Fan Club - Dr Feelgood

We've done some reviews of Patrick Higgins brilliant books about Dr Feelgood and Wilko Johnson and thought it was high time we did an interview with him

Thank you for writing the books about Dr Feelgood and Wilko.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them.  I notice you came across Dr Feelgood in the 70s  Could you tell us how you discovered them?


I discovered Dr Feelgood in September 1978 when I arrived in England from France, where I grew up, and went to a very liberal boarding school, Dartington Hall. It was with a "Live" LP I came across Dr Feelgood, but it wasn't Stupidity as Wilko had already left the band and had been replaced by Gypie, it was the album 'As it Happens'. It came as a shock! Man, that harmonica just blew my ears !!! I also discovered Wilko Johnson in the fall of '78 as his first solo album Solid Senders had just been released, it was simply awesome, with some excellent piano playing by John Potter. Then I made the link between Lee & Wilko and went back a few years to the first 4 LP's. I was hooked for life !


What were you listening to at the time, why did their music catch your attention more than any other?


As a teen in France in the mid-seventies, I was listening to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Carlos Santana, Fleetwood Mac etc, but had no idea what was going on in the UK.


In your book A Shot of Rhythm and Blues you say you didn’t see them until 1982.  You say that at the time they were at their lowest ebb.  Can you tell us more about this and why you say they were at their lowest ebb?


In 1982 I moved to Ireland and spent a year working in Dublin and Dundalk, where I saw DrFeelgood for the 1st time on July 3rd. There must have been all of 10 fans in the audience. I'd lost track with what the band was doing. I was expecting to see Big Figure on drums, he'd been replaced by Buzz Barwell and Sparko on bass, he'd been replaced by Pat McMullen of the Count Bishops. Johnny Guitar was still with Dr Feelgood. Lee, Johnny, Sparko and Figure finished recording Fast Women & Slow Horses - a brilliant album that didn't get the recognition and sales it deserved - in June 1982. This temporary line-up (Lee, Johnny, Pat and Buzz) played in discotheques in Spain amongst other places, but basically the fans of the seventies had lost interest. It was a difficult period for Lee, so he disbanded at the beginning of 1983 and took a break for a few months.


You have obviously seen them often in concert.  What is the most memorable gig?


The gig at the "Lillers Rock Festival" - near Calais - on August 1989 - was simply awesome ! Dr Feelgood came on quite late, at about 11pm and stayed on stage for about 2 hours !!! Lee, Steve, Phil and Kevin were on top form!


And what is the furthest you have travelled to see the band?


The furthest I have traveled to see Dr Feelgood play, in 1990, was Nantes on the Atlantic coast at 385 km from Paris, where I was living at the time. 


What is your favourite period of the band and why?


Well, 5 guitarists so 5 'phases' for the band. Wilko, Gypie, Johnny, Gordon and Steve. Each had their own style. But I must admit that the period from 1983 to 1989 with Gordon Russell on guitar was very special as it saw the rebirth of Dr Feelgood, with a completely new line-up. The albums Dr's Orders and Mad Man Blues were magic ! I saw Lee, Gordon, Phil and Kevin play together many times in Paris. 


And (apart from Wilko, obviously) which of the guitarists was your favourite?


As I said previously, all 5 Dr Feelgood guitarists from '74 to '94 were very talented. I saw Steve Walwyn at many concerts and was always very impressed, really brilliant 


Could you tell us what the arrival (or departure) of each new musician has changed in the band for you?  I ask you this as you have great experience of the various guitarists who have filled that role.


The only Dr Feelgood guitarist I never saw live on stage was Gypie Mayo, he was amazing and didn't try to imitate Wilko, who was more of a rhythm guitarist. Gypie had a very bluesy style, the solo in Shotgun Blues on the Live LP On the Job gives you an idea of what he was capable of !  Johnny, who played in the band from 1980 to 1982, was a 'rhythm & blues' guitarist, he acquired that style with the Count Bishops. Johnny brought a new touch to Dr Feelgood. I was amazed when I saw him play with the band in Dundalk. Gordon Russell was exactly what Dr Feelgood needed for a brand new start in '83. Very young, he was very enthusiastic on stage. 


At the same time, the pub rock scene was very present. Did you also like other bands or was Dr Feelgood different from the others? 


In 1978, I also discovered Ian Dury & the Blockheads and Graham Parker and the Rumour. I thought they were brilliant bands. 


How did you perceive the birth of punk music, did you also follow it ? Did you maybe see some of them live ?


I wasn't really into Punk, although I did like the Clash. Never saw any punk bands live. Ironically, one of my photographs of Wilko Johnson can be found on the back cover of Neil Saint's book Spitting and Screaming - the true story of British Punk (1971-1979) - released in 2021 in New Haven Publishing. 


Is there a Dr Feelgood fan base, are you in contact with other fans?


Well, there are 2 Dr Feelgood websites. The official Dr Feelgood page in England and a French site run by Lucie Lebens. I am in contact on a daily basis with fans across the world. I have an advantage as I also speak fluent French. 


What does your family think about your passion?


My family ? Well, I'm not sure they quite understand what I see in the band, but they respect my passion and are quite proud of me for my books etc. 


Do you have any particular interesting anecdotes about the gigs you have seen and your interactions with the band.


An anecdote ? Ok. On March 25th 1990, after the gig, I went backstage to say goodbye to Lee. He invited me into his dressing room. Lee asked me for my address, and sure enough, 2 weeks later there was a postcard in my letter box sent from Kiev in Ukraine. Needless to say I keep it preciously in one of my many Dr Feelgood scrapbooks ! 


You obviously have a good relationship with the band having had so much contact with them (envious much).  Have you become good friends with them?


I live in the south of France so I don't get to see Dr Feelgood much nowadays and have therefore lost touch with the band. However I am still in contact with Kevin Morris for info, copyright permission etc. I am also in touch with Steve Walwyn on Facebook, but that's it. 


What is the greatest memory of your interactions with the band – and who is your favourite?


I went backstage many times with Dr Feelgood in the 80's and 90's and was always made to feel welcome. All great guys. 


I see from your book that you have a wonderful collection of mementoes.  I thought I had a good collection of memorabilia but your collection puts mine to shame. When did you start collecting objects related to the band? How many items are in your collection?


I started my Dr Feelgood collection in the mid-eighties by going to record collectors conventions in Paris. I also have private items, postcards, letters etc, plus over 250 B&W and colour pictures of the band. 


What is your most cherished collection item and why? Can you tell us the story behind it?


My most cherished collection item is a promotional copy of The Feelgood Factor album. In September 1993 I sent Lee Brilleaux a letter with a colour photo of him on stage, taken 4 years earlier at the 'Lillers Rock Festival'. In the letter I wished him a quick recovery from his illness. He sent back the CD and a postcard. That was the last contact I had with Lee. Seven months later, on April 7th 1994, he died of lymphoma. 


How would you introduce the band to someone who doesn't know them, which albums or songs would you choose?


Ha,ha ! Difficult one. Well, I would say Dr Feelgood are a genuine hard driving R&B / Rock band with lots of harmonica. If I had to suggest an album for each of the 5 guitarists : Stupidity for Wilko Johnson, As it Happens for Gypie Mayo, Fast Women & Slow Horses for Johnny Guitar, Dr's Orders for Gordon Russell and Primo for Steve Walwyn. As for the songs, well, it's a matter of taste really. I've always liked Going back Home, Baby Jane, Crazy about Women, It ain't Right and the superb rendition of the Los Lobos track Don't worry Baby


Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?


I thought the latest album Damn Right was good, with some great tracks. 


Finally – you have got some wonderful shots of the band in action.  Can you tell us more about your technique, and what sort of settings you use?


I never use a flash in concert. I took most of the shots with a Pentax K2 reflex camera (1974 model) and Kodak Ektachrome 160 tungsten colour slide film and Kodak T-max 400 ASA B&W film. I developed and printed all of the B&W pictures in my darkroom laboratory on high quality silvercoated paper. 


Things will have changed a lot since you started photographing Dr Feelgood.  Have you moved from film to digital?  What difference has that made to you?


Yes,I must admit that now I use digital. My phone has a fantastic Leica lens. 


Thank you Paul for this interview. 


Anonyme a dit…
Thank you Paul et merci Christophe 😎 👍 très apprécié. Patrick