Pub rock was the '70s first megastar backlash.
Some regarded it as a welcome return to tap roots for an audience confused by '70s androgynous overkill. For most, it was no more than a cheap night out with friends.
Mainstream rock had from the start of the decade escalated into a spectator sport, with Glam Rock, Heavy Metal Panzers, Techno-flash and dry ice machines dominating the international arena to the exclusion of almost everything else. Image, theatrics and box office grosses were of prime importance.
The local club scene that had once flourished (often on licensed premises) throughout Britain during the mid-'60s had almost become non-existent, partly because bands had priced themselves into the theatres. Aspiring bands without the record company backing that had become customary, had little chance to build up from grass-roots venues. The saloon bar proved to be a temporary salvation.
Pub Rock was primarily a traditionalist movement restricted to Greater London with some overspill into the Home Counties, and, as its genesis, a means of sporadic employment for musicians beached by loser '60s bands.
Later it became evident that pub rock was a geographical reality rather than an artistic one and, with few exceptions, proved to be the downfall of most bands working the circuit.
American country-rock band Eggs Over Easy were the precursors of the movement when sometime in late '71/early '72 they broke the jazz-only policy of The Tally Ho pub in Kentish Town, North London. They were quickly joined by another country-rock outfit Bees Make Honey. Aussie expatriates Max Merritt & The Meteors, and the nomadic Brinsley Schwarz, who had suffered from precisely the big venue hype-a-star style which Pub Rock was a reaction.
At the peak of popularity (1973-75), it seemed that nearly every large pub in London, especially north of Regents Park where the supply of unspoiled Victorian pubs was plentiful, was supplying live music along with hot snacks and the occasional stripper. Following the Tally Ho came The Cock, The Brecknock, The Lord Nelson, The Hope and Anchor, The Greyhound, The Red Lion, The Rochester Castle and more. (Later the Albion Agency took over the bookings for The Hope, The Red Lion, and The Nashville.)
The whole premise of Pub Rock was to inject an atmosphere of "good-time" into a music scene that had begun to take itself far too seriously for its own health.
Except for a few mavericks, most pub bands chose to mine three motherlodes.
Hard-nosed R & B revivalism (Dr. Feelgood, Kilburn & The Highroads, Ace, Ducks Deluxe, The Winkies, Roogalator, Michigan Flyers); Fatback Funk (Kokomo, Clancy, FBI, Moon, Cado Belle, G.T. Moore & His Reggae Guitars, Palm Beach Express); Country Rock (The Brinsleys, Kursaal Flyers, Byzantium, Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers).
Fundamentally, the pub circuit was (and is) a training ground where only the very strong survived. Bands proliferated by the score, many disbanding and reforming under different names between gigs. It was music for bellying-up-to-the-bar, but aggressive enough to make itself heard over chit-chat, pulling birds, rumbles and throwing up.
In reality, after a few pints even the most mediocre and derivative bands sounded much better than they really were (Depends whether you can take your drink squire — Ed) while with few exceptions, most pub bands were visually dull. That didn't prevent the copy-hungry media latching onto Pub Rock and promoting it as The Next Big Thing.
Few pub bands transcended the gap between performing for 300 half-pissed punters sweating profusely in the public bar and 3,000 seated non-drinkers in the Hammersmith Odeon. Even fewer came remotely close to recapturing the ethos in a recording studio.
Nevertheless, record companies chose to believe what they read instead of what they heard and promptly started signing up anything that reeked of best bitter, shoving them in the nearest studio before the band was ready. To aggravate matters, there seemed to be a lack of producers who knew how to transfer the music from pub to tape; a malady currently afflicting new wave groups.
As a result, most pub rock releases died the death.
Ace were a prime example. That one good song, "How Long," may have been a transatlantic chart-topper but they had little with which to follow it. Kokomo's recording career was as shortlived as the band itself, and the same applied to Clancy, The Kilburns, The Winkies and Chilli Willi.
The Brinsleys and Ducks Deluxe were just unlucky, and their records deserved a better response than they received.
The only band that appeared to be able to operate on all levels was Dr. Feelgood, yet it wasn't until they released their third album, their concert souvenir Stupidity, that they fulfilled their potential.
As quickly as bands like the Brinsleys and Ducks Deluxe folded, they were replaced by much younger aggregations such as The Count Bishops, Eddie & The Hot Rods and the 101'ers — the latter spawning Clash-man Joe Strummer.
Despite the demise of many pub bands, many of their musicians went on to achieve greater success elsewhere.
A prime example was when ex-Ducks Deluxer Martin Belmont, ex-Bontemps Roulets' Andrew Bodnar and Steve Goulding, and Brinsley Schwarz himself, assisted by former employee Bob Andrews, amalgamated behind Graham Parker to form The Rumour.
Ducks Deluxe bar-room bully Sean Tyla re-appeared with the Tyla Gang, while his former cohorts Nick Garvey and Andy McMaster went on to mastermind The Motors.
Recently ex-Kilburn Ian Dury staged a spectacular comeback, while The Winkies' Phil Rambow looks like being a favourite in the current list of runners.
One person who certainly made good was Brinsley stalwart Nick Lowe, who, apart from establishing a reputation as Stiff Records' house producer, has also become a solo artist to be reckoned with. Flip City may have been one of the more obscure pub attractions, but their singer, Elvis Costello has also done quite well for himself.
What was originally typecast as being pub rock may have, in many instances, promised much more than it delivered, but as an assault course for young groups the circuit has by no means outlived its initial purpose.
And though the music may have undergone a change, the venues have remained. Pubs like The Nashville and The Hope & Anchor have been instrumental in helping the careers of acts like The Damned, The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, The Boomtown Rats, 999, The Jam and Elvis Costello.
To paraphrase a brewery commercial: There's more going on at your local than you think!