Proto-Punk in Ten Songs

Music genres are interesting: they always evolve from something else. Years before a genre hits the mainstream, there are usually artists playing a similar type of music to small audiences. Often, there are other elements at play to create a perfect atmosphere for a new shift in the public consumption of music: economical, social, political.

Punk is no different. Except, it sort of is. Punk music was born in 1976, people will say. It’s ingrained in their minds, possibly more so than any other genre. Of course, the groundwork for punk was created much earlier.

Read my article for Louder Than War here, and explore some of these key influences.

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Playlist for July 2017

In June, Leigh-on-Sea hosts the UK’s largest free folk festival. On Sunday, I wandered to the Crooked Billet stage to see Martin Carthy. The whole area was packed, which meant I had to stand behind a railing at the side. Carthy played, picking his guitar beautifully, and introduced his songs by revealing some of the deep history behind them.

Halfway through his set, someone squeezed past me with a slight shove. I turned round to see if I could move in and let the gentleman pass. To my surprise, it was Wilko Johnson.

I say it was a surprise because I would have thought the pairing was unlikely. Surely Wilko Johnson with Dr Feelgood was musically the polar opposite to Martin Carthy’s folk leanings. But as I pondered it, they aren’t so dissimilar: both are incredible guitar players; each of their music has a rawness to it; both arguably pushed music into a new direction (Carthy allegedly inspired Bob Dylan’s Girl of the North Country, Dr Feelgood inspired the punk movement). After Carthy’s set, I watched as they both shook hands and chatted. Two men, hugely influential in their own sphere.

As you may know, I wrote about Zoe Howe’s brilliant Lee Brilleaux biography a week or so ago. It’s safe to say that I’m on a Dr Feelgood binge and this playlist would always have been weighed down heavily by R&B songs. But after seeing Martin Carthy, I couldn’t resist putting some of his songs in too, as well as other folk artists.

Here’s the playlist:

  1. She Does It Right – Dr Feelgood
  2. Mother Freedom – Bread
  3. Hangin’ Out – Betty Davis
  4. Wild About My Baby – Slim Harpo
  5. Big Boys – Chuck Berry
  6. Messin’ With The Kid – Junior Wells
  7. Roadrunner – The Pretty Things
  8. Bill Norrie – Martin Carthy
  9. Poison – Bert Jansch
  10. Let The Good Things Come – John Martyn
  11. White Freight Liner (Live) – Townes Van Zandt
  12. Scarborough Fair – Martin Carthy and David Swarbrick
  13. Sally Free And Easy – Oscar Dowling
  14. Wrecking Days – Kitty Macfarlane
  15. The Bedmaking (feat. David Swarbrick) – Martin Carthy and David Swarbrick
  16. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – The Animals
  17. The More I Give – Dr Feelgood
  18. Around and Around – Rolling Stones

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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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