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Dr. Feelgood Are Returning to Essex

Wilko Johnson and Lee Brilleaux onstage at the Marquee Club, London in 1975. © Mick Gold

Dr. Feelgood are to return to their old stomping ground this month. The band are heading back to Essex for a gig at Chelmsford. Although the current incarnation of the R&B pub rock group features none of the original members, they formed in 1971 in Canvey Island, Essex.

The original members featured guitarist Wilko Johnson, singer Lee Brilleaux (who died in 1994), John B. Sparks (“Sparko”) on bass guitar and John Martin on drums. Such is their association with Canvey Island that an annual concert, the Lee Brilleaux Birthday Memorial, was held there until 2015.

Along with that their manager Chris Fenwick, who started managing the band when he was 19 years old and still manages them, hosts a yearly walk around the island. The walk takes in sights and places that relate to the band and Brilleaux, like the marshes where Fenwick used to play with the singer when they were kids, and also takes in Canvey Heights, the country park where Brilleaux’s ashes were scattered. The band’s 1975 debut album Down By The Jetty features the group in Canvey Island with the estuary in the background. And the industrial landscape of the place has long been associated with their music and lyrics.

The cover art for 'Down By The Jetty'. Image courtesy EMI / Dr. Feelgood

In 2009 Julien Temple’s film Oil City Confidential came out which tells the story of Dr. Feelgood, their link to Canvey Island, which it tours with Wilko Johnson, and their influence on punk. Oil City is the name the band gave Canvey Island after the Coryton Oil Refinery which was situated near there. It had a huge impact on Wilko Johnson’s songwriting for the band. It features in the opening lines of the song “All Through The City” which features on their debut album, “Stand and watch the towers burning at the break of day / Steadily slowing down, been on my feet since yesterday…” In Temple’s film Johnson quotes John Milton’s Paradise Lost when talking about the effect the refinery had on him calling it “darkness visible”.

"It is part of Canvey Island, even though it is across the creek. When you are trying to put the landscape into music, or lyrics, that refinery is what I am thinking of." Johnson has said about it.

Dr. Feelgood and Wilko Johnson performing at the Marquee Club, London in 1975. © Mick Gold

As for Brilleaux in a 2015 biography on him, Lee Brilleaux: Rock’n’Roll Gentleman, Zoe Howe writes, “He did not care about what anyone else thought. He used to strut around dressed as a dandy on Canvey Island. There was a punk attitude in him, and I think that was the secret to the success of the band. They just did what they wanted to do and the fact that it was such a hit was almost by accident.”

The band’s lineup now features Kevin Morris on drums, Phil Mitchell on bass, Steve Walwyn on guitar and former Animals II singer Robert Kane on vocals. They will play Clarets Bar at Chelmsford Football Club on September 29.

Rockarchive is delighted to be able to offer these iconic Dr. Feelgood images as limited edition photographic prints which you can buy here.