Thursday, January 22, 2009

This Is No Ordinary Rockpile

In late 1979 I recall seeing an episode of everyone’s favourite pop music program ‘Countdown’. Two of the featured ‘live’ acts on the show were Nick Lowe, performing his then current hit ‘Cruel To Be Kind’ (OZ#12), and Dave Edmunds, performing his then current hit ‘Girls Talk’ (OZ#9). Both songs were brilliant pop-rock numbers, and personal favourites, but what struck me was that both Lowe and Edmunds performed support for one another’s songs, with the same backing band. What I didn’t realise at the time, was that both Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds were members of a pop-rock collective, a virtual ‘supergroup’ called Rockpile. Lowe (bass) and Edmunds (guitar) shared vocal duties in Rockpile, and were joined in the band by guitarist Billy Bremner, and drummer Terry Williams. With such a roster, Rockpile were a roots rock band to be reckoned with.

Rockpile’s origins stretched back as far as the early 70s. Edmunds’ backing band from 1970 to 1972 generally went under the ‘Rockpile’ tag, and the title for the ex-Love Sculpture guitarist’s debut solo set in 1972 was also ‘Rockpile’. During that period Terry Williams (who had played briefly with Edmunds in the final Love Sculpture line-up) filled in on drum duties during a U.S. tour, and maintained links with the band, whilst also playing with Deke Leonard and Martin Ace, the latter having also played with Williams in the band Man. Rockpile circa mid 70s were a seminal driving force in the burgeoning British pub rock scene, that spawned the likes of Dr. Feelgood (see future post), Squeeze, Graham Parker (see previous post), Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Ducks Deluxe and Brinsley Schwarz. Nick Lowe was a key member of Brinsley Schwarz, and soon struck up a collaborative connection with Edmunds and Williams. Dave Edmunds actually produced the final Brinsley Schwarz album in 1974 at his Rockfield studios. In kind Lowe played and wrote several songs for Edmunds next solo set, 1975’s ‘Subtle As a Flying Mallet’.

In mid ‘76 Rockpile’s line-up stabilised with the addition of guitarist Billy Bremner, a well respected session player, who had lent his considerable talents to work by a whole slew of artists, from Duane Eddy to Lulu. The quartet undertook a U.S. tour in support of Bad Company, and the chemistry was good. Over the next couple of years Rockpile continued to tour as an autonomous unit, and as an in studio backing band for Lowe’s and Edmund’s solo work, including Edmunds’ albums ‘Tracks On Wax 4’ (1978) and ‘Get It’ (1977), the latter featuring the UK#26 hit ‘I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock ‘N’ Roll)’ - the song was also later a hit for Nick Lowe. During 1979 Rockpile recorded the hits ‘Girls Talk’ (credited to Dave Edmunds), and ‘Cruel To Be Kind’ (credited to Nick Lowe). As a joint venture, Rockpile gained a reputation for playing a furious brand of high energy roots rock. Lowe’s bass and Williams’ drums served as the band’s powerful engine room, whilst Edmunds and Bremner took endless delight in trading guitar licks across a stylistic gamut from traditional rock& roll, blues, rockabilly and country. Lowe and Edmunds each offered up a strong mix of original songs, with Lowe’s ironic brand of melodic pop-rock complimented by Edmunds edgier rockabilly-blues blend.

In 1980 both Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds found themselves signed to the Columbia label, and a window of opportunity presented for Rockpile to record an album - officially. ‘Seconds Of Pleasure’ was a power packed collection of twelve tracks, recorded at Eden Studios and co-produced by Nick Lowe and the band. The album’s initial run included a bonus 7” EP of Lowe and Edmunds performing four Everly Brothers’ songs. Sales were solid all round (US#27/UK#34), and the album spawned a minor hit single in ‘Teacher Teacher’ (US#51/OZ#83). The band embarked on their fourth U.S. tour in five years over the winter of 80/81. Now the headline act, Rockpile continued to play to packed houses, and their rebel rousing rollicking brand of rock and roll, laid some of the framework for the emerging ‘new wave’ movement, and provided inspiration to a new generation of genuine roots rockers, including a young Atlanta outfit called Georgia Satellites (see recent post), and the likes of Stray Cats (see future post).

At the end of the U.S. campaign, Rockpile imploded, in part due to poor management, but at the core was a bitter dispute between Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds. By February 1981, Rockpile had crumbled, with Lowe and Edmunds resuming their respective solo careers. Billy Bremner initially returned to session work before taking up a post in 1982 with Pretenders as replacement guitarist for the late James Honeyman-Scott. He later rejoined Edmunds in his new backing band, before setting up base in Nashville as a much sought after session player. Bremner has also recorded a couple of solo albums, and worked with a European based rock & roll combo called the Refreshments. In 1983 drummer Terry Williams became Pick Withers replacement with stadium filling rock giants Dire Straits, a post he held for the rest of the 80s. Lowe and Edmunds continued to take the occasional pot shot at one another of the next few years, and in 1982 Nick Lowe took a none too subtle jab at Edmunds on his song ‘Stick It Where The Sun Don’t Shine’, from his ‘Nick The Knife’ set. But just as Lennon and McCartney eventually let bygones be bygones, Lowe and Edmunds eventually set aside past difference and reconciled their creative partnership in the late 80s, with Edmunds producing Nick Lowe’s 1990 album ‘Party Of One’.

For an overview of the individual career paths of both Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, pre and post Rockpile, stay tuned for the next few posts.

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