A punk and a gentleman | With R&B punk band Dr Feelgood returning to public consciousness thanks to the story of co-founder Wilko Johnson’s battle with cancer, writer Zoë Howe believes it’s a good time for recognition to be given to the band’s other co-founder who died aged 41. In Lee Brilleaux: Rock’n’Roll Gentleman, she argues for a long overdue appreciation of his legacy.
“Lee was the classic rock ‘n’ roll Jekyll and Hyde.”
“I was always very into punk,” says Zoë. Her first book was on The Slits, for one. “I didn’t think I appreciated how important the Feelgoods were until I saw the Oil City Confidential movie. That was the most exciting band film I’ve ever seen.”
Zoë became fascinated with the music, but also the incredible attitude they had, and Lee. “Lee intrigued me in a different way,” she explains. “Lee was the classic rock ‘n’ roll Jekyll and Hyde.” He was singular and eccentric, but everyone she interviewed said he was a gentleman: she wants to put the person he was before the Feelgoods for the book title.
“People knew what they wanted a pop star to be and the Feelgoods threw it out the window,” she continues, on why they caught so much attention. “I think they were very much the pioneers of [the pub rock scene]. The term pub rock put me off,” she adds, conjuring ideas of beer bellies and darts. “It’s a lazy term and lets loads of those bands down.” But in the scene, while at the forefront, the band would support and nurture others in their wake.
“It feels like I’m returning to an old pal.”
The band were signed, they were going places, and frictions began to show. Wilko had done acid and speed, and he, in a sense, looked down on booze, something the rest of the band spent a lot of time with. He stopped understanding everyone, rifts grew. The moment the band ended really occurred when Wilko flippantly said he wouldn’t go to America for a tour. They weren’t on the same page with the biggest of opportunities. Though much is made of the divide, Wilko and Lee did have great times together, she notes.
The hour looks at how the band went from being uncompromising to trying plenty of unexpected things, how they downsized their touring schedule from 280 to a mere 220 shows a year, the post-Wilko years and how Zoë often has to spend most of the time writing a biography finding and chasing people to interview, but with Lee there was a deluge of people wanting to talk about him. “That sums it up.”
On writing and taking about the book, Zoë simply says, “It feels like I’m returning to an old pal.”