Stupidity

13 Nov

Stupidity 

One of the more cheerful bits of news this autumn has been about the health of the guitarist John Wilkinson  (aka Wilko Johnson).  Earlier this year Wilko collaborated with Roger Daltrey on what everyone (including him) thought would be a final CD before he succumbed to what had been diagnosed as terminal pancreatic cancer. However, following surgery to remove an enormous tumor, he now appears to be clear of the disease. While I really enjoyed the collaboration ‘Going Back Home’, today’s post features something from much earlier in his career – the live album ‘Stupidity’ made as a member of Dr Feelgood.

My reasons for this choice are selfish : It’s my favourite Feelgoods album and this is, in part, because when it was released originally (in 1976 on United Artists), the first pressing came with a bonus single (Johnny B Goode and Riot in Cell Block No 9). Unlike the rest of the (live) album, this was recorded at the legendary Friars Club in Aylesbury in 1975 – and I was in the audience! This, sadly, is the closest I am ever likely to get to being associated with a No.1 chart topping album.

Dr Feelgood were one of the very best of the  ‘pub rock’ bands that paved the way for the whole punk explosion. They had energy, they had attitude and few of their songs exceeded three minutes. Unlike many of the punk bands that followed them, they also had talent.  Even now I can recall the names of every member off the top of my head: Frontman Lee Brilleaux on vocals and nasty blues harmonica, Wilko, playing a unique and aggressive hybrid of lead and rhythm guitar, The Big Figure (John Martin) on bass  and John B. Sparks on drums.

The Feelgoods had put out two albums before  ‘Stupidity’ (‘ Down By The Jetty’ and ‘Malpractice’) and had developed a reputation as a great live act.  Having seen them twice in this period, in relatively small venues,  I can confirm that they were simply awesome  live – playing a mix of Wilko originals (‘She Does It Right’ and ‘Roxette’ my faves here and R&B covers (Bo Diddley, Rufus Thomas,  Chuck Berry etc).

Intense, brooding, menacing, the live interaction between Johnson and Brilleaux was electric and this is apparent and  reflected in the album’s cover picture – an classic LP cover image.  Others will decide whether Wilko was sacked from the band (his line) or walked (implied on the band’s website)  but whatever, the Feelgood’s moment in the sun  faded with his departure. The chemistry was different with his replacement, Gypie Mayo, and never again would the Feelgoods be cutting-edge. And despite a solid career later and wide respect and affection in the niche he created (with Solid Senders, the Wilko Johnson Band and as a member of Ian Dury’s Blockheads) Wilko himself hasn’t yet ever surpassed his first three recordings – although if he continues his association with Daltrey, I hope the best may be yet to come!

But, just for a few weeks in 1976, Dr Feelgood  were absolutely the hottest band in Britain. And they deserved to be.

 

PS In one of those slightly surreal coincidences, one of my friends and former colleagues (hi Jonathan!) from the 1980s, was a contemporary of Wilko’s at Westcliff Grammar School in Southend and at Newcastle University!

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