To the R&B trufflehound, there was a brief and brilliant period in the 1970s, say around five minutes,
when the English seaside town of Southend-on-Sea (and environs including Canvey Island)
must have looked like a most fruitful neck of the woods.
Dr Feelgood, Mickey Jupp, the Kursaal Flyers and Eddie and the Hot Rods all seemed to emerge within
hours of each other, to capture crucial column inches in the influential music press, swiftly followed by
major record deals and sometimes, sell-out tours and hit records.
Was it something in the water, or was it Southend’s close proximity to London? “So near,” to quote
Gerry Goffin, “yet so far away.” Sure Herbie Goins and The Nightimers are on at the Flamingo most
Fridays, and with the last train out of Fenchurch Street at 12.25am (halfway through Herbie’s second set),
hanging out until dawn became the norm.
For Southenders, London was accessible, (handy for The Feelgoods’ lightning raids on the pubs in 1973),
yet remote enough to facilitate a detached view. It is perhaps also the reason why no decent shoe shops
have ever flourished in this “helluva town”. You had to go Up West.
My earliest recollection of rock’n’roll in Southend was in the late 1950s. Like any other British town,
skiffle groups lurked in every schoolroom. Used ukulele banjos, katkits (minimalist drum sets that would
later have found favour with Jonathan Richman) and colourful electric guitars in futuristic shapes, were all
tantalisingly displayed in the music and secondhand shop windows around the Talza Arcade.
Skiffle begat beat and beat begat The Paramounts (and The Rockerfellas and The Whirlwinds and
The Monotones). These guys had Fender and Ludwig. Their followers had Mini cars and scooters and
everybody had the hire purchase agreements to prove it. The Barracudas, an early power trio, even
had the first twin-necked guitars, carefully balanced on prominent tummies.
The Paramounts were the dog’s bollocks. Gary Brooker, Robin Trower, Mick Brownlee (later replaced by Barrie Wilson)
and Chris Copping (replaced by Diz Derrick). They even had a road manager. Looking back, it seems
almost implausible that such young men, barely out of school, could perform esoteric rhythm and
blues so convincingly.
The Paramounts’ repertoire was hip and exclusive. Johnny B. Goode? Leave it out.
Bobby Bland’s Turn On Your Lovelight was about as corny as it got. This group, apparently name-checked
by The Stones as “the best R&B group in England”, built their sound and early following at The Shades,
a pioneering modernist haunt on the seafront.
In the audience was the young Mick Jupp. His brother Dave had been my patrol leader in the 3rd Thorpe Bay Scout Troop.
Furthermore, their father was the senior Scout Master and their mother the Cub Mistress - a scouting family.
Highlight at Scouts, post-Wide Game and British Bulldog, was when Dave Jupp took the lid off the piano to
perform his impressive Elvis medley. While these Jupps were maintaining order at the church hall, I imagine
that the young Mick was home alone, preparing to be the white Chuck Berry.
By 1964, influenced and inspired by The Paramounts, Jupp had formed The Orioles - the first beat group I
ever saw on licensed premises. With an avid mod following and a piano-heavy sound, covering the Coasters,
Bobby Day and Gene Chandler amongst others, The Orioles packed ’em in. My own group of the time,
the somewhat less rocking Tradewinds, (“as seen on TV”), once secured a support slot to The Orioles at
The Cricketers pub, but we made little impression.
In 1965, The Orioles failed an audition at Decca Records. Nothing new there, but this rejection was a great
mystery to their local fans. Perhaps it was their lack of original material or perhaps it was an early
manifestation of Jupp’s reluctance to grab a career opportunity by the balls. The Orioles disbanded and their
leader was not seen at large again for some years.
Meanwhile, I was asked to play drums with The (Orioles-influenced) Flowerpots. This group went through
frequent line-up changes but one event I remember vividly was opening for The Who at Bishops Stortford
in October 1965. (Keith Moon borrowed and damaged parts of my drum kit). Our guitarist was Colin Pincott
(ex The Pickwicks). When the p.a. system broke down that night, Colin stunned me by spinning around on
his heel and pronouncing loudly, “A raving Bo Diddley in G!” It was as if he were ordering a large brandy.
When Colin left The Flowerpots in 1966, his place was taken by John Wilkinson, formerly of The Roamers and
The Heap. We commenced a residency at Southend’s London Hotel playing shows co-promoted by Robin Trower,
resting after The Paramounts break-up. There were after hours blues sessions and Robin briefly formed a
trio called Jam. By the summer of 1967, Robin Trower had joined his ex-Paramounts colleagues Gary Brooker
and Barrie Wilson in Procol Harum. John Wilkinson had set off for Newcastle University and, subsequently,
India. There followed a quiet period, but in 1969, Mickey Jupp formed Legend whose debut LP was released on Bell Records.
A year later, with Mo Witham on guitar, Legend signed to Vertigo and recorded the classic “Red Boot” LP,
produced by Tony Visconti, on which Jupp’s singing and songwriting are outstanding. Legend lost their drummer,
Bill Fifield, to T Rex, after he had played on the Hot Love session. He was replaced by drummer Bob Clouter (!)
and an all ex-Orioles line-up recorded Legend’s last LP, Moonshine.
It was during this period that Paul Shuttleworth, Graeme Douglas and myself formed a progressive group called
Surly Bird. We answered an ad in Melody Maker and auditioned for a “top London production company”, run by
the great Tony Hall. Tony’s partner in this venture was the late Pete Meaden, former early manager of The Who.
We passed Pete’s audition (“Can you lend me ninepence for a glass of cider”), and then passed into even
greater obscurity when we changed our name to Glory (for London dates only).
In 1971, Graeme quit (for non-musical reasons) and we searched for a new guitarist. On one hilarious occasion
we persuaded the former Yes guitarist, Pete Banks, to travel to Southend to fill the vacancy. On entering our HQ,
Pete was impressed by our giant Marshall stacks and he proceeded to impress us with his dazzling fretwork.
Unfortunately, we had great trouble in keeping up with him and he declined to join.
Around Easter 1971, John Wilkinson returned from India. I went to visit him on Canvey Island and asked him
to join us. After a quick practice, we played at a youth club with about six numbers, one of which, the instrumental
Night Train, John could play in a combined rhythm/lead style; he sounded like two guitarists. He didn’t stay though,
adding that he was thinking of joining “a bunch of kids on the island”. I imagined 12-year-olds.
Surly Bird never really built a following. I recall that when we supported Yes at Southend Art College in 1970,
the poster read: YES SURLY BIRD TANK. A particularly witty artist amended this to:
YES! SURLY BIRD STANK
Soon after this, Paul Shuttleworth and myself started putting on shows at The Esplanade pub (The Grand Canyon Club),
often featuring Legend or Paul’s country-rock group, Cow Pie, for whom I was now drumming. One night I received
a phone call from John Wilkinson asking if his “bunch of kids” could play at the club. They were calling themselves Dr Feelgood.
The Feelgoods played R&B in an era when R&B was bargepole time. One of their entourage was the late Ed Hollis,
known to friends as “1,000 Eddie” because he then owned a staggering 1,000 LPs. A visit to the Hollis pad would
to be to subject oneself to him shouting, “It’s brilliant, it’s brilliant,” as he played brief snatches from his mighty
collection, which ranged from Kraftwerk and Sun Ra to The Osmonds and the MC5. He loved it all and he became
a great influence on the scene. I remember him one night in The Esplanade, after a couple of light ales, pointing in
the air and exclaiming, “Let’s form a sixties group!”
By early 1973, Dr Feelgood had developed a dynamic live act, playing in the pubs and clubs around Southend.
In London, a number of similarly rootsy groups were finding work on the fast-growing pub circuit. Often maligned,
pub-rock was, in fact, a revolution. After years of nowhere to play (unless you could get to support Blodwyn Pig
at your local Art College), there were suddenly dozens of new venues where groups could perform with the minimum
of fuss and equipment. Entertainment was the key factor and Dr Feelgood were most entertaining.
By an amazing stroke of luck, I had a friend who had gone to work for a music agency in London and these people
were booking two prominent pub rock venues. I pestered them for months on the Feelgoods’ behalf but
disappointingly nothing was offered. Then, in the summer of 1973, a date materialised at The Tally Ho in Kentish Town.
The London debut of Dr Feelgood was inauspicious but the promoter, Dai Davies, saw the potential.
Spotting the main chance, Dr Feelgood carried out some minor surgery. Singer and front man Lee Brilleaux donned
a narrow-lapelled jacket/slim tie combination, whilst John Wilkinson cut off his shoulder length hair, leaving an
extraordinary pudding-bowl-do, and became Wilko Johnson.
Brilleaux and Johnson have always put over a slightly surly persona, often playing the dumb card in interviews.
However, this highly intelligent double act possessed an instinctive sense of drama and quick-wittedness that
gave The Feelgoods their onstage edge. Wilko was quick to spot the need for original material and, on the eve
of their first BBC session for Bob Harris in October 1973, sat up all night composing She Does It Right. Sensing
imminent fame, Wilko stated that it would soon be his intention to grab Mick Jupp by the scruff of the neck and
deliver him into the spotlight.
Partly inspired by the Feelgoods progress, Graeme Douglas, Paul Shuttleworth and myself formed the Kursaal Flyers,
with Vic Collins, Richie Bull and Dave Hatfield. We drew up a list of thirty songs, mostly C&W standards, with a
few pop songs such as I’m A Believer thrown in. We made our debut at Southend’s Blue Boar pub in February 1974.
By May, my own desperation for beat stardom forced me explore a position with Charlie and the Wide Boys,
so I upped sticks for Cornwall. After a colourful week with the Wide Boys, I returned to the Kursaals, filled with
a new determination. Graeme and I wrote loads of songs and in July 1974, the Feelgoods reciprocated my
earlier help by getting the Kursaals two dates at the Kensington pub in London.
We must have been quite good because things started to happen very quickly. At the first date, we were
spotted by Chilli Willi drummer Pete Thomas and he brought along his manager, Jake Riviera, the following week.
We soon acquired an agent, Paul Conroy, who became our manager. In January 1975, we took the giant leap
of turning professional and by February we had a recording contract with Jonathan King’s UK Records.
Back on Canvey, Eddie and The Hot Rods were about to emerge. Captained by Dave Higgs, who had played in
The Fix with Lee Brilleaux some years earlier, the Hot Rods were a slightly younger group that specialised in
up-tempo renditions of sixties garage band classics. They were managed by the aforementioned Ed Hollis,
from whose record collection much of their repertoire originated.
Fronted by the energetic Barrie Masters and the manic Lew Lewis on harmonica, the Hot Rods secured a date
at London’s Nashville Rooms in July 1975. They were an instant success and soon signed to Island Records.
On a tour supporting the Kursaals in January 1976, Lew Lewis was sacked from the Hot Rods after “redecorating”
the group’s dressing room at Brunel University.
The Hot Rods continued as a four-piece. At the Marquee in March 1976, they were supported by the Sex Pistols,
a not uneventful crossing-of-paths. Perhaps provoked by their respective managers, the two groups clashed violently.
Much equipment was damaged and a near-riot ensued. It was the Sex Pistols who grabbed the headlines during
the following months in a race that they had to win, because up until that point, Eddie and The Hot Rods had been
widely regarded as leaders of a new youth uprising called punk.
Over the next eighteen months, whilst punk seemed to overshadow all other forms of popular music, much happened
in the Southend camp. On a £400 loan from Lee Brilleaux, Jake Riviera launched Stiff Records. Dr Feelgoods’ third LP,
Stupidity, entered the UK album chart at No. 1; Wilko quit the group; the Kursaal Flyers finally got their hit single,
Little Does She Know; Graeme quit the Kursaals, joined the Hot Rods and wrote their hit Do Anything You Wanna Do;
and the Kursaal Flyers disbanded.
In 1978, I formed The Records and we were asked to back Rachel Sweet on the 1978 Be Stiff Tour. Stiff’s gimmick
was that the tour was to travel the UK by rail. On the bill was Stiff’s most recent signing - Mickey Jupp.
Both The Searchers and Nick Lowe were about to cover his song Switchboard Susan and his own album, Juppanese,
was getting the treatment. At 34, he was being offered another bite of the cherry. Jupp was, as you might say, on the up.
Halfway through the tour, on a train somewhere between Plymouth and Strathpeffer and contemplating a rare day off,
the tour entourage was instructed to “go home and get passports.” Rumour and speculation ran through the carriages;
excitement was in the air. It was soon confirmed that we were all about to visit New York to appear at the legendary
Bottom Line. For Jupp, the bottom line was that he wasn’t going. He put up a number of excuses, all brilliantly
countered by Stiff boss, Dave Robinson.
Jupp: “You’ll never get me up in one of those.”
Robinson: “It’s OK Mickey, you can go by boat.”
Jupp: “I don’t want to leave my girlfriend.”
Robinson: “It’s OK Mickey, we’ll pay for her to go too.”
Jupp: “But I won’t be home for Christmas.”
Robinson: “Well then we’ll drop you from a big height.”
Jupp had walked away once again. New York City - rejected; Stiff’s flair and energy - rejected; another golden
opportunity not given a chance. Nobody understood his genius, his pain; living proof that talent alone is not enough.
Remarkably, Jupp went on to two more major record labels and several independents, writing some great songs
and singing his heart out. His songs have been covered by Rick Nelson, The Judds and many others.
There’s still hope Mick. Now if you’ll just pose for this sleeve photograph...
The Paramounts/Whiter Shades of R&B - Edsel EDCD 112
Legend/Legend (Red Boot) - Repertoire RR 4061-CX
Dr Feelgood/Down By The Jetty - Grand CD05
Kursaal Flyers/Hit Records - The Best of the Kursaal Flyers - On The Beach FOAMCD6
Eddie & The Hot Rods/The Best Of - Island 74321 14726
Will Birch © willbirch.com
First published in Mojo, November 1993