Styles & Forms | Pub Rock

A British phenomenon, pub rock was a reaction to the self-indulgence of the progressive rockers and the vain preening of the glam rockers. The pub rock bands drew from a variety of roots-music styles, such as blues, folk and country, with the folk influence dating back to the UK folk-rockers of the late-1960s such as Fairport Convention.

The beginning of pub rock is largely credited to a little-known American band, Eggs Over Easy, gigging at the Tally-Ho pub in London with a mixture of original songs and cover material which inspired other bands and, just as importantly, encouraged other pubs to book live bands on what was soon to become a vibrant gig circuit.

Opening Time

Brinsley Schwarz’s mixture of folk, prog rock and hippie affectations on their self-titled debut album in 1970 sounds even worse on record than on paper, and along with a disastrous showcase gig in the US it effectively ended all interest there. Returning to the UK, Schwarz honed their sound culminating with Nervous On The Road (1972), a pub rock masterpiece that helped pave the way for fellow pub rockers Bees Make Honey, Ace, Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers and Ducks Deluxe.

Emerging towards the end of the pub rock era, Dr. Feelgood’s lively and aggressive R&B sound made them an exciting live band, who managed to capture that energy on their debut album Down By The Jetty (1975). Eddie & The Hot Rods were similarly energetic and had a hit single with ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ in 1977.

Last Orders At The Tally-Ho

The music press and many listeners turned their attention to punk in the latter half of the 1970s and the pub rock bands were unable to compete. Most faded into obscurity or disbanded, the notable exception being Dr. Feelgood. Band members left and were replaced until the only remaining original member was singer Lee Brilleaux. Brilleaux died from cancer in 1994 but the band has carried on.

Pub rock had a significant influence on punk rock. The Clash’s frontman, the late Joe Strummer, began his musical career with pub rockers The 101’ers. Ex-Brinsley Schwarz songwriter Nick Lowe became the in-house producer with the Stiff record label, one of the foremost punk labels working with The Damned, The Pretenders and Elvis Costello, before going on to enjoy a successful solo career.

Singer-songwriters Elvis Costello and the late Ian Dury straddle the divide between pub rock and punk rock, albeit a more restrained and literate side of punk rock, and their pub rock roots can be heard on their respective debut albums My Aim Is True (1977) and New Boots And Panties!! (1977). These artists were strongly influenced by Van Morrison and The Rolling Stones, influences rendered very unfashionable by punk rock. Fellow singer-songwriter Graham Parker’s debut album Howlin’ Wind gained critical acclaim but unlike Costello and Dury he was sidelined by punk rock.

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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