Piss Off, England!

OC Music Awards founder Martin Brown thinks were cooler, anyway

Photo by Jeanne RiceThe jarring shriek of Martin Brown's fucking cell phone keeps interrupting our chat. Some calls he ignores, others he has to take. It's just more than a week before the second edition of the Orange County Music Awards (OCMA) goes off, y'see, and there's still a lot to take care of. Soon Brown will head over to the Grove of Anaheim for a final walk-through of the award-show site. Then there's the band he still has to track down that has been nominated for an award, though they don't know it yet because their phone has been disconnected.

Eventually, while sitting in his cozy Garden Grove living room, Brown will reveal to us that not only is Al Stewart his favorite musician ever ("He's playing the Coach House Friday! You should go!" Brown chirps, as if trying to sell us on Amway or Scientology), but there was even a time when he actually liked Emerson, Lake and Palmer, too, and he doesn't seem too embarrassed about this fact. Which begs the question: Can the OCMAs, which he founded with the idea of shining a light on everything sonically good and decent about OC, be trusted to a funny-talking, prog.-rock nerd?

Well, why not? It's not like anybody else was willing to put up with the insurmountable migraines that inevitably come with trying to bring together for just one night the many genres of music being propagated nightly in OC clubs and coffeehouses. And after the hit of last year's debut shindig—a pleasant, relatively smooth surprise that managed to pack the Galaxy Concert Theater—Brown knew he'd have to do a sequel and move it to a bigger room. Now it looks like he's stuck doing it every year. Come, headaches, come!

"It had to go on," Brown says about the second OCMAs, happening Saturday. "I knew there were going to be problems because we didn't have a lot of time to plan last year, but I was surprised and gratified it was so successful."

So who is this Brown guy, anyway? Don't let his Brit accent fool you into thinking he just moved here to ride the No Doubt/Offspring mass-media wave that started cresting here in the '90s. He actually has some hard-earned OC cred, built from living here for more than 20 years, as well as time spent perusing the rock clubs in his native England since he was a teen.

Born and raised in Southampton, where his parents still live, the 50-year-old Brown saw Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull slogging it out in dingy pubs before they were ever signed. He saw the Troggs and the Animals. He saw Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight festival. He saw David Bowie's Hunky Dory tour. He saw Pete Townshend smash guitars decades before that act became hackneyed and contrived.

"That's probably why it's hard for me to appreciate bands like the Strokes—I just think, 'Not another wave of Troggs!'"

When punk hit England, Brown was in the thick of it. He was working at a club in Plymouth when the Anarchy Tour stopped by for a night: the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned and Johnny Thunders playing to a "crowd" of 50 (he has the poster to prove it). By this time, he was doing freelance-writing work for Melody Maker, New Musical Express and even Oz, a libel-ridden sheet that got shut down for printing a doctored photo of Harold Wilson fucking the queen.

But then in 1979, he fell in love with an American girl and followed her home. Piss off, England!

"I had sold everything and had no intention of going back," Martin remembers. "We came over with four suitcases, and three of them had my album collection inside."

They settled in Whittier for a few years, moved to OC, had some kids and eventually got divorced—hey, who hasn't? Martin kept up his writing hobby, scribbling for Music Connection and Bam and filing letter-from-America scene reports for the music mags back home. He spent several hours a week in long-gone OC rooms such as the Cuckoo's Nest, Jezebel's, Radio City and Woodstock, where, like in his teen years, he again saw a slew of bands before they ever got airplay.

"I remember Violent Femmes were playing at Radio City the same night John Waite was at Woodstock, and these clubs were just a few doors away from each other," he says. "There was a huge buzz on the Violent Femmes, and the place was packed, but for John Waite, there were about 12 people.

"We also protested down at the Golden Bear like crazy when they were tearing it down," he continues. "I have a great picture of my kids when they were about four and two, holding big signs with these quizzical expressions on their faces that say, 'Why am I standing on a street corner holding a sign, Daddy?'"

For money, Brown did marketing and distribution for a printing company, which he hated.

"I looked in the mirror one day and wondered what the fuck I was doing with a tie and suit on. So I just walked away from it and started my own printing company with a partner," he says. "That was in 1989. I halved my income but doubled my happiness overnight."

Work at his printing company led to a contract publishing the Coach House and Galaxy Concert Theater concert guides. By 1998, Brown had the idea of starting his own entertainment rag, which led to Live Magazine, a free publication that concentrates on live music reviews.

"It was just me for the first few issues, and the first one was horrible. I did the layout, the writing, the distribution and the ad sales. But it has gotten much better, and I've never missed a month. A lot of the writing has been from high school kids, and that was really important to me to provide a forum for them because a lot of publications would just tell them to fuck off and go learn how to write. I try to nurture them in their writing because obviously their English teachers weren't doing a very good job. And now some of them are decent writers, and this is what they want to do with their lives."

Live hardly makes a killing for Brown, he says—when it's not losing money, it barely breaks even.

"None of these things, including the Music Awards, are really profitable. I actually do rather menial type things to pay bills. I drive for a friend of mine and do deliveries when I run out of money. But I don't care; I have no pride. It would be nice, though, if the music things were my main income source. Depending on ticket sales, the awards will make a little money, plus we should be giving about $3,000 to Big Brothers and Sisters of Orange County. I really need it to be profitable; I want it to be a viable business so I can spend more time on it."

For now, though, putting on the OC Music Awards seems like a lot of work for not much in return. But Brown isn't whining about that—at least not this year, not yet. Instead, he'll tell you about the passion he has for music, about the thrill of discovering a favorite new local band that happens to be playing the Gypsy Lounge in a couple of nights, about the great OC music scene he feels people who live here still don't know about because they don't hear it on KROQ or see it on MTV. The OCMAs, in a way, are Brown's way of fostering possibilities.

"That's what it should be, celebrating our area and our music scene. But integrity is my bottommost important aspect. It's important that people believe in it and get excited about it and appreciate the point of it. And I think the show will demonstrate that based on the eclectic performances we have lined up. I want it to be something everyone looks forward to every year."

The 2003 Orange County Music Awards at the Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700. Sat., 7 p.m. $22.50. For a list of nominees, go to www.orangecountymusicawards.com.
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