For those that still remember the stars of this article in our FORGOTTEN ARTISTS series, it’s usually either as the band where Nick Lowe started his career or for the dreadful management company hype that nearly buried the band before they got started. If that is how you remember this excellent outfit perhaps it’s time you re-visited their early albums to rediscover a group that were dubbed a British version of The Band – a bunch of fine musicians who produced some of the earliest Alt-Country/Rock and Americana style music on the UK scene.
The seeds of the band were sown at Woodbridge School in Suffolk, where Nick Lowe and Brinsley Schwarz (the guitarist who would, eventually, lend his name to the band) first met and started playing in school bands. Schwarz would go on to form a band called Three’s a Crowd, with bass player Dave Cottam and drummer Pete Whale. Keyboard player Barry Landeman, who had been in Schwarz and Lowe’s school band, joined in 1967 and the band became Kippington Lodge, a close-harmony pop band that would, subsequently, morph into the band Brinsley Schwarz (Brinsley Schwarz, the guitarist, had German ancestry and, like Manfred Mann before him, the name was considered different and attention-catching enough to work as a band name). By the time Lowe had returned to the fold, to replace Cottam, and Bob Andrews had joined to replace Landeman (who left to join close harmony pop group, Vanity Fayre) the band had ditched their pop sound to move into more of a psychedelic folk-rock approach. The band were completed when drummer Billy Rankin replaced Pete Whale and Kippington Lodge became Brinsley Schwarz. As Kippington Lodge, Schwarz and Lowe had released a number of pop singles that had failed to trouble the charts and they felt the new band needed a more aggressive approach to achieving the star status they craved; they signed a management deal with Dave Robinson’s fledgeling Famepushers Agency (Robinson being the man who would go on to form Stiff Records with Jake Riviera, who would, in time, become Nick Lowe’s manager). It was Robinson who came up with what became known as the Brinsley Schwarz Hype. In the April of 1970, Robinson got the band a support slot at the Filmore East in New York, supporting Quicksilver Messenger Service and Van Morrison, and arranged to fly over a whole bunch of UK music writers to witness the gig. It was a disaster from start to finish. The band had planned to arrive in the US a few days before the gig to rehearse for the show, but visa delays prevented this and they ended up entering the US via Canada, arriving a few hours before their performance and having to perform with borrowed equipment they were not familiar with. The journalists were also delayed but had used the time to take full advantage of the free bar laid on for them and, therefore, arrived drunk or hung-over. The gig did not go well and received almost unanimously negative reviews. To compound the problems, the band’s eponymous debut album was released almost as soon as they got back to the UK and the negative reviews just kept on coming, with many of the reviewers basing their opinions on the poor gig rather than giving the album a fair listen. The Brinsleys did the time-honoured thing and retreated into the British countryside, to lick their wounds and immerse themselves in intense rehearsals, determined not to perform so poorly again. It may well have been what saved them from falling apart at the time. Determined to be a successful live band, and having been impressed by American outfit Eggs Over Easy and the way their country-infused rock went down with audiences on the pub circuit, the Brinsleys almost consciously turned away from pursuing the big time to immerse themselves in the movement that became known as Pub Rock and would, over time, emerge as one of the most accomplished bands on the circuit, playing to packed out gigs wherever they went.
The problem of their success as one of the leading lights of Pub Rock is that they quickly became big fish in a very small pond. Pub Rock wasn’t a musical genre but a performance-based movement and many of the bands had diverse musical styles, which meant that there was little crossover with the fans. The supporters of a garage blues/rock band like Dr Feelgood, for example, wouldn’t necessarily cross over to also support the country stylings of a band like Brinsley Schwartz just because they were both touted as Pub Rock bands by the music press. The Brinsleys had a loyal fanbase who would follow them around their gigs – but it was a finite bunch, restricted by the size of the venues and the lack of musical crossover for many. It also meant they never sold a great number of records. In their six-year existence, the band released six studio albums. They obviously sold enough for their label, United Artists/Capitol, to keep faith with them and all of the albums, with the possible exception of their hype affected debut and the slightly weak fifth album ‘Please Don’t Ever Change’, were critically well-received. Despite the loyal fan base and the critical acclaim, none of the band’s albums bothered the charts and their repeated attempts to achieve hit singles also came to nothing; looking back on the band now, it’s hard to see what they were doing wrong and how they could have done things differently. Maybe it is just that they were too far ahead of the curve and that the wider commercial market wasn’t ready for a British band, turning out this brand of down-home country rock, at this time. It seems obvious that, if they were around today and doing similar material in this style, they would be likely to achieve a lot more commercial success. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20.
In 1975 the band decided to call it a day.
Brinsley Schwartz and Bob Andrews formed The Rumour with former Ducks Deluxe guitarist Martin Belmont. They would go on to team up with singer/songwriter Graham Parker and achieve considerable success throughout the late 70s and early 80s and Schwartz has continued to work with Parker beyond the conclusion of the band.
Billy Rankin joined the band Terraplane and then went on to drum for Big Jim Sullivan’s band Tiger, before retiring from the music business at the end of the 70s.
Ian Gomm started a solo career as a singer/songwriter but also started his own studio, based in Wales. He has released seven solo albums in total and continues to work as a musician and songwriter.
Nick Lowe went on to world domination, at least in the 70s and 80s. He became a very successful record producer in his own right and would also have significant success as a solo artist; ironically, often with songs that had, originally, been written for Brinsley Schwartz. He would also write, record and produce the widely acclaimed “Brentford Trilogy” of albums – 1994s ‘The Impossible Bird’, ‘Dig My Mood’ (1998) and ‘The Convincer’ (2001), all based on exactly the same style of relaxed country-rock that had been the trademark of the Brinsleys! Nick Lowe’s single most successful solo recording, ‘Cruel to be Kind’, released in 1979, would chart around the world, achieving top twenty status in America, Australia, Canada, Ireland and his native UK. It was co-written with Brinsleys bandmate Ian Gomm and recorded for the Brinsley Schwartz album ‘It’s All Over Now’ – which wasn’t released at the time of its recording (1974) and didn’t see the light of day until 2017.
It’s a funny old business!