Dr Feelgood and the Pirates

Originally posted on Psychedelicgaragepunk.com on November the 4th 2008.

On the 11th of August, I had my second rehearsal with Second Offense, having had the first one on the 29th of July. Ralph initially called me in June, offering his services as a dep for George, the Surf Rats drummer. But he also asked me whether I’d be interested in singing with his band, who he described as Dr Feelgood / Pirates clones, which certainly intrigued me, as I love both bands.

The first time I saw the Feelgoods was in 1973, at the Alexandra palace, which essentially I went to to see the New York Dolls, though 10cc were the headline band, who I had no interest in at the time.

I went to the gig with great anticipation, I was actually going to see the Dolls!!! And what a beautiful looking venue the Alley Pally was in those days, I can recall lots of glass, and big palm trees, like a giant greenhouse. It must have been a nightmare for the sound crew, with all those shiny surfaces for the sound to bounce off of. There were lots of really strange looking Transvestites hanging out pretty close to the front of the stage, where we’d made our camp, Bob Mardon, Sally Butcher and I. I saw Chris Spedding chatting with a couple of these weird people, he looked so cool, black quiffed with black motorcycle leathers and winkle picker boots (a look very similar to the band he’d go on to produce in their early days, the Sex Pistols) and really stood out in the crowd, though I didn’t know who he was until he took the stage with Sharks, who followed Dr Feelgood on the bill.


Dr Feelgood came on, dressed in what looked like de-mob suits (a cheap suit issued to soldiers who had finished National service, in the British army, in the 1950’s), very austere and 60’s. Lee Brilleaux, the singer, and Wilko Johnson, the guitarist, immediately caught everyone’s attention, Lee chain smoking Number Six cigarettes, (ah! those were the days, my favourite cigarette, sadly no longer available) blowing a mean blues harp, and vocally sounding like Howlin’ Wolf’s Canvey Island cousin, looking really psycho!. Wilko looking and acting like an escaped lunatic, leaping and running about like a man possessed, wielding his Telecaster like a machine gun. Chicken hawk gusto, as Al once described me! To me, this was the most mind blowing live Rock’n’Roll I’d ever heard. Loud and aggressive, obviously with it’s roots in British R’n’B, i.e. the Stones, the Pretty Things (who I’d loved since hearing “Rosalind”). And in retrospect, very much like latter period Pirates. But it was closer to the noise of the Stooges than the Stones, Punk Rock before Punk Rock had happened!!!

Also, as I mentioned earlier, the band that Chris Spedding was playing with that day was Sharks. Aside from Spedding, who at the time was unknown, despite his session credentials, the other awesome player in this band originally, was Andy Fraser, from Free. Nick Fisher and I had seen them January the 28th, 1973 at the Sundown in Edmonton. They were fabulous, kind of Free-ish, but Snips, the vocalist had a really unique voice, like a more tuneful version of Roger Chapman from Family, and of course Fraser was such a dynamic player. But by the time we saw them at the Alley Pally, Fraser had left, having been replaced by a bassist recommended to Snips by no other than Mick Jagger, Busta Cherry Jones. an excellent, if not more funky player, which changed the dynamic of the band somewhat. Spedding looked total Rock’n’Roll cool, and played a beautifully distorted, very tasteful Gibson Flying V guitar. And their material was very strong too, quite poppy, 70’s Rock, but to imagine they were anything like the 70’s archetype would do them a great injustice, they were a powerful unique band of great musicians.

By the time the very-loud-for-the-time 10cc came on, I was totally cheesed off, the Dolls had cancelled, with no reason given that I can recall. The time I nearly saw the ORIGINAL Dolls!

I saw the Feelgoods numerous times up until late ‘76(the Chancellor hall, Chelmsford, several times, and the Kursaal in Southend) and never saw them post Wilko, though I thought Gypie Mayo was a killer guitarist. Wilko and Lee WERE the Feelgoods, and aside from the beginning of the tidal wave called Punk, it seemed inconceivable to have the Feelgoods without Wilko! I saw Wilko, with Norman Watt Roy on bass, at Will’s niece’s birthday party, at the Berwick suite, a couple of summers back. He’s still fabulous, as is Mr Watt Roy, who I saw a number of times with Ian Dury.

The first time I saw the Pirates, was at Woods leisure centre in Colchester, in 1977, on their Skull Wars tour. My good friend at the time, Martin “Oats” Wheatley, had a punk / skateboard band called the Gremlins, who supported the Pirates that night. The Gremlins (surf speak for a “learner” surfer) were killer, kind of like the Barracudas when they did the “Summer fun” single, but a good deal more English. Oats was a fab player, seem to remember they skateboarded onto the stage, and launched into a punk / surf instrumental, thinking back, very much like the “Surf Tune” that Wade and the Clocks used to play! Oats went on to play piano and sax on the Accidents album “Kiss me on the Apocalips”, but sadly I lost contact with him after that. There is a Martin Wheatley that plays for a jazzer called Keith Nichols, on Radio Four, I’ve emailed Keith for more info. There’s also a video of Oats on youtube, playing the “Tiger Rag”, and though it’s almost 30 years since I saw him, it’s unmistakably him. Watch this space….

When the Pirates came on, to the tune of “Dead man’s chest” and sound effects of canons being fired, the reaction was monumental, even in those crazed, loud Punk times. And Hell they were loud! Dressed in their pirates garb from the 60’s, Mick Green had a sticker on his guitar, “I choked the Happy Hooker” I think it said. They literally bludgeoned the crowd with their loud, very aggressive, high energy R’n’B, they raised the roof and took our collective heads off!!! The Feelgoods were raw and rockin’, but these guys were on another level, turbocharged, if you will, the fullest sound you’re ever going to hear from a three piece band. And Mick Green’s guitar style was extra-ordinary, distorted, aggressive, shredding, but very controlled and precise. I seem to recall him playing more with just his hands rather than with a plectrum, and can picture him in my mind’s eye with his plectrum between his teeth at points in the gig. They didn’t overstay their welcome, probably played for less than an hour, the Punk archetype, but by goodness they made every minute count.

I saw them again, a couple of years back, at the Riga bar in Southend. Although Frank Farley, the original drummer, is no longer with them as a result of heart problems, they still rocked to the max, Mick Green playing as aggressive and attitudinal as ever, having done stints with Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, and Bryan Ferry, since I first saw the Pirates. I know it’s been said before, but along with Cliff and the Drifters, Billy Fury and Vince Taylor, the Pirates are one of the biggest influences in English Rock’n’Roll, and possibly the most original sounding. Where did Mick Green get the influence to thrash his guitar like that? Such a unique style and sound, Farley and Spence were obliged to whip up a storm behind that!

Well, the Rattlesnakes (as Second Offense are now called) have since played our first gig, at the Welcome Sailor on the 13th of September, with Les, the Surf Rats bassist standing in for Nigel, our regular bass player. The reaction was excellent, Lawrence, the guitar player, totally rocked in a Mick Green style. We’re doing our second gig at the Berwicks jam night, on the 12th of November.

Epilogue: Since this article was published, the Rattlesnakes have split, tho’ Ralph has asked me to play a one off gig as a tribute to Mick Green, who sadly passed away on the 11th of January 2010. God bless Mick…………

2 Responses to “Dr Feelgood and The Pirates”

Alwills // Nov 13, 2008 at 8:25 pm

Great gig last night Tel. I would say that Lawrence must have some telepathy with Mick Green as his style is similar, but not a direct copycat, in the same way that you sang ‘Down TO The Doctors’ making it your own! 🙂

Great article, the best yet.

Terence Ruffle // Nov 16, 2008 at 12:50 pm
Thanks Al.
One piece of the tale I forgot to tell was the time the Accidents (at that point, Will, Paul and I)met Lee Brilleaux,at a gig where we supported Deano’s Marvels, at the Paddocks in Canvey Island, sometime in 1977.We were sitting in the bar, and who should stumble in, with two chaps virtually supporting him, but Lee. He was sat right next to us by his “minders”, and was shortly thereafter presented with a pint of beer and a sizeable short. To say he seemed incredibly drunk would be a massive understatement! We really wanted to talk to him, and as an indicator of how out of it he was, I decided to ask him the time!Well hey, I was only 20!
“Serler ler ler rer” I believe the answer was.
We decided against any further attempts at communication……
Got to say also, speaking of very drunk people, how come Micky Jupp called the song “Down at the Doctors”, when the lyrics run “Down TO the Doctors”?
The truth should be told! Must we fling this pop filth at our kids?

4 Responses to “Dr Feelgood and the Pirates”

  1. Another band I have to mention in the same breath as the Feelgoods and the Pirates are Eddie and the Hot Rods. Their EP “Live at the Marquee” released in September 1976, was from a similar direction, and again(tho’ obviously having the Sex Pistols supporting them at the Marquee dates through the summer of ’76 meant that Punk had kicked off, at least in London)they predated Punk in the popular media for the most part, and certainly helped usher it in.
    The Hot Rods came out of Pub Rock, just like the Feelgoods(and of course that was where the Pirates re-emerged from)but unlike the other bands of the time, they were manically fast, and Dave Higgs guitar was more distorted than Wilko’s. And of course the Hot Rods had “Sarf ‘end”/Canvey roots, their lyrics filled with much teen angst in line with Punk rock.

    There’s a couple of connections between the Accidents and the Hot Rods: Ed Hollis managed and produced the Hot Rods up until the 1980, he also produced the Accidents mooted 2nd single, “Looking forward to/Puss in Boots”(at Stage one studio, in September 1980). Paul and Nick were in the studio with him. At that stage of the game Ed was pretty wasted but sprinkled a bit of Fairy Dust on the mix. And of course his brother Mark formed the influential Talk Talk.
    Also the brother of second guitarist and ex Kursaal Flyer Grahame Douglas took the snaps that grace the front and back cover of the Accidents LP, taken in Covent garden on the 8th of October 1980, when we supported Lilliput(a Swiss version of the Slits but more New Wave)at the Rock Garden, in Covent Garden. Sadly no one can recall his first name.
    And Surf Rat John Tuck played bass for the Hot Rods briefly, on a European tour.

    Listening to the EP now, it sounds pretty clean. Dave Higgs guitar has the Wilko chop(albeit far more primitive), but grittier, and the bass and drums drive hard, in an almost Velvet Underground style. Guess it was those Amphetamine’d times! Barrie’s vocal is pretty straight, like a reedy brother of Lee. It all adds up to the most urgent Rock’n’Roll that I was aware of, going down in the UK at that time.

    But with the exhilarating “Do any thing you wanna do” as the Rods in the summer of 1977 they had blossomed into a Power pop band briefly, but failed to follow it with anything nearly as successful.
    Of course nowadays they’re coining it in on the Punk revival circuit………………

  2. Here’s an interesting piece I found about Busta Cherry Jones:

    BUSTA “CHERRY” JONES – Though it would be absurd to call bassist Michael “Busta” Jones, a punk or New Waver, his credentials are undeniable. The journeyman was a significant contributor to Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets, he was a legit recording/touring member of the Talking Heads in their expanded funky stage around 1980, he had his own punk/funk band, The Escalators, he was briefly a member of Gang Of Four, and he wrote a song for the Ramones (“Chasing The Night,” on Too Tough to Die). Always exploring the dynamics between Black and white music and musicians, the Memphis native’s early band was a Black rock act with Willie Mitchell’s son called, appropriately, Black Rock. Jones then got his first taste of punk’s anarchy, if not its musical form, in the late ’60s-early ’70s unit Moloch. That post-hippie, ultra-wild, theatrical Blues-Rock band played with the Stooges and MC5 and matched them in chaos (Jones isn’t on the Moloch LP, however). After Moloch he went the more trad route, becoming Albert King’s guitarist. In 1973 he went to England where he became a member of the Sharks with Chris Spedding (and was in Spedding’s subsequent solo act) and played on the debut solo album by art rock/New Wave pioneer Brian Eno (Here Come The Warm Jets, Island 1973). In 1975 he returned to his roots, playing in the all Black, near-Metal Memphis based power trio, White Lightnin’ with Donald and Woody Kinsey, later of Kinsey Report. Wrapped in an elaborate cover by the same artist who painted the Bitches Brew sleeve, it’s surprising their interesting self-titled album (Island, 1975) didn’t find an audience. It was around 1980, with his reputation gleaming, that things exploded for him. He became an integral member of the expanded TALKING HEADS (the funkier big band on the Remain In Light album [Sire, 1980] and tour featured Funkadelic’s BERNIE WORRELL on keys, Labelle’s NONA HENDRYX on vocals and Busta sharing doubled-up bass duties with Tina Weymouth). He also appears on the David Byrne/Eno My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Sire, 1980) and Robert Fripp’s Under Heavy Manners / God Save The Queen (EG-Polydor, 1980) and began releasing funky solo records around this time. On the more rock tip, his punkest band, The Escalators, a collaboration with Talking Head Jerry Harrison, recorded and released their obscure self titled album (Unison, 1980). He had a cup of coffee with Gang Of Four in ’81 when they were between bassists. In 1984 he collaborated with Joey Ramone on Too Tough to Die (Sire, 1984) and did additional recording, some unreleased, with Joey. Over the subsequent years the list of musicians he worked with is expansive and bizarrely diverse (it includes Dan-I, Stevie Wonder, Bill Laswell, and the Modern Folk Quartet). One of his later projects was the Agitators, a Memphis unit featuring many ex-Moloch members. Jones died in 1995. (JA) By James Porter and Jake Austen

  3. Fabulous account. Enjoyed reading it.
    Chris Spedding at that period mid 70’s was really
    very potent on many levels. One I remember very well was his magnificent
    contribution to Trigger a band formed by Roy Harper.
    The album HQ features his fine skills and live they were extraordinary.
    The live line up: Roy Harper guitar and vocals. Chris Spedding guitar. Bill Bruford drums. Steve Broughton bass. The album features many great names.

    Best gig I saw back then. Dr. Feelgood live at
    The Lord Nelson in Holloway road.1974 I think. They
    looked like they’d come straight from a building site
    and sounded like thunder. Wilkos tele machine head
    knocking over my dads Guiness as he darted back and forth
    In this tiny pub. I can still smell it!
    I was at Ally Pally for The Dolls. Brilliant times.
    My kids are so envious.


  4. I’ve had another Rock’n’Roll epiphany!
    I was watching A True Testimonial, the MC5 doc on youtube.
    Bearing in mind also I read a recent Wilco interview in which he says that the Feelgoods backing Heinz played the London Rock’n’Roll show in 1973. Who was also on the bill? The MC5. And what does Wayne Kramer do quite frequently in the live footage in the doc? Machine gun the audience with his guitar!
    You read it here first……

Leave a Comment

To prevent spam, the first time you post a comment on this blog, it will be held for approval. After that, as long as you use the same name and email address, your comments will appear straight away.