Pub Rock Proms: For Those Who Like Their Rock Hot And Sweaty…

IT’S SATURDAY night, a good ten minutes after closing time. Down at the Hope and Anchor in Islington landlord Fred Granger is going quietly berserk, flashing the new, extra-bright houselights and turning the jukebox way, way up. But the 101’ers refuse to leave.

They’re still up there on the stand, boogieing away like there’s no tomorrow, and the crowd is right with them.

Next Saturday night…and this time it’s Ian Dury and the re-formed Kilburn And The High Roads who’ve just pulled together an amazing set (which admittedly suffered more than a little from chronic under-rehearsing), bringing the Hope and Anchor Music Festival – “Pub-Rock Proms” 1975 – to a close.

The smiles of Fred Granger and John Eichler of the Upper Street Music Company are but reflections of the smiles of every customer who’s walked into the Hope’s cellar during the last two weeks and lived to tell the tale.

If you’re looking for a showcase for London’s most promising bands, the Hope and Anchor is one of the few places to go; this festival, like the last one, had the cream. F.B.I., the Mickey Jupp Band, Roogalator, Supercharge, Moon and Graham Parker with his backing hand The Rumour (featuring ex-Brinsley Schwarz and Ducks Deluxe personnel) what more could you want?

Who? Well, Fred Granger had them all booked too – Kilburn And The High Roads, the ridiculous 101’ers, J. B.’s Little Acre, (another outfit from the Midlands) the slapstick humour of Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias and ex-Bonzo Neil Innes and Fatso, plus the finest Rock ‘n’ Roll revival band of them all, Crazy Cavan And The Rhythm Rockers.

Two weeks of music like this must finally put paid to the notion that “Pub-Rock” covers a severely limited musical field, is played with limited ability and lacks imagination.

From country to rock ‘n’ roll, “big band” R’n’B to punk rock and the funkiest soul with and without a heavy jazz influence was about the breadth of it, and that doesn’t include Ian Dury’s excursions further and further into the realms of the avant-garde.

There was something for everybody…and goodtime rock ‘n’ roll all the way. Drinking music to set your feet stomping has always been what “Pub-Rock” is about, and little has changed since ’72.

SO PUB rock’s great…But it leads on to another question. What’s the chances of getting out of it and making the big-time?

In the early days of the circuit, bands like Bees Make Honey, Ducks Deluxe, Chilli Willi and Phoenix were possibly the best the pubs will ever produce – if only because of their freshness and enthusiasm.

But none of them got anywhere, did they?

Unfortunately the Bees, the Ducks and, to a lesser extent, Brinsley Schwarz, found that their low-key, good-time, musicians’ musicianship was perfect for London pubs – but when it came to bigger venues and out-of-the-way towns where the punters demand something tangible, something more than just tunes alone, no-one really wanted to know.

Having got together to play good time material for its own sake, the early pub bands found their whole outlook was counting against them.

The Brinsleys are a perfect example. Martin Belmont, who roadied for them before he started Ducks Deluxe, and now plays in the Rumour with Bob Andrews and Brinsley Schwarz, remembers that before they finally split, the Brinsleys recorded a couple of excellent singles.

“They were both really catchy, you know, and if they’d got proper radio play they’d have been hits. But the BBC got them through the post, looked at the names and thought, “Oh; that’s not the sort of stuff we play on Radio One, that’s more John Peel’s sort of thing”. And that was that.

The missing ingredient, of course, was Image. The business doesn’t live on good times alone. You’ve gotta have marketable Class before someone will take risks and spend money on you.

However, the sad experience of the pub rock pioneers has taught everyone else a thing or two. To oversimplify a trifle, the second and third generation pub bands now strive to present An Act. They’ve seen the Kursaal Flyers, they’ve seen Dr Feelgood, Kokomo and Ace, and every band that played this year’s Hope and Anchor Festival went out of its way to ensure that something of their stage presence would stick in the back of your head while you were waiting for the last bus home.

The music is still coming from the same place it’s always come from, it’s just that now the marketing has improved – – if you want to be cynical about it. It works too, as the recent careers of the Kursaal Flyers and Dr Feelgood prove.

THERE’S BEEN another change. While the bands have grown more businesslike, the pubs now find that they have become an integrated part of the rock business structure.

John Eichler has been in rock ‘n’ roll for years, working with Famepushers, Help Yourself and Man before he joined Fred Granger at the Hope and Anchor, and he sees the role of the pubs as sharply defined.

“Places like the Hope have taken over where the clubs were in the ’60s,” he says.

So instead of clubs, bands play pubs. Then they move on. Few feel that they owe any allegiance to the pubs as anything more than gigs to be played.

Mickey Jupp is honest and forthright about it:

“Why am I playing the pubs circuit at the moment? Look; I was in Legend three years ago, and we even had a couple of albums put out on Vertigo, but we got screwed by the Business every way we turned. So I gave it all up.

“I went to work in a music shop in Southend until Lee Brilleaux (of Dr Feelgood) and a couple of guys in the Kursaals persuaded me to play again. Of course I’m after the money, I want to be successful, but this time round I’m going to do it my way.

“The pubs give me the opportunity to break into the business on my own terms.”

Ian Dury, whose re-formed Kilburn And The High Roads played their opening gig on the last night of the Festival, sees his position in even more businesslike terms.

“I’m not playing the pubs as such. I’ve got enough of a reputation to play all over the country, probably, but until the band is properly worked in I just want to do the good places in London, of which the Hope and Anchor is one.

“It costs us next to nothing in travelling costs and stuff and we can guarantee a good, sympathetic audience. After a month or two, when we’re really together, then I’ll take the High Roads out on the road.”

They had to turn away close on a couple of hundred people the night the Kilburns returned to the Hope, and it’s feasible that, come spring, Fred Granger will never be able to fit them in again.

During the two weeks of the Festival no other band packed out the Hope’s cellar, although one or two came dangerously close. But just about every one of the 12 groups that played not only aspire to the big time, but have the ability to make a real go of it.

F.B.I., a very black and very funky outfit have already graduated to the colleges and came back to the Hope for the one night.

Both Moon, whose appeal is built on Noel McCalla’s excellent voice, and Graham Parker And The Rumour are all set to make the same break. Crazy Cavan And The Rhythm Rockers have a lifetime’s work set up on the Teddy Boy circuit, although their faithfully reproduced rockabilly sound, based around a great bass player and a fine lead guitarist (Don Kinsella and Lyndon Needs respectively), merits them a wider audience.

Then there were Supercharge and Roogalator, both of whom take stock elements of pub-rock music (one funk and soul, the other country rock and R’n’B), and mould and twist it to their own requirements, producing music that is impressively different. Roogalator still have a lot of work to do before they’ll gain much more than critical approval, but Dan C. Adler’s songs should carry them through.

As far as I was concerned, there were three bands who were truly memorable: Kilburn And The High Roads, Micky Jupp and, of course, the 101’ers.

Jupp’s got all the style of an old band leader, and a band that can swing too, while the newest edition of the Kilburns is the only group I have ever seen on the pub circuit who are constantly exploring, frequently lapsing into neo-jazz things that make you think of Beefheart at his best.

But Ian Dury’s stage presence and his ingenious lyrics are enough to keep the music firmly based in rock, as far away from self-conscious Art as possible.

But, in the face of everything, including the humour of Neil Innes, Fatso and Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias, despite the massed voices and flying guitars of J.B.’s Little Acre, who were down in London for their first gig out of the Birmingham area, the 101’ers still emerged as the most outstanding band of the Festival.

They were so real, it hurt. Every other band that played the Hope and Anchor Festival can blow the 101’ers off the stage when you measure them musically, of that there is not the slightest doubt. But those other guys are all experienced players, all been on stage before, all know what performing is all about.

The 101’ers don’t. On stage they break every rule that’s written in the book…because nobody’s taught them how to read. Everything is so new and exhilarating and they communicate that excitement to the audience.

However badly Joe Strummer may sing, however pedantic and discordant are the Mole’s bass lines and clumsy are Snakehip’s drum breaks the 101’ers are what rock is all about. Enthusiasm and zest, very fast living with a hint of violence and above all simplicity.

It seemed like the whole of Elgin Avenue turned up the night the 101’ers played the Hope, and apart from Crazy Cavan, Joe Strummer and company were the only act who brought the audience and the band together as two sides of one coin transcending the straight forward punter/performer relationship in which rock is currently tied up. Don’t let Dr Feelgood fool you. Wilko can play and Lee can sing, but they sure ain’t the guys off the street that the 101’ers are. Squat Rock and the Heavy Gauge String Sound is what the 101’ers give you and I don’t think the business will let them go too far because of it.

But if you remember the summer nights of 1973, when Ducks Deluxe played the Lord Nelson on the Holloway Road every Wednesday, check out the 101’ers for the same vibe.

Check out the Hope and Anchor too. The pub rock bands may be getting slicker and slicker, but they’re forever coming up with new permutations of all that’s good in rock ‘n’ roll, even if they aren’t producing anything radically innovative.

Last year Ace, Kokomo and Dr Feelgood were the bands that really took off, although Chilli Willi and Clancy didn’t exactly do badly out of it all. Since last October the Hope’s already given you the Kursaal Flyers, but you can start laying your bets now on who else is going to break out.

The field is very tight indeed.

© Chas de WhalleyNew Musical Express, 15 November 1975

Leave a Comment