Rhythm and booze
A funny old movement, pub rock. If, that is, it was a movement at all, which you would have some trouble deducing from the 71 tracks making up a diligently compiled three-CD anthology titled Surrender to the Rhythm. It’s a stylistic odyssey travelling all the way from the Darts’ ’50s rock and roll medley of “Daddy Cool” and “The Girl Can’t Help It” to the pop-funk of Supercharge’s “You Gotta Get Up and Dance” via most of the stops in between.
The subtitle is “The London pub rock scene of the Seventies”, and it certainly was a London phenomenon. The pubs I remember best in this connection are the Red Cow in Hammersmith, the Hope & Anchor in Islington and the Greyhound in the Fulham Palace Road. And, of course, the one in the picture, the Kensington in Russell Gardens, W14, just north of Olympia, which was where — at the prompting of my friend Charlie Gillett — I turned up one night in early 1973 to see a band called Bees Make Honey, whose repertoire veered from Louis Jordan to Chuck Berry.
Charlie’s Sunday-lunchtime Radio London show, Honky Tonk, was the parish magazine of pub rock. Before the Bees, he’d been listening to Eggs Over Easy, a mostly American band who proposed the shocking notion that there could be alternatives to progressive rock and the college/concert circuit: a relaxed, easy-going kind of music played in a relaxed, easy-going environment. The pubs fitted the music of people who still had Music from Big Pink in their ears and had more recently been listening to J. J. Cale, but also owned a copy of Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilation.
As a transitional movement, there was no real consensus — least of all on trousers, that infallible barometer, which went from drainpipes to flares and back again — except a unanimity of belief in the necessity of sweeping away the dominance of an old guard attacked in Mick Farren’s famous 1977 NME essay. “The Titanic Sails at Dawn”. The bands coalescing around this scene in its early days included Roogalator, Brinsley Schwarz, Ducks DeLuxe, the Kursaal Flyers, Ace, Kokomo and Kilburn & the High Roads. As a back-to-basics movement, it set the scene for punk, with a crossover point defined by Dr Feelgood and Eddie & the Hot Rods.
There are some obvious choices here — the Brinsleys track that gives the collection its title, the Feelgoods’ “She Does It Right”, the Kilburns’ “Billy Bentley”, the 101ers’ “Keys to Your Heart”, Elvis Costello’s “Radio Sweetheart”, the Hot Rods’ “Writing on the Wall” — and others that I wouldn’t have associated with this idiom at all, such as Chris Rea’s “Fool”, the Jess Roden Band’s “You Can Keep Your Hat On” and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s “Sergeant Fury”. Occasionally there’s something that’s a delight to hear again: Sniff ‘n’ the Tears’s irresistible “Driver’s Seat”, Chris Spedding’s charming “Bedsit Girl”, Starry Eyed & Laughing’s jingle-jangle “Money Is No Friend of Mine” and Roogalator’s “Ride with the Roogalator”, featuring the roadhouse guitar of Danny Adler. Obvious omissions are anything by Kokomo or Dire Straits, or Ace’s “How Long”, surely pub rock’s finest three minutes (instead we get their “Rock and Roll Runaway”).
The biggest surprise to me was Cado Belle’s “Stone’s Throw from Nowhere”, which I’d never heard before: a coolly soulful recording with an elegant lead vocal by Maggie Reilly, in the idiom of Minnie Riperton or Randy Crawford, and the sort of guitar-playing, by Alan Darby, that you might have found on a Norman Whitfield production. Also on the soul side is Moon’s chunky “Don’t Wear It”, a reminder of the excellence of Noel McCalla, their lead singer. They were one of the bands who landed a major-label deal without finding commercial success.
For A&R people — and I was one at the time — the early pub rock bands were a bit of a conundrum. Their modesty of scale put them at odds with the prevailing ambition, which was to search for the next really big act. I was always uneasy about the lack of any sense of genuine innovation. I was being guided by a belief in linear evolution, and I was probably wrong. Andrew Lauder at United Artists was right to sign the Feelgoods, and Dave Robinson was right to use the scene as a platform for his Stiff Records artists. Sometimes it’s necessary to step back in order to prepare for the next leap forward, and that’s what pub rock was about.
* Surrender to the Rhythm is released on Grapefruit Records.
Cado Belle. One of my favourite bands of the time (and now)! And then there was Moon, juice on the Loose and do many others. Many of these bands crossed over on to the student union circuit at the same time. Happy times.
A great time to be in London. I remember the Blues room above the Manor House pub in North London in 1966. Acts such as Rod Stewart, the Who, Elton John, Jimi Hendrix all appeared there before they were crazy famous and you could see them for a couple of shillings!
Sadly it has now been turned into a block of flats. 😔
Graham Parker and the Rumour!
Not living in London my only exposure to this was the 1975 Naughty Rhythms tour with Dr Feelgood, Kokomo and the wonderful Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers, such an amazing variety of music within the three bands.
Charlie Gillett’s Honky Tonk on Radio London was just wonderful.
Always wonder why Sniff ‘n’ the Tears didn’t get more recognition?
Titanic Sails At Dawn was June 76 Richard not 77. Everyone forgets this now but it was just one of about three or four pieces he wrote on the same theme while trailblazing against complacency and for the new as yet unarticulated thing. He even made jokes about it in the pieces. “Wasn’t he banging on about this last month” etc. When I interviewed him (for the same history of the pop press Radio One doc that you contributed to actually) he was suitable modest , claiming that he was just expressing something that was clearly in the air and a lot of people were feeling. Pub rock was part of that same fabric of course, and never just about the three chord thrash. A most enjoyable read. Thank you
I remember Cado Belle from the Scottish scene in the mid/late 70s. They’re probably just about pub rock (even with the flute!) – but the soul influence was much stronger than in the London acts, & also something quite consistent in the Scottish scene – from the Average White Band through to Orange Juice (& Alan Horne), Hue & Cry… & on to Stuart Cosgrove, & his superb trilogy on late 60s soul in Detroit, Memphis & Harlem.
A couple of photos from Regents Park:
Tony Riley Sent from my iPhone
Fully endorse the comments re Cado Belle – a great band who I saw in a club in B’ham in late 76. Their solitary LP was somewhat disappointing (ditto Roogalator) possibly due to having quite a big name US producer. There was a subsequent single – a cover of Brenton Wood’s great ‘Gimme Little Sign’ and that was it. Maggie Reilly ended up with Mike Oldfield and sax man Colin Tully I think did the music for ‘Gregory’s Girl’
Good to see mention of ‘Driver’s Seat’ and Moon too. I saw Moon around the same time as Cado Belle and was well impressed but they were a fine band out of their time sadly (ditto but more so Kokomo). Some members ended up in Sniff n the Tears including Noel McCalla. Noel is still around I think in a Morrissey Mullen legacy outfit featuring sax man Dave Lewis who I met a couple of years back when he was in the excellent band that played at our daughter’s wedding. Lewis mentioned McCalla to me that night.
Have to say that, rightly or wrongly, I never took Farren seriously in any of his various enterprises/guises
I remember a wonderful ’78-’79 (?) Roundhouse gig with Cado Belle opening for Kokomo; one of those occasions when Jim Mullen was back with the latter band, and Glen Le Fleur had succeeded John Sussewell on drums.
Re: Pub Rock venues…don’t forget Newlands Tavern in Peckham/Nunhead in south London. Saw many of the bands you’ve mentioned there, Richard, including Ace who had to play How Long twice, and the wonderful Starry Eyed & Laughing featuring Tony Poole, whose Rickenbacker is still jangling in Bennett Wilson Poole. Another band from the scene worth mentioning — Sutherland Brothers & Quiver.
The other important venue was The Nashville Rooms
Every band in a pub was great. A pint in your hand, a song and a girl in your heart. Loved the Kursaals in and around Kilburn, Howlin’ Wilf (James Hunter) at the Edinburgh Castle, Max Merritt and the Meteors around Harlesden.
It wasn’t a pub, but what about Dingwall’s Dance Hall?
Indeed. Saw the Motor City 5 there one evening, and a host of others I was too drunk to remember! Fantastic venue.
Yep, Dingwall, a great gig always and somewhere between pub and club. Boozy experience and some fabulous and always diverse acts. Have seen UK bands such as Kokomo and Average White Band there but many from the USA including David Lindley & El Rayo X and a Byrds line up featuring McGuinn, Gene Parsons and Skip Battin.
Have recently purchased a very informative book “London’s Lost Music Venues” by Paul Talling. (Damaged Goods Books) which covers just about every venue from the halcyon days of “Pub Rock” and many others before and after. Generously illustrated and a fascinating read.
I’d assumed that pub rock was a retrospective labelling. Yet it points to a genuine cultural event that was happening not just in London. There was a vibrant scene in Glasgow too in the 70s. And it was fairly eclectic. Six nights a week you could find blues, rock and prog musicians playing original music in the city’s bars. There were a good few soul and fusion bands too, like Maybe The Floor who were described to us as somewhere between The Average White Band and Yes. Implausible though that seemed it was accurate.
So Cado Belle weren’t out of place. I’d have chosen Paper In the Rain from their 1976 album… “Sky’s so heavy it’s bound to rain again / Turning points occur though you can’t say when” always stuck with me, perfectly merging the mundane with the profound in a single statement. If I remember rightly the lyricist wasn’t in the band as such. They made a great record that has weathered well down the years.
Roogalator’s frontman Danny Adler (a Hank Marvin of sorts, crossed with Jerry Lewis !) use to perform an amazing all-guitar version of Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman” back in the day..
Moon’s “Desolation Alley” was an outstanding song on an otherwise unfortunately rather mediocre debut album.
I saw Kilburn and the High roads at the Kensington.Ian Dury slouched over the mike stand chain smoking Gauloises (an image allegedly nicked by one Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols sans Gauloises ) a unique performer and great band.
First time I saw them at Knights Park campus in Kingston, they were shambolic, but great. Second time at the Victoria Palace Theatre about 1976 (supported by Cado Belle, oddly enough), they just seemed shapeless and slapdash. Davy Payne’s long atonal sax solos didn’t really help. I think I walked out part way through.
As a pub rock venue from the point in time when the 60s morphed into the 70s, few rate as highly as the side room of the Toby Jug, a beam of brightness in suffocating suburbia – crouching in the shadow of Tolworth Tower on the Kingston By-pass. Following in the wake of John Mayall, Chicken Shack, Mac, Tull, John Dummer and Aynsley Dunbar, from the earlier decade, the red-brick Charrington’s pile (long demolished) began echoing to Caravan, the New Keef Hartley band, Genesis, Bowie, the Fairies and Atomic Rooster in a brief, intense solar flare of activity before lunchtime go-go dancers and televised football claimed its soul.
I saw Paul Rodger’s Peace (during a Free hiatus), with Mick Underwood and Stewart Mcdonald at the Toby Jug about 1971. Wandered down Ewell Road from Kingston, where was a Kingston Poly Student.
Having problems with this site, some times, so filing again in reply to post about Dingwall’s.
A wonderful, boozy, sexy venue. Saw Kilburn and the High Roads there several times, MC5 and a string of others, from rockabilly to R&B. Some pubs charged, others didn’t. One such of teh latter was our local in Hendon, the Greyhound (still there). A spaced-out acquaintance of ours, who toured as Charlie Belueski with the Yardbirds and others (real name Buckhardt Czarnetski), stormed the stage one night, grabbed the lead guitar and went mental on a riff nobody could follow. The gaffer killed the power, the lights went out and we wandered home, with Buckhardt singing at the top of his voice.
Good call, can remember seeing the great ‘Rockpile’ there on a couple of occasions. No idea if they qualify for inclusion as ‘Pub Rock’ but a dynamite band who excelled in a boozer environment.
Personal opinion this but, I do find it a bit odd when researchers or compilers include music that bears only marginal relevance to the actual project at hand. Music which appears to have been chosen at random because it does no more than fill a gap. In this instance, it is curious finding the Jess Roden Band included on this compilation – a group which never, ever played the London pub circuit. At all. From memory their first London show was at The Lyceum with Georgie Fame after which it was out with Roxy Music on a nationwide tour which began at Glasgow’s Apollo Theatre. Multiple nights. As much as the JRB never sold the volume of records the acclaim of their live shows suggested they should, the smallest gigs played were multiple nights at The Marquee.
I’d say that Rockpile – whether they ever played in London pubs or not – are, in retrospect at least, the archetype of what we now understand as ‘pub rock’, Mick! Meat’n’potatoes rootsy rock with American leanings. In contrast, Chas & Dave weren’t, as I understand it, part of the ‘pub rock scene’ (Hope & Anchor, Nashville Rooms, etc.) at all but did their own thing in more ‘community boozers’ (there’s a great clip of them action in some mid-70s knees-up-Mother-Brown place in their BBC4 doc) because, as Chas stated, ‘The pub rock thing – there was no money it!’
Likewise, even though Graham Parker now feels like an absolute stereotype London 70s pub-rocker, I don’t believe he was ever part of that scene (again, a recollection from his BBC4 doc) – though his band were all strays from Brinsley Schwarz, weren’t they?
I suspect that Kilburn & the High Roads (aside from Chas & Dave, who were distinct) were quite unusual among the acts that truly made up the pub-rock scene in mid 70s London (rather than others being retro-fitted into it) in not so obviously aping or drawing liberally from American music – soul, country-rock, R&B, doo-wop – which everyone else in that scene seemed to do in varying recipes. Again, from the memory of seeing their 1976 BBC B&W doc (repeated on BBC4 ages back), didn’t Kursaal Flyer Will Birch yearn vocally about getting to America?
That’s the intriguing dichotomy, it seems to me, about ‘pub rock’ – it was a load of people in London pubs playing American music or music in thrall or in tribute to America. Gillett was all about that American yearning too. There’s probably a PhD question in there for someone.
Incidentally, while I agree that ‘pub rock’ as a genre and moment in time, as we now understand it, is definitely a London thing, I suspect – as others have said here about Glasgow, for instance – that some other cities in the UK probably had vibrant scenes in a small number of pub venues in the early to mid 70s that were probably never much documented on record or in the national music press. Belfast, for example, had a very specific scene centred around one pub, The Pound, on Saturday afternoons from the early 70s to the early 80s – focused on a handful of bands all playing America-centric music, from country-rock to rhythm & blues and muso-ish stuff that we’d now call ‘yacht rock’ (Steely Dan, Doobies, et al.). A lot of left-over 60s guys from the endless incarnations of Van Morrison’s Them were involved, and ‘the Troubles’ gave these sessions an added intensity (Saturday afternoons – because the city was a dead zone at night). Only a couple of singles from Pound acts emerged at the time – although a pal of mine has hours of mid 70s cassette recordings from the place. By 1978, though, the Belfast punk scene took off – based largely at one other pub, the Harp Bar – and by chance, that scene WAS documented – in John T Davis ‘Shellshock Rock’ film and lots of records on Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations label and a couple of other independents (and later, London majors)… now entering into myth with the (good fun) ‘Good Vibrations’ biopic and a just-released ‘Shellshock Rock’ 3CD/DVD set from Cherry Red – plus a good part of Stuart Bailie’s (recommended) ‘Trouble Songs’ book of 2019. The myth/narrative is that punk ‘brought the kids together’ regardless of religion. The Pound scene was probably also bringing people together through music, but there’s not much myth-making glamour in a bunch of 30-somethings with moustaches nodding along to country-rock covers and doing their best not to get noticed by anyone! 🙂
The Kursaals might well have yearned for America, but their very name told the story of their roots. Saw them many times in pubs around Kilburn and Maida Vale in the 70s. A rocking outfit.
Spot on Colin re Rockpile. Saw them in a variety of venues but the pub vibe of The Nashville Rooms was the best experience by far.
I should add, though, Mick that I ‘wasn’t there’. I was in primary school in Belfast in the 70s. So I wasn’t at the Pound either! But history of stuff at the margins is fascinating. There is an extent to which the London pub rock bands – rather than the wholly distinct pub rock bands in Belfast or Glasgow or anywhere else in the UK – made it on to records BECAUSE they were in London. Once one gets to the late 70s, independent labels in various regions start to emerge as a formidable entity. In the early 70s this was, as far I’m aware, a much less visible or viable possibility.
Could have fooled me Colin, you seem to have extensive knowledge of the genre. I was pretty enthusiastic about pub rock, still enjoy several bands from that era. I had an independent record shop from 1976 and was a regular client at the original Rough Trade Distribution set up, hence saw the rise of indie labels first hand..
You’re right, earlier in the 70’s there was almost no network for indie labels to get distribution and most pub rock bands couldn’t get signed by a major. Most of them seemed to have little ambition to be recording artists, the joy was in the live circuit.
Just a history buff, Mick! 😀 You make a key, point – the beauty of it (in London and in Belfast and I suspect elsewhere) is that one gets the impression that it really was all about people just playing live, in pubs, and generally not being particularly bothered about record deals. Which is just as well, because outside of London, no one was going to get any! A happy accident of place and time.
No one has mentioned the Motors yet – I’m not sure if they were ever a ‘pub rock band’ per se, though at least two of them (the important two) came from a core pub rock band, Ducks Deluxe, but for my money they were the best of the lot. They took an old-school, heads-down ethos and sound of London pub rock and crafted some amazingly melodic and (within the parameters) sophisticated original music. I believe they ceased playing live in 1978 – the Reading Festival their last hurrah – yet continued to make records up to 1981. I wonder why?
For a bloke who wasn’t there, you seemed to have absorbed the subject matter big time, fair play to you. Mention of Ducks Deluxe had me seeking out their first LP, a rocking album start to finish. “West Texas Truckin’ Board” a favourite, Bob Andrews from the Brinsleys guesting on that one.
Unsure if you have seen this which was a 3 parter on BBC in 2012. Épisode 1 of “Punk Britannia” which has a fair bit of Ducks Deluxe content. This episode focuses on the pre punk period which coincides with Pub Rock. A cameo from owner of this blog Richard Williams at around 17/18 minutes too. Well worth a watch.
Well, that’s kind of you, Mick. Yes, I did see that BBC4 doc – fascinating stuff. (There’s still a strong ’70s punk’ presence/community in NI.) The BBC4 clip show ‘Totally British Rock’n’Roll (Part 1)’ is basically a gathering of mosdt of the BBC’s scraps of pub-rock coverage – Ducks and Kilburns playing in pubs, etc. – plus a few other meat & potatoes oddities (Humble Pie, and some dreadful female-fronted long-forgotten act on OGWT whose name escapes me)…
I keep hoping Will Birch will turn up in this thread and tell us a new edition of his pubography is imminent. 🙂 I missed it first time around.
Reprint of the Will Birch book would be welcome, I missed it too. Did recently purchase, “London’s Lost Music Venues” by Paul Talling. A fascinating guide to many lost iconic music venues from the era. Lots of now and then photos and generous amounts of memorabilia such as tickets and flyers. “The Sir George Robey” graces to cover.
ooh, some real blasts from the past here. It did spread out from London, Birmingham had Bogarts, and I have fond memories of helping put on special Birmingham Uni gigs with Kursaal Flyers – first gig outside London, I believe – & opening doors late because we were playing Ace at football – I expect that they did How Long twice then, too, it was in the charts, & sold out audience were in raptures. I’m glad to say that many of these musicians are still active & we’ve had the pleasure of their company around & about the S Coast the last few years, hopefully soon again.
So while you folks were getting ‘ Pub Rocked ” … we on this side o’ the pond were getting inundated , smothered and made redundant by … Disco .
Yeah … aint we a brilliant bunch …. sigh …
Suffice it to say had I half a brain back then … I’d of come up to London when my … hmmm .. time had come to a close in Nice .. rather than coming back to the ‘ Broken Promise Land ‘
Australia had its own ‘pub rock’ scene in the early to mid 70s – and that was the term used to describe it. It was characterised by blistering, high-volume acts like Billy Thorpe and Lobby Loyde and dozens of others, all playing CC Rider and colossal riffs for hours on end in vast ‘beer barns’. The scene had its Woodstock moment in 1972 with the Sunbury Festival, the first all-Aussie-acts open air event (I think… though I’ve a nagging feeling there was a smaller one elsewhere the previous year…) in the country, headlined by Bill Thorpe & the Aztecs and the subject of a fabulous film.
Max Merritt & the Meteors, mentioned earlier as part of the London pub rock scene, came from this Aussie scene (and were at Sunbury 72), although their southern soul sound was atypical. A later London pub rock act, the Count Bishops, had also been a part of the earlier Aussie pub rock world – as (from memory Buffalo, a sludgy blues-rock act. Thorpe & the Aztecs made the mistake of coming to London in search of fame in 1973 – having reached their peak in Australia. They stayed for a year and managed one gig (the Speakeasy) and a RAK label license of their Aussie smash ‘Most People I Know Think I’m Crazy’… returning disconsolate (and selling out the Sydney Opera House for a live album recording – the first rock band to do so. Yes, before Fairport Convention’s live LP in the same place.) They went to the wrong country at the wrong time. Lobby Loyde – a sort of Aussie blue-colour Hendrix – also came to London mid-70s, and got involved in recording demos and live engineering for punk acts before returning to Oz, and continuing to make obnoxious, no-compromise music.
People go on about Australian acts from the later 70s onwards – ones that got some sort of traction outside of the place – but I find the unique rock music eco-system (like its flora and fauna) of Australia in the 60s and early 70s compelling. So few UK/US acts went there that indigenous acts more or less occupied the ‘spaces’ of many of the well-known acts in the UK & US in that era – not covers acts, but acts that were in many ways similar. For instance, the Aussie ‘equivalent’ of the Mahavishnu Orchestra was MacKenzie Theory…
I was a live in bar maid at the Red Cow in the mid 70s, and spent a lot of time at the Nashville too. So many bands… I do remember the Jam residency for 6 wks at the Red Cow. Also remember the Stranglers, the Damned. There were strippers on a Sunday lunchtime. I also used to regularly serve John Thaw and Dennis Waterman pints in the front bar, they were filming the Sweeney across the road. I remember seeing Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Ultravox, Dr Feelgood and so many others at the Nashville.
Hot bed of live music in that period Janet, it seems that the Red Cow was part of the Fuller’s chain which originally championed country music, just like the Nashville.
A recently purchased book “London’s Lost Music Venues” by Paul Talling has a feature on The Red Cow. Confirms your ‘Sweeney’ recollections, Euston Studios was right opposite. Also says there was a scene in one episode set in the pub.
Demolished in 1983 according to the book. Smaller pub/restaurant built on the site and now called Latymers.
In this context, Paul Talling’s ‘London’s Lost Music Venues’ is a great book to lose yourself in thought with – lots of memories and little vignettes.
Loads of memories here. Must mention the Torrington in Finchley where George Blevings (sp?) put on a lot of great nights. Graham Parker was definitely of that scene, saw him at The Nashville Rooms, Hope and Anchor etc. I think the comment about Moon’s album was a bit harsh, Noel McCalla was only about 17 at the time – he had some voice – incidentally guitarist Lars (‘Loz’) Netto went on to Sniff ‘n’ The Tears (He and saxist Dougie Bainbridge both from Coventry). On New Years Eve 1977 saw an amalgam of Kokomo and FBI (‘The Voice Squad’) at The Rock Garden – another great venue. Having Bonnie Wilkinson and Dyan Birch et al. on the same stage was memorable !
Meal Ticket were a personal favourite, as were Kursaals – saw them 14 times!
The recent (sad) death of Sean Tyla reminds me of seeing The Tyla Gang at the Hope 2/3 times where the band/retinue outnumbered the audience (possibly Monday nights). They used to get the great Frankie Miller up with them after their set. He’d always perform ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’, and a superb version of Allen Toussaint’s ‘On The Way Down’ to a virtually empty room. What a waste. Too much of this Styrofoam gonna send me blind, Hah !