(#2 in a series – 10 albums that shaped my musical taste)
1976 – fifteen years of age. I was gaining a bit of confidence. I explored and read about music avidly, heavily influenced by a string of young gun rock writers who plied their trade in the NME. Not the shallow travesty it is these days, mind: back then, it was a proper newspaper and you got your hands dirty, literally and metaphorically, when you read it. Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray, Tony Parsons & Julie Burchill.. I ate it all up. John Peel on the airwaves (on school nights, the transistor radio poised on my pillow) and Tony Wilson on the telly (just look at the schedules of ‘So It Goes’ in 1976 to see how things were changing).
I discovered ‘serious’ rock bands, lost patience with all that progressive widddly-diddly, but if it was based on the blues it took hold.. I ‘got’ the blues. And being British, the blues I got most was a sweaty stripped-down revved-up cheapskate version, purveyed by a gang of petrochemically-enhanced reprobates from Canvey Island – Dr. Feelgood.
In some ways it was easier to imagine them plotting a bank job than playing music. Just look at the cover of ‘Malpractice’ – tell me it ain’t so. Lee very much the guvnor, stony menace spread across his grim features, speeding, gritted teeth, facial tic. Wilko the psychotic younger brother out on remand, leering over Lee’s shoulder, Lee holding him back. Sparko’s the fixer, the driver, the one with the array of appallingly sharp tools in his car boot. The Big Figure is the patriarch, an avuncular be-suited secondhand car dealer, a suitcase full of fivers and a weighty blackjack in his pocket.
Wilko’s flinty propulsive guitar style spawned descendents Andy Gill and Bill Carter (and propagated right on through to Franz Ferdinand and the like). His skittering choppy licks and wild-eyed lunging fit right in to the burgeoning punk scene.. the New York New (and No) Wave mafia checked the Feelgoods as a major influence, both muscially and sartorially. What could have more raw attitude than Lee Brilleaux’s harmonica work? Hell, if he could blow like that, so could I! So I did.
Early waxings were basic, live in the studio, captured by the legendary Vic Maile. Scratchy, distorted, wiry, an almost alien sound. Thrilling stuff, but the ‘ne plus ultra’ for me was the British #1 live album (limited edition of 20000 with free 7″ single) ‘Stupidity’. A whole extra level of excitement compared to the studio recordings, the locked-in groove of Sparko and The Figure, the furious interaction between Lee and Wilko, the workrate, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd.
No crowd here on this video, but it’s the best. Lee’s jacket would famously not be cleaned as the years went by, Wilko’s guitar method would remain indecipherable (he’s just waving his right hand up and down, right? So where do the licks come from?) and the Feelgoods rolled on. Wilko departed, but Gypie Mayo took them to a new level of acceptance. Lee’s up in British R&B heaven now, god bless him, but his band was always an inspiration.
P.S. Part 3 of The Sacred Days You Gave Me: 1977