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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The sad story of Darren Burn

I'd never heard of Darren Burn until Pete Paphides dropped in to the Word podcast to talk about his collection of old music papers. Thanks to Gavin Hogg I got hold of a DVD of the Man Alive documentary that was made about Darren in 1973. At the time he was an 11-year-old schoolboy living just up the road from where I live now and attending City of London.

His father was Colin Burn, a promotion man working for EMI. When EMI decided they needed to be competing in the Donny Osmond market Darren's mother Joanna put him forward. He could sing, he looked cute and he was a bright lad. His first single was a cover of Gene Pitney's "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart". He was given the big label treatment, much of which was captured in John Pitman's film "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" for Man Alive.

The record wasn't a hit and Darren had to go back to school where his classmates called him "top of the flops". The Man Alive film, which is very disapproving of everyone at the record company for exploiting the child, really can't have helped. In the eighties the BBC caught up with him for a "Where Are They Now?" slot. He was unemployed and living on his own in south London. All the youthful twinkle had been replaced by a cold bitterness. He blamed his mother for using him to further her own show business ambitions. A couple of years later he was dead following an overdose of anti-depressants.

7 comments:

  1. Being a child protegee can go one of two ways. Or, in the case of Partridge Family star, Danny Bonnaduce, it can go both.

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  3. Strange how trivial little details lodge in the mind from one's formative years. Can't think why i was even watching Man Alive at such a tender age but I still vividly remember one thing from that documentary from 38 years ago. (Assuming my memory is right) Burn did his big showcase gig singing Concrete and Clay at the Edmonton Sundown. I can still picture the logo of the setting sun from the scene of him at the venue. I remember thinking I'd rather like to go to a live concert. A few years later when I was old enough I did and 38 years on i still enjoy them.

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  4. Something has happened to memory. Back in those days if you saw something on TV once it remained in your head - like Abigail's Party. He certainly does a showcase at the Edmonton Sundown in this film, in front of a crowd of terrifying local girls, but he doesn't sing "Concrete And Clay". However we do see him practising that one prior to a recording session.

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  6. Very right about memory. The are about a dozen pre-video/pre sky plus TV images from childhood absolutely seared into my memory. Though I have to admit Darren Burn is one of the few that doesn't involved breasts in an earnest BBC drama or late night subtitled film. I'll draw you up a list if I have a moment.

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  7. I live in England and have been a fan of Darren from the beginning and know quite a few other fans around the world, as far away as California and Ohio. A year ago, I uploaded a multi-page tribute to him on Facebook, full of photos and information. I also have a private DVD-R of the Man Alive and People programmes from 1973 and 1988 respectively. What happened to Darren was a terrible tragedy, the causes of which I have been trying to establish for years. Other fans who have seen the Man Alive and People programmes have contacted me with their observations about Darren in them. One said that while the other interviews on the Man Alive film show The James Boys and their mother and Ricky Wilde and his parents snuggled up together like close families, Darren and his mother and father are, for some reason, interviewed apart and in separate rooms. In fact, Darren’s parents come across as a rather cold pair. This may not have been how they were, but this is how they come across on the film. Another noted that Darren, for all his material possessions and wealthy parents, came across as a lonely and unhappy boy who, even at the tender age of 11, had learned to put on a happy face for the cameras, but when he thought the cameras weren’t on him, how he was really feeling came through. Yet another asked the question “Where were his family when he was rapidly sliding downhill in the 1980s? Why was a person in his mental state allowed to die all alone?” As for his first personal appearance live on stage at the Sundown, Edmonton, in July, 1973, he looked backstage like he wished he was somewhere else and hadn’t got to do this, but, brave trouper that he was, he went on stage anyway in front of an audience of 700 screaming weenyboppers. That must have taken some guts and I’ll always admire him for it. With the benefit of hindsight, it looks to me as though he was being pushed into all of this by his parents and that he didn’t really want to do it. A kind of “Darren did what he was told” scenario. I have over forty promotional photos of Darren from the time and only on one of them is he smiling. On the rest, he looks totally miserable. Surely that should tell us something. A few weeks ago, I uploaded all eight sides of Darren’s four singles from 1973 / 1974 onto YouTube and so far, they’ve had a lot of hits. Darren should have stayed in the choir at Christ Church, Southgate. Maybe if he had, he’d still be here today. It would have been his 50th birthday on August 28th, 2011. David Rayner, Stoke-on-Trent.

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