Ace: Time For Another (Anchor ANCL-2013); Dr. Feelgood: Malpractice (Columbia PC 34098)

PUB ROCK BREAKDOWN

PUB ROCK has been one of the most encouraging musical trends of this decade, if only because it’s one of the very few genres not currently controlled by production values. The pub rock hierarchy — Brinsley Schwarz, Ace, Ducks Deluxe, Doctor Feelgood — were authentic dance bands who made the most sense sweating out a crude rock choogle in packed bars where the beer was cheap and the crowd was high. Disco apologists argue that theirs is a dance music too, but what a difference! Disco is completely pre-programmed, anonymous muzak, lobotomized patterns that might as well be ticked out by computers as the sessionists-looking-for-a-buck who turn them out now. Disco dancers eschew anything with variety — makes it harder to dance to, they say, a frank conservatism that places the music in a progression that runs from the dentist’s office to the elevator to the disco dance floor.

Ironically, the pub rockers’ energy comes from a tradition established by bar bands like the Stones and Yardbirds ten years ago, who in turn picked up their energy from American blues forms. So white punks keep alive the black American secular music tradition from small bars in England while the nouveau riche lounge crowd spits on the ghost of Muddy Waters in their search for upward mobility and an easy lay.

Nice rhetoric, but a strange thing happened to these pub rockers on their way to the golden staircase. Not one of these bands has been able to make it outside of England on their own terms. Brinsley Schwarz never overcame the hype that accompanied their first American tour, and Ducks Deluxe broke up before they ever got a chance to tour here. Ace made tremendous inroads behind the success of a single (‘How Long’) which, good as it was, failed to demonstrate the band’s best points. Their first album, Five-A-Side, featured several songs that approached the band’s live presence — ‘Sniffin’ About’, ‘Time Ain’t Long’ and ‘Satellite’, but their second, Time For Another, falls even further from the mark.

Like most of the pub bands, Ace are veteran rockers — lead guitarist Bam King played in one of the great Grade B London bands of the early ’60s, Action; drummer Fran Byrne was in another legendary pub rock band, Bees Make Honey. Ace can be as tightly-knit and infectious a bunch of players as any of the pub bands — when they open up they cook with a light touch, suggesting Grateful Dead transmogrified via Man. Guitarists King and Phil Harris interlay beautifully with Paul Carrack’s spongy keyboard textures and the supple rhythm section.

But they’re only as good as their material, and anyone who’s heard their cover version of ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’, where even the harmony flubs are so energy-charged that you just can’t sit still, has to be disappointed with Time For Another. The hit single may have given them a boost, but their search for a follow-up could well kill them.

Doctor Feelgood has no such problem. Their first import album, Down By The Jetty, does the time warp back to the raunch epistemology of Stones, Yardbirds and Animals circa ’65. Better fidelity on the recording, but the performance is pure deja vu. Yet somehow it doesn’t sound copied — these guys believe this stuff (the social attitude may be rotten but it makes for good rock and roll).

Unfortunately, their first album is still only available as an import — they’ve cleaned up the act a bit for the first American release, Malpractice. Not a bad record at all — pushes as hard as Jetty but has a little more filler. Lead singer Lee “Kinky” Brilleau has his Keith Relf routine down so pat he makes Relf look sick by comparison. Guitarist Wilko Johnson is a great assimilator of second- and third-generation blues/rock licks, even collaborating on one tune with Mick Green, ex-guitarist with the quasi-divine Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. This is (no kidding) The Real Thing — I don’t even care if they make it as long as I’ve got these two records to listen to. 

© John SwensonCrawdaddy!, May 1976

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