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Members include Bob Andrews, keyboards; Ian Gomm (joined group, 1970), guitar, vocals; Nick Lowe, bass, vocals; Billy Rankin, drums; Brinsley Schwarz, guitar, vocals.
Formed from the remnants of British pop band Kippington Lodge, Brinsley Schwarz endured a disastrous American debut at the Fillmore East in New York City, and reinvented themselves as purveyors of American rock 'n' roll-country-influenced music as part of the British pub rock scene of the early and mid-1970s. Pub rock bands abjured the slick and expensive production values, frequent soloing, and bombastic themes of such British progressive bands as Yes, Genesis, and Jethro Tull in favor of music that could be appreciated with minimal amplification in smaller venues. Because they rejected prevailing commercial and aesthetic trends, Brinsley Schwarz--along with other pub rock bands such as Dr. Feelgood, Ducks Deluxe, Bees Make Honey, Chilli Willi, Tyla Gang, and Kilburn and the High Roads--are considered direct influences on mid-1970s British punk music.
Named after lead guitarist Brinsley Schwarz, the group launched its members' subsequent careers: Schwarz became leader of the Rumour, a band that supported Graham Parker; Lowe became a successful producer of Parker, Elvis Costello, the Damned, as well as a member of Rockpile, and a successful solo artist; Gomm became a solo performer; Andrews also joined the Rumour; Rankin joined the last incarnation of Ducks Deluxe; even the band's roadie, Declan McManus, became the internationally successful singer and songwriter Elvis Costello.
Group Took Form
Andrews, Lowe, and Schwarz were members of the band Kippington Lodge, which Lowe and Schwarz formed in 1965 in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. The group had released several singles--notably remakes of Tomorrow's "Shy Boy," the Beatles' "In My Life," "Lady on a Bicycle," and "Rumours"--with little success. When their original keyboardist, Barry Landerman, left the group in 1969 to join the pop band Vanity Fare, Andrews replaced him. The band changed its name to Brinsley Schwarz, brought in drummer Rankin, and hired former Jimi Hendrix tour manager Dave Robinson as manager and coproducer of their eponymous debut album.
As manager, Robinson orchestrated one of the biggest gaffes in rock music public relations history: He convinced the band to spend its entire advance from United Artists on a private jet to fly 134 British music journalists to New York City for the band's American debut as the opening act for Van Morrison and the Quicksilver Messenger Service at the Fillmore East. Unfortunately, the ambitious plan backfired on several levels, beginning when the band members were initially refused entry into the country for technical visa violations. According to Charlie Gillett in the Record Mirror: "The plan had been for the plane to land at mid-day, for the British journalists (traveling free) to meet American journalists at a press reception to meet Brinsley Schwarz.... But three hours were lost at London while Aer Lingus flew their plane from Dublin, and another two at Shannon while mechanics replaced 36 gallons of brake fluid that had drained out somewhere over Bristol or Swansea."
Former journalist Roy Eldridge, interviewed by Sounds writer Peter Silverton, continued the story: "We all clamoured aboard the plane in London--a trip to NY was the ultimate record company trip at the time--and we were only in the air about an hour when something went wrong with the plane and we were diverted to Shannon. Course, as soon as we landed we hit the bar in Shannon, knocking back Irish coffees and whatever else we could get our hands on. We were there for hours, so by the time we got back on the plane, most people were really loaded. Then, for the next five hours in the air there was constant drink flowing, and people got really out of hand. It was just ridiculous. Journalists were throwing up on the plane, photographers couldn't possibly see straight." Eldridge continued: "It was complete chaos. Half of the people went straight to their hotel rooms and collapsed drunkenly and missed the show." Others who did attend were infuriated to find that their seats had been given away. Their drunken displeasure resulted in the expulsion of several journalists from the Fillmore.
Those permitted to remain were treated to a lackluster performance by the unrehearsed band, for which they were pilloried by the press. As Gillett reviewed the night's performance: "Nicholas Lowe sings, plays guitar, wears a Superman shirt and has a trick of nodding his head to make his hair cover his face. If he's nervous, he doesn't show it. ... Brinsley plays guitar. The sound is what everybody calls heavy, although somebody on the plane who heard the tapes of the group's LP said they had a light, harmonic sound like Crosby, Stills and Nash. The third song is different, a little talking blues that even Arlo Guthrie would be ashamed to sing. Then back to noise. It's hard to take, even in the twentieth row." When Brinsley Schwarz was released several weeks later, the press either dismissed the album or ignored it.
Improved Playing and Songwriting
The band returned to England to record their next album, sequestering themselves in a rented house for 18 months during which they played and listened to a wide variety of music. The album, Despite It All, marked a dramatic improvement in the band's playing and songwriting, particularly those written by Lowe. Writing in Crawdaddy!, Bud Scoppa remarked: "After an appealing but cautiously performed debut album that was in essence an homage to West Coast harmony-rock, ... the Brinsleys depressurized into a friendlier and more confident style on Despite It All, something of an answer to the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo..
In 1972 Brinsley Schwarz hired Ian Gomm as a second guitarist and vocalist. He appeared on that year's release, Silver Pistol, an album whose music marked the band's growing confidence as musicians and songwriters, especially their mastery of American country-rock music. Rolling Stone critic Scoppa began his review of the album by noting: "Shades of [Bob Dylan's] Highway 61 Revisited, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Band, [The Flying Buritto Brothers'] The Gilded Palace of Sin, [The Grateful Dead's] Workingman's Dead were so integral a part of Brinsley Schwarz's first two efforts that the musicians responsible for those albums might well have been listed on Brinsley's liners as contributors." But, he continued, "[m]ore than any other British band they have managed to mold an identity out of various borrowed elements. Now they have transcended their overtly derivative stage and found a purer level of creative activity. [Silver Pistol] is one of the most dusty, rustic-sounding rock albums ever made by British hands. Perhaps it's a bit too rustic in places. But out of it arises a vitality that's as tangible as it is welcome."
In the summer of 1972 the band members attended a concert by the American band Eggs over Easy and were inspired by the group's minimal amplification. They subsequently sought out opportunities to perform in smaller venues that didn't require them to rent expensive amplifiers and sound systems. Because of these efforts, Brinsley Schwarz is often credited as being a progenitor of the pub rock sound. According to Scoppa, writing in Crawdaddy!, pub rock musicians "perceived rock 'n' roll as a rich potpourri of interlocking and deeply American genres. They revered in equal measure Professor Longhair and the Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Coasters and the Byrds, and reserved places of honor for Dylan and Chuck Berry." Pub rock musicians also emphasized sincerity in the songs over technical virtuosity and stardom, an approach that appealed to the young musicians who would spark the punk rock movement in 1975. In fact, the Damned's "New Rose," considered the first punk single, was produced by Lowe, who became house producer for Stiff Records.
Brinsley Schwarz continued to record, although only one more album would be released by United Artists in the United States. Nervous on the Road, released in 1972, included such diverse styles as New Orleans funk, rockabilly, and R&B. In that same year, they supported Scots blues and rock singer Frankie Miller on his Once in a Blue Moon release. The band's repertoire expanded to include reggae and girl-group sounds on their 1973 release Please Don't Ever Change. Original Golden Greats, released in 1974, intended as a parody of greatest hits packages, featured all-new material. Former Love Sculpture guitarist and solo performer Dave Edmunds produced the band's final album of original material, New Favorites of Brinsley Schwarz. The album is noted for its inclusion of the Lowe composition "What's So Funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding?" that became a hit single for Elvis Costello.
Eroding Relationships Broke Up Group
The band split up shortly thereafter, during a tour with Dave Edmunds. Rankin believed that the band's cohabitation wore on their relationship: "Nick split the band up which was funny 'cos he'd always been the peace maker. It was Nick and I on one side, Brinsley and Bob on the other with Ian Gomm in the middle. It was mainly women that broke the band up. Why else do bands break up?"
Following the band's dissolution, Schwarz and Andrews formed the Rumour, which recorded several albums and backed Graham Parker, Rachel Sweet, and Carlene Carter. Lowe formed Rockpile with Dave Edmunds, and continued to tour and record as a solo performer, as well as becoming a successful producer of acts for Stiff Records, as well as Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and the Rumour, and the Pretenders.
by Bruce Walker
Brinsley Schwarz's Career
Group formed in Kent, England, 1969; made U.S. debut as opening act for Van Morrison at Fillmore East, New York City, 1970; released first two albums, Brinsley Schwarz and Despite It All, 1970; released albums Silver Pistoland Nervous on the Road, 1972; disbanded, 1975.
- Selected discography
- Despite It All , United Artists, 1970.
- Silver Pistol , United Artists, 1972.
- Nervous on the Road United Artists, 1972.
- Please Don't Ever Change , United Artists, 1973.
- The New Favorites of Brinsley Schwarz United Artists, 1974.
- Original Golden Greats United Artists, 1974.
- Nervous on the Road/The New Favorites of Brinsley Schwarz BGO, 1975.
- 15 Thoughts of Brinsley Schwarz United Artists, 1978.
- It's All over Now Charly, 1988.
- Surrender to the Rhythm EMI, 1991.
- Brinsley Schwarz/Despite It All BGO, 1994.
- Hen's Teeth Edsel, 1998.
- Original Golden Greats/15 Thoughts of Brinsley Schwarz BGO, 2000.
- What IS So Funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding? Hux, 2001.
- Buckley, Jonathon, Orla Duane, Mark Ellingham, and Al Spicer, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, Ltd., 1999.
- Clifford, Mike, The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Salamander Books, 1986.
- George-Warren, Holly, and Patricia Romanowski, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 2001.
- "Brinsley Schwarz," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 30, 2002).
- "Brinsley Schwarz," Music Web Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, http://www.centrohd.com/bio/bio5/brinsley_schwarz_the_roots_of_th.htm (August 30, 2002).
- "Brinsley Schwarz--Brothers and Sisters," Tapestry of Delights, http://www.borderline books.com/uk6070s/tapestry.html?http://www.borderlinebooks.com/uk6070s/k5.htm (August 30, 2002).
- "Brinsley Schwarz: The Lost Weekend," Rock's Back Pages, http://www.rocksbackpages.com/print.html?ArticleID-438 (August 30, 2002).
- "Nick Lowe: This Is Your Life," Rock's Back Pages, http://www.rocksbackpages.com/article.html?ArticleID=2005 (August 30, 2002).
- "Pub Rock: Grass Roots On the Other Side of the Fence," Crawdaddy!, http://www.rocksbackpages.com/print.html?ArticleID=1504 (January 21, 2003).
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