Dr Feelgood – ‘All Through The City’ (EMI)
1975. The idle purr of a Ford Granada engine. The smell of damp sheepskin, Players No.6, Old Spice, Watney’s Red Barrel. The static created when manmade materials mesh. Three star jumpers, four button waistbands, six-inch stack heels, the friction of five-o-clock shadow against Avon cosmetic foundation. The light from the youth club doorway floods the village hall car park. Someone’s older brother is about to fuck someone’s younger sister. I’ve still got a year or so to go.
Dr Feelgood were always an older brother’s band back in my formative years. ‘Roxette’ blaring from the youth club decks, ‘Stupidity’ posters alongside ‘Slaughter On 10th Avenue’ posters in bedrooms that smelt of stale sex and tobacco when I still smelt of Blue Stratos and Polo mints. I was familiar with the aforementioned ‘Roxette’, of course: ‘She Does It Right’, ‘All Through The City’, ‘Back In The Night’, all Hampton Magna disco staples. I was au fait with the long-playing artwork image of four Thames Delta bluesmen posing as Flying Squad thugs from my trips to Regent Records, but I was never going to trade in my copy of ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ for ‘Down By The Jetty’ or ‘Malpractice’. A couple of years later, punk rock happened, and I did take all my Led Zep, Sabbath, Purple, Rainbow, Quo and Queen LPs down to Renton’s Records in Leamington Spa, and traded the lot for ‘Damned Damned Damned’, ‘Rattus Norvegicus’, and the ‘New Wave’ compilation on Sire Records. Dr Feelgood knew something was in the air, they just left the jetty 18-months before the boat docked.
Those older brothers, the ones that formed the first wave of punk rock, they’d been down the front taking sweat-drenched notes whilst the Feelgoods took the capital by force as the mid-seventies ticked down to year zero. John Lydon stole safety pins and sartorial guidance from Ian Dury to go with the bits Malcolm stole from Richard Hell and brought home from New York. Joe Strummer stole Wilko Johnson’s manic energy, the thousand-yard-stare, the twitch, the Fender. Despite the R&B under-carriage on which the Feelgoods rolled, Wilko’s guitar sound would light a thousand touch papers to influence what came after punk in ways he could never have imagined circa then.
Having waited way too long before sitting down to watch Julian Temple’s ‘Oil City Confidential’, the arrival of ‘All Through The City’ is timely, to say the least. The movie itself I found intensely moving, it made me realise that Dr Feelgood were far deeper ingrained in my pre-punk subconscious than I’d ever given them credit for. The sight of Wilko and Lee in full flight on stage was a revelation in reverse. I have spent the majority of my life running in the opposite direction to rock’n’roll, now it’s caught up with me, and bitten me on the arse!
‘All Through The City’ is all the Dr Feelgood you’re ever going to need. It covers the Wilko years, from 1974-77, boasting all four long players, non-album singles, thirteen unreleased studio takes, three unreleased live takes, and twenty-two TV and live concert appearances. Standards, classics, and interpretations galore, but it’s the Wilko originals that cut to the bone. The man was a cosmic foil to Lee Brilleaux’s Dennis Waterman, an acid-fried toker in a den of thieves. Don’t listen to those that tell you they were a one-trick pony, there’s more to Dr Feelgood than meets the ear. All the young punks, laugh your life, ‘cos there ain’t much to cry for!