Dr Feelgood

There might be a fullish discography listed below, but I have, to borrow the title of what was probably the last of their albums that really mattered, a sneakin’ suspicion there won’t be anything beyond 1977‘s Be Seeing You commented on at length hereabouts.

And, while I’ve picked up a few titles over the years, the consumer (assuming there’s anyone inclined to visit one of the wellsprings of the punk/new wave explosion) probably only needs to shell out for the All Through the City (with Wilko 1974-1977) box set (I paid $25.99 at iTunes) to have all the Dr Feelgood you’ll probably ever need.

There’s an outfit with the same name still doing the rounds and delivering the same repertoire, and I saw one of the later incarnations live in Townsville the night before I moved to Bowen, but as far as Hughesy’s concerned the lineup that coalesced around vocalist Lee Brilleaux (born Lee Collinson in Durban) and guitarist Wilko Johnson born John Wilkinson) in Canvey Island in 1971 is the only one that really matters. I might, if forced, reluctantly concede some significance to the immediate post-Wilko period with John Gypie Mayo on guitar.

Although he was born in South Africa  grew up on Canvey Island, Essex, alongside Chris White (later Chris Fenwick) and John Sparkes forming a skiffle band, as you did in that era, before a Howlin' Wolf gig at the King’s Head in Romford prompted Collinson to learn to play harmonica. Collinson and Sparkes had been gigging with a shuffling cast of other players ending up as The Wild Bunch(aka The Pigboy Charlie Band), after White headed off to Drama School and changed his name to Chris Fenwick.

A chance meeting with Wilko brought him into the band, which subsequently needed a new name. Dr Feelgood was an iconic Johnny Kidd and the Pirates cover Piano Red’s Dr Feel-Good (recorded under the name of Dr Feelgood & The Interns). The final piece of the jigsaw fell into place when Chris Fenwick met a Dutch promoter at a wedding, passed himself off as a well known English DJ who happened to know a great little band and arranged a five gig tour of Holland which posed a problem for the band’s original drummer, a soldier who wasn’t prepared to go AWOL.

Wilko had an old friend, John Martin, an “old school" drummer from a musical family who’d been playing drums with a number of cover bands and agreed to help out. The Dutch tour suggested there might be something worth working on, Collinson changed his name to Lee Brilleaux, and after a second trip to Holland they picked up a gig backing Heinz Burt, former bassist The Tornados, on the revival circuit.

That got them up alongside Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley and MC5 at 1972’s Wembley Rock'n'Roll Festival and the beginnings of the London "Pub Rock" scene brought them to the attention of the music press. NME, journalist Charles Shaar Murray, described them as Hiroshima in a pint mug, and the rest, as they say, was history.

A recording contract with United Artists, tours with Brinsley Schwarz and Hawkwind, Down by the Jetty, further touring with with Kokomo and Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers (the Naughty Rhythms Tour), Malpractice, and when Stupidity shot to #1 after only a week in the charts things looked decidedly rosy.

Things, however, aren’t always as they seem, and a combination of relentless touring, the constant demand for Wilko to produce material, a rift between a non-drinker and the party harder rest of the band and a a disagreement over the inclusion of Lew Lewis’ Lucky Seven on Sneaking Suspicion saw Wilko leave the band in March 1977.

The rhythm section (John B. Sparko Sparks on bass guitar and drummer John The Big Figure Martin) hung around until April 1982, leaving Brilleaux to soldier on with fairly stable lineups until his death from cancer on 7 April1994. The details are all there on the Wikipedia page, complete with a photo of current vocalist vocalist Robert Kane in Barcelona from March 2009 which probably says all that needs to be said about the brand name’s continuing commercial viability. 

Having grabbed the All Through the City (with Wilko 1974-1977) box set I’m keeping my eyre out for the Julien Temple about the band’s early days (Oil City Confidential), but that, I think, will just about do it.


© Ian Hughes 2012