No Sleep Till Canvey Island – The Great Pub Rock Revolution by Will Birch

The next (5th?) in my (overdue) series of essential rock reads, this tome – originally published in 2000 (and my copy is now yellowing alarmingly) tackles the (then underrated if not ridiculed) Pub Rock scene of the early to mid 1970’s London. Only recently being re-assessed by the media movers and shakers at the Beeb (see the Punk Rock Britannia series – episode one), Will Birch’s insider status means he was well placed to be able to write with authority on the subject. Former drummer and songwriter with the Kursaal Flyers (and later The Records) he rubbed shoulders with many of the characters contained within these pages.

It’s all here, the story of Brinsley Schwarz’s ill fated trip to the states, their encounter with Eggs Over Easy playing low key sets in a London boozer, and the flourishing of a series of venues which gave a platform for so many bands from Kilburn and the High Roads, Ducks Deluxe, Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers(!) via Doctor Feelgood (hence Canvey Island) to ultimately the precursors of Punk with the 101’ers and Joe Strummer. It’s certainly arguable that without the trail blazed by the individuals in this book, Punk wouldn’t have happened in the way it did, and music as we know it may be quite different.

Fluent and amiable, like a beery enthusiastic mate, the tale unfolds through a series of encounters and anecdotes from those who were there, and the whole glorious saga unfolds, culminating with the first Stiff Records tour, which exploded the careers of Ian Dury and Elvis Costello, as good a place to finish as any, the point where the scene got a leg-up onto a national stage. Part of the fun though was obviously lost in this league change, and it’s so nice to hear from iconoclasts the like of Sean Tyla, Paul “Bassman” Riley, Charlie Hart et al. who never made the jump, but who were crucially “there”.

I was so pleased after reading this book when I first got hold of it, that I had to contact Will Birch with my enthusiastic response. “Thanks for the kind words”, came the response. Well Will, thanks for your words.

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