Lee Brilleaux: Rock ‘n’ Roll Gentleman by Zoe Howe

To an extent, I have an affinity with Dr Feelgood. I live within reach of the confines of the Thames Delta. Often, I walk to the bench dedicated to the memory of Lee Brilleaux, gaze over at Canvey Island, with the Coryton Refinery silhouetted on the skyline and imagine the bands exploits.

With this in mind, I have to admit that this review is probably bias. I know the place names referenced. I’ve had a drink in the same pubs which Lee Brilleaux did. I’ve tested his theory of Leigh-on-Sea cockles as a hangover cure. In short, I am a man of the Thames Delta.

Dr Feelgood were the pub-rock stars of the 1970s. If you watch any old footage of the band, your eyes will be drawn to two of the members in particular. Wilko Johnson and Lee Brilleaux.

First you watch the guitarist. On stage, Wilko Johnson is possessed. His eyes, wide, bulging. His guitar slung down, then lifted up, pointed at the audience like a machine gun. Jutting rhythmically on the strings, chopping. Somehow he is strumming the guitar and playing a solo at the same time.

Then, when the singing starts, your eyes flick to Lee Brilleaux. He’s charismatic, wearing a dirty white suit. Moody, aggressive. You wouldn’t mess around with him. He is hunched over the microphone, singing in a beer drenched voice, eyeing up the audience to see if anyone defies him. Occasionally, he dips his hand into his pocket to pull out a harmonica, as Wilko Johnson is blistering around the stage behind him.

Dr Feelgood – this Dr Feelgood, with Wilko Johnson and Lee Brilleaux – are surely unbeatable. Pre-punk, post-blues boom, their music is charged and at the time must have been a much welcomed antidote to the lengthy self-indulgent guitar vomit which was being spewed out from other corners.

Lee Brilleaux: Rock ‘n’ Roll Gentleman is a book that needed to be written. It is clearly well researched and will be the starting point for anyone wanting to find out more about Brilleaux in the future. 

Zoe Howe has done a tremendous job painting a picture of Lee Brilleaux. His stage persona is of course completely different to the man he was: kind, charming and a true rock ‘n’ roll gentleman.

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Like a Rolling Stone – Greil Marcus

Perhaps it is strange to start a website dedicated to music with a post about a book. But then that is the intention of this page: to catch the glimpses of music, be it in film, books, LP’s, radio or in nature. Whatever it is – or wherever it comes from – it will be pure, unadulterated noise.

I finished reading this book a couple of weeks ago when I was in the middle of nowhere. Greil Marcus writes about music reverently and with this work he takes us through the times and era that Bob Dylan recorded and released Like a Rolling Stone.

One thing which struck me from reading this account was how the master take of Like a Rolling Stone almost didn’t happen. Reaching for a bootleg of the session when I got back, I listened whilst reading Marcus’ blow by blow account. During the first few stabs at the song Dylan’s voice cracks, the musicians lose it. Then out of nowhere, the take is nailed and the song reaches levels which are rarely captured on tape. Then, bizarrely, several more takes are recorded. For an artist as notoriously fickle as Dylan, who has dropped tracks such as Blind Willie McTell from albums, it’s not out of the realms of possibility that he may have lost hope with the song and left it on the cutting room floor.

For someone who wasn’t born in those times, it is impossible to imagine Like a Rolling Stone being played on the radio for the first time. I guess this book is the closest we can get to actually being there. Greil Marcus gives us a snapshot of the period: a time shortly after the assasination of Malcolm X, the conflict in Vietnam escalating and the Civil Rights Movement in full flow with Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Would a song such as this have been created in anything but a turbulant time?