The Hope and Anchor in Islington, a notable pub rock venue
Pub rock was deliberately nasty, dirty and post-glam. Dress style was based around denim and plaid shirts, tatty jeans and droopy hair. The figureheads of the movement, Dr. Feelgood, were noted for their frontman’s filthy white suit. Bands looked menacing and threatening, "like villains on The Sweeney".
Pub rock groups disdained any form of flash. Scene leaders like Dr. Feelgood, Kilburn & The High Roads and Ducks Deluxe played simple, “back to mono” rhythm and blues in the tradition of white British groups like the The Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, with fuzzy guitars and whiny vocals. Lesser acts played funky soul (Kokomo, Clancy, Cado Belle) or country rock (Kursaal Flyers, Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers).
The scene was primarily a live phenomenon. During the peak years of 1972 to 1975, there was just one solitary Top 20 single (Ace’s "How Long?"), and all the bands combined sold less than an estimated 150,000 albums. Many acts suffered in the transition from pub to studio and were unable to recapture their sound. The genre’s primary characteristic is as the name suggests, the pub. By championing smaller venues, the bands reinvigorated a local club scene that had dwindled since the 1960s as bands priced themselves into big theatres and stadia. New aspiring bands could now find venues to play without needing to have a record company behind them.
American country-rock band Eggs over Easy were the precursors of the movement when they broke the jazz-only policy of the "Tally Ho" pub in Kentish Town, in May 1971. They were impressive enough to inspire local musicians such as Nick Lowe. They were soon joined by a handful of London acts such as Bees Make Honey, Max Merritt and the Meteors, Ducks Deluxe, The Amber Squad and Brinsley Schwarz who had been victims of the prevailing big-venue system.
Most of the venues were in large Victorian pubs "north of Regents Park" where there were plenty of suitable pubs. One of the most notable venues was the Hope and Anchor pub onIslington's Upper Street, still a venue.
Following the Tally Ho and the Hope and Anchor came the Cock, the Brecknock, the Lord Nelson, the Greyhound in Fulham, the Red Lion, the Rochester Castle, the Nashville in West Kensington, Dingwalls, the Pegasus Music Hall on Green Lanes, the Dublin Castle in Camden Town, the Pied Bull at Angel, Bull and Gate in Kentish Town, the Kensington near Olympia, the Newlands Tavern in Nunhead (a lone south London outpost) and the George Robey in Finsbury Park. Out of London, venues included the Dagenham Roundhouse, the Grand in Leigh on Sea and the Admiral Jellicoe on Canvey Island. This network of venues later formed a ready-made launch pad for the punk scene.
In 1974, pub rock was the hottest scene in London. At that point it seemed that nearly every large pub in London was supplying live music, along with hot snacks and the occasional stripper. The figureheads were Essex-based R&B outfit Dr Feelgood. By Autumn 1975, they were joined by acts such as The Stranglers, Roogalator, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Kilburn and the High Roads, and Joe Strummer's 101ers.
Pub rock was rapidly overtaken by the UK punk explosion after spawning what are now seen as several proto-punk bands. Some artists were able to make the transition by jumping ship to new outfits, notably Joe Strummer, Ian Duryand Elvis Costello. A few stalwarts were later able to realise Top 40 chart success, but the moment was gone. Many of the actual pubs themselves survived as punk venues (especially the Nashville and The Hope & Anchor), but a range of notable pubs such as the George Robey and the Pied Bull have since been closed or demolished. The Newlands Tavern survived and is now called The Ivy House.The Blockheads Live at The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London, 1978
Pub rock may have been killed by punk, but without it there might not have been any punk in Britain at all.
The boundaries were originally blurred: at one point, the Hot Rods and the Sex Pistols were both considered rival kings of "street rock". The Pistols played support slots for the Blockheads and the 101ers at the Nashville. Their big break was supporting Eddie and the Hot Rods at the Marquee in Feb 1976. Dr Feelgood played with the Ramones in New York. The word "punk" debuted onTop of the Pops on a t-shirt worn by a Hot Rod. Punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue reviewed Feelgood album Stupidity as “the way rock should be".
Apart from the ready-made live circuit, punk also inherited the energy of pub rock guitar heroes like Dr Feelgood’s Wilko Johnson, his violence and mean attitude. Feelgood have since been described as John the Baptist to punk’s messiahs. In the gap between the music-press hype and vinyl releases of early punk, the rowdier Pub Rock bands even led the charge for those impatient for actual recorded music, but it was not to last. Punks such as John Lydon eventually rejected the pub rock bands as "everything that was wrong with live music" because they had failed to fight the stadium scene and, as he saw it, preferred to narrow themselves into an exclusive pub clique. The back-to-basics approach of pub rock apparently involved chord structures that were still too complicated for punk guitarists like the Sex Pistol Steve Jones, who complained "if we had played those complicated chords we would have sounded like Dr Feelgood or one of those pub rock bands". By the time the Year Zero of punk (1976) was up, punks wanted nothing to do with pub rockers. Bands like The Stranglers were shunned but they didn’t care.
Ironically, it was Stiff Records, formed from a £400 loan from Feelgood’s Lee Brilleaux, who went on to release the first British punk single—The Damned’s "New Rose". Stiff Records' early clientele consisted of a mix of pub rockers and punk rock acts for which they became known.