Kippington Lodge, a British pop-psych group, hit the buffers in 1969. Even that trusty stand-by of the swinging decade, the Beatles cover, failed to raise them from the agglomeration of capable, talented bands who only sold records to their friends & family. They re- branded, a new name, new management & a different style of music. Brinsley Schwarz, the name of the band & of the guitarist, hooked up with a former tour manager of Jimi Hendrix, the Irish chancer Dave Robinson. Robinson’s latest hustle was Famepushers & he planned an elaborate, expensive stunt to ensure that Brinsley Schwarz hit the ground running. Flying the British press to New York to see the band play the 3rd wheel at a Van Morrison, Quicksilver Messenger Service gig at the Fillmore East was a jolly jape but a logistical & publicity disaster. A delay to the flight meant that Fleet Street’s finest had spent 4 hours at the free bar while the underground journos smoked up 3 ounces of the good stuff on the plane. The assembly was not in the mood to give the support band a fair hearing, the gig & the debut LP were caned & the word “Hype” entered common usage.
In 1970 that imagined fissure between the straights & the freaks was at its widest. Brinsley Schwarz were seen to be trying to hard & that was just not cool. The band’s name had got around but only as hubristic Humpties who had a bunch of getting themselves back together to be done.
The group did their very best to restore their reputation. The debut LP is a little confused. The single contemporary clip shows a hirsute crew with aspirations to sound like the Grateful Dead while sniffing the British prog-rock breeze. A 2nd LP in the same year is stripped down, looser , more assured & better for it. The band’s reaction to their disastrous launch was to keep it simple but anti-commercialism took time to convince after such a blatant caper. “Despite It All” marks the progress of the group’s songwriter/bassist Nick Lowe as a significant talent. “Funk Angel” is a good example of of a fine tune combined with a lyric of subtle humour, a style that Nick has been finessing for over 40 years now.
The Brinsleys had a record deal & took support gigs to promote the LPs. They became part of a scene in London playing the grubby back rooms of pubs. A small stage, indifferent sound & little money but pleasant company, cheap beer & better vibes than the bigger city venues. “Pub Rock” had a touch of Americana with plenty of lively, energetic rock & roll. There was an agreeable absence of any capes, synthesizers & space operas. Brinsley Schwarz were already heading down the roots rock road. The stoner country rock accelerated a little, Nick got a little more ironic & the covers showed an erudite taste across rock’s rich tapestry.
“Ju Ju Man” is co-written by Lolly Vegas (off of Redbone, “Witch Queen Of New Orleans”…anyone ?) & Jim Ford, a maverick talent who released only one LP while he was alive but wrote some great music. (“Harry Hippie” with Bobby Womack…that’s enough). Brinsley Schwarz backed Ford when he came to the UK for another ill-fated attempt to record some music. The American’s country-rock-soul mix & his cocaine cowboy charisma had a big effect on Nick Lowe who often checks for him as a major influence on his own writing.
Brinsley Schwarz made 6 LPs but they could not catch a break. They were great live, Ian Gomm, a guitarist/singer/writer, joined & they had a pretty good catalogue of original songs. A quality compilation, “Original Golden Greats”, selling for just 99 pence, was released in 1974. Fans bought this instead of the full price “The New Favourites Of…” a record which had more money spent on it & was produced by Dave Edmunds. It seemed that every time the group tried a little too hard to sell some records that there was still a price to be paid for the shenanigans 5 years earlier.
“New Favourites” was the last record the group made before they gave the name back to the guitarist. I saw them on the final tour & they had obviously had enough of playing the same circuit of clubs to a staunch but small audiences. Nick Lowe’s showed near-contempt for the enthusiasm of punters who had not bought enough of the band’s records. They still played a great set. Ian Gomm began a solo career & had a US Top 40 hit with “Hold On”. Brinsley & keyboard player Bob Andrew joined Graham Parker & the Rumour. so we saw quite a lot of them. Lowe hooked up with, of all people, Dave Robinson who’s time had come when he & Jake Riviera borrowed £400 from Lee Brilleaux (Dr Feelgood) to start Stiff Records. The label’s first single was Nick’s debut too. Stiff released 45s by the pub-rockers but the independent label was perfectly placed to attract & sign those snotty new bands looking to take a new broom to the UK music scene. “New Rose” by the Damned was the first British punk single, out on Stiff & produced by Nick Lowe. his apprenticeship was over.
In the first half of the 1970’s there were a lot of UK music fans who could not be doing with the excesses of Progressive Rock, thought it was a load of Tubular Balls (YSWIDT). We liked music that sounded like the Band &, OK, we fell for some insipid nonsense but at least we liked the Band. Brinsley Schwarz played a British version of this music with a commitment & an originality which had a verisimilitude. They developed from being West Coast derivatives to having a fresh take on straightforward rock which prepared the way for some new young blood who were ready to rock too. Track 1, side 1 of “The New Favourites of…” is a tune which has become a classic, covered on record by Elvis Costello, in concert by Springsteen.” (What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love & Understanding”. It’s a song you know you are going to like just from hearing the title.