An exclusive extract from Lee Brilleaux: Rock ’N’ Roll Gentleman
Zoë Howe returns to the mid-70s and finds the frontman of Canvey Island’s pub-rock icons with the world at his feet and a trail of chaos unfurling on the road ahead
The year 1975 might have been about to call it a night but the Feelgoods were more in demand than ever. Even Lee’s white jacket could have done with a bit of time off, although this may have been wishful thinking on the part of the NME: “This jacket will not be appearing at Liverpool Stadium and Hammersmith Odeon,” announced the magazine, a huge picture of Lee’s slush-white jacket, the item recently and wittily proclaimed the NME’s ‘Sleeve Of The Year’, emblazoned on the back page. There it hangs, defiant and crooked, thin of lapel, battle-worn and blackened, bearing the marks and scuffs of 100 shows and never once having burdened a dry-cleaner. “On the other hand,” continued the caption beneath the image, “Dr Feelgood and the Roogalator will.” But no one had to read to the foot of the page to work out the connection. “Everybody knew whose suit it was,” said Feelgood associate Larry Wallis. “Now that’s fame.”
All the same, it was probably time to spruce up the wardrobe a little. Being, as they were, at the peak of their powers, the band had signed an American deal with the major label CBS and the Feelgoods would travel to San Diego at the end of January 1976 to perform at the record company’s convention (trans. ‘jolly-up’), bringing their English take on American blues right back to the States.
The Feelgoods would take their most trusted friends (including Nick Lowe, booked in under the name of ‘Dale Liberator, Equipment Handler’) with them on this potentially life-changing learning curve – and this would be the point at which they (with the exception of Wilko) really started drinking. America was lifting up its skirt to the Feelgoods and revealing, among other things, a free bar. It would have been rude to say no, and if there was one thing the Feelgoods couldn’t stand, it was rudeness.
Committed boozing would also galvanise these Brits abroad who would, by most, be treated as freaks, as Nick Lowe merrily recalled. In comparison to their slick US cousins, the Feelgoods and co looked like “a bunch of terribly dressed losers – they were rather horrified by us, which of course made us feel great.” This made them all the more fascinating to those who mattered. Lee was regarded as actually quite terrifying by some of the delegates. He, on the other hand, was just bemused by the cultural gulf.
“I thought because Americans speak English they are English, except they live in another part of the world,” Lee said. “[This] I found to be a mistake. We might as well have landed on Mars.”
“I’m a bit disappointed [with the luxurious Rivermont Hotel]. It’s too much like The Prisoner – it’s got sinister overtones. I really wanted to spend my first nights in America in one of those places with a big neon Indian waggling a tomahawk over the roof of a teepee-styled motel. Now that would have impressed me.” – Lee Brilleaux to Cal Worthington, who documented the group’s US debut for ZigZag.
“We [had] a superb deal with CBS,” said Lee. “We were on their A-list for promotion with an unlimited budget. They flew us to the west coast for the convention. Roadies, mates, you name it, we could have it. Nothing was too much trouble.”