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!

A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it You’re welcome, we can spare it – yellow socks (Ian Dury)

I first heard about Ian Dury from Frank, the first actual Cockney, born within the sound of Capital Radio, I knew. Frank’s metropolitan motormouth stories of big city life, inventing unlikely rhyming slang as he spoke, entertained & intrigued a young student straight out of the English provinces who had visited that London all of 2 times (that would be me). He introduced me to his wonderful, welcoming family & to the grubby charms of Harlesden High St (blimey !). When he dropped his “more front than Southend” persona he was an articulate, cultured guy but don’t tell him I said that. Frank’s passions were Fulham Football Club & cinema. He had put me on to the films of Luis Bunuel, the greatest achievements in the history of moving pictures. One weekend in 1973 he was raving about a new band he had seen in a West London pub, an anarchic rag-tag bunch led by an interesting character, a stimulating change from the groups with their po-faced prog, sixth form poetry & all that hair so typical of the time. Kilburn & the High Roads would have to be checked for.

Pub Rock was never a unified musical movement ,  more an opportunity taken by groups around London to find places to play informal gigs which found an audience wanting the same. The Kilburns were there at the beginning of the scene, this clip is filmed at the Hope & Anchor, the Victorian battle cruiser (boozer) on Upper St. Islington which became the place to play. The band is crammed on to a small stage, there’s a small dancefloor &  drink has been taken by all in attendance. It looks like a good time & it was. By the time Kilburn & the High Roads came to record an LP the line-up had changed & “Handsome” (1975) didn’t quite cut it. The ingredients are all there, Ian’s witty & stylish stories of London low life, the rock & roll, jazz, reggae influences but there’s a lack of seasoning which meant the record was not as tasty as the live act.

Ian had no recording contract while “New Boots & Panties !!”  was assembled. Blackhill, his management, anted-up & found just the label to release it in an office below their own. Stiff Records had been started by Dave Robinson, a man with a colourful CV, a former manager at the Hope & Anchor. They started with their pub rock mates  but there were younger bands coming around, hyped up on Dr Feelgood, Eddie & the Hot Rods & cheap amphetamine,  eager to make a 3 minute (or less) rock & roll racket not a triple album space opera.  Something was happening & the Stiff  crew knew what it was. Ian Dury, with his new collaborator Chaz Jankel, caught this energetic, irreverent new wave (a-hem !). With a rush & a push, more confidence & aggression, “New Boots…” is a great British pop record.

“New Boots…” was released in September 1977 & the following month the “Live Stiffs” package tour hit the UK concert halls & what a great night out that was. Nick Lowe & Rockpile were short & sharp, no messing about, they had drinks waiting at the bar. Elvis Costello & the Attractions were terrific but seemed to be taking it a little too seriously. Ian Dury, on drums with Wreckless Eric, fronting his new band, the Blockheads, on a hectic charge at the LP then, as a grand finale, leading everyone still standing through “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”, an anthem to living well, was at the heart of a very spirited evening. His stage presence, a thrift shop Dickensian dandy, movement limited by his childhood polio, a cheeky chappie nudge & a wink allied to some blinding words & music, made for a memorable, unique show.

I don’t know if Ian invented the phrase “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”, it became accepted into general use, still is, as shorthand for a good time. (I had the 3 lapel badge set, worked well individually too, there were nights when the first 2 were enough). On “New Boots…”  from the opening  lascivious & affectionate “Wake Up Make Love With Me” through to the stonking closer “Blackmail Man” his East End patter, his Thames Estuary flow,  never falters. Outsiders like the junkie from Plaistow (Patricia) & the jack-the-lad up in Billericay (Dickie) are insightfully & compassionately introduced. “My Old Man”, a song for his father is nice not sentimental. A tribute to his hero Gene Vincent is black & white & beautiful. Ian’s love of language, the rhyme & the reason on “New Boots…” provides a perfect series of snapshots of life & how we tried to live it in mid-1970s Britain. My favourite…”shoes like dead pigs’ noses” from “Blockheads”, oh yes…the decade that fashion forgot.

In the following year, while the LP sold steadily, Ian Dury & the Blockheads became pop stars. The singles “What A Waste”, “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” ( #1, Top of the Pops) &  “Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3” were all Top 10 UK hits. The songs were good, “Rhythm Stick” an unlikely & welcome new folk song. 18 months after release “New Boots…” reached its highest chart position. The band was everywhere & life was hectic for them. In May 1979 the follow up LP “Do It Yourself” came around with some original Stiff hype, over 30 different wallpapered sleeves. The songs seemed less fully developed, the music more democratic, less varied. Too much funk, not enough punk. The 6-piece band were still a great live experience, bassist Norman Watt-Roy is a virtuoso, former Kilburn Davey Payne going off like a frog in a sock on sax, Ian, with his big rock & roll heart, a ringmaster ensuring that everyone had just the best time.

There were other records with other musicians, Ian acted, wrote a musical, “Apples”, which I would like to hear. He was asked to write the libretto for “Cats”, a right earner. ” I said no straight off. I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber. He’s a wanker, isn’t he?”. Dury and the Blockheads reunited now and again. In 1996 he was diagnosed with cancer & he had to get back on the road, the last gig was in London just 6 weeks before he passed in March 2000. It was great having Ian Dury around. He was a brilliant lyricist & when he talked he was eloquent, honest & right. His song “Spasticus Autisticus”, a condemnation of 1981’s International Year of the Disabled, was banned by the BBC. His own disability gave him more right than most to voice his opinion but it was, y’know, for charity ! Ian Dury was a right tasty geezer, a clever bastard with a love of poetry & rock & roll, his understanding of life’s imperfections & its potential created an LP that will entertain you, cheer you up, get you out of the house with a spring in your step. “New Boots & Panties !!”, Jah bless it & Ian Dury. Oi Oi !