Another Feelgood Friday

When Oil City Confidential, Julien Temple’s film about pub rockers Dr Feelgood, was given a limited UK cinema release in February, I must admit that I read its excellent reviews with some envy. I would have loved to have seen Temple’s documentary, his, if you will, rockumentary on the big screen, but I knew that my local cinema would never screen such a wonderful film. I thought I’d have to wait until its June 14th release on DVD, so imagine my surprise and delight when I learned that BBC Four will be screening the film tonight. Oil City Confidential is the third in Temple’s trilogy of music documentaries about three of the most energetic and influential English groups of the seventies. It follows on from The Filth and the Fury (2000), about The Sex Pistols, and The Future is Unwritten (2007), about Joe Strummer, one of the founding members of The Clash. Dr Feelgood formed prior to both the Pistols and The Clash, but never attained the same level of fame and notoriety as the two leading lights of British punk

In many ways, Dr Feelgood provided the missing link between 1950s American rock & roll and late 70s British punk. The band formed in Canvey Island, Essex, in 1971 and were hugely influenced by American blues. They took their name from the title of a single b-side by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, though that version was a cover of an American blues number that was itself named after a slang term for heroin. The group comprised of Lee Brilleaux on harmonica, Wilko Johnson on guitar, John Sparks on bass and The Big Figure (a pseudonym) on drums. In the 60s, a number of British bands, particularly The Animals and The Rolling Stones, reproduced the songs and sound of American blues music. Dr Feelgood also adopted this style, but made a conscious decision to write lyrics that reflected their environment rather than an alien American one. In addition, Johnson’s jerky guitar chops, allied to his equally jerky stage movements, added an original touch to the band’s sound and image. With their unpretentious songs and rudimentary sound, the band fitted in extremely well to the nascent pub-rock movement that thrived in North London and Essex in the early 70s. Dr Feelgood were one of the most popular and successful of these groups that also provided a starting point for the likes of Joe Strummer (with the 101ers), Ian Dury (Kilburn & the High Roads) and Elvis Costello

Dr Feelgood is still active today, but has undergone many personnel changes since the early 70s. The band’s greatest commercial and critical successes coincided with the release of their first four albums, which were also the only ones to feature the original lineup. Like most pub rockers, the group were at their best in a live setting, but they managed to convey the spirit of their live shows on their debut album, Down By the Jetty (1975). Fittingly, their third record, Stupidity (1976), was a live recording and became their first, and only, number one album. By the time their next album was released, Johnson had a drug problem and Brilleaux had a drink problem. The upshot of all this was that Brilleaux and Johnson had a falling out, with Johnson quitting the group in 1977. In 1979, a new lineup had their only top ten hit with one of the band’s best songs, Milk and Alcohol. This would be the height of the band’s success and the departure of the original rhythm section in 1982 left Brilleaux as the only remaining original member, before his untimely death from cancer in 1994. None of the original members are involved now, but a band named Dr Feelgood is still touring even though they’re technically just a tribute act. You can check out the real deal below in the original band’s take on a song from 1956 that was written by Lieber and Stoller. The Feelgood’s version was included as a limited edition 7″ with the Stupidity album and also appears on a compilation that I’d recommend called Singles – The UA Years. Hopefully it’ll whet your appetite for Julien Temple’s documentary on the band

Riot in Cell Block #9 (The Robins cover) – Dr Feelgood