[Review] Brinsley Schwarz (1970)

Psychedelic, prog and pub rock collide with country-rock on the band’s eclectic, eponymous debut.

Kronomyth 1.0: And so it Pogos.

The music of Brinsley Schwarz (the band) is something of a lost chapter in the long history of rock and roll. They’re rarely mentioned outside the context of an historical footnote to the later music of Nick Lowe and The Rumour (Graham Parker’s backing band). Yet, in the early 70s, it looked as though Brinsley Schwarz might have a future all to themselves. Their music defied easy categorization, mixing elements of psychedelic, country and blues rock with Nick Lowe’s idiosyncratic songs. Early critics compared them to Crosby, Stills and Nash (a comparison invited by their complex harmonies), although I tend to hear them more as England’s answer to Poco, a question nobody was asking.

If you’re looking for a connection between Brinsley Schwarz and the later music of Nick Lowe, you may find it on the single, Shining Brightly, which features Lowe on lead vocals and the clever lyrics that appear throughout the album. The connections to CS&N are valid, from the opening Hymn to Me to Lady Constant. That last track also sounds a lot like early Yes, which isn’t so surprising when you recall that Kippington Lodge, the forerunner of Brinsley Schwarz, was a psychedelic rock band. What Do You Suggest? and Mayfly both belong in the post-Traffic psychedelic camp. Add the folksy Rock and Roll Women and the ambitious Ballad of a Has Been Beauty Queen (which reminds me of Van Morrison’s “T.B. Sheets”) and you’ve got enough variety to please a broad base of music fans.

Despite a world of potential, I’m not sure the world was ready for (or particularly interested in) Brinsley Schwarz. The band’s unwillingness to fit into a simple category like country-rock or pop music made them a difficult act to pitch. Even today, I couldn’t recommend Brinsley Schwarz out of hand to Nick Lowe or Graham Parker fans, let alone CSN or Poco fans. Even fans of the generally loose pub-rock movement are likely to be left scratching their heads some of the time. Ultimately, it’s a very interesting debut that’s still looking for an audience after fifty years.

Original elpee version

A1. Hymn to Me (Nick Lowe/Bill Rankin/Brinsley Schwarz/Bob Andrews) (4:38)
A2. Shining Brightly (4:17)
A3. Rock and Roll Women (3:17)
A4. Lady Constant (7:20)
B1. What Do You Suggest? (4:43)
B2. Mayfly (4:40)
B3. Ballad of a Has Been Beauty Queen (10:15)

All songs written by Nick Lowe unless noted.

The Players

Bob Andrews (keyboards, bass, vocals), Nick Lowe (bass, acoustic guitar, slide guitar, vocals), Bill Rankin (drums, percussion), Brinsley Schwarz (guitar, percussion, vocals). Produced by Brinsley Schwarz and Dave Robinson; engineered by Bob Hall.

The Pictures

Cover design by Teenburger Designs. Photography by Dave Nicholson.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on April 17, 1970 in the UK (United Artists, UAS 29111) and in 1970 in the US (Capitol, ST-589) and New Zealand (United Artists, SUAL-933867) with gatefold cover.

  1. Re-packaged with Despite It All on 2-for-1 2LP in 1978 in the US (Capitol, SWBC-11869) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-packaged with Despite It All on 2-for-1 compact disc in 1994 in the UK (BGO, BGOCD239).
Brinsley Schwarz 2LP reissue album cover
US 1978 Capitol SWBC-11869 album cover

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