The Sacred Days You Gave Me – Dr. Feelgood

(#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 IslandDr. 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


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2 Comments

  1. Mr Captain sir, thankyou for the nostagia. Like you the 70’s was my period and its a shame that if anyone has heard of the Dr Feelgood, its ‘Oh Yeah, Milk and Alcohol’ but She Does it Right, Roxette, just the mutts danglers. I was a fan of the Hope and Anchor and the whole music scene that blossomed out of that. Ian Dury (Norman Watt Roy now playing with Wilko), Wreckless Eric, Pink Fairies, Eddie and the HotRods, The Kursaal Flyers and the like, yeah not blues but all on the same circuit and it was THE scene. You made me smile with references to NME, I was a big Sounds devote, and was gutted when they went, but Savage Pencil cartoons, I bought a book of them. And the radio on the pillow listening to John Peel, that WAS the way it was done, just so that mum couldn’t hear ;-) I miss those days I am a proper ’70’s bloke and then came the ’80’s, the decade that style forgot…..don’t get me started (RA RA skirts, shoulder pads, cars that were designed to go straight to the breakers and the worst of the worst music wise for upwardly mobile…..aaggggghhhhhhh……..

    I later got in to punk for the short time that it was actually punk and before it became New Wave and am proud to have experienced ‘proper’ music through that whole period. Punk had the swagger and attitude but needed the Feelgoods to add that British grit, that you came from the boys from the Thames Delta. Finally, thankyou channel 4 for airing Oil City Confidential, the Julien Temple film about Dr Feelgood and Canvey Island. See it!

  2. So much there I remember too.. Savage Pencil, blimey, forgotten about that, but I was always an NME guy.

    Oil City Confidential was just great, especially the lovely opening bit with Wilko in his observatory. Did you know there’s a Facebook campaign to try to get the BBC to give Wilko The Sky At Night job after Patrick Moore?

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