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Dr Feelgood - Oil City Confidential

  by Mark Rowland

published: 29 / 7 / 2010

Dr Feelgood - Oil City Confidential


Mark Rowland is impressed by new DVD 'Oil City Confidential', which tells the story of still under-rated, but influential 70's Canvey Island-based pub rock act, Dr Feelgood

Dr Feelgood were a stepping stone; the missing link. The importance of the band often get left out of rock history books and documentaries, but you could argue that without them the musical landscape of today would be markedly different. The band were all about primal energy, music and performance stripped back to basics. They played r’n’b and the blues, and they did it with gusto and menace. The music they played was not breaking the mould – in fact it was re-establishing it, but in the midst of prog rock stodge and cheesy glam it reminded people how exciting rock ‘n’ roll could be. Joe Strummer saw them and formed the 101ers. A young John Lydon caught them too. In a few years, approximations of Wilko Johnson’s choppy guitar style could be heard everywhere. You could argue that Dr Feelgood invented British punk before Malcolm McLaren had got a look in. Julien Temple’s 'Oil City Confidential' goes some way to right the injustice of the Feelgood’s writing out of the rock timeline. Focusing on the band’s very early days, from their childhood to the original line-up’s mid 70's heyday, Temple hands the story over to the band’s original members – Johnson, bassist John B Sparks and drummer the Big Figure – with input from various fans, friends and contemporaries. The story is as much about Canvey Island, the Essex holiday resort with a skyline dominated by huge oil storage plants (earning it the name Oil City and providing Temple’s film with a title) from which they came, as it is about the band. A large portion of the film is taken up by a brief history of the island and the band’s experiences growing up there, which provides a fascinating insight into the strange little corner of Britain that it is, and the way in which it shaped each of the band members. Between the band members’ accounts of events, Temple has cut in live footage, random clips of Canvey and found film that is used to symbolise the band’s experiences. 'Oil City Confidential' also features clips from old film noir and London gangster films, a reflection of the bands' street tough image. They seemed like a gang, and they seemed threatening. People who saw them rock the pub circuit were often blown away. The death of singer and longest-serving original member Lee Brilleaux from cancer in 1994 is the unmentioned elephant in the room throughout the film – people refer to him in the past tense and. when the band members get together to visit old haunts throughout the film, Brilleaux is conspicuous by his absence. But that’s not to say that Brilleaux is absent from the film entirely; his side of the story is told through previous interviews, including one particularly extensive one that took place in the singer’s old local, which gives his input some consistency, effectively bringing him back to life. The band’s attitude was as big an influence as their music. Footage of the band in interviews shows them to be belligerent, confrontational; their humour is bone dry. It instantly makes you think of those infamous Sex Pistols interviews, all that footage of punks from the late 70s. The music in 'Oil City Confidential' is suitably amped up, considerably louder than the dialogue. This helps to create a live feel to the songs, reflecting the band’s reputation as a live act, which in many ways exceeded that of their albums (Dr Feelgood’s biggest album was 'Stupidity', a live album). The pangs of regret surrounding Wilko’s split from the band is palpable, particularly from Johnson and Brilleaux. It knocks the band momentum for six, though they manage one last hit, ‘Milk and Alcohol’. The sadness and regret continues from that point, as Sparks and Figure leave the group, and Brilleaux continues until his death. The band member’s final reminiscences and Lee’s recorded sign off is moving, but ultimately, you are left with a warmth and sense of optimism. These are guys who took their teenage dreams and ran with them.

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Interview (2013)
Dr Feelgood - Interview
John Clarkson speaks to drummer Kevin Morris from rhythm and blues giants Dr Feelgood about their late front man Lee Brilleaux and their new double CD compilation, ‘Get Rhythm’, which brings together everything that the 1983-1989 line-up of the group recorded

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Greatest Hits (2021)
Electrifying double CD compilation which spans nearly fifty years of music from Canvey Island’s Dr Feelgood
Live at Rockpalast (2014)
Get Rhythm: The Best of Dr Feelgood 1984-1987 (2013)

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