How can a band who once suffered mercilessly at the hands of one of the most horrible hype-jobs in the history of such occurrences, who have released some five albums all of which have grossed minimal sales and who have the collective charismatic appeal of approximately three beer-mats, stay fully intact and buoyant in this harsh world of modern-day showbusiness?
Well, just ask cheery Nick Lowe, bassist for Brinsley Schwarz, or their manager Dai Davies who'll tell you in no uncertain terms. "It's groups like the Brinsleys who are making the money in England. They're gigging all the time y'see — no heavy debts which would easily be incurred if you set off on numerous marathon tours of the States. Take a band like Ducks Deluxe — they were making money even when they were going out at £15 a gig."
Very interesting, this, seeing as I, for one, was certainly under the impression that the Brinsleys were barely breaking even financially. Ever since that unfortunate hype set-up (wherein numerous English journalists were flown to New York's Fillmore East to see the band play on the same bill as Van Morrison and Quicksilver and promptly returned lambasting them as purveyors of arrant rot). "I only went along with it because I'd read about all these American groupies" says Lowe now) the band have been fanatically anti-image, running scared of anything remotely associated with the "big time."
"We just got into this thing where we'd turn against anything at all trendy or accepted. We wouldn't even do interviews for a time."
What the Brinsleys did do however, was play infinite numbers of benefits, cheapo-cheapo club dates — any old venue under the aegis of their then manager, Dave Robinson. The music was an earnest attempt at mastering that laid-back lazy ole'-fly-buzzin'-round-the-cowpat brand of country rock of which The Band and Grateful Dead were prime practitioners.
Talk about ethnic! There were times when, if you got too close to a stage the Brinsleys had just performed on, you could catch hay fever! Guitarist Ian Gomm looked like he might just live in a crackerbarrel; Bob Andrews had the whole prototype Band organ sound down so pat that even Garth Hudson's mother couldn't tell the difference; Nick Lowe did a neat line in extrovert Robbie Robertson styled lyrics and oh yeah, Brinsley Schwarz sure could grow a mean beard.
"Yeah I think we were trying a bit too hard to be American back then. There was this feeling for a time that — yeah, we could be the Dead, man. Or the Allmans, man — Our influences have always been exclusively American because rock 'n' roll is American.
"When British bands do that whole American thing though it comes out as a very effective blend. I prefer hearing the Stones do Chuck Berry myself, while the Beatles always had the Motown side of things well down."
Silver Pistol, the Brinsleys' third album, documents their days in the shadows of the American country funk syndrome. "That's our acid casualty album," states Lowe who now looks like nothing so much as a Shepherd Bush's mod.
"Actually, I think the whole pub rock circuit was ideal for the acid casualty backlash."
Ah, now remember pub rock? That brief phenomenon which received wide-spread acknowledgements in the music press, had a couple of T.V. shows devoted to it? Go on, cast your mind back. That's it — you remember when you'd go down to your local and have to push through a bunch of hippies sedately jiving to some pimply bunch of louts onstage doing Chuck Berry numbers, in order to get to the Gents.
Nick Lowe and the boys do too but then they were among the first to see the potential.
"Originally it was a band called Eggs Over Easy. American they were and very good too. They were doing the pub circuit and we thought what a gas — and got in there ourselves. Before we knew it, pub rock had been invented.
"Actually I thought that the circuit might really save rock in this country at one point, then it got out of control. I think actually, there are maybe four bands who'll survive — the Kilburns, who are incredible, Ducks Deluxe, Bees Make Honey and … oh, Dr. Feelgood — they're great! Now, their guitarist — he's like a lot of other musicians who wanted the pubs — a real character. Very influenced by Mick Green of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Pre-Rolling Stones really!"
"The Pub owners themselves are getting very fed up," interjects Dai Davies. "The guy who owns the Kensington — he's Irish — I ran into him recently and he was saying 'Ah, fook dese groups. Oi tell ya, yesterday dis hippie comes up to me an' asks me for a drink o' water. Oi tells 'im t' fook off!'"
"Yeah," relates Nick. "I heard recently that one group set up a whole speaker system in a pub (laughs). The thing is that there's been music in the pubs for years. If I were one of those country guys who's been making his living from the circuit for ten years or so and I one day read about pub rock, I'd be well pissed off."
The Brinsleys don't play pubs too much anymore. The occasional gig ("for fun") is done, but other things are developing. Like an up-and-coming tour with erratic Welsh rock wizard Dave Edmunds. He and the band have been close for years now. An album, produced by Edmunds and reportedly "more complicated" than the normal Brinsley product is nearing completion although an excellent sampler gathering together some of Brinsley Schwarz's finer moments has just been released and is selling at just under one pound.
Even though personal favourites like "Nervous on the Road," "Why Why Why" and "Play that Fast Thing One More Time" aren't included, the compilation is still a joy.
"I think that together, we've made maybe five good numbers – things that I'd be proud to play to you, y'know. I think what we're playing now is something like – uh, post-hippie pop. Now I want us to play on things like the Max Bygraves show – family shows. I mean, who'd want to do the Old Grey Whistle Test y'know?"
The support of Brinsley Schwarz should really start picking up the faceless masses and you all might as well start with Brinsley Schwarz's Original Golden Greats. It's half as cheap as a Millets lumberjack shirt and twice as ethnic.