While chatting with 2000 man on the Dr Feelgood Down By The Jetty, it got me to thinking about the pub rock bands of the mid 70s that foretold the future of music in punk rock. The Sex Pistols could barely play their instruments but managed to put out a raw debut that turned out to be their one and only studio record. The Clash were a bit more political but the late Joe Strummer was once part of The 101ers, a band that had a minor UK hit with Keys To Your Heart.
History has shown that the Pub Rockers of the mid 70s, Eddie And The Hot Rods, Ducks Deluxe and Dr Feelgood owed a lot to the blues and soul music of the 60s but with a much more driving beat and guitar work. The Ducks were perhaps the more musically inclined, to which after the demise of that band, Nick Garvey and Andy McMaster would form The Motors, Sean Tyla would form Tyla Gang and Martin Belmont would be part of The Rumour. Another all star Brit band Brinsley Schwartz, would have Brinsley and Bob Andrews help out Graham Parker and The Rumour, Ian Gomm, would enjoy a solo career with top ten hit Hold On, and main songwriter Nick Lowe become one of the more prolific musicians and later join with Dave Edmunds for Rockpile. Eddie And The Hot Rods would cover a wide variety of songs from Van Morrison, to Question Mark to even Joe Tex and Wooly Bully; their speed freak version of Bob Seger's Get Out Of Denver actually is better than the original version. And Dr Feelgood, would have the choppy lead guitar work of Wilko Johnson for four albums before leaving and Gypsie Mayo would replace him for a few years.
Which leads to The Pirates. Wilko Johnson has mentioned that Mick Green has always been one of his major influences on guitar and it shows. But The Pirates go all the way back to the late 50s and early 60s when the late great Johnny Kidd was the leader and gave us the original version of Shakin' All Over. While many members have come and gone the most remembered were Mick Green (Guitar), Frank Farley (Drums) and Johnny Spence (Bass and Vocals). When Kidd died in a car crash in 1966 the band disbanded, but a decade later, with the blessing from Kidd, The Pirates started up again. Now, the Kidd led Pirates had guitar driven music as well. Find the EMI import 25 Greatest Hits and you'll get a picture how they sound.
But the Green/Spence/Farley lineup was more harder rocking when they took to the stage in 1976. Dressed up in pirated gear but not looking like rock stars (Farley the drummer, played shirtless and with a beer belly to boot) this over 30 bunch of guys could kick anybody's ass off the stage with their opener Please Don't Touch, to which Mick Green pounding on his guitar and taking no prisoners. In the craze of the major labels looking for punk band, Warner Brothers signed The Pirates up and released the half live, half studio Out Of Their Skulls a perfect introduction to this band. The live side is rock classic that makes them legends and if you can find the copy snatch it up. The Studio side is a bit more tamer, with a cover of Drinking Wine, the old Sticks Mcgee cover and the wild guitar work of Gibson Martin Fender from Green. It is noted that Vic Maile produced this, he also produced Dr Feelgood's first two albums and Teenage Depression from Eddie And The Hot Rods. Anything Vic Maile did back in the 70s is associated with Pub rock and on name association you should watch out for. He later produced the likes of Motorhead, The Screaming Blue Messiahs and The Godfathers to which Maile will pass away in 1989. Another trait of Maile is that he would record some live sides to the bands he worked with. The UK version of Teenage Depression was so so, till Maile added some live tracks, to which Island in the US would add on the album. The half and half live/studio of Out Of Their Skulls can also be be Vic Maile's best example of his production techniques.
Out Of Their Skulls sold enough for Warners to commissioned another album and Skull Wars was put out in late 1978. Slightly different than it's UK counterpart, Skull Wars USA has backing vocals on Long Journey Home and a few others and a slightly brighter mix. Two singles came out, but didn't chart, a cover of Kidd's Shakin' All Over and All In It Together. a few live songs were thrown in, (Johnny B Goode, I'm Talking About You and on side two Honey Hush). The studio songs were better on Skull Wars, from the Bo Diddley influenced Voodoo, a commentary of bands ripping off Chuck Berry on Johnny B Goode's Good and even Mick Green sang on a couple songs, Saturday Night Shootout and Diggin My Potatoes. A strong album even though the Bugs Bunny What's Up Doc comment at the end of Shake Hands With The Devil is a bit campy (the UK version doesn't have it).
However, sales were worse than Out Of Their Skulls and Warner Brothers not sure of how to promote a bunch of old rockers as punk rockers dropped them. In 1980 Pacific Arts (home of Micheal Nesmith) signed them and issued Hard Ride (in the UK it was called Happy Birthday Rock And Roll) and The Pirates tried to update their sound with so so results. After the bash and crash of the WB albums, Hard Ride was less intense although they did do a nice cover of Lady Put The Light Out and the title track. The record in the US was hard to find (only time I did find a copy was a cut out). But in some ways, Hard Ride was a lot like Eddie And The Hot Rods 1980 Fish N Chips, a pub rock band that kinda lost its way although Hard Ride was a much better album. Unfortunately Farley and Spence would leave and Mick Green would continue The Pirates in various lineups and albums that lacked the intensity of the early years. Farley and Spence would rejoin in 1998 and would play at various clubs till Farley dropped out due to declining health and Green and Spence would continue on, till Green passed away in 2010. And that was the end of the Rocking Pirates.
Side Note: The Pirates was part of a compilation album called Hope And Anchor Front Row Festival, featuring the likes of Wilko Johnson, Steve Gibbons Band, The Stranglers and XTC, which Warner Brothers issued it as an import. It made number 28 on the UK album charts in 1978. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope_%26_Anchor_Front_Row_Festival