Feb 262010

I haven’t written one of these in a while, but Mick Green of the Pirates died last month, and it inspired me to take a look at the strain of pub rock that was about the ROCK. As we saw in earlier installments of this series, pub rock started out as a sort of weedy Americana, leaning towards the countryish and folky. But as the scene evolved, the British strain of maximum R&B came to the fore, and pub crowd came to prefer a rowdier night out. So pub rock was part of the awakening of sleepy early ’70s pop music, and it eventually came wide awake when it mutated into punk rock.

The roots of the Pirates go back to the early ’60s. As Johnny Kidd & the Pirates they were one of the first credible British rock groups. Their big hit was “Shakin’ All Over.” I can’t find a good YouTube of them playing it, so I’ll post this awesome clip of a version by another iconic early British rocker, Morrissey favorite Vince Taylor:

Many people covered this song, notably the Who on Live At Leeds. It’s a great riff, but it’s not originally Mick Green’s. He joined the Pirates after it was recorded (in 1960 with Joe Moretti on lead) and left to join Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas in 1964. Kidd died in a car accident in 1966.

As a side note, I’ll just copy this story from Wikipedia:

The original recording was not a hit outside of Europe. Instead, “Shakin’ All Over” gained fame in North America after Chad Allan and the Expressions covered it in 1965, where it was a #1 hit in Canada. Several months later, concerned that the effect of the British Invasion might eclipse the potential for success in the US by a Canadian act, the record label issued the song to radio stations in the States on a white label, with the artist listed as Guess Who? This became the first hit for the group in the states, reaching #22 and leading Chad Allen and the Expressions to change the group’s name to Guess Who.

Here’s the Guess Who’s version:


Mick Green reformed the Pirates in 1976 with Johnny Spence on bass and vocals and Frank Farley on drums, and they rode the pub rock bandwagon to great success. Here they are in their prime playing one of their signature songs, “Gibson Martin Fender.” Note the rad Pirate outfits:

In later years Green played with Bryan Ferry and Van Morrison. Here he is upstaging David Gilmour in Paul McCartney’s Run Devil Run band:

And here’s Green just a couple of years before he died casually tearing it up for a Finnish festival audience and looking like he’s having a blast. R.I.P.

Green was famous for his choppy Telecaster sound, playing rhythm and lead simultaneously. I know you’re thinking where have I heard that before?

Dr. Feelgood actually formed before the Pirates re-emerged, and Wilko Johnson played without a pick, but his rhythm/lead Tele style seems to come right out of Mick Green’s. There’s not all that much video available of the original band, so check this out:

The jerky body English and stripped down sound was a precursor of punk, but when Dr. Feelgood hit London in 1975 they took the pub rock scene by storm. Their album Down By the Jetty(1974) and Malpractice (1975) aren’t highly recommendable, because they don’t really capture the band’s energy. In a recent MOJO feature Nick Lowe commented:

When the pub rock scene started going downhill, largely due to Dr Feelgood, who were so great they spawned many duff copyists, it was time to move on.

Wilko moved on in 1977, turning up briefly in the late version of Ian Dury’s Blockheads after Chaz Jankel split. He still performs with his own band.

One of the inheritors of this tradition, and a band who brought it into the punk rock scene, was Eddie & the Hot Rods. They were originally another Dr. Feelgood-style R&B pub rock band, but see how they combine that with some NY Dolls glam and incipient skinny tie/power pop:

When their Teenage Depression album came out, Americans took it as punk rock with no idea of the band’s pub rock lineage, but it’s more obvious in this clip:

There’s more echo and reverb than the Pirates or the Feelgood’s would have ever used, so I guess they added something to that sound. This album cover was certainly designed to appeal to punk rockers:

They were bandwagon jumpers, but so was Joe Strummer. Punk rock obliterated pub rock, but I don’t know where British maximum R&B could be found today. Maybe it emigrated to American with bands like the Black Keys.

Next time we’ll talk more about how pub rock also spawned Power Pop.


  12 Responses to “Pub Rock Also-Rans Pt 3: Pub ROCK

  1. Well done. That Guess Who tidbit is rock trivia nerd-vana!

  2. Mr. Moderator

    Man, that “Gibson Martin Fender” song ROCKS! I never heard a lick of The Pirates until now. They definitely set the template for Rockpile’s pile-driving pinky rockers. Also, gotta love the sweaty man-chest action from Green and the drummer. You don’t see that very often, especially offset by the singer’s pouffy blouse.

    That second Dr. Feelgood song is really cool – at least the main guitar lick. The first time I ever heard of Wilko Johnson was in an interview with Gang of Four’s Andy Gill, who cited him as a great influence. I could hear it as soon as I first checked out Dr. Feelgood, but until seeing this clip I never realized Gill also got his stage movements from him.

    Great description of the Eddie & the Hot Rods musical mix. I can see where your next installment is headed. Thanks for keeping this series going!

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    Awesome post, BigSteve. Re: Vince Taylor — talk about mach schau! Amazing!

  4. Thanks, BigSteve.
    I’ve heard of the Pirates for years but never actually heard them.

    Green kicks ass. I found a fantastic version of them doing Johnny Burnette’s Lonesome Train On A Lonesome Track from the same ’77 gig.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    Getting back to one of our old threads about bassists, the bassist in that Vince Taylor clip is also amazing. He’s got a very cool, defiant, yet supportive stance!

  6. sammymaudlin

    Wow. Impressive write-up BigSteve. Thanks.

    That Vince Taylor video is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in these here Halls. It sounds and looks like something David Lynch would do. Is there a Vince Taylor collection that you’d recommend that has this sound throughout?

    Gotta head out now and get me some black leather driving gloves. Outasite man.

  7. Mr. Moderator

    Isn’t Vince Taylor the artist who originally did “Brand New Cadillac”?

  8. sammymaudlin

    According to Allmusic he was also the inspiration for Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character. And there’s weird Hann/Barbera connection too.

  9. 2000 Man

    Man, I love this series, thanks, BigSteve! I never really heard The Pirates or Mick Green before I really love Wilko’s sound, and I even liked Gypie Mayo’s sound okay, too. Wilko just has that bite that really gets me. I’ve got a BBC disk that’s half Wilko songs and half Gypie, and I like the former better. I had no idea Mick Green fogured out a way to get even more bite. I swear, you could just pop a cd of him playing a guitar if you get your car stuck in the snow, and pop right out.

    Eddie and the Hot Rods are a band I found out about through my friend’s sister’s import album of Teenage Depression. We appropriated that and man, we thought we were the coolest kids on the planet, and we couldn’t even drive. That Teenage Depression video they changed the whole first verse for TV! It’s supposed to be”

    Well I’m spending all my money and its going up my nose
    My Daddy’s found me out and he’s tearing up my clothes
    My probation man says you know you ought to quit
    I said now don’t you hang me up now with none of that shit

    Their version of Seger’s Get Out of Denver is fucking great, too. I really love both of those bands, and I have forever, it seems.

  10. Mr. Moderator

    Pub rock fans, I’m finally getting around to an interview with a veteran of this scene and beyond on Wednesday night. Stay tuned!

  11. Read about Pub Rock in ‘No Sleep Till Canvey Island: The Great Pub Rock Revoution’ still available from http://www.willbirch.com

  12. Mr. Moderator

    Thanks for checking in, Will. It’s an honor to have you with us. Your book is THE bible for pub rock fans. I wanted to link it to our Amazon store, but it seems like it’s no longer available through Amazon. Going to your site may be the only way to go, so I encourage my fellow Townspeople to go now.

    We’ve got an interview with a pub rock colleague coming up in a few days as well as another one of BigSteve’s Pub Rock Also-Rans pieces. A lot of us dig what you guys did at that time and beyond. Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts on these or other subjects. Thanks.

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