of hit singles, and the joy their live performances have delivered to audiences around the world.

Though their story, as eventful as any in the history of rock, will doubtless have carved them a place in the affections of many fans, it is anchored on a back catalogue crammed with outstanding pop and imaginative albums, each displaying a profound creative spark and a desire from their creators, including Brookes, to push restlessly into new musical territory. Many critics dismissed them as the also-rans of the Madchester scene that produced The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays - that despite topping the charts with debut album Some Friendly in 1990.

There is no doubt they struggled to emulate that success with the more reflective follow-up, Between 10th and 11th, not least because the musical world had swapped Manchester for Seattle and the grunge scene. But their sophomore collection served notice that this was not a band content to live on past glories.

Each album that followed showed a band that were increasingly sure of their musical capabilities and where it could take them, with the high watermark for many the Tellin' Stories album of 1997, the record The Charlatans were making in Wales at the time of Collins' demise.

That event may have spelled the end for many bands, but The Charlatans regrouped and in the decade and a half since have recorded some of their best work to date, drawing on genres as diverse as ska, country, funk and electronica to inform their output.

Brookes, whose own influences ranged from Led Zeppelin to Julian Cope, underpinned the band's development, adapting his skills to suit each new style The Charlatans pursued.

It was in the live arena, however, where Brookes came into his own, his drumming giving power, dynamism and subtlety to the group's collection of uplifting and soulful anthems.

He faced his illness with dignity and bravery, and drew inspiration in the love and support he received from fans, band mates and the wider musical world. Indeed, far from withdrawing and cursing his ill-fortune, he continued to work and tour with the band when his condition allowed. It is hoped the fruits of his latest recordings with the band this summer will one day be released.

Brookes's influence and popularity could be seen in the outpouring of grief on social media sites this week, and in the tributes from contemporaries such as former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, ex-New Order bass player Peter Hook and the actor John Simm. Each bore testament to a hugely popular and talented musician, and a loving husband, father and band mate.

He is survived by his wife, Debbie, and their three children.

SCOTT WRIGHT

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