Wilko Johnson’s R&B gargoyles undermine dreams of European union in 1976. Watch the clip, recoil in awe/horreur.
Although Great Britain joined the European Community in 1973, it spent the rest of the decade looking suspiciously across the Channel, finding new knee-jerk ways to be suspicious of what those exotic foreigners were up to, and how their enlightened cultural attitudes might impact on our cherished grim values of warm beer, cold pies and socks at the beach.
Fear of foreign invasion and contamination could be detected in sitcoms like ITV’s Mind Your Language, jingoistic condiment adverts with the terrifying Freddie Jones and, perhaps more cryptically, in series of nightmarish Public Information Films and posters about the danger of rabies, in which the poor policing of our ports promised to result in slow painful deaths and cancelled cat shows for all.
Also, a rifle through Public Records might cause one to think that in the mid 1970s, the Foreign Office were in the habit of positioning extreme examples of disquieting British product in continental market squares in the hope of discouraging look-see gadabouts boating over to the UK.
It’s certainly one possible explanation for this unnerving performance by a feral Dr. Feelgood in the village of Pithiviers, in north-central France, in 1976?
A short 45-minute drive from the city of Orléans and the beautiful 16th Century chateaux of the Loire Valley, Pithiviers appears to have been a peaceful, sleepy hamlet before cop heavies John B. Sparks and The Big Figure turned up with black-suited amphetamine-robot Wilko Johnson, and the hunched, twitching figure of Lee Brilleaux (just 24 years young in 1976, senescence fans), driven to soil a summer reverie with their lurching, jerking thug-pub brew of unwashed British R&B threat.
Apart from a tell-tale gaggle of heads-down finger-clicking longhairs – and a suspicious Maigret-type with pipe and spy camera stalking the dusty no-man’s land between band and audience – les gens du pays appear confused, haunted, distracted and unimpressed by this Great British display.
The attitude of The Feelgoods to this brief vacances d’été can possibly be divined from the lyrics. “I wanna live the way I like,” barks Brilleaux, “Sleep all the morning/Goin’ get my fun at night./Things ain’t like that here… I bought a brand new motor/And I’m waitin’ for a loan/So I can fill her up and start her/Then I’m going back home.”
“A bottle of HP Sauce in the face of cultural détente.”
A bottle of HP Sauce in the face of cultural détente, it can, through damaged eyes, be re-imagined as a crack-pot late work of secret intelligence by Sir Maurice Oldfield and his pals in British Intelligence. Repel all boarders. And yet…
It’s August 14 in that clip. Look hard and you might see a young Marc Zermati in the Pithiviers audience, processing and assimilating the Feelgoods’ cheap-suit British R&B and about to offer the group a chance to play in a 10,000 seat bullring, a week later, at the first ever European punk rock festival.
The Mont-de-Marsan punk festival went ahead on Saturday August 21, 1976. British grot was already deep-set within the French terroir. The Damned arrived from the UK, along with Count Bishops, Nick Lowe, Eddie And The Hot Rods and Jesse Hector’s Gorillas. Ian Curtis was in the audience. But no Dr. Feelgood. They’d filled up the motor and gone home.
The day after the Pithiviers performance, the Feelgoods were already back in the UK, sunny Bradford to be precise, gearing up for the first date on their Stupidity tour. On the 21st they were headlining the Liverpool Empire. Well, that’s if you believe the internet. Maybe that’s the “truth”, or maybe they’d been recalled to the UK by their MI6 handler, their work done in making the UK look like a terrifying bestial place that no tourist in their right mind would ever want to visit.
Wilco defies the odds still:</strong>