Duncan Browne: Biography

Duncan Browne
Duncan Browne

Duncan Browne was born on March 25, 1947. The only child of Air Commodore and Mrs. C.D.A. Browne, Duncan initially intended to follow his father into the Royal Air Force. He was turned down on health grounds while still at the Workshop College, where he was a promising schoolboy actor and clarinetist.

A classical guitarist, he attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art for three years, where he studied Composition and Harmony with the legendary Anthony Bowles, who encouraged him towards a career in music. Duncan also had intentions of becoming an actor, but his music career took off in 1967 when he encountered Andrew Loog Oldham of Immediate Records, which led to the release of his first solo album, “Give Me Take You” in 1968. Browne’s sound embraced the most lyrical elements of Paul McCartney, Donovan, and the Moody Blues.

Later, he played a major role in the German feature film, “Zeit fur Traume” (“Time for Dreams”) before his association with Mickie Most, which culminated with the 1973 album on RAK Records, “Duncan Browne”. His British single, “Journey”, with its extraordinary Spanish guitar figure, went top 20 in 1972 and was voted “most unusual single of the year”.

In 1973 he decided to transfer his classical technique to electric guitar, during which period he met Peter Godwin. They worked together for two years in Paris and London on the prototypical songs, sound and style of what was to become “Metro”. Duncan’s only album with Metro was released in 1976 on Logo Records. David Bowie later recorded “Criminal World” for his album “Let’s Dance”.

After leaving Metro, Duncan entered what was to be his most creative period, culminating in two fantastic albums, “The Wild Places” in 1978, and “Streets of Fire” in 1979. The band Duncan assembled for these albums was potent. The rhythm section of Tony Hymas (keyboards), John Giblin (bass), and Simon Phillips (drums) later recorded with Peter Townshend, Jeff Beck, and Jack Bruce.

During the 1980’s, Duncan turned his focus to writing music for the theatre, television and film, most notably working with Sebastion Graham-Jones on “Travelling Man”, the soundtrack from the Granada TV series , released in 1984. Also memorable was “Salva Me” sung by the soprano Isobel Buchanan for BBC’s drama series “Shadow of the Noose”, and most recently, the musical score of three films for BBC’s “The Essential Guide to the History of Europe”.

For the BBC’s World Service and Radio 4, frequently working with the producer and arranger Nick Magnus, he composed and recorded themes for “Newshour, Mediawatch, Network UK”, and much else. He wrote music for the Royal National Theatre and was musical director and co-lyricist for “Brel”, starring Sian Phillips at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre.

Duncan Browne piano


In the 1990’s, battling cancer, Duncan had begun work on his first album of new songs in well over a decade. But tragically, Duncan would not see the completion of “Songs of Love and War”, succumbing to cancer in May, 1993.

The following appeared in Melody Maker in June of 1993:

In another tragedy, DUNCAN BROWNE died on May 28, after a long battle with cancer. He was 46. The singer-songwriter is best remembered for his 1972 hit single, ”Journey”, and for David Bowie’s cover of his ”Criminal World”, which appeared on Bowie’s 1983 album, ”Let’s Dance”.

Following his solo success, Browne achieved cult status in the mid-Seventies as part of glam-pop duo, Metro. In 1984, he enjoyed another brush with the singles chart via his minor hit, ”Theme From The Traveling Man”. He leaves a wife and an eight-year-old son.

This is an excerpt from the obituary that appeared in The Times, Thursday June 24, 1993:

Duncan Browne, composer and musician, died of cancer on May 28, aged 46.

…..Largely self-taught, his musical horizons and knowledge were, respectively, limitless and encyclopedic. He possessed, invaluable, a remarkable gift for judging the contributive value of music to drama and documentary.

He is survived by his wife Lin and one son

The task of completing the album fell to Nick Magnus, who with the help of Colin Blunstone and Sebastion Graham-Jones, put the finishing touches on a haunting and beautiful collection of songs. The album was released on Nic Potter’s Zomart label in 1995.

Duncan Browne’s songs have been covered by Patti Smith, Ian Matthews, Barry Manilow, Colin Blunstone, John English, and particularly successfully by David Bowie.

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25 thoughts on “Duncan Browne: Biography”

  1. After listening to the 2003 Australian webcast I now know Duncan’ s son’s name is Max. But nothing more. Is he also a singer-songwriter or does he play in a band? Any info will be welcome.

  2. I’ve been a fan of Duncan’s music for many years. I’m happy to see that his musical legacy has touched so many people. One of his most impressive accomplishments is the breadth and scope of his work. He was able to draw from a wide musical palette and still put his own distinctive stamp on everything he did. Thanks for all the great music.

  3. I remember I did see Ducan Browne for the first time on the dutch
    tv programma Top Pop, a popular top 40, broadcast every monday
    evening! When Ducan performed his beautiful song Wild Places
    his girlfriend was dancing around him in a special way.

    It was a hugh hit in Holland in 1979 and again in 1991!
    Till today it’s still one of mine most favourite singles of all time!
    The Dutch radio played Wild Places sinds 1979, for 33 years now.
    It’s only a year ago that I did discover that Criminal World, one of my favourite tracks of the Let’s Dance album was written by him.
    Ducan passed away but his music lives forever…………

    Peter Pakvis

  4. Duncan and Metro are both featured in my new book ‘101 Songs To Discover From The Seventies’, a compendium of ‘must have’ tracks from the era. Duncan is also one of the artists featured on the cover.

  5. I could be agued that Mark Knopfler was heavily influenced by Duncan’s style. Duncan was exceptionally good, and certainly in the Steve Hackett league on guitar.
    He was also an excellent keyboard player as he shows on the Metro album. If you don’t have this unique album;buy it; It is a classic.

    1. Journey was the first song that was mine if you know what i mean? I was 12 the year it was released and just finding my musical feet as far as taste went. It still evokes good memories of that years hols and happy times.

  6. Back in 1962, and in my last year at school, I was approached in the corridor one day by two younger lads, neither of whom did I know at the time. One, John, was a trumpet player, the other was Duncan Browne, who played the clarinet. Dunc’s first ever words to me were “You play the banjo a bit don’t you?”
    They wanted to form a school jazz band, and were on a recruiting drive.
    I was the least skilful musician in that little band (banjo not being on the school’s music curriculum at the time!) but I will always remember Dunc’s kindness in helping me to keep my awful old plectrum banjo in tune, in writing out chords for me in a book I still have, and in instilling in me a love of jazz.
    We lost touch after I left school and, until quite recently, I never knew anything at all of Dunc’s subsequent musical career. This, I must say, has come as a great surprise to me.
    I have a few more memories of playing in the school band with Dunc, of going with him, and our instruments, on a cadet camp in Germany, and of listening to him , aged 15, playing that blistering Alphonse Picou “High Society” solo on his clarinet.
    I can post them here should anyone be interested.

  7. Living in Brussels in the 70s – Duncan’s Wild Places was played constantly in our flat – what great memories.
    Only the good die young.
    Philippa x

  8. Duncan Browne is at the pinnacle of the style of music he created, & criminally underappreciated compared to more well known but lesser artists. Not just beautiful, moving music but incredibly poignant & infused with great spirituality.
    A rare & precious talent gone too soon, who’s music will live forever & grow in the hearts of those lucky enough to hear it.

  9. I was thinking of Duncan and his music this very evening 13/05/2011. As a young lad I remember being transfixed by his classical guitar solo on “Journey”…. on Top of the Pops if I remember correctly. That one song inspired me to take up the guitar and signed me up as a Duncan Browne fan. A very talented man… thank you for the music you left us with.

  10. …and even now I miss the sound and music from Duncan. Have all the items, even live-recordings but how I wish I could see the man playing his guitars and listen to his productions. Nobody comes near, such a loss.

    Enjoy the music

  11. The Metro LP is stil one of the best ever mate for me. And also his solo albums are a joy to listen at.
    We will never forget you Duncan.
    You still lives in your music

  12. When I was student in Utrecht at the beginning of the eighties a roommate lend me the album The Wilde Places. Every time whem I’m playing this record I relive the joy, the dreams and the melancholy of those days. After so many years I still am Duncan Browne very gratefull for this magical album.

  13. Just loved The Wild Places in 1978 and I still love it now. I miss Duncan Browne, especially his song ‘The Crash’, but then again ‘It doesn’t last forever, no it doesn’t last forever, no it doesn’t last forever’, but ….your beautiful music most certainly will, Duncan!

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