Various Artists – Surrender To The Rhythm
Released 17 July 2020
Subtitled “The London Pub Rock Scene Of The Seventies” this new 3CD set features offerings by main pub acts like Brinsley Schwarz, Kilburn & The High Roads and Bees Make Honey along with more obscure outfits such as Charlie & The Wideboys, Fumble and Cado Belle….Ian Canty strolls into the snug and orders a foaming pint of mild in a straight glass…
Whatever your view of the musical content of the UK’s pub rock scene of the 1970s, you have to admit it at least opened up a load of venues for the Punk/New Wave surge that was to emerge later in the decade. This presented a vital lifeline to many bands, as a lot of clubs and bigger venues banned many acts that were linked with punk in any way. But going back to the beginning, for a movement enshrouded by the grimy atmosphere of the less fashionable public houses of London, it got much of its initial impetus direct from the USA.
The down-home, back to basics attitude of the Band and the bar band circuit had a pronounced influence on many of the early groups and when American outfit Eggs Over Easy managed to get themselves a residency at the Tally Ho pub, the scene was inaugurated. Temporarily setting up home in the UK to record their aborted debut album, they remained in the UK and short of a supply of ready money and needing to keep their hands in, they required a regular gig. Plying their country rock/rhythm and blues trade, they inadvertently managed to whip up a fair bit of interest. A lot of people were ready for something simpler and more accessible than the prog rock that was the dominant sound of the time.
Brinsley Schwarz were the next, because on the back of a ill-fated hype/press junket to the Filmore, they were looking to bolster their bruised credibility as a live act away from the public eye. Playing pubs seemed ideal. Other venues followed the Tally Ho’s lead after the Eggs’ success. From then on, bands denied access to the stadium or university gigs for whatever reason had an ever-growing network of venues in which to hone their craft. The musicians were a mixture of newcomers learning in public and older types hoping to rekindle the simpler thrills of the sixties. Before long even record company A&R people got wise and started taking notice. Something was happening.
There was also the appeal to a growing group of people who felt left behind by mainstream rock music’s rising ticket prices, overly ornate musical forms and the growing distance between the fans and performers. Pub Rock was cheap and the intimate nature of the gigs help to make them more exciting, for bands and audience alike. Real energy was exchanged, you could see the white of each others’ eyes, the rhythm pounding into you, a communal experience rather than the alienation caused by the gulf between stars and fans. The cramped environment only added to the thrill. Some of the music in stages became faster, louder and more brutal, leading inevitably towards punk rock. But that was only part of the story, as after the punk boom waned other kinds of music surged out through the pubs like two tone, the mod revival and a fresh wave of rhythm & blues.
But it is also important to realise “pub rock” at the time of the high tide of the scene was more open than the rather narrow genre of music the term is now used to describe. Funk, soul, glam, 50s rock & roll, rhythm & blues, hard rock, everything was up in the air and available to the groups that gingerly negotiated their way from the toilet dressing rooms to the boozer’s stage.
This new set Surrender To The Rhythm does feature most of the names one would associate with pub rock emanating from this isle, but also finds room for some more questionable selections. Though soulful ex-Love Affair singer Steve Ellis does enough to qualify by having pivotal act Eggs Over Easy back him on Have You Seen My Baby?, one would be hard pushed to make a real case for Mott The Hoople, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Status Quo being genuine pub rockers (despite their many qualities). These bands had the back to basics attitude, but you were more likely to find them on the university or club circuit. As Surrender To the Rhythm runs chronologically and these bands appear on the first disc in an early 70s time frame was when pub rock was in its genesis, I think we can just about let these slide.
However later on Thin Lizzy, far more a hard rock band than anything else, are a slightly curious pick, though fortunately the second Dave Edmunds solo track Get It (a great Gene Vincent cover) is Rockpile in all but name. Couldn’t have had this party without them and Billy Bremner also gets needle time as well. Alternatively other bands who missed out who may have made the cut include Kokomo, the Stranglers, Plummet Airlines, Oi! heroes Cock Sparrer (very Faces-style pub rock early on), the Steve Gibbons Band, the Motors who certainly had the credentials and new wave of blues’ leaders Nine Below Zero. I’m sure there are others, plus whatever you think of the band’s subsequent recording history you have to acknowledge Dire Straits’ roots as part of the pub scene. Mark Knopfler does feature as part of 100 Club supremo Ron Watts’ outfit Brewers Droop however.
But what is included does represent a pretty decent survey, something that has been needed since the Goodbye Nashville, Hello Camden Town collection from over ten years ago. Crucially Surrender To The Rhythm also has a lot of fine music on offer too. We begin right back in the roots of pub on disc one with Mickey Jupp’s Legend and the streamlined rhythm and blues of their song Cheque Book, later covered by Dr Feelgood and with the kind of no-frills energy pub rock was built on. I can’t listen to Brinsley Schwarz’s effortlessly sunny Surrender To The Rhythm without feeling much better about life in general and Roogalator’s funky Ride With Roogalator has a great dirty fuzz sound, which helps set out a decent case for them being one unfairly forgotten band of the era.
Ducks Deluxe were one of pub rock’s founding fathers and their Heart’s On My Sleeve is teak-tough but tuneful, all-out power with a load of appeal. Perhaps Writing On The Wall were more psych/prog than anything else, only really being grouped with pub rock because of Willie Finlayson’s subsequent move to Bees Make Honey, though Tripsy Lady is fun and the Bees themselves star with a rhythmic cover of My Funny Valentine. Starry Eyed And Laughing were another band who didn’t get their dues, represented here by the 12 string heaven of Money Is No Friend Of Mine. You couldn’t really have a pub rock compilation without Ian Dury and though the Kilburns’ Billy Bentley isn’t exactly rare, it is a joy to hear again and again. The first of his great “list” songs.
By the time we reach disc two, something was clearly brewing and it wasn’t just the beer. Dr Feelgood came rocketing out of Canvey Island, rhythm & blues stripped right back to the essentials and played with a truly vicious swagger, as witnessed on their impeccable She Does It Right single included here. Their manic energy, threatening but entrancing on stage charisma and way with a sawn-off riff set the tone for good things to come from the Count Bishops, Eddie And The Hot Rods (their terrific Writing On The Wall debut) and Joe Strummer’s 101ers later on in this set. but overall this section of Surrender To the Rhythm ably demonstrates the sheer variety of sounds that was available in the average London rock music drinker.
But before we get to the more street rock items, there are a host of diverting items to consider. Cornwall’s Charlie And The Wide Boys have the unenviable duty to follow She Does It Right, but they do good things on Love Me Real and Free The Kids by the obscure Fumble could have seriously been hit material. Bowie certainly saw some talent in the band’s keyboardist Sean Mayes, who he co-opted for his own band. Elvis Costello sounds near fully-formed in his new wave persona on Flip City’s Imagination (Is A Powerful Deceiver) and though by the time of It Could Be Better Byzantium had lost future Blockhead Chas Jankel, this is a skilful and sensitive piece of danceable rock that could have done well for them had it been released at the time.
Strapps’ Schoolgirl Funk is an absolute fuzzbox-enhanced dance monster musically, but it’s a real shame that the song is completely offensively sexist drivel that even “being of a different time” can’t excuse. She’s No Angel by the Heavy Metal Kids manages to thrive on the sheer cheek of Gary Holton’s delivery and the proto-punk glam of the band and Sean Tyla is back with another quality street rock tune in Midnight Moon, cut with his Tyla Gang. While Keys To Your Heart was no doubt a good single, it is a shame the compilers didn’t pull something less familiar from the 101’ers oeuvre. This part of the set comes to a close with the one and only Gorillas’ raucous She’s My Gal – cool and exciting mod beat for the 70s from the mighty Jesse Hector!
Though the received wisdom is that as punk broke all the pub bands moved over to cash in on the new wave, Surrender To The Rhythm’s disc three sets out to prove that wasn’t quite the case. For it starts off in a very dance music direction indeed, with Moon, soon-to-be hitmakers Gonzalez and Cado Belle all providing high quality dancefloor fillers, with the latter’s very fine and smooth Stones Throw From Nowhere a lovely blue-eyed soul nugget. The Jam’s vibrant energy is brought to bear on Larry Williams’ Slow Down and the Pleasers, the leaders of Thamesbeat, are like a proto-mod revival act on their nicely rough and catchy Rock N Roll Radio.
If Darts’ Daddy Cool/The Girl Can’t Help It sounded manic and looked cramped on Top Of The Pop, imagine them doing their stuff in the downstairs of the Hope & Anchor. The demo of Philip Rambow’s Young Lust is just pure rock and roll excitement and another note not to miss out his recently released anthology (reviewed here) and Matchbox, signed to punk label Raw at the time of recording here, sound a much leaner and tougher proposition than their later novelty hits. Billy Bremner contributes a rockin’ Creature From The Black Lagoon and the Pirates’ studio Shakin’ All Over can only hint at their awe-inspiring live majesty.
As with the 101’ers on disc two, I would have preferred to hear something a little rarer from Squeeze than Goodbye Girl. Maybe something from their Deptford Fun City EP, though I suppose at least it isn’t Up the Junction. The Merton Parkas were very much a pub rock band in mod threads as the single You Need Wheels (far from their finest recording) proves and the Inmates bring things right back around to pub’s r&b roots with their version of the Standells’ Dirty Water. This final disc was probably the most enjoyable for me, lots of great stuff and not all of it too familiar.
Though I’ve been a little pernickety, Surrender To The Rhythm does deliver musically. In fact its very refusal to stick to the “pub rock rules” throughout makes it rather more entertaining and interesting than it might have been. In doing so a more reflective and wider picture emerges rather than the usual Brinsleys/Kilburns/Feelgoods axis, great as those bands were. So this is a pretty good introduction to the scene overall with plenty of diversity and some cracking tunes too.
Post script – Whilst writing this review details about the passing of Sean Tyla emerged. If anyone personified the kind of no-nonsense, street level attitude that was in the best pub rock it was him and he was a damn fine singer and songwriter too. Craig has written a fine tribute here, but I would like to dedicate this review to him – Sean Tyla RIP a true rock and roll legend.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here