City Limits, June 22, 1984

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City Limits

UK & Ireland magazines


Going down the pub

Keith Prewer

Pub rock has been consigned to the dustbin together with platform heels, but, argues Keith Prewer it is alive and well.

In a recent Sunday Times review Simon Frith suggested the possibility of a pub rock revival in the wake of the success at London pub gigs of the American band Jason and the Scorchers. He was mistaken: firstly, because pub rock never really went away, and secondly, because it is already reviving.

Compare today's London listings with those from a couple of years ago and what should become immediately apparent is that there's more rock of a "traditional" kind — r&b, soul, cajun, jump-blues and so on — and it is on in an increasing number of pubs.

What is pub rock? Well it's rock played in pubs of course; but historically its something rather more specific. Usually the term refers to bands who were around in the early 1970s such as Bees Make Honey and Ducks Deluxe, who played a straighforward brand of rock and roll, with a tendency to stress "honest" playing.

So, who are the new pub rock bands? Not all of them have quite the illustrious background of Chuck Farley, which includes former members of Bad Company, Family and Meal Ticket. Of all the strands which go to comprise the pub rock revival, the honest rock-a-boogie the Chucks deliver represents that element which comes closest to the music of the original pub rockers. But the pub rock net is cast over a wide range of styles.

Carol Grimes, a hard working ever-present figure on the pub scene leans towards latin sounds; there's the cajun rhythms of the Balham Alligators; and jazz influences arc very much part of the pub rock pictures too, from the swing and jump-blues of Pete Thomas, to the jazz-funk of Morrissey-Mullen.

The backbone of the pub rock revival is constituted by those outfits with a repertoire consisting mostly of "authentic" r&b and rock 'n' roll. Juice on the Loose arc perhaps the most popular of a whole string of bands of this ilk.

The obvious criticism of all this lot is that they arc essentially backward looking. caught in a pre-1977 time warp. But playing in an established vein is not in itself negative, and indeed has always been fundamental to the development of pop. Moreover, despite its utilisation of traditional idioms, the new pub rock material could never be a live rendition of late 1950s '78s: music cannot be abstracted from its own history, and working musicians are bound to reflect that in the way they sing and play.

The very diversity of bands on the pub circuit does call into question their being identified as a distinctive movement. But what does unite them, and justifies the parallel with the early 1970s pub rockers is the freshness and vitality of the bands and their material in the light of the sterility and tedium of much of today's video pop.

In the context of music generally, where does this take us? There's no question that the pub rock of the early 1970s was more obviously leading somewhere.

Even if its major exponents have been forgotten, some of the acts the movement spawned, most notably Elvis Costello, became popular and influential.

Whether today's pub rockers, who rarely venture into the provinces and who to a large extent remain unrecorded. will have such an impact is doubtful. These days, with the odd exception such as Line Records (ironically based in Germany), the independent labels have shown little interest in recording bands playing on the pub circuit.

Still there's more pub rock than there has been for ten years: Willy Finlayson and the Hurters, the Chevalier Brothers, the Danny Adler Band, the Mamma Jammers; the list gets longer all the time. So, if you are fed tip with pop's latest flavour of the month. chances arc that there's some fine boogie down at your local. Try it!


City Limits, No. 142, June 22-28, 1984

Keith Prewer's essay on pub rock mentions Elvis Costello.


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Cover and page scans.


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