As a rock ‘n’ roll musician who has been playing live for more than half my life, I’ve had the privilege to perform on a lot of different stages. These include outdoor music festivals, European arenas and historic ballrooms like The Fillmore and The Warfield. I’ve even played on the sand dunes of Sardinia, mere feet away from the Mediterranean Sea. But I have to admit that my favorite places to play have always been dive bars and pubs. They’re more intimate, you don’t have to sound-check and there are no bouncers telling people where to stand. Also, many of these places don’t have stages. This allows for a face-to-face connection with the audience, which I prefer to looking down own a crowd. With pub shows, more people show up to dig the music than the scene. Pub shows tend to draw music-obsessed people with record collections. More interestingly, there is a history behind playing in pubs and a short-lived movement that spawned the genre known as pub rock.
The roots of pub rock stretch back to pubs of the United Kingdom during the early-to-mid 1970s. Back then, the pop scene was overrun by the lavish theatrics of glitter/glam rock as well as the over studied and hyper arranged genre known as progressive/prog rock. Pub rock started as an organic, reactionary backlash to glam and prog. Some music historians say that pub rock helped spark the sound of English punk. The idea was to keep your setup simple – electric guitars plugged into small valve-driven amps and a basic rhythm section was the backline of choice. Microphones were only used for vocals and (sometimes) horns. The music was mostly a back-to-basics style of rock that blended blues, country, soul and early rock ‘n’ roll. Wilko Johnson’s band Dr. Feelgood played a smart, revved-up style of R&B that predated the mod revival by five years. The Stranglers also started out as a pub rock band, as did The 101ers then which featured a young, pre-Clash Joe Strummer. Other pub rock bands like supergroup Rockpile and the seminal Eggs Over Easy flirted with more twangy country rock, while artists like Wreckless Eric and Eddie & The Hot Rods played catchy, power pop informed songs.
Pub rock was originally an underdog movement; when smaller bands found it difficult to play bigger venues, they had to start their own touring circuit by booking shows in various secluded British pubs – not too unlike the dark horse country and blues musicians playing in hayseed American honky tonks during the 1940s and 1950s. Still, pub rock was not without its luminaries and success stories. A lot of people who were there back in the day claim that a young Elvis Costello got his start by imitating such pub rock staples as Brinsley Schwarz era Nick Lowe, Graham Parker and Dave Edmunds. And though pub rock may remain as one of the golden eggs of obscurities today, there’s a rabbit hole of discovery once you dig past the surface. So pour yourself a Guinness and dig.