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Pub Rock



Usually around Saint Patrick’s Day, I see a few playlists that mistake the phrase “pub rock” for Irish drinking songs. But pub rock has very little to do with pennywhistles, wearing green, and binge drinking. Its roots vine back to taverns of the United Kingdom during the early-to-mid 1970s. Back then, the pop scene was overrun by the lavish theatrics of glitter/glam rock as well as the hyper-arranged music of progressive/prog rock. Pub rock started as an organic, reactionary backlash to glam and prog. And some music historians say that pub rock helped spark the sound of English punk.


Personally speaking, I love playing in pubs. I’ve had the privilege to perform on a lot of different stages. These include outdoor music festivals, European arenas, and historic ballrooms. One of my bands has even played on the sand dunes of Sardinia, mere feet away from the Mediterranean Sea. Not flexing here – I just want to point out that despite these sweet opportunities, my favorite places to play have always been (and still remain) dive bars and pubs.


Why? They’re more intimate, you don’t have to soundcheck, and there are no bouncers telling people where to stand. Also, many of these places don’t have stages. This allows for a face-to-face connection with the audience, which I prefer over looking down own a crowd. With pub shows, more people show up to dig the music than the scene. Pub shows tend to draw music-obsessed people with record collections. But more interestingly, there is a history behind playing in pubs and a short-lived movement that spawned the genre known as pub rock.


Seconds of Pleasure by RockpileSeconds of Pleasure by Rockpile 




Malpractice by Dr. FeelgoodMalpractice by Dr. FeelgoodThe original idea was to keep your setup simple and portable – the backline of choice was electric guitars plugged into smaller, tube-driven, amplifiers and a basic rhythm section comprising a minimal drum kit and a bass plugged into a combo amp. Microphones were mostly used for vocals and (sometimes) horns. The music was mostly a back-to-basics style of rock that blended blues, country, soul and early rock ‘n’ roll. Wilko Johnson’s band Dr. Feelgood played a smart, revved-up style of R&B that predated the mod revival by five years. The Stranglers also started out as a pub rock band, as did The 101ers which featured a young, pre-Clash Joe Strummer.


Other pub rock bands like supergroup Rockpile and the seminal Eggs Over Easy flirted with more twangy country rock, while artists like Wreckless Eric and Eddie & The Hot Rods played catchy, power pop-informed songs.




My Aim is True by Elvis CostelloMy Aim is True by Elvis Costello

Jesus of Cool by Nick LoweJesus of Cool by Nick Lowe


Pub rock was originally an underdog movement; when smaller bands found it difficult to play bigger venues, they had to start their own touring circuit by booking shows in various secluded British pubs – not too unlike the dark-horse country and blues musicians playing in hayseed American honky tonks during the 1940s and 1950s. Still, pub rock was not without its luminaries and success stories. A lot of people who were there back in the day claim that a young Elvis Costello got his start by imitating such pub rock staples as Brinsley Schwarz-era Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, and Dave Edmunds.  And though pub rock may remain as one of the golden eggs of semi-obscure subgenres, there’s a deep rabbit hole of discovery once you dig past the surface. So this St. Paddy’s Day, pour yourself a Guinness, dime that volume, and dig.


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