Top 10 English Pub Rock Bands

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At its mid-70s height, pub rock was the sound of London drinking & roots-rocking
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Pub rock was definitely music to quaff some pints of beer to

Pub rock is both a musical idea and political movement in British rock from the early 1970s into the early ’80s when the heroes of the 1960s had outgrown the audiences they had once played for, starting when punk had yet to rear its gobby head and ending when MTV was still a sci-fi dream. It’s a peculiar genre in that it is defined less by a specific musical style than by the venues that the bands played in: London pubs that featured live music, often in a room downstairs from the main bar, where patrons drank and danced. The Tally Ho pub in Kentish Town is generally considered the birthplace of the scene, which started when the U.S. band Eggs Over Easy – who had migrated from the Bay Area to London and couldn’t get any gigs – managed to persuade the landlord to let them play there and replaced the traditional jazz music that the pub had previously featured.

Eggs

American expatriates Eggs Over Easy kickstarted the movement

The London band Brinsley Schwarz were having similar difficulty getting booked after they’d suffered a disastrous hype stunt when their managers flew two planeloads of U.K. journalists to see the band’s American debut at the Fillmore East… and they bombed. The group caught the Eggs at the Tally Ho – which The Guardian dubbed in retrospect “pub rock’s C.B.G.B.” – and soon had a residency there as well.

Pub rock bands were heavily influenced by American roots music – blues, country and folk – and Jamaican ska. Oddly enough most would probably all be classified as Americana groups if they were around today. It was a back-to-the-roots movement that was clearly designed to provide an alternative to the glam, pomp and circumstance surrounding Britain’s biggest rock bands of the time. The London punk scene evolved from many of the same stages where pub rock thrived, and numerous punk bandleaders and players emerged from pub rock bands, most notably Joe Strummer in The 101ers and Elvis Costello in Flip City.

The movement never produced any breakthrough stars or, with one exception below, hit singles. But in the mid-’70s it was a mainstay of the London live music scene, with bands playing pubs all across the city and drawing in the punters to drink and enjoy the largely good time sound. The music made by its best bands stands the test of time and certainly rocked with a fervor. What follows are the best of the pub rockers and their finest songs.

10) “Caldonia” by Bees Make Honey
This video of kids chugging imperial pints and the band playing an edgy cover of a jump blues hit by Louis Jordan and the Tympani Five at the Nag’s Head pub pretty much sums up the pub rock ethos in a nutshell.

9) “Back on the Train” by The Electric Bluebirds
Formed at The Duke pub in Deptford in 1979, the Bluebirds featured members of the Realists and the Fabulous Poodles and were in the same circle as Mark Knopfler and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze. Accordionist Alan Dunne, who later played with Van Morrison, is credited with introducing Cajun music to the British pub scene. Those who may have thought Mumford & Sons came up with something new will hear their style some three decades earlier. Bonus points: Richard Thompson plays guitar on this track.

8) “Doghouse” by Nine Below Zero
Guitarist/vocalist Dennis Greaves led a pretty straightforward hard-blues pub band before changing the name to Nine Below Zero after the Sonny Boy Williamson II song and recording the hot album Live at the Marquee in 1979.

7) “Teenage Depression” by Eddie and the Hot Rods
Known for their raucous shows at London’s Kensington pub, the band veered straight into punk even as they discarded the stuffed mascot “Eddie.”

6) “How Long” by Ace
Led by future Squeeze/Mike + the Mechanics member and Roger Waters sideman Paul Carrack, Ace plied a smooth R&B sound that produced this top 20 hit in England and America.

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5) “Switchboard Susan” by Mickey Jupp
One of the unsung heroes of pub rock, Jupp wrote numerous classic songs of the genre, a number of which were subsequently recorded by Nick Lowe and/or Dave Edmunds, the co-leaders of Rockpile – the one band that was able to get the most mileage out of the pub rock roots music ethos.

4) “England’s Glory” by Kilburn and the High Roads
Named after the North London street where they played and drank in numerous pubs, this band was the medium for the brilliant Ian Dury, who wrote numerous great original songs for this unit and its punk-era spin-off, Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

3) “Coast to Coast” by Ducks Deluxe
Among the earliest of the pub rockers, they emerged from the Welsh rock scene, combining crew members from Brinsley Schwarz and Help Yourself. Their flint-edged hard rock was the antithesis of the glam rock they set out to overcome and they soon became regulars at the Tally Ho. What it’s all about. Martin Belmont went on to play with Graham Parker’s backing band the Rumour while former Ducks Nick Garvey and Andy McMaster later formed the Motors and enjoyed a modicum of success during the new wave movement.

2) “She Does It Right” by Dr. Feelgood
Dr. Feelgood quickly became the face of pub rock, then a British rock institution under the direction of lead singer Lee Brilleaux and the astonishing Wilko Johnson, whose unique rhythm/lead guitar technique sounds like the explosion of an unhinged watch spring, and who made a red-hot album with Roger Daltrey of Feelgood’s songs, Going Back Home (see our review here).

1) “What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding” by Brinsley Schwarz
Singer/bassist Nick Lowe, keyboardist Bob Andrews and guitarist Brinsley Schwarz all went on to make significant contributions to the music scene after leaving this group: Lowe as a solo artist, member of Rockpile and producer; Andrews and Schwarz in the Rumour. Lowe’s most famous composition went on to become a cornerstone of his career and earn him a minor fortune when it was featured in the Whitney Houston movie The Bodyguard and on the film’s multi-million selling soundtrack album.

John Swenson

John Swenson has been writing about popular music since 1967. He has worked as an editor at Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, Circus, Rock World and OffBeat magazine and been published in virtually every classic popular music magazine of note, and edited the award-winning website jazze.com for Knit Media. He was a syndicated music columnist for more than 20 years at United Press International and Reuters. Swenson has written 14 published books including biographies of Bill Haley, The Who, Stevie Wonder and The Eagles and co-edited the original Rolling Stone Record Guide with Dave Marsh. He is also the editor of The Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Album Guide. In another role, Swenson is a veteran sports writer who covered the New York Rangers for 30 years, writing pieces for outlets from Rolling Stone to the Associated Press. Swenson is also a veteran horseracing columnist and handicapper who covered the New York racing scene as a columnist for the New York Post and the New Orleans Fair Grounds meet for The Daily Racing Form. His profile on jockey Steve Cauthen, "Rise To Stardom, Fall From Grace" in Spur magazine, was nominated for an Eclipse Award.
John Swenson

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  1. Gommo
    #1 Gommo 14 February, 2016, 15:31

    Thought I should just add to the Brinsley Schwarz piece that Ian Gomm (myself) also went on to have a US Top Twenty hit on Stiff/ Epic Records in 1979 with my song ‘Hold On’, co-wrote Nick Lowe’s worldwide smash ‘Cruel To Be Kind’ was the support act on Dire Straits ‘five week US ‘Sultans of Swing Tour’ and had my compositions recorded by Phil Everly, Glen Cambell, Sky and Dave Edmunds plus many more artists around the world. Apart from that, not alot!

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  2. Greg Brodsky
    #2 Greg Brodsky 14 February, 2016, 19:48

    I remember “Hold On” well; thanks for taking the time to write, Ian!

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  3. Glory-Days´76
    #3 Glory-Days´76 31 January, 2017, 21:08

    Just want to say “Cheers” to my Pub-Rock-Heroes! These fantastic Songs and fine Players are timeless Classics! Those were the days, when They called it Rock!

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  4. John Rose
    #4 John Rose 23 October, 2017, 07:43

    Supertramp’s Bob Siebenberg is playing drums for Bees Make Honey in this clip.

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  5. Billy the Fish
    #5 Billy the Fish 24 January, 2019, 06:13

    When these bands were on TV they seem to be in each others band Billy Bremner seemed to be in every backing band Dave Edmunds – Nick Lowe – Mickey Jupp and so on and in turn Nick Lowe seemed to be in every ones band Dave Edmunds was in Nicks band

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