Brimming with Bremner or Let’s Hop on the Honeybus

While listening to my Honeybus greatest hits collection and battling writer’s block for the umpteenth time my memory sparked on something interesting: the little-known and heretofore ignored connection between Rockpile and the should-have-been legendary Honeybus.

Being the music freaks I know you are I have no doubt you know about Rockpile and it’s members Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams and are fans of both the band and the individual careers of the members. Now, if you need refreshing on all that, just peruse earlier editions of this blog and you will find a few tidbits of info included therein.

The Honeybus, on the other hand, I have never written about before even though I have become a big fan since picking up an obscure comp a few years ago.

The ‘Bus never really got the fame they deserved, having only one hit in England in 1968 called ‘I Can’t Let Maggie Go’ (which was a brilliant albeit radical slice of Brit-pop) and then breaking up soon afterward. Both the group and its’ fans knew the band was ahead of its’ time and the main cogs of the band, vocalist Colin Hare and guitarist Pete Dello, toyed with the idea of starting it up again a few years after the band split. Their solo careers not really taking off probably played a huge part. Dello actually had left music to become a music teacher not long after their hit petered out. Groups had quick life spans in those days. One hit and out? Jeezus.

After securing money from an interested party the two creative iconoclasts decided to create two solo albums instead of a Honeybus group album. Both Hare and Dello played on each other’s albums with various members of the defunct Honeybus helping out including a guitarist who had filled in for a missing guitar player on a couple of Honeybus last few gigs: Billy Bremner, who plays on Hare’s album.
While I am going to devote seperate blogs to each of these albums because they are each brilliant in their own way and deserve to be analyzed and appreciated, in brief I would describe Hare’s album as a rootsy Band-like gem with flashes of power pop brilliance (no doubt somewhat inspired by Bremner’s economical but tasty guitar licks) and Dello’s album to be a wacky psychedelic masterpiece with titles like Harry The Earwig and Uptight Basil (to give you an idea of how “out there” it is). Though okay as a vocalist, Dello’s tenuous vocal style adds just a little more weirdness to the proceedings as you are never quite sure if he will be able to hold on to the melody or not.

Both of these albums have recently been reissued on CD by Hanky Panky Records ( with a whack of bonus tracks added to each. While I am partial to Hare’s because of Hare’s excellent vocals and Bremner’s excitingly brilliant guitar playing, Dello’s is quite a treat as well and both are worth picking up if you are into a fanciful look at 60’s psychedelic pop and country. Or, if you are interested in checking out a member of Rockpile long before he started playing for the best roots rock/pub rock band ever.

Your choice. I’ve made mine. Got them both and you should too.

Who’s Harry the Earwig?

The Music Nerd Knows……..

Billy, You Is A Hero

In an earlier edition of this blog I had told you that one of my favorite bands ever was Rockpile. You know, the pub rock band and original supergroup from the late ’70’s containing Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams. I also told you that eventually I would get around to going more indepth and profiling every band member.

Well, here’s the first installment in this loose series of Rockpile rememberances. In this blog, I am going to talk about guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Billy Bremner. Why Bremner first? Well, he’s got a new CD out right now on the Gadfly label entitled No If’s, Buts, Maybes and it’s a killer!

Now, Rockpile had a gimmick of switching between two leaders, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds. Besides backing each of these two artists on their solo records, the band would function as the backup band to whoever had a solo album out at the time. If Lowe had an album fresh out, he would lead the band and give Edmunds and Bremner short showcases and if Edmunds had one out, the situation would reverse and Lowe would get a short set.
That worked out well until the band’s fans started clamoring for a true band album. Thinking it a good time to consolidate their careers around the band and put their solo doings on hold, Lowe and Edmunds acquiesced and a Rockpile album was born. Their lone CD, Seconds of Pleasure is a great disc, and, true to form, features Lowe and Edmunds trading off on songs except for two lead vocal spots given to Bremner. But, despite working together so well before, egos started to emerge once the band was formed and Lowe and Edmunds decided they didn’t want to be in a band together any more. Each has said that in hindsight Bremner should have been leader as he was just as good of a frontman as either of them and it would have kept all the egos in check as Bremner was more stable of a personality.

After Rockpile broke up, Bremner drifted around musically until Chrissie Hynde called him to help with the Pretenders’ album Learning To Crawl in ’83. The Pretenders’ guitarist James Honeyman-Scott had just passed away and the band was in a quandry as to give up and split or soldier on. Once Bremner decided to help out the answer was easy – keep going. Though Bremner was a Pretender for only one CD, he was a part of their biggest hit Back On The Chain Gang and helped get the band back on track again.

Shortly after, Bremner emerged with a solo album under his own name entitled Bash. With songs written by Bremner with Elvis Costello and John Wicks of the Records, the album was destined to be great and it was. Too bad the public didn’t notice and it died a quick death on the charts. Needless to say, search this album out. It should be a lot easier to find as it was reissued on the Gadfly label in the late ’90’s.

Deciding to put his floundering solo career on hold, Bremner moved to first LA and then Nashville to become a studio musician. During the next decade (’85 to ’95) Bremner was one of the most popular studio guitarists and played on tons of albums and more than a few country hits. Occasionally a solo song would appear on a comp or two but generally Bremner was doing his guitar thing for others.
Eventually, Bremner grew tired of the studio scene and decided to move to Sweden with his future wife. There, he fired up his solo career once again by releasing the fine disc A Good Week’s Work (so named because it took him a week to record the album) which was released in the US by Gadfly Records to much acclaim. With the re-release of Bash soon after and Bremner’s work helping Swedish band The Refreshments (five albums with them) he was firing on all cylinders again, guitar work smoking and fine songs just pouring out of him.

All of this has culminated with his best work yet, No Ifs, Buts, Maybes which has some of his best guitar playing ever – he plays like John Fogerty on crack on this one, but still tastefully and tight – and his catchiest songwriting to date. This is a must have for pub rock fans who love their roots rock and still pine away for Rockpile.

Please buy this and encourage Bremner to put out more of this great stuff. Rockpile may be gone but Bremner’s still piling on the RAWK – and it just keeps getting better and better all the time.

Billy, you are a hero.

The Music Nerd knows……

Alive and Welsh

I would be remiss if I didn’t follow-up my last blog about Nick Lowe with a little something about his partner in crime in the band Rockpile, Dave Edmunds.

A Welsh rocker who had once hit the charts with a lightning fast rocking version of Sabre Dance while in the band Love Sculpture, Edmunds had only mustered one more hit (I Hear You Knocking) before becoming somewhat passe in the music field. Becoming a talented producer and one-man band while languishing in obscurity, Edmunds eventually latched on to Lowe’s early band Brinsley Schwartz and formed an alliance with Lowe while producing a couple of their records.

After Brisnley broke up, the two became a team with Lowe and Edmunds playing on each other’s records and even sharing a band, Rockpile. The way Rockpile originally worked, whoever had an album coming out at the time led the band. For example, it would be billed as either Nick Lowe’s or Dave Edmund’s Rockpile and whoever was leading sang most of the songs while the other was given a few songs for a showcase. It was quite innovative at the time and became quite popular.

It was only when Rockpile, as a band, was signed to a contract and made it’s only record, Seconds of Pleasure, that things started to go awry for Edmunds. While a great, great record, the public is really used to only one person leading a band and got confused when lead singing duties were switched. Lowe and Edmunds got their egos twisted in the leadership roles and ended up having a falling out that lasts to this day, despite re-teaming for a Lowe record in the early ’90’s.

Of course, Edmunds continued after Rockpile broke up, but his early albums with Lowe (Tracks On Wax 4, Twanging, Repeat When Necessary, Get It) are often looked at as Edmunds’ peak, despite not having any American chart singles. Edmunds went on to do a lot of outside production work (Dion, Everly Bros., Fabulous Thunderbirds among many others) and eventually hit the charts again himself, having the hit Information (from the album of the same name), which was produced by ELO leader Jeff Lynne on one of Lynne’s first forays as producer without ELO.

Edmunds has kept recording, albeit infrequently, right up until he suffered some heart problems in the late ’90’s. Rumors say he is doing fine and just keeping a low profile.

Though his best work may be behind him, I am hoping Edmunds get’s back into the studio and gives us more music. Even his lesser albums like 1985’s Riff Raff and 1994’s Unplugged have a few gems.

While most of Edmund’s albums have been out of print, the US reissue label Wounded Bird Records has recently reissued the albums Edmunds made with Lowe and Rockpile. I would suggest you search them out if you are into retro rock, rockabilly and pub-rock style music. They are all excellent, with Tracks on Wax 4 being my fave.

And definitely give the Rockpile album a try. Eventually, I’ll go through that album track by track in this space, as it has really been a big influnce in my musical life.

Who knows, it may become your favorite record…..

The Music Nerd knows……

Feelin’ Mighty Lowe

One of my favorite experiences with music as a young lad was getting my first stereo unit. I had long admired my brother’s but, after he moved out, he took the stereo with him and as my parents didn’t really listen to music by itself for enjoyment or entertainment, there was no stereo in the house for a while.

My birthday eventually rolled around and when I woke up that morning I was surprised to find a brand new stereo system in the living room complete with turntable, cassette feature and eight track plug-in. You couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face the whole week, though I had nothing to play on it at the time. That weekend, I remember going to a department store with my mom. The store was going out of business and had all of its’ music selections on sale. I had heard a song on the radio I really liked called “Cruel To Be Kind” by someone called Nick Lowe. His album, Labour of Lust, became my first musical purchase and the first album played on my new stereo.

That experience started the love affair I’ve had with Nick Lowe’s music ever since. Poppy, catchy, and witty are three adjectives perfectly describing Lowe’s music right up until the mid-90’s when he decided to accentuate the country elements of his sound and eschew the manic pop he had been playing for many years. While many of his fans probably thought he was just growing older and slowing down, he was just revisiting the music of his early days when he was the singer, bassist, and chief songwriter for a British band called Brinsley Schwartz. Though the band was named after its’ lead guitar player, it is obvious Lowe was not only the leader, but also the most talented member of the five-man group.

Musically, I would compare the band to The Band though they started shrugging off their country sounds when pub rock (a scene they pretty much originated) started taking off, before that scene spawned punk rock. So, not only did Lowe begat pub and punk rock, he was also a killer musician, songwriter, and in-demand producer whose clients included Elvis Costello (his first five albums or so plus Blood and Chocolates), The Pretenders, Paul Carrack, Carlene Carter (who he was married to for a while), Graham Parker, and many others.

As a solo artist, Lowe has released roughly eleven solo CDs as well as albums with uber-rockers Rockpile (their lone CD Seconds of Pleasure is one of the best albums ever, in any genre, in my opinion)and Little Village (not the best but not bad by any means) who also featured John Hiatt, Jim Keltner and Ry Cooder in addition to Lowe. While the first two Lowe solos, Jesus Of Cool and Labour of Lust may be his best and his best-known releases, all of his albums contain some gems and his last three country-soul themed albums are sublime and well-worth your time if you’re into great songwriting and music befitting someone who has great stories to tell and the talent to tell them.

Sadly, only these last three albums and a greatest hits set remain in print at the moment and I believe the Rockpile one has been recently reissued. The Rockpile is a must-own whatever you do, as its blazing, blistering retro rock has few peers, but any album you can find by Lowe will lend many rewards to an interested ear. It’s all great stuff and I am eagerly awaiting whatever kind of album he puts out next.

The real question is, How Lowe can you go?

The Music Nerd knows……