Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pub Rock - Explained

Pub Rock Primer

As we have been exploring aspects of the '70's music scene that was known as Pub Rock, it occurred to me that I never properly introduced just what the British Pub Rock movement was, and what it was all about. So, here is a brief introduction. But first, a bit of background. By the early Seventies, rock music and rock bands had pretty much been removed (priced themselves?) out of the pubs and clubs where they had had really gotten going in the sixties. Rock bands moved to bigger stages, bigger venues, and bigger spectacles. Complex progressive rock, glam rock, and heavy metal extravaganzas were the rage, as well as increasingly slick, sophisticated, and highly polished (overproduced?) recordings. Along with all that, rock music and musicians had begun to take themselves and their music quite seriously, very seriously, indeed. Pub Rock was a backlash against all of that, a return to the smaller, greasy bars and clubs, and a return to basic, good old rock 'n roll and R&B music, and perhaps just as importantly, having fun and a 'good time', both when playing and listening to the music. So, to me, that's what Pub Rock was all about. Basically, this 'movement' occurred from 1971-1976, and was restricted, for the most part, to the Greater London, and Essex area, although the impact resonated much further. In many ways then, this was a 'back to basics' movement, and a return to the good time energy and fun that had been missing in recent years. Pub rock is also considered to be the catalyst for, and lead directly into, the UK punk rock scene. Now, I am certainly no expert on Pub Rock, as I was in the US and missed out on the whole thing at the time, other than those that later went on to greatness beyond the pubs (Rockpile, GP & The Rumour, etc.), but I am a fan, and have been interested in the whole phenomena. Thus, this is my own interpretation of the Pub Rock scene, as best as I have been able to put together. So, although this was an entirely British scene, ironically, it was an American country-rock band, Eggs Over Easy, that is credited with getting the whole thing started.

As the story goes, Eggs Over Easy came to London to record an album (at Olympic Studios) in late 1970, but after they arrived and began their sessions, their financial backing for the album fell through, and so while they scrambled to get a new deal to finish their sessions, they were searching for regular gigs around London. The breakthrough came in May 1971 when they were able to convince the Tally Ho Pub in Kentish Town, North London, to break their 'Jazz Only' music policy and give them a shot at playing Monday nights (usually an off-night). They quickly gained a strong following, not only with music fans, but among other bands as well, featuring their signature  blend of laid-back country-rock and straight-ahead, driving rock & roll that became the the template for the entire movement. They were a big influence on many emerging London bands. Among their biggest fans were Nick Lowe and Brinsley Schwarz, who marveled at their repertoire of over a hundred songs, and incorporated aspects of their style into their own band, adding a more overtly country sound to their songs, and more old-time R'nR. Shortly thereafter, other area pubs (like The Cock, Hope and Anchor, The Red Lion, The Nashville, and many more) began booking local bands (such as Bees Make Honey, Max Merritt & the Meteors, and of course, Brinsley Schwarz) playing similar styled music, which eventually picked up the label 'Pub Rock'. Although the movement was gaining momentum and popularity, Eggs Over Easy's tenure on the scene was quite short. As their work permits were expiring, they played their last Tally Ho show in November, 1971, then head back to the US, still without a record deal (They did eventually sign with A&M, and released their only album, Good and Cheap, in 1972, before breaking up shortly after - although the album didn't sell at all at the time, it is now considered a classic among pub rock fans). But the Pub Rock movement itself continued to grow and gain momentum around London, with more venues, more bands, and more fans joining in, and as the trend grew bigger, the music itself began to broaden somewhat, with three main styles (or sub-genres) of rock being the most prominenet: In addition to the country-rock first established (and continued by bands such as Brinsley Schwarz, Kursaal Flyers, Byzantium, Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers), there was the more hard-nosed R&B revivalism (bands such as Dr. Feelgood, Kilburn & The Highroads, Ace, Ducks Deluxe, The Winkies, Roogalator, Michigan Flyers), and a type of uptempo funk-rock and soul (Kokomo, Clancy, FBI, Moon, Cado Belle, G.T. Moore & His Reggae Guitars, Palm Beach Express).

At the very peak of popularity (1973-1975), it seemed nearly every large pub in London, was supplying live 'pub rock', and the straight-forward, unpretentious, good-time music and atmosphere was a welcome relief to a music scene that had begun to take itself far too seriously, and fans responded. Leading the movement by that time was the more raucous style and energy of Dr. Feelgood. As the movement progressed through 1975, and influenced by the style and attitiude of Dr. Feelgood, more of the bands took on a harder edge and more aggressive style, re-interpreting late fifties, early sixties rock classics (with bands such as Eddie & The Hot Rods, The 101ers, and The Count Bishops), and became more popular than ever. For the most part, pub rock bands disdained any form of flash or glitz, preferring a deliberately dirty and gritty look, and featuring straight-forward rock and R&B music. Unfortunately, the music people wanted to hear in the pubs was not necessarily the music they would buy at the music store, as few Pub Rock bands were able to make the transition from popular pub band to successful concert performers or recording artists, even though record companies at the time were eager to sign them. Out of all the pub rock bands playing at that time, only one big 'hit' single resulted, Ace's 'How Long', and that was the only thing they were ever known for. Of course, Dr. Feelgood, was also able to break through (at least in UK) with their live album, Stupidity, going to #1 in 1976. Thus, Pub Rock bands quickly came and went, forming and re-forming into new and different bands trying to make a go of it. Thus, few of the bands ever went very far, although many individuals within those bands would find success later in other bands. Of course we know about the boys from Brinsley Schwarz, Nick Lowe going to Rockpile and solo fame, Brinsley and Bob Andrews joining ex-Ducks Deluxe guitarist Martin Belmont and becoming The Rumour, and other Ex-Ducks moving to other bands (Tyla Gang, the Motors, etc). There was also Ian Dury finding success after leaving Kilburn & he Highroads, Graeme Douglas leaving Kursaal Flyers for the harder-edged Eddie & The Hot Rods and Will Birch (also Kursaal Flyers) later forming The Records, and Joe Strummer leaving his 101ers for The Clash. And then there was a band called Flip City, which was obscure even in Pub Rock circles, that featured a fellow who became known as Elvis Costello, and did pretty well for himself. As quickly as bands like the Brinsleys and Ducks DeLuxe folded, they were replaced by younger and more aggressive bands. By around 1976, an even more aggressive style of rock was emerging in the pubs, which became known as punk rock, lead by the Sex Pistols, and as punk became popular through 1976 and 1977, it completely overshadowed and overtook Pub Rock, as Pub Rock just seemed so tame in comparison to the full-on assault of punk. Thus, the punk explosion marked the end of the Pub Rock movement, and many of the pubs and clubs now featured punk music. As already noted, many pub rockers made the transition to punk or new wave to continue on, or move up into concert halls (like Rockpile, The Rumour), a few were able to continue on with what they were doing (like Dr. Feelgood), but most faded away, and Pub Rock as a movement was pretty much dead by 1977. And although punk rock evolved from pub rock to some degree, there were many notable differences (other than the shear intensity and decibel level). Whereas Pub Rock always respected and embraced the old style rock 'n Roll and R & B music (Chuck Berry, early Stones, etc), punk rock basically rejected everything that came before it, including Pub Rock. And one of the main points of pub rock was to not take itself too seriously, and to always have fun, whereas fun or 'good times' are not something you would associate with punk. Ironically, it was Stiff Records, which was formed from a £400 loan from Dr.Feelgood’s vocalist Lee Brilleaux, that went on to become prominent in the punk and new wave movements, releasing the first British punk single—The Damned’s "New Rose". Stiff Records' early clientele consisted of a mix of pub rockers and punk rock acts for which they became known.

(The previous text represents my own interpretation of Pub Rock based on the information I was able to cobble together from various other internet sources, such as Wikipedia, Punk77, All Music Guide, and individual artist and band websites) - BBKron
Here are a couple of good compilations of Pub Rock bands and music (although they are somewhat difficult to find these days). 
Naughty Rhythms: The Best of Pub Rock (1996 - EMI Premier) 2-CD - Good intro to Pub Rock, featuring several songs each from some of the most well-known and popular pub rock acts. 
Goodbye Nashville, Hello Camden Town: a Pub Rock Anthology (2007 - Castle Music) 2-CD - Delves a little deeper into pub rock music, featuring many more different artists, including many less well-known artists and songs.

Here are some of the individual albums released by some of the Pub Rock bands mentioned here (just those that have not already been featured in previous Pub Rock posts). Unfortunately, most of these are out of print, but some have been re-released on CD (and many can be found around the web if you look hard enough).

Eggs Over Easy - Good 'n Cheap (A&M), 1972

Bees Make Honey - Music Every Night (EMI), 1972

Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers - Kings of the Robot Rhythm, 1972; Bongos Over Balham, 1974

Kursaal Flyers - Chocs Away (UK),  1975; The Great Artiste (UK), 1975; The Golden Mile (CBS), 1976; Five Live Kursaals, 1977.

Starry Eyed and Laughing - Starry Eyed and Laughing (CBS), 1974; Thought Talk (CBS), 1975.

Kokomo - Kokomo (Columbia), 1975; Rise and Shine (Columbia), 1976.

Clancy - Seriously Speaking (WB), 1975; Everyday (WB) - 1976

F.B.I. - F.B.I. (RCA), 1976

Cado Belle - Cado Belle (Anchor), 1976; The Cado Belle EP, 1977

Ace - Five-A-Side (Anchor), 1974; Time For Another (Anchor), 1975; No Strings, 1977.

Kilburn & the Highroads - Handsome (Pye), 1975

The Winkies - The Winkies (Chrysalis), 1975

Roogalator - Play It By Ear, 1977.

The Count Bishops - Speedball (EP) (Chiswick), 1975; The Count Bishops, 1977.

Eddie & The Hot Rods - Teenage Depression (Island), 1975; Life on the Line (Island), 1977.

The Pirates - Out of Their Skulls, 1977

Update: Some of these albums from classic Pub Rock bands can now be found (for a limited time) through Willard's Wormholes (see sidebar links). Go to the Reader's Links section and search for Pub Rock Pioneers. 


Feelgood said...

Excellent explanation.

But the two compilations are hard to find.
If anyone got a link for a download that would be nice.


Apetalk1971 said...

Thanks, i have been looking for such an explanation of the history of Pub Rock. A lot of great trivia in that piece too. It is great to learn the part that Eggs Over Easy had in getting this woefully ignored era started, as they are pretty much a forgotten band here in the Bay Area except for their association with Huey Lewis.

La Piazza Gancio said...

Did you author this? If so, well done!

Rock has branched off into so many sub-genres, and reading of their formation and development is fascinating to a musiholic like me.

musicyoucan said...

Really excellent and usefull, because very often this 2 words Pub Rock are used without taking into account of this historic context, and also there is so many music classification that is sometime difficult to avoid to be lost ... Thanks again

Unknown said...

Ok thats not fair! Everybody else said exactly what I was going to say! Nicely done!
For some reason we need to have "boxes (labels)" to explain things, especially in music and Pub Rock was a catch all for a lot of bands when I was growing up. Never really understood it BUT I do now!

Unknown said...

I'm getting a error when unzipping the links in Willard's Wormholes for the Goodbye Nashvill Hello Camden Town anthology (both parts). Is this me or is there a fault with it please?

Miles said...

A great essay on the genesis of the Pub Rock movement. Additionally, the accompanying post surrounding it make an excellent primer for anyone looking to learn more. Nice too that you've included 'Flip City.' It's surprising that the band has not had more mentions from others, considering its inclusion of E.C., but then you've even managed to get some aural examples! Well done, BBChron!