A Shot Of Rhythm And Booze (Pub Rock)

The newly released, on Cherry Red records, “Surrender to the Rhythm: The London Pub Rock Scene in the Seventies”, 3 CDs, 71 tracks by 71 acts, 4 hours of music, is as exhausting as it is exhaustive. All the names are present, the pioneers, Eggs Over Easy, Ducks Deluxe, Brinsley Schwarz, the bigger turns, Elvis Costello, Dr Feelgood, Graham Parker, the unlikely to be revived but very listenable Starry Eyed & Laughing, G.T. Moore & the Reggae Guitars, Roogalator. A number of those included, Mott the Hoople, Thin Lizzy, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, were already playing bigger licenced premises & fans of those bands (I know more than a few) may quibble about their presence. No matter, the collection is a reflection of early 1970s British Rock & selecting 3, maybe 5, probably 4 tracks that evoke some good, if a little woozy memories is no problem at all.

The Hope & Anchor Islington London

Pub Rock was more than giving Hippies an alternative to to spending a midweek evening sitting cross-legged, naked with their balls in a saucerful of hand-knitted yogurt (don’t ask!). Glam was all well & good but lurex could be unflattering & glitter found its way into the most inappropriate places. It wasn’t just stadium rockers inflicting their latest triple album length space operas (on ice!) on audiences. Prog took itself way too seriously & man, I saw some lumpen, mediocre bands in the early 1970s (ever heard Gnidrolog?). Providing cheap, even free, entertainment for a lubricated local gathering meant that bands could be less structured, cover their favourite songs, have fun & I ain’t ever had too much of that. A new generation, experiencing live music for the first time, found an exciting alternative to their big brother’s copy of “Dark Side of the Moon” & there’s no doubt that Pub Rock’s informality influenced these young dudes when, a couple of years later, they formed their own Punk bands.

My mate Frank was a bit of a face around Harlesden in North West London, well he thought he was. He introduced this small town, wide eyed teenager to a vibrant multi-cultural city where I was happy to live for 20 years, to amphetamines & to his lovely Irish mother who would never allow me to leave the house without a delicious fried breakfast & enough pocket change for my fare on the Tube. Frank studied 60 miles away from London, returned there every weekend & I often shared his adventures. I missed the night he saw a band about which he panegyrized for the following week. It seemed unlikely, a combo we had never heard of, playing in a pub! Still. I kept a future ear open for Kilburn & the High Roads &, what do you know, Frank was right, they really did have something going for them & no-one else around quite had that same something.

Kilburn & the High Roads - Patience (So What?) - YouTube

A varied assortment of musos & misfits passed through the Kilburns between 1970-75. A rugged blend of Rock, Jazz, Reggae & Music Hall revolving around the unique Cockney geezer stage persona of lyricist/vocalist Ian Dury proved to be very popular. A debut album was shelved in 1974 before, in the following year, “Handsome” was released. “Billy Bentley (Promenades Around London)”, the B-side of 45 “Rough Kids”, has all the elements, perhaps too many, that the band aspired to. The album smoothed their gritty edges & Kilburn & the High Roads folded. Ian kept saxophonist Davey Payne, hooked up with keyboards/composer Chaz Jankel & a new Blockhead crew. With a tighter, tougher, more defined sound there were great shows, outstanding albums, hit singles & Ian Dury, the Pop star, became an inspiring & deserved national treasure. Oi Oi!

UNITED KINGDOM – JANUARY 01: Photo of CHILLI WILLI & Red Hot Peppers; Posed group portrait (Photo by Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns)

There were just not enough music pubs in London to keep a band earning so the bands packed their gear into a van & hit small clubs in the provinces. I’m guessing that we first saw Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers. at JB’s in Dudley West Midlands, a no-frills, welcoming place that around that time also booked Dr Feelgood & Brinsley Schwarz. We were instantly attracted to their Country, Rock & Boogie presented with a stoned bonhomie & caught them whenever we could. They introduced us to old boogie songs by Louis Jordan (Choo Choo Ch Boogie) & Red Foley, covered songs we knew by Gram Parsons & Jesse Winchester mixed with original material like “We Get Along” from American frontman Phil “Snakefinger” Lithman. By the end of 1974 their album “Bongos Over Balham” had turned up in our pile of wedding presents & a great deal of pleasure it gave us.

Naughty Rhythms tour at the Rainbow – reviews and ads – Kokomo
Naughty Rhythms tour, 1975 - ordered by Jake Riviera, art by Barney  Bubbles. | Bubbles, Kokomo, Tours

In 1975 Pub Rock hit the UK’s town halls with the “Naughty Rhythms” package tour featuring Chilli Willi, Kokomo & Dr Feelgood, a progenitor of the fabled Stiff tour two years later. It was a great night, two of our favourite bands & we won tickets for the gig from the local paper. The shows proved that Dr Feelgood had the tunes, the charisma & the audience to move on up while Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers broke up soon after. Phil returned to the US to work with the Residents & on his solo work. It was a pleasant surprise to see drummer Pete Thomas as one of Elvis Costello’s Attractions & Martin Stone consolidated his reputation as one of the most accomplished British guitarists that you’ve never heard of. It’s not just me that remembers the band with respect & affection.

FABULOUS 208 UK magazine 26-Jul-69 Steve Ellis-Love Affair Marmalade,Stan  Webb | eBay

Steve Ellis had been a bigger deal than most everyone else on the small pub stages. As singer in Love Affair with three UK Top 10 hits in 1968, including the #1 “Everlasting Love”, 18 year old Steve’s instant teen idol status gave him a stronger claim to the “Face of 1968” title bestowed upon Peter Frampton. The young group made tabloid headlines with the revelation that they did not actually play on their records. Well I never! How could this happen? It was though Steve’s strong, distinctive voice we heard on well-produced songs that are still remembered in the UK. A more ambitious release “Baby I Know” missed out, a blow for a group whose success was measured by their chart position & Steve left at the end of 1969.

“Have You Seen My Baby (Hold On)” is the opening, most rocking track on Randy Newman’s marvellous “12 Songs” album (1970). It was taken to New Orleans by Fats Domino, given a wild Big Beat treatment by the Flamin’ Groovies & turned up on Ringo Starr’s 1973 album. Steve Ellis recorded the song as his fourth, final 45 for CBS. The involvement of producer Chas Chandler brought along his former Animals bandmate, drummer John Steel & Americans Eggs Over Easy, credited with starting this whole business of bands playing in pubs. Zoot Money, a veteran of London’s R&B scene was there, Liverpudlian Howie Casey brought his horn section & teenage guitar whizz-kid Jimmy McCulloch, later with Wings, completed the line up. I don’t know if Steve Ellis ever played down your local but it’s a fine example of the rocking energy of British Rock at the time. It makes the Cherry Red collection, I haven’t heard it for years & now it’s your turn.

The Nashville Room London, Tickets for Concerts & Music Events 2020 –  Songkick

I’ve been in a lot of the pubs that were prominent in the scene but then I’ve been in a lot of pubs. On a London visit I dragged my friends to the Newlands Tavern in Peckham because Chilli Willi were playing there. It was later, well past its heyday, that we drank in the Hope & Anchor, Islington just because it was the Hope & Anchor. It was in 1980 that we attended the last night of The Nashville Rooms, Kensington, where the Sex Pistols had memorably played & fought in 1976, for Wilko Johnson’s Solid Senders. I’ve been asked to write about that night but it was a real wild one, one of many at that time & names would have to be changed to protect the guilty. I did meet Lemmy off of Motorhead there & that’s all I’m saying.

It’s the less well known nights I remember most fondly. The Thursday night residency in 1980/81 by the Realists/Electric Bluebirds at the Royal Albert, New Cross. The Two Brewers in Clapham had bands every night, not all great but Pete knew everybody there & Micky, most of them. The Skank Orchestra, a lively mix of Kid Creole & UB40, made Saturday night at the George Canning, Brixton, unmissable in heady post-riot times (“Scarman Inquiry, make the people feel Irie!”). A good crowd, a few beers or more & some fine, fine music all make for a proper, enjoyable night out. There’s time for just one more before last orders so here are the Brinsleys with the compilation’s title track, out of the pub & on the BBC no less. Cheers!

Who Are The Trusted?, And Where Is The Harmony?,(Brinsley Schwarz)

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.

Where It’s Going No One Knows (New Wave)

In 1976 Nick Lowe produced the first homegrown punk single released in the UK. Getting the jump on the Pistols & the Clash the Damned released “New Rose” in October 1976. Nick was the in-house producer for a new independent label. His “bash it out…we’ll tart it up later” approach matched the “if it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a f*ck” shibboleth of Stiff Records. It was the first release by the label, Nick Lowe’s debut solo record, which had invented “New Wave” music.

I had seen the final tour by Brinsley Schwarz in 1975. Still playing small clubs at the end of a long road, Nick had had enough, the band were as good as they had always been but “Basher ” was openly dismissive of any over-enthusiasm on the part of the audience. Before co-founding Stiff Dave Robinson had managed the Brinsleys who’s final LP “New Favourites of…” had been produced by Dave Edmunds. Lowe & Edmunds  hooked up in Rockpile, so Nick was operating with a circle of friends. “So It Goes” is a crafty classic. Nick had written them before & would continue to do so up to right now. The band went along on the Live Stiffs tour in 1977. the single, “I Knew The Bride” , backing Larry Wallis on “Police Car”  & off to the bar, leaving the hard graft to Costello & Dury. He was having fun again & the music was the better for it.

“So It Goes” was how musicians who were too old to be punks reacted to an injection of energy in British music, (the part played by cheap amphetamine sulphate should not be overlooked). There were other writers of well-crafted songs who knew that catching the zeitgeist of 1976-7 required a bit of oomph. Nick Lowe was a busy man in 1976. (Well, 6 months before I used the Z-word. Pretentious, moi ?).

Two of Nick’s former band-mates had joined the backing band of a singer from London managed by Dave Robinson. (This is getting a little incestuous). Graham Parker & the Rumour’s first LP, “Howling Wind”, produced by Nick Lowe, was released in April 1976 & it was pretty good. The Dylanesque sneer of Parker’s cynical lyrics were boosted by some tough & assured backing with a touch of R&B from the Rumour Horns.  The Village Voice placed it at #4 in their 1976 best album list. It was not even the highest Graham Parker on the list.

At #2 was “Heat Treatment”, a 2nd LP from 1976. Lowe was too busy & Mutt Lange produced. It is a good record & “Pouring It All Out” must have been a single because it’s a terrific song. Was it a better LP than “Howling Wind” ? Answers at the bottom of this post please because I don’t know the answer to that. I got to see GP & the Rumour in 1977, the “Pink Parker” tour. The band tried a shot at the charts by covering the Trammps “Hold Back The Night”. It may have been that the band had been playing the same set for a year or it may have been that Southside Johnny & the Asbury Dukes absolutely rocked the house & stole the show. This was not just at the Birmingham Odeon but across the country. Parker hit a bump for a while, that early catalogue of songs could only take him so far. He & the Rumour would be back.

Joe Jackson was a classically trained musician who had worked as an arranger for cabaret bands. He saw the way the wind was blowing & his first 2 LPs, both from 1979, were stripped back & punchy. With the backing of a big label & a fine line in self-deprecation both “Look Sharp” & the single “Is She Really Going Out With Him ?” were successful in the USA. I saw Joe play in Manchester in 1979 when the first LP had just come around (Man, I got out & about in those days). He had a great trio behind him & put on a great show. There was a touch of artifice about the arrangements. That touch of reggae, those dynamics, but I mostly remember a really good night out.

“I’m The Man” is the title track of the 2nd LP. You can see that it’s a showpiece song. I was impressed by the lyrics in 1979, a lovely idea that  those crappy crazes, from the yo-yo to “Jaws” are all invented & manipulated by the same evil spiv. I’ll buy that.

Joe used to live round my way in south London, we would nod to each other in the local shop. He played around with reggae before whipping out his jiving jazz roots. Like Nick Lowe & Graham Parker there was more fine music to come. I think that I have not finished with these guys yet.