Canvey Island in Essex, was an unlikely birthplace for Britain’s finest R&B band. Its bleak industrial skyline set against the cold waters of the Thames estuary, keeps it from inclusion in most holiday brochures, but in the 1960’s it was home to teenage friends Lee Collinson, Chris White and John Sparkes.
The trio shared a strong interest in music, and with like minded friends, formed a skiffle band which would doggedly play outside pubs and clubs in the Canvey area until they were invited in to play a couple of numbers.
The band’s name would change almost as quickly as their line-up, but the day that White and Collinson went to see Howlin’ Wolf at a gig at the King’s Head in Romford was to have a profound effect on them both.
Soon after, Collinson started learning to play harmonica.
Time passed, and whilst Collinson and Sparkes continued to play together in an outfit called The Wild Bunch (aka The Pigboy Charlie Band, when Charlie was along playing piano and including Kevin Morris on drums), White went to Drama School and, having changed his name to Chris Fenwick, began to enjoy a number of acting parts in films and notable TV programmes of the day.
The Pigboy Charlie Band continued to suffer line-up instability over the months that followed and, following a chance meeting with an old acquaintance, John “Wilko” Wilkinson, the pair invited him to join the band.
Wilko agreed, but all parties decided that a name change was well overdue, and after a number of suggestions, the name “Dr Feelgood” was agreed upon, after a well-loved Johnny Kidd and the Pirates version of a blues standard.
Whilst the band began to attract a degree of local interest, it was their old friend Chris “Whitey” Fenwick who was to provide the band with their first foreign engagement. Fenwick had made the acquaintance of a Dutch promoter whilst at a wedding in Holland, and, already practiced in the art of role-playing, had passed himself off as a well known English DJ who just happened to know a great little band who were “ready to go”.
And, so it was then, that the band, joined by local drummer, John Martin (nicknamed “The Big Figure” for his striking profile) headed for Holland aboard a cheap, but dangerously un-roadworthy, second hand van.
The run of five gigs proved to be the turning point for the band, and whilst on route back to Canvey Island, all agreed that, almost by accident, they had the makings of something, which should be pursued at all costs. Collinson changed his name to Lee Brilleaux, Wilkinson to Wilko Johnson and with Chris “Whitey” Fenwick at the managerial helm, things were about to change… and fast.
See one of the most popular and exciting live rhythm and blues acts in the world live at The Robin.