Uploaded on this day, May 1st, the International Workers’ Day and also the beginning of the pastoral summer season celebrated in the celtic Beltane festival are Canvey Island’s finest musical export to the U.K and the rest of the world, Dr Feelgood.
Dr Feelgood had a rough sound and a rough look.
This band of toughs who would not have looked out of place holding sawn off shotguns during a bank blag in an episode of The Sweeney, one of the better TV dramas from the mid 1970’s, performed quick chaotic three minute R & B garage thrashers from the pubs and clubs of the day. A choppy guitar sound that cuts through the R&B basslines like a hot knife in butter, tight Keith Moon inspired thumping drums, and a manic leaping frontman (plus his harmonica) adding to the mix.
Dr Feelgood were spitting in the faces of both the stadium performing prog rock bands and the glam rock movement in the early 1970’s, many years before the Sex Pistols claimed similar scalps through some year zero style P.R. at the beginning of 1976.
This debut LP and the two LPs that followed, ‘Malpractice’ and ‘Stupidity’ are well worth getting hold of for some prime examples of aggressive speed induced mid 1970’s British R&B that is not a million miles away from the sounds of those bands that were part of the original Eel Pie Island and Crawdaddy Club scene over a decade earlier, some of those bands were to become the forerunners of the emerging mod scene of 1964.
Text below courtesy of drfeelgood.org.
Canvey Island, Essex, was an unlikely birthplace for Britain’s finest R&B band. Its bleak industrial skyline set against the cold waters of the Thames estuary, keeps it from inclusion in most holiday brochures, but in the 1960’s it was home to teenage friends Lee Collinson, Chris White and John Sparkes.
The trio shared a strong interest in music, and with like minded friends, formed a skiffle band which would doggedly play outside pubs and clubs in the Canvey area until they were invited in to play a couple of numbers.
The band’s name would change almost as quickly as their line-up, but the day that White and Collinson went to see Howlin’ Wolf at a gig in Ilford was to have a profound effect on them both.
Soon after, Collinson started learning to play harmonica.
Time passed, and whilst Collinson and Sparkes continued to play together in an outfit called The Pigboy Charlie Band, White went to Drama School and, having changed his name to Chris Fenwick, began to enjoy a number of acting parts in films and notable TV programmes of the day.
The Pigboy Charlie Band continued to suffer line-up instability over the months and following a chance meeting with an old acquaintance recently returned from a trip to India, John “Wilko” Wilkinson, the pair invited him to join the band.
Wilko agreed, but all parties decided that a name change was well overdue, and after a number of suggestions, the name “Dr Feelgood” was agreed upon, after a well-loved Johnny Kidd and the Pirates version of a blues standard.
Whilst the band began to attract a degree of local interest, it was their old friend Chris “Whitey” Fenwick who was to provide the band with their first foreign engagement.
Fenwick had made the acquaintance of a Dutch promoter whilst at a wedding in Holland, and, already practised in the art of role-playing, had passed himself off as a “well known English DJ” who just happened to know a great little band who were “ready to go”.
Unfortunately the band were not quite “ready to go” as their drummer at the time was on home leave from the Army, and was unprepared to suffer the consequences of going AWOL to join them.
Wilko suggested an old friend, John Martin, might be interested.
John Martin (nicknamed “The Big Figure” for his striking profile) was a professional “old school” drummer from a musical family. He had already cut his teeth playing with numerous bands in the Essex area, but had slid into an unsatisfying role playing drums with a number of “covers” pop groups, in addition to a permanent position with local band, Finnean’s Rainbow.
Martin agreed to help out, and with a cheap, but dangerously un-roadworthy, second hand van, Chris Fenwick, and Dr. Feelgood sailed for Holland.
The run of five gigs proved to be the turning point for the band, and whilst on route back to Canvey Island, all agreed that, almost by accident, they had the makings of something, which should be pursued at all costs.
Collinson changed his name to Lee Brilleaux, and with Chris “Whitey” Fenwick at the managerial helm, things were about to change… and fast.
After their second trip to Holland, Southend resident, Heinz Burt, the former bassist with 60’s outfit The Tornados, contacted the band.
Heinz had long since reverted to a day job selling advertising space in the local paper, but continued to supplement his income by occasional appearances on the revival circuit.
He suggested that the band became his backing group for a few gigs, and, with the chance to play still all too rare for the band’s liking, they agreed.
The union was short lived, but culminated in a memorable appearance alongside Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley and MC5 at the Wembley Rock’n’Roll Festival in 1972.
As the band returned to work the local circuit throughout the following year, a change was occurring within the capital’s live music scene.
Almost in defiance of the popularity of increasingly larger venues, the “Pub Rock” scene was starting to gather momentum, hosted by a number of increasingly crowded London pubs.
The band quickly developed a reputation as a no-nonsense, “in yer face” act, who’s gritty “anti-fashion” appearance and stage antics caught the attention of the music press.
In an article in the NME, journalist, Charles Shaar Murray, famously likened their act to “Hiroshima in a pint mug”
By 1974, the band’s reputation secured them a contract with United Artists, and following tours with Brinsley Schwarz and Hawkwind, the band’s first album “Down by the Jetty” was released in January the following year.
Throughout early 1975, the band toured with Kokomo and Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers on the Naughty Rhythms Tour, before returning to the studio later in the year to record their second album, “Malpractice” released in October.
A year later, the timely release of “Stupidity” the band’s first live album, saw it rocket to the number one spot after only a week in the album charts. For the time being, at least, Dr Feelgood could do no wrong. Sadly though, oblivious to all but the band, dark clouds were massing on the horizon….
The relentless UK touring schedule, an unhappy American tour, and the constant demand for Wilko to produce more songs had lead to a deep rift between him, and the rest of the band.
Feelings worsened, and following a disagreement to use the, ironically named, Lew Lewis track “Lucky Seven” on the bands fourth album, “Sneaking Suspicion” Wilko took the decision to leave the band.
The virtually unknown, John “Gypie” Mayo from an Essex jazz funk band based in Harlow, was recruited as a replacement, and throughout 1977’s hectic tour schedule, quickly established himself as a worthy replacement, gaining critical acclaim from both the rock media and an anxious fan base.
The departure of band’s only songwriter, however, would mean that, for their next album, “Be Seeing You” the help of a few old friends would be required.
With Nick Lowe producing, and lyrical inspiration from Larry Wallis (ex-Pink Fairies) the album was released in September that year.
“Private Practice” followed a year later, and from it, the single “Milk and Alcohol” was to prove the bands biggest selling single. Written by Nick Lowe and Gypie Mayo, it tells the tale of the near disastrous events of the band’s “real life” encounter with the LAPD on route back to their hotel after a John Lee Hooker gig
Another live album “As it Happens” was released in June 1979, and a further studio album “Let It Roll” followed in September.
The following year, the band turned, once again, to Nick Lowe to produce the album “A Case of The Shakes” which featured the song writing talents of Lowe, Larry Wallis and former Brinsley Schwartz keyboard player, Bob Andrews.
The album was something of a return to core values for the Feelgoods, and was duly noted by the music press, describing it as “Their best album for years”
The band set about continuing their gruelling tour schedule across the globe, but the lengthy periods away from his young family began to take their toll on Gypie Mayo.
On stage, he had proven himself to be a worthy replacement for Wilko, and off stage, had shown a flair for fast-living excess that matched any of his bandmates.
Eventually, however, Gypie Mayo decided that it was time to concentrate his attentions towards his family and, once again, the band set about the difficult task of recruiting a new guitarist.