|Roxette||Down By The Jetty|
|Keep It Out Of Sight||Down By The Jetty|
|All Through The City||Down By The Jetty|
|Riot In Cell Block No. 9 (live)||Stupidity (bonus single)|
|Baby Jane||Be Seeing You|
|That's It I Quit||Be Seeing You|
|Take A Tip||Private Practice|
|Every Kind Of Vice||As It Happens|
|Mad Man Blues||Mad Man Blues|
|Quit While You're Behind||Live In London|
Dr. Feelgood (l to r): Wilko Johnson (guitar), The Big Figure (drums), Lee Brilleaux (vocals, harmonica), Sparko (bass)
Contributor: Keith Shackleton
Dr. Feelgood came from somewhere the rest of the planet hadn’t heard of: the peculiar nether-world of Canvey Island, lit by the Coryton refinery oil fires on the Thames estuary. They weren’t punk, but their attitude was: they were inspirational and that inspiration spread further than they could have dreamed. More vital than Jagger and Richards in the 70s – sure, I liked the Stones, but my dad liked the Stones too, the Feelgoods were mine – the Brilleaux/Johnson interplay was utterly compelling. No boredom in the audience with those two on stage and firing. Lee and Wilko just weren’t like anyone else in rock music.
Punchy, lean and stripped down to the max, the debut Down By The Jetty is top notch. Recorded in mono, a typically unflinching production by Vic Maile, it’s full of Wilko originals, kicks off with a belter in She Does It Right and closes with a rowdy live medley of Bony Moronie/Tequila … what you heard is what you got at a Feelgoods gig.
Roxette is my first winner, with its scuttling double time ending, and Lee’s blasts of harmonica and slide interjections gilding the lily. A sense of the band’s forward momentum – they know there’s a buzz building, alright – comes from the closing verse of Keep It Out Of Sight …
You got enough, you got a new thing on your mind
Don’t have nobody, you gotta leave the scene behind
You put your foot down on the boards
You don’t know where you’re going
But your headlights are burning up the night…
Both songs of course getting valuable exposure in that famous OGWT appearance. Add a classic bit of Canvey from Wilko in All Through The City …
Stand and watch the towers burning at the break of day
Steadily slowing down, been on my feet since yesterday
Gotta get a move on, tryin’ to find a man I know
Money in my pocket, looking for a place to go…
And that’s just three from this record … it stresses me greatly to have to leave out both the opener and the skank-tastic Twenty Yards Behind. Down By The Jetty in time became as big a slap to the face of corporate rock as The Clash was two years later.
Malpractice followed in pretty short order, but doesn’t feature here because it lacks the debut’s shock value. Of course it’s another very solid selection of Wilko originals and covers, but perhaps has one or two too many of the latter. Because You’re Mine just missed out, and I mean ‘just’ … it was in the selection until … well, until I wrote a few paragraphs and decided I’d rather have Keep It Out Of Sight, and had to go back and revise. I’m being nitpicky about this great album, but I need room for my final selections. Beef and grouse about me in the comments!
But then, the toppermost came along … a British #1 album in Stupidity. It’s certainly on my list of contenders for the Greatest Live Album Of All Time. I’m pretty sure I bought it while on holiday, and not knowing exactly where the best record shops were, I’d ventured into a department store in search of something to spend my holiday cash on. I lucked out, because there sitting in the racks was the limited edition Stupidity (20,000 copies, fact fans), with the “Free Collectors Single” in it. And from that single …
Riot In Cell Block No.9, with its sleazy extended intro, the Big Figure “pea-soup-ing” away for all he’s worth (at least that’s what our old drummer called that kind of hi-hat work, there may well be a technical term for it), Lee living and breathing the hardened criminal schtick, Wilko with his machine gun Telecaster. Still the only song I know all the lyrics to, all the way through, in whatever condition I happen to be. The attendant concert film showed the world exactly what made their stage act so thrilling, the creative tension between Lee and Wilko, the firm foundation of Sparko and Figure, the guitarists scything back and forth across the stage, curly leads swinging, stack-heeled Lee jacking off the microphone, neck veins bulging.
But the tension developed into friction, and then to acrimony, and it was their undoing. Neither could fully explain the reasons for their rift or their reticence in the years following the split (though they tried to). Yet in the weeks following the Feelgoods’ original breakup, Brilleaux would look round on stage bereft: “Christ, where’s Wilko?”
And though my memory is notoriously faulty at times, I well remember feeling that way too, when it all went bandy: what’s going to happen now? And I remember exactly when I knew the Feelgoods were back on track: when I sat down to Top of the Pops and saw this. Obviously not an album track mime, blisteringly quick, with a stripy-jumpered spiky-haired John Phillip Cawthra (a.k.a. Gypie Mayo, God rest his soul), fingers working fractionally slower than the ideas tumbling round in his head, but still twice as fast as other mere mortals. Lee’s still wearing the famous ‘white’ suit, The Figure and Sparko are cranking it out. Dance to that, pop pickers. One minute and forty seconds of ‘everything is going to be fine’. I went out and bought Be Seeing You as soon as I could, and looking at it now, there’s a scuff on the sleeve from the very first time I put it in my bag to take it to my mate’s house for a listening session. I hated that I’d scuffed it, but I loved the album and still do, and though the music from the Wilko era was iconic, Be Seeing You, with its canny nod to cult 60s series The Prisoner, is the absolute business. And they’re a gang; a cover image like this couldn’t have included Wilko, with all four Feelgoods down the pub together.
I’ll have to restrict myself to a couple of songs though. Baby Jane, from the ultimate Feelgoods artefact, the 12″ single: all covers, Baby Jane a barnyard soul stomper by Otis Clay, plus sterling versions of Johnny Guitar Watson’s Looking Back (“…to see if she was looking back to see if I was looking back at her”) and a sprint through B.B. King’s You Upset Me Baby from a 1977 Peel Session with typical Mayo solo teetering on the edge of breakdown. Thrilling stuff. I’ll also have the sprightly Nick Lowe penned That’s It I Quit – a ‘you done me wrong and now I’m done with you’ tale that blasts along for a whiff over two minutes, but not a second is wasted … this is lean, taut British R&B.
They’re riding the momentum gained from Stupidity’s #1 status, and surfing more than a little of the new wave.. Lee got a new palm tree splattered jacket (I imagine the white one went in the bin, or maybe had a ritual cremation), and up next came the slick Private Practice, chock full of singles and produced by Richard Gottehrer of The Strangeloves, who worked on records by Richard Hell, Blondie and many more. There’s that NY connection: Clem Burke’s copy of Malpractice circulated at many a party (compare and contrast the sleeve of that with Parallel Lines while we’re here), and our heroes had graced the stage of the Bottom Line twice (also on the bill – The Ramones!), wowing the New York new wavers.
I’m going to pass up the chance of listening to twelve bars of invisible piano again, and I’m not mixing any fatty white liquid secreted by cows, goats, or any other animals with my booze, even if the price is right. I’m going for the B-side of Down At The Doctors. Take A Tip, with its falling downstairs guitar intro and some of the tightest rhythm section work Sparko and Figure ever laid down, is an absolute gem. You can hear Gypie’s solo coming several bars before it kicks in and he doesn’t disappoint.
And here’s where we take a little breather, and here’s where perhaps the recollections get more than a little personal. I knew when taking on this one there would be points of view such as the Feelgoods aren’t the Feelgoods without Wilko… after Gypie left… without Lee…
I can’t fit this article neatly into any of those pigeonholes, save perhaps to say with very heavy emphasis and without being rude to anyone currently still walking the boards, that Lee Brilleaux was unique. But round about the time we’ve reached here, around Private Practice, I was blowing a bit of harmonica in bands, reasoning quite correctly, I think, that if Lee could do it, so could I. Whilst I wasn’t buying Feelgoods records much anymore, having been slightly disappointed with the ones I did get, one or two corking tunes would grab the attention of my bandmates and I, and we’d want to play them to the hardy souls who came along to listen to us, and the other people in the room who had no choice. We were fans. We went to Canvey and recreated album sleeves. We even went to France and butted in on Bastille Day celebrations, just like the Feelgoods. Feelgood songs felt right to us, so we played them. And that’s where I’m going with my final three selections.
Every Kind Of Vice just demanded to be played the As It Happens way, a touch faster than the studio version, with lots of space for heads down, no nonsense, not totally mindless boogie, don’t overplay it, stretch out Gypie’s solos, stay awake for the stabs and the verse endings.
Tease out the intro to Mad Man Blues for as long as the audience can stand it, then kablooie, everybody piles in with the kitchen sink and if you’ve got ‘em and they’re dancing, keep ‘em there as long as you can with that supercharged John Lee Hooker groove. Works great if you’re short of stuff on the set list too! Of course Lee had found youngster Gordon Russell to power the Feelgoods along by this time.. I’m sure Gordon didn’t mind us nicking his riffs, because having spent a good few hours in his company around the pubs and venues of Brighton and Hove (not a few of which were in the crowd for his excellent Two Timers duo with Sarah James), I can confirm he is a bloody nice bloke. Hello, Mr. Russell!
We also covered that great Will Birch song with the terrific title Quit While You’re Behind, another one we could stretch out ad infinitum (hmm, I’m sensing a common thread here), and speed up a tad. More good work on guitar from Gordon, though we did it the Live In London way, influenced not a little by the rockier sounding chords and soloing of the next guitarist on the block, Steve Walwyn, who – nostalgia alert – I first saw when we were both a lot younger, early 80s, at the Band on the Wall in Manchester, performing with Leicester R&B merchants the DTs. We had more hair in those days … any road up, I digress.
Three fine pub-rocking tunes. Maybe no one’s Feelgood favourites, but I hope that you can see why they might be mine.
So from these later years, the live albums were the ones for me. The recording of Lee’s last live performance, in the deadly grip of the lymphoma that would end his life at the ridiculously young age of 41, is an extraordinary one, and where the journey ended for me. Down At The Doctors, indeed. The light went out on April 7th 1994, two days after Kurt Cobain took his own life, and while I understand the emotion surrounding Nirvana’s leader, it was, and still is, very hard to imagine a world without Lee Brilleaux.
Two books were published this year which stake a claim for a year in music as being pivotal – 1966, 1971. But let’s take a glance at 1975. The times they were a’changing then too. Led Zeppelin was at Earls Court, but the Sex Pistols played their first gig at St. Martin’s School of Art. 67% of voters supported the Labour government’s campaign to stay in the EEC. Margaret Thatcher defeated Edward Heath to become the Conservative party’s first female leader.
And a report by the Health and Safety Executive concluded that the residents of Canvey Island faced unacceptable danger from a proposed new oil terminal west of Hole Haven, and permission for it to be built was not given. The risk of explosion was deemed to be too great.
I heard a different kind of explosion, from a record with a monochrome cover, four guys gazing out at me, looking menacing (and slightly cold … “come on, take the bloody picture”), standing on a set of iron stairs, near the Lobster Smack pub, next to the Hole Haven caravan park. My ears are still ringing, more than forty years on.