The UK pub rock scene signalled a back-to-basics approach to rock ‘n’ roll, which would attract music fans disenchanted with progressive rock and lay the foundations for punk. Steve Sutherland has the story of The Nashville Room in London’s West Kensington.
There was once a young girl from a picture postcard village called Tintwistle in the Peak District of Derbyshire. Tintwistle with its two football teams, cricket green, lovely Victorian pub and local shop was a pretty idyllic place to grow up and the young girl duly blossomed. Then, at 17, her family abruptly upped sticks and moved to the smoke.
The girl started art college in Harrow but she didn’t get on and threw it all over to teach primary school kids instead. As a hobby she started to make jewellery, which she sold at Portobello Road Market and she eventually fell in and shacked up with this bloke who opened a boutique selling secondhand clothes in Chelsea’s King’s Road.
To supplement the stock, she started making clothes while her beau indulged himself putting together and managing a band. Which is how she came to be standing down front at one of their gigs which, truth be told, wasn’t going ultra well. The band had gotten itself a bit of a reputation in quite a short time, mainly due to the manager’s hustling, so the crowd was full of inquisitive types likely to be impressed. Plainly the gig wasn’t going to plan. The crowd were losing interest, the band were listless and our heroine was bored.
So bored in fact that, suddenly, entirely out of character, she was moved to slap the nearest person to her, hard around the face. That nearest person just happened to be another young girl whose boyfriend was standing nearby, made to effect a chivalrous intervention. At which point our geezer – the band’s manager – clocking the fracas, piled in. Punches were thrown. The band, livened up smart quick, downed tools and joined the fistic fun.
ALL THE RAGE
Another night, another messy barroom brawl. Except… snapping away at the melee were two photographers – Joe Stevens and Kate Simon – who just happened to freelance for the UK’s weekly music papers, NME, Sounds and Melody Maker. And so it was, in no time at all, that the band became notorious as the violent figureheads of the deliciously tasty new Punk movement that was fast becoming quite literally all the rage.
The girl was Vivienne Westwood, the manager Malcolm McLaren, the band The Sex Pistols and the venue The Nashville Room, part of a pub that was built in 1904 on the corner of Cromwell Road and North End Road in West Kensington.
By the early 1970s, Fullers Brewery, which owned the joint, was trying to bolster falling clientele by offering a Country music dining experience. They were focused on customers keen to enjoy the talents of such American legends as Chet Atkins and the BBC even shot a television series there starring MOR Country shrill George Hamilton IV.
By 1975, this novelty was wearing off and the owners started to branch out and target rock fans as well. Dai Davies of Albion Records took on the task and a band called Grimm kicked it off in May. Before long the Nashville was a key operator in what the music papers were calling the Pub Rock business.
Part of a burgeoning network of venues across London, The Nashville accommodated a bunch of bands who, while rejecting what they saw as the pompous excesses of Prog and the inanity of Glam, were happy to entertain small, appreciative crowds were back-to-back sets inspired by the sort of sweaty R&B being banged out in the early 1960s by the likes of The Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Them and The Kinks.
These bands went about their down-and-dirty business under such names as The Count Bishops, Ducks Deluxe, The Kursaal Flyers, Roogalator, Bees Make Honey, Cado Belle and The Tyla Gang. Mostly long forgotten now, they were a lank-haired, denim clad, beardy bunch of rockers old before their age and, by and large, they left it all on stage, unable to capture the adrenaline of their live shows come the rare opportunity to record.
A few of their number did manage to make their mark beyond the pub circuit. Kilburn & The High Roads splintered into Ian Dury and The Blockheads, Dury meeting his most successful writing partner Chas Jankel in the band changing room backstage at the Nashville. Brinsley Schwarz also kind of made it when they split up to become Graham Parker's Rumour and their bass player, Nick Lowe, developed his own respectable solo career as a singer, songwriter and producer.
Daddies of the scene were Dr Feelgood from Canvey Island who regularly trod the boards at the Nashville. Several cuts above the rest, they were powered by guvnor frontman Lee Brilleaux and manic guitarist Wilko Johnson, their back-to-mono, amphetamined brand of R&B championed by the music papers and admired by a new generation trying to find its own heroes.
Next in terms of recognition wider than just the boozer circuit were Eddie & The Hot Rods, pub rock stalwarts who were en route to the big time when they were supported by The Sex Pistols at the Marquee Club in February 1976. The Pistols not only upstaged them but did a fair amount of damage to
their equipment into the bargain.
The reviews from the Marquee show were partly the reason why the crowd on the 23rd of April, the night of the Nashville fight, included a who- would-soon-be-who in the punk rock firmament.
On hand to witness the fracas were Tony James (soon to form Generation X), Mick Jones (soon to form The Clash), Adam Ant (Subway Sect), Dave Vanian (The Damned) and Sid Vicious who would become a Pistol himself before too long.
The Pistols had actually played the Nashville three weeks previously, on the 3rd of April, and it turned out to be a gig that, even more than the Marquee date, was to turn the musical tide and consign Pub Rock to the margins of history.
THE DIPLOMAT'S SON
The band were supporting The l0lers, a bunch of alehouse regulars who were fronted by a diplomat's son born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey. John had drifted to London via Newport where he'd picked up a guitar and fashioned himself anew for a while as Woody.
By May '74 though, he was rocking out with his mates in the l0lers and calling himself Joe - Joe Strummer. And on this fateful night, Joe had an epiphany. "Five seconds into the first song (of the Sex Pistols' set)," he told journalists later, "I knew we were like yesterday's paper; we were over."
Joe had been intrigued by a conversation he'd overheard where Malcolm McLaren had been discussing what clothes his band wanted to wear - an attention to detail that had stunned him with admiration. And once the Pistols launched into their opening number, "Did You No Wrong", Joe was smitten. Their attitude was off the scale. The 101 ers, Joe realised, set out to please. But the Pistols set out to please themselves , which appealed to Joe's ego no end.
Within a few days he had hooked up with a wannabe McLaren called Bernie Rhodes and a Mott The Hoople maniac called Mick Jones and The Clash were born, playing their first ever gig supporting The Sex Pistols in Sheffield on July the 4th.
And so it was that Punk wiped Pub Rock off the face of the earth and The Nashville Room was where it all happened. Declan McManus made the transition by turning into Elvis Costello and staging a residency of Monday nights through August 1977. Backed by his new band. The Attractions, a live album was recorded at the Room featuring all the early EC greats - "Waiting For The End Of The World", "Night Rally", "The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes" and "Less Than Zero". Released as a bonus disc with the 2007 CD release of the Deluxe edition of My Aim Is True, it captures Costello at his snarly best.
PUB TO PUNK
The Stranglers were another band who made the gnarly move from Pub to Punk and they too planned to release a live Nashville recording. This was going to be called Dead On Arrival but the tapes didn't turn out to the band's liking so they went into the studio and did Rattus Norvegicus as their debut album instead.
The Tom Robinson Band also made a little bit of history at the Nashville. Tom, a Cambridge posh boy turned bad, had previously had a pop at fame as a member of an acoustic trio called Cafe Society who were picked up by The Kinks' Konk label with Ray Davies pencilled to produce their first album.
Things didn't quite go to plan though. The king Kink was busy elsewhere, frustratingly drawing out the recording process to no-one's benefit. When the record finally came out it sold a mere 600 copies and Tom packed it in to form TRB and have the hits he craved with "2-4-6-8 Motorway", "Glad To Be Gay" and "Don't Take No For An Answer".
His band were in their new-found pomp when Ray Davies happened to drop in at the Nashville to catch one of their gigs. Tom spotted him and had the band play a sarcastic version of The Kinks' "Tired Of Waiting", which saw Ray go away and write his scathing rejoinder, "Prince Of Punks".
Others who played the Room included Simple Minds, who made their London debut there, Joy Division, The Police... you name 'em, they did The Nash until, with their sights set on redevelopment.
Fullers pulled the plug on the 19th of July 1980, the last hurrah headlined by Wilko Johnson's Solid Senders with special guest, Motorhead's Lemmy.
It's just a pub now, called The Famous Three Kings, and traffic commuters Heathrow bound pass the doors with no inkling whatsoever of the restless ghosts that rock within. (!)