|Even Lee himself
would have savoured the irony of his own thunder being stolen from under
him, when he passed away on 7th April 1994. The pragmatist who almost singlehandedly
brought British rock back to its senses in the 70s, was completely upstaged
by a young pipsqueak from Seattle, who decided to take his own life and
grab all the glory. You could imagine Brilleaux looking down from rock'n'roll
heaven, when it happened, with a smirk and a shrug, then lighting up another
cigarette, downing another G&T and muttering "fuck it!".
I always dug the Feelgoods back in their heyday of "Down By The Jetty" and "Stupidity", when the band was more Wilko Johnson than Lee Brilleaux, when the guitarist wrote all the quartets material, corkers like "roxette", and hugged the stage. Brilleaux finally did rise to hero status in my eyes, but much later. In the early 80s, he was interviewed by one of the weeklies; it may have been NME - and remember this was the time of the New Romantics and the Smiths; when the Feelgoods ill-fitting suits were sartorially out of place and their no-nonsense rockaboogie, dismissed as rockist crap. The piece finished with the singer in full flight; "life's a bunch of bollocks", he observed, "have another drink". It was pure Zen in the way it just seemed to cut through everything that was wrong at the time, and though I may have not got the wording quite 100 percent, that quote's stuck with me all this time.
Brilleaux was a good bloke - he loved rythm'n'blues music and knew it in almost encyclopedic depth. His record collection was staggeringly huge! He could be magnanimous too - a 400 quid loan to Jake Riviera got Stiff Records off the ground in 1976 and it's totally apt that the Feelgoods later recorded "Heart Of The City", the flipside of the first ever Stiff 45 by Nick Lowe ("So It Goes" was The A). So it's timely that there is now a handsome boxed set available, "Looking Back" (EMI 7243 83441426) that charts the whole of the Feelgoods' long and illustrious history and which should elevate Brilleaux to his rightful place in the development of rock. (Nice to hear Debbie Harry singing the band's praises in a recent ROCK FAMILY TREES programme). I'm usually against corporations, but I have to tip my hat to Tim Chacksfield and his gang at EMI for constantly reissuing their back catalogue in an aesthetic and caring way. The Feelgoods 5-cd set is marketed as a gargantuan fag-packet (Lee undoubtedly would have approved), complete with a band history and quotes from many of Lee's mates (but sadly not from Larry Wallis). The band's enduring logo snarls at you from the front of it. Pure class!
One of the first things to amaze you is the fact that the Wilko Johnson era - which many regard as their most creative period - is taken care of by the end of disc 1, and there's then a further 3 cds that cover 1977 thru 1993, when the band's critical fortunes (outside of the continual touring) became mixed. As the last bars of "Sneakin' Suspicion" fade away, you're left to wade thru 3 more hours of sometimes very patchy music. In concert you could always rely on Lee and the boys to deliver the goods, the same could never be said of their later albums! Though certainly you'll agree with Lee's appraisal of Wilko's replacement, Gippie Mayo as the best musician ever to pass through the combo's ranks - it's great to hear stuff like "She's A Wind Up" again. If you ever loved Lee and the band, you have to own this set - it's the perfect testament to a great band leader, who strove through thick'n'thin to bring his music to the people. Sparko and the Big Figure, Johnny Guitar Crippen all came and went but Lee stuck with it to the end. Perhaps the most interesting inclusion to the set is disc 5, a kind of "Odds And Sods" which contains some real goodies like a bunch of interviews (Lee talking about his fight against cancer is particularly inspiring), the Oil City Sheiks 45, "Homework" and other sundry b-sides that have long eluded me. Oh and Tony - Lee may never have watched the South Bank Show, but I bet he did when the Feelgoods were the subject of it back in '81, and there's a 14min segment from it featured here!
In the mid-90s, "Pub rock" has become a catch-all putdown phrase, but when the Feelgoods were at their peak, its resonance was just the opposite - it stood for many of the best values of unbridled basic rock'n'roll and Brilleaux was at the very eye of the hurricane. How many early punk rockers saluted the Feelgoods in the same breath as slagging off hippy scum bands like Genesis back in 77? Since he's been gone, there's been an indefinable gap left in my life, in the same way that Gene Clarke's passing left a similar space. He was always someone I expected to go on forever.
Everybody: "Lee Brilleaux was Dr. Feelgood" and it sure ticks in this writer's craw that a new Dr. Feelgood should be sent out on the road last autumn, even if it was a last wish of the singer on his deathbed that the brand name should continue. Doubly so, when you consider that one member of this latest line-up had already been sacked by Lee for allegedly not standing his rounds - the ultimate sin in Brilleaux's eyes! Drink up and be somebody, as the man said! Lee Brilleaux - good on yer, mate!
is from issue number 19 of hartbeat magazine and is written by Nigel
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