Grow up, Roger Daltrey – ‘pub bands’ gave us Britain’s greatest rockers

Our singer Ian Whiteling was recently quoted in this Daily Telegraph article about bands playing in pubs…

Not only are The Rolling Stones not ‘mediocre’, but many a great band has begun in the pub – including none other than The Who.

It’s only rock ’n’ roll… but some people don’t like it. As the Rolling Stones continue their long No Filter tour of America, the veteran rockers have been receiving little jabs of criticism from their peers. First, Paul McCartney called the Stones a “blues covers band” and suggested that The Beatles’ musical net was “cast a bit wider than theirs”. And now The Who’s Roger Daltrey has described Mick Jagger and co as “a mediocre pub band”.

Speaking to Amazon’s Coda Collection channel, Daltrey said that Jagger is “the number one rock ’n’ roll showman up front”, comparable to James Brown and Little Richard. Yet he added: “But as a band, if you were outside a pub and you heard that music coming out of a pub some nights, you’d think, ‘Well, that’s a mediocre pub band!’ No disrespect.”

I’m sure the comments are just good-natured joshing between septuagenarian rock-stars, perhaps with a few sour grapes for good measure. But they’ve raised the hackles of people who make money and entertain punters by being in actual pub bands. What’s wrong with the pub circuit? These small venues, and the thousands of musicians who cram onto their sticky-Voored stages on a nightly basis, are the beating heart of the live-music ecosystem. You dismiss them at your peril.

Ian Whiteling is the singer and guitar player with Near Death Experience, a psychedelic rock and soul band based in Ealing, the west London district where the Stones cut their teeth. Like the Stones, NDX – as they’re known – have played Glastonbury, albeit in the on-site Bimble Inn pub, rather than on the Pyramid Stage.

“I think that it is ridiculous snobbery,” says Whiteling. “Roger Daltrey should know better.” Besides, he adds: “Is there a better band out there than The Rolling Stones, if you really think about it?”
Whiteling describes pubs as “the lifeblood of music”, and says that the success of music and boozers are often interconnected. “There is a symbiotic relationship between original music and pubs, because pubs help bands build audiences. And bands helps publicans give something di[erent and something more entertaining and exciting to their customers.”

Almost every band starts out in a pub, including – in the early 1960s – a certain “jazz and jive” group called The Detours, who changed their drummer and their name to become… The Who. Mark Davyd, the chief executive of the Music Venue Trust, which represents the country’s live venues, underlines the importance that pubs play in bands’ development.

“Famous pub bands,” he tells me, “include The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Jam, Arctic Monkeys and Coldplay, all of whom played pubs with little PAs, small stages and tiny audiences, before moving into the formal live circuit where dedicated audiences pay good money to see songs written by the artist themselves.”

The Arctic Monkeys, as Davyd mentions, were paid just £27 for their drst live performance at the Grapes Pub in Sheeeld in 2003, where they played a cover of The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks. There are many more. Adele played one of her drst gigs at a small west London bar called Cherry Jam. Ed Sheeran played a gig at The Bedford in Balham (and released a live album of the show). Iron Maiden began at the Cart and Horses near Stratford. The entire punk movement started in pubs.

“It’s standard to learn your craft by playing covers for cash in your local boozer,” says Davyd. “It’s good practice, gives you conddence, and brings in some much- needed cash. Perhaps Roger Daltrey has forgotten his days honking trad jazz numbers on the trombone at the White Hart Hotel in Acton, or his days performing Beatles and Rolling Stones covers at a wedding reception at the Millet Arms, Perivale?”
Whiteling points out that purpose-built music venues – those smaller than the Brixton Academies or Shepherd’s Bush Empires of this world – tend to get no passing trade if a non-famous band is playing. Pubs, however, give bands an audience that hasn’t necessarily heard them before, but is in the main ready to be won over.

So pub bands are vital. But even if the Stones’ music did, as Daltrey and McCartney suggest, occasionally sound like the pub blues that you can hear in Red Lions and Royal Oaks up and down the country, the band have one element that you certainly won’t see down your local boozer: stadium-sized theatricality. Few acts in the world today put on live shows like the Stones, something that McCartney and Daltrey readily admit. Nowadays, all big stadium tours have vast screens, walkways and pyrotechnics.

But take a look at YouTube footage from the Stones’ 1989 Steel Wheels tour to see the scale of their showmanship and extent of their ambition. The tour was the most dnancially successful in history up to that point, and it marked the beginning of the band’s commercial comeback. Thirty years on, the Steel Wheel stage set still takes the breath away. The multi-level, smoke-spewing colossus spanned the width of the stadia in which the band played. The vision needed to create a live music extravaganza of that magnitude – and at a time when much of the modern touring infrastructure was yet to be invented – was immense. You don’t get that in the Dog and Duck.

I have some personal experience of standing outside a building and hearing the Stones play. Back in 2018, they secretly rented a small theatre close to my house in south London for rehearsals for the opening leg of the tour they’re still on. Standing on the pavement as, behind me, oblivious dog-walkers strolled by, I spent hours listening to Jagger, Richards, Wood and Watts – sadly, no longer with us – as they and their touring band run through Angie, Shine a Light, Bitch and more on the other side of the wall.

Shorn of any visuals, of any ‘show’, the songs still sounded fantastic. A touch muned, perhaps – but “mediocre”, as Daltrey suggests? He’s talking utter nonsense. “No disrespect.”

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