Heavy hearts for metal's oldest fan
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Britain’s oldest rocker Owen Brown has died at the age of 87.
The farm worker took his love of heavy metal bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden to the grave. In latter years he listened in the comfort of his Herefordshire home rather than spend hours at a time in his garden shed.
But he never lost his love for ear-shattering, heavy rock music made by groups such as American band Megadeth. Indeed, his family have chosen the Megadeth song Skin Of My Teeth for the final procession out of Weobley church at his funeral on Tuesday.
Owen was born in the small. remote country village of Ivington, just outside Leominster. His father worked on the roads, but at the age of 14 Owen went to work on one of the many hop farms that dominated the Herefordshire countryside.
While working on the farm he met his widow Maria and they had been married 65 years at the time of his death.
He leaves three daughters, Margaret, Ann, Jenny and two sons, Neil and Michael, known as Pedro. None of them know exactly how Owen picked up his musical tastes.
Several years ago Owen told the Western Daily Press: ‘‘I was about 23 when I first started listening to music and surprisingly it was Cliff Richard who got me listening. Then I moved on to Elvis and I never looked back.
“I lived in a house with no electricity in the Sixties but made sure I had a battery-powered stereo.”
His musical taste hardened with time and during his twilight years he would spend four hours at a time down in the shed with a cup of tea, his slippers and heavy metal on the speakers.
Owen himself said at the time: ‘‘It’s great because I can play it as loud as I want in there. I can sit back with a drink and listen to Megadeth with no worries in the world.
‘‘When all the kids were at home they would often ask me to stop playing it or turn it down but it’s only worth listening to at full blast.”
Son Pedro, 61, said: “My dad was a little country chap with a hat and little check shirt full of holes.
“He worked on a farm all his life but he was very different to all the other farm workers. Nobody else liked music like my dad. He worked on the land all his life and he was a very gentle man, except for his music.”
Michael says when the children were young they thought it was normal for dads to listen to blaring rock music in their sheds. But as they grew older friends used to shake their heads in disbelief when he told them who was making all the noise and it was the children and grandchildren who used to complain and tell him to turn it down. “When I used to say ‘it’s my dad’ they could hardly believe it,” said Pedro. “I used to think everybody’s dad was the same until I got to 18 and realised how special he was. Music was his lifelong passion. He started with rock ‘n roll on the old wind-up gramophone, moved on to 60s bands like Cream, the Doors and Eric Clapton and just kept getting heavier and heavier. He used to listen to music in the hop kilns. He was quite amazing really.”
When asked about why he liked rock, Owen himself said: “Rock has a great exciting rhythm that other music doesn’t have. Most people grow out of it but I just never did and still listen to rock as much as possible and will probably listen to it for the rest of my life now.”
When the WDP told how he blasted out mega-riffs by Metallica, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest on his 26-year-old record player, Owen became an overnight celebrity in the world of heavy rock.
Groups such as Black Sabbath and Def Leppard started sending him merchandise and he was invited to his first concert to see Megadeth. He was interviewed by TV companies from the UK and abroad, but when fans started inviting him on stage at conventions, and festivals he decided enough was enough and retreated back to his shed and his music.
After his wife became ill, Owen sold his record player and swapped his collection of vinyl LPs for CDs which he played indoors.
Long-suffering wife Maria would leave the room when he played his loud rock music but never told him to turn it off.
Owen had been living with cancer for around five years when he died, but was only ill in the last three months.
“Because he wasn't well he’d often be up in the night listening to a programme called Planet Rock,” said Pedro. “He’d be there at 2am listening to really loud rock music. His hearing was fine, he just liked it loud.”
Owen died in hospital on August 15 and leaves 15 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.
His funeral will be at noon on Tuesday and he will be taken into the church to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers song, A Hard Road.
But his family are determined he will leave to his favourite heavy rock band, Megadeth. Pedro, a drummer with aspiring Cajun band Whiskey River, is the only one of his children likely to carry on the musical legacy, but not for heavy rock.
“My father has inspired me all my life, and not just with his music. I live in an old telephone exchange where I can play my music uninterrupted but I prefer jazz. When I was choosing music for his funeral I had to listen to all his tracks and now I understand a little more about why he liked it. It’s good driving music.”