Dr Feelgood in Belfast 1978
The Feelgood's were pretty much the NME house band back in the mid seventies, we would review them at any opportunity and I had become friends with them via Jake Riviera. They had an animal intensity about them, but also a purity, a raw, sexual, hard and intense kind of purity. Lee in his white suit doing the splits and jerking off with the microphone, Wilko machine gunning the audience with his guitar and zig zagging around the stage like a maniac, plus with Sparko on Bass and the Big Figure on drums they had a magnificent and stoic rhythm section.
A couple of the most memorable gigs were actually parties, Led Zeppelin made the mistake of inviting them to play the post gig party they threw after the dates at Earls Court in 1975.
Playing in quite a large room somewhere in the depth of that huge semi deco building that bands like the Zep's and Floyd somehow made intimate, the Feelgood's turned a lot of heads away from the bar, it was a short set but a lively one, I often wonder if the short set was because Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin's manager did not want people to forget the real reason people were there, to see Page and Co give an American sized show in the UK. Plant preening and Page with his Violin bow and laser was impressive up to a point, and eighteen thousand punters went home happy but it was the other four piece, the ones from Canvey Island I enjoyed the most, they played their hearts out, just like they always did.
They also played the NME party in 1976 at Dingwalls, packed to the rafters they ripped the place up with their own brand of Rock and Roll. That night Ian Dury arrived with a razor blade on his earring, Punk was just around the corner.
They also played the benefit to Save the Hope and Anchor, an awesome venue in North London, playing in a basement with sweat dripping off the ceiling, it was so crowded you could hardly breathe, they put in one of the best live shows I had ever seen.
Thanks to Jake I often went to Feelgood's gigs when there was a spare seat in the bus or on the plane, one time we flew to France and came straight home in this little light aircraft, not even bothering to spend the night there.
Despite knowing them so well I only shot them offstage the once, and sadly this was after Wilco had left the band. It was in Belfast, and I was not really prepared for the shock of seeing the true side of Northern Ireland.
Nothing prepares you for Belfast in the 70's. You begin to realize it's going to be different at Heathrow, no carry on bags whatsoever, triple checks on your luggage which is then wrapped in a plastic bag. Then as you go to board the plane you see your luggage again, sitting on the tarmac ready for you to identify before its loaded into the hold.
At Belfast Airport you see the Army everywhere, and that's how it is for the whole trip, no matter where you go the British Army is always just around the corner.
You have a choice of places to stay, the most Bombed Hotel in Europe, or the second most Bombed Hotel in Europe. We chose the latter.
On the way to the Soundcheck I asked if we could stop and take photos at one of the many fortified .pubs that we passed along the way. It was the Crescent Bar in Sandy Row which had been bombed in 1974, notice all the windows are bricked up and the cage covering the entrance so you can't firebomb it. This shows the grim reality of Belfast, the feeling of a city under the occupation of the British Army.
The show went well, Irish audiences are always supportive but I reckon these people in Belfast were even more passionate than usual.
The Hotel was located outside the city and on the way back our van was stopped by a patrol, a bunch of squaddies emerged and ordered us out of our vehicle. We were told to stand up against a wall, our legs were kicked apart and we were quickly searched as soldier pointed his machine gun directly at us. they went thru the van and then gruffly told us to be on our way. For once we had not been singled out because we were from the world of Rock and Roll, we were simply being treated like everyone else who lived there.
It was a little scary, but it was enlightening, you now knew a little of what it was like to live in Belfast, nobody spoke in the van when we continued our journey, we just sat and reflected on the sad, harsh reality of Northern Ireland under British Rule.