Friday, 7 February 2014

January 1979

Clash of the Feelgood People

Tim (Lott) and I face each other across two large desks in a small office in Mount Pleasant, both of us still slightly stunned by the fact that we’ve actually started the Farringdon Agency and are renting an office and getting phones installed and buying furniture and filing cabinets and stationery and having letterheads and a partnership bank account.

We’ve upped the ante with all the publications and the money is enough to cover everything with a nifty few bob on top. Plus Tim has a regular Capital Radio spot that doesn’t pay much but helps our Farringdon cause look more kosher.

I get about a bit − trips, receptions, fine white lines on the freeway. I am that hitcher . . .

There’s a sudden deluge of tabloid tumbling, of dots and dashes and punchy intros and jaunty exclamation-mark-ridden prose. How about this brazen bunch…

It’s the most bizarre combination to ever hit the charts!

A cowboy, an Indian, a cop, a GI, a construction worker and a leather-clad motorbike stud all extolling the virtues of the YMCA!

That’s the wild and wonderful Village People who sell as many records in the States as John Travolta.

They call their act a celebration of the all-American male − yet their biggest fans can be found in Gay Lib!

‘We go for a Mae Westian approach,’ says David Hodo, the construction worker. ‘When we started, we aimed for a gay audience simply because we’re a disco band, and most of the people that went to discos in the States originally were gay.’

The Village People are the brainchild of French producer Jacques Morale. He visited a bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, and saw a group of male go-go dancers, including Felipe Rose dressed as a Red Indian chief, performing on top of the bar. ‘I decided it was time to have a group specifically for such people,’ he recalls.

So he got the other guys together, dressed them in American stereotype male outfits and took them into the studio. ‘I never thought it would catch on with straight audiences − but they loved it right away,’ says Morale.

The band’s first single, the aptly titled ‘Macho Man’, went platinum. Their stage act is sensational, and the audiences they attract are zanier than the band themselves!

Says Hodo, ‘A lot of people overlook the humour of our act. It’s incredible. We’re not a Gay Lib band, we’re a People Lib band!’

At a recent concert they attracted a record audience of 110,000. When they appeared on a US TV show it got the highest ratings in its history.

The cop − Victor Willis, a high-school football star − maintains he has no connection with gay people. So isn’t it all a bit awkward?

‘Sometimes it gets a bit uncomfortable because I won’t let that sort of image be connected with me. I’m just dealing in disco. Songs like "YMCA", "My Roommate" and "Ups And Downs" can be interpreted either way.

‘It’s entirely up to the listener.’

‘There’s a mystique about us,’ adds Hodo. ‘And women love it because there are six real manly looking guys on-stage.’ The band hope to tour Britain early in the New Year – and that should set the cat among the pigeons… !

(Morali died of AIDS in 1991 and Glenn Hughes, the Leatherman, died of lung cancer in 2001. Village People sold over 85 million records and were awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008.)

Even the Clash can’t escape my exclamation-mark clutches…!

The leader of Britain’s most exciting band lives in a squat!

Joe Strummer of the Clash, whose new album Give ’Em Enough Rope has shot to number two in the charts, can’t afford a place of his own.

‘People think because you’ve had a few hits you’re rich,’ says Strummer, twenty-four.

‘Bands like the Who and the Stones never got any money until years after they started making hits. I hope it’s gonna be the same with us.

‘But if you think I’m hard-up you should see our drummer Nicky Headon − he sleeps rough!’

The Clash have come in for some heavy criticism recently from those who reckon they’ve sold out.

‘We haven’t changed,’ says Joe. ‘We’ve still kept our integrity and we still know what our duty is − to make a stand. Times have changed, standards are all different. But the music business doesn’t know that. There’s a whole new world of kids out there − but those mugs in the industry close their eyes to it. Instead, they continue to go out at lunch times and get drunk on other people’s money.’

Joe went through a nightmarish time earlier this year when he was frightened of going out alone.

‘It was all getting too much for me. I kept thinking I would be attacked because of what we’ve always stood for.

‘But I soon got over it. You have to or you’re dead!’

Rat-a-tat-tat! Check out Mr Brilleaux…

Doctor Feelgood have found the perfect cure for the winter blues.

While we’ve all been dreaming of castles in Spain they’ve bought one . . . complete with hundreds of squealing pigs!

And the band are hoping to bring home the bacon when they visit their newly acquired pig farm next month.

Lee Brilleaux, the Cockney hell-raiser with the hung-over eyes and the hangdog voice, explains that the Feelgoods had money in Spain which they couldn’t collect.

‘We’ve played shows there, but the money we get is subject to high taxation if it goes out of the country. We heard about this farm-owner who had got into heavy debt, so we used our money to bail him out − and we bought the property. We’ve kept him on as manager but it’s ours − all four acres of it. So now we’re going down in a few weeks to rehearse in the barn where the pigs sleep. Besides, it might be a profitable sideline. You can’t get good bacon in Spain ’cos the pigs are too scrawny. In fact, everything in Spain is skinny − except for the birds! And I like a nice bit of crackling now and again!’

Lee, twenty-seven, is delighted about the success of their new single, ‘Milk and Alcohol’.

‘It looks like being our first Top Twenty record! It’s great because the lyrics are all about how drink gets you into trouble − and everyone thinks I’m a hard drinker. I like a pint as much as the next man, but once reporters see you with one in your hand they think you’re an alcoholic. I go down to the pub most nights because I hate the rubbish they put on the telly.’

Lee, a. bachelor, has never moved away from Canvey Island where he was born. ‘Why should I? I spend most of my time on the road anyway, so home doesn’t have to be some-where glamorous, just where you can hang your hat. Nobody bothers you when you nip out to the boozer for a drink. Only problem is, the pubs close too early!’

(‘Milk and Alcohol’ was the Feelgoods’ only top-ten hit. Brilleaux continued to front the band, through various line-up changes, until his death from lymphoma in 1994. The Lee Brilleaux Birthday Memorial concert is held every year on Canvey Island.)

Next: Bob Marley and Inner Circle in Jamaica

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives:



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