Nick Lowe’s reputation as an elder statesman of pop classicism is long established, and it might have come that little bit sooner, had the chips fallen differently. As the most prolific writer in 70s pub rock figureheads the Brinsleys, it was his songs that represented the group’s best chance of charming the mainstream, but they imploded on the verge of a breakthrough with one final album languishing in the vaults – until now.
Their last release, ’74’s New Favourites, opened with the jangling original version of Lowe’s (What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding, the song which ultimately became his gold-plated pension plan when covered by Curtis Stigers on The Bodyguard, the most successful film soundtrack of all time, selling 45 million copies. Hopes were high later in the year at Rockfield studios, until the band went their separate ways at the end of the sessions.
It’s All Over Now (a prescient title, though it initially came from the closing cover of the Bobby Womack song of the same name) makes its belated bow with a few selections long-term fans will recognise. Chief among these is the original recording of Cruel To Be Kind, co-written by Lowe and guitarist Ian Gomm, which surfaced on the B-side of Nick’s ’78 solo single Little Hitler, before he reworked it with Rockpile the following year to score a sizeable UK and US hit.
Similarly, the delicate Everlys-like ballad As Lovers Do was later reupholstered for a B-side by Lowe’s Rockpile sparring partner Dave Edmunds, and the faux Philly soul of God Bless Whoever Made You was given a fresh lick of paint for a Jona Lewie single. Then there’s the strutting Mess Around With Love, a song that eventually saw active service on both the debut album by The Rumour (featuring Brinsleys alumni guitarist Schwarz himself and keyboard wiz Bob Andrews) and Lowe’s The Abominable Showman.
Admirable recycling, perhaps, but a bigger-than-usual reliance on covers to fill It’s All Over Now suggests pressure to deliver to a deadline less than six months after New Favourites hit the racks. The cor-blimey-guvnor Cockney reggae of the title track is a massive misfire, though they’re on safer ground with the fuzzy garage stomp of Tommy Roe’s Everybody and the minimalist soul groove of the Stax classic Private Number.
Dave Edmunds’ production on New Favourites had enhanced the Brinsleys’ beat group sensibilities after a succession of albums closer in spirit to the rustic Americana of The Band and the nascent Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter scene, and here, with the desk manned by Steve Verroca (Link Wray, Juicy Lucy) there’s a whiff of over-egged pudding, a sound geared to US radio but lacking the sparkle of its predecessor.
The album’s chequered past includes a couple of previous attempts to take it to market, stymied by copyright and distribution snafus, and Gomm himself infamously “burned” several dozen bootlegs for friends, fans and contacts. At last it’s more easily available, so that a new legion of listeners can, in the words of one of the group’s best-loved songs, surrender to the rhythm.
by Terry Staunton
Despite Brinsley Schwarz’s management’s legendarily disastrous attempt to break America the first time, with a badly planned press junket and publicity event surrounding their Fillmore East debut, they were determined to give it one last try with this album. It may well have done so, too, with a pub rock by way of Nashville sound and the first recording of singer Nick Lowe and guitarist Ian Gomm’s song 'Cruel to Be Kind'. The problem was that the band was also in the process of breaking up.
The album was shelved for the first time and languished on a shelf at Rockfield Studios. Meanwhile Brinsley Schwarz had launched the successful careers of its members: Nick Lowe and Ian Gomm as solo artists, guitarist Brinsley Schwarz and Bob Andrews as the nucleus of The Rumour, and Billy Rankin as a member of Big Jim Sullivan’s Tiger.
In a rescue effort that should earn Ian Gomm a service award for the arts, he prevented the album’s master tapes from being destroyed in the 80s. “When I came to Wales to work at this recording studio, and help build it, Royal Studios it’s called, we had a sixteen-track recorded there that took two-inch tape,” Gomm says. “We’d wired the studio up and wanted to test it, and I thought two-inch tape, that’s what that Brinsleys album was recorded on. So I phoned up Kingsley Ward at Rockfield Studio and said ‘Do you remember that Brinsleys album that never got finished?’ And Kingsley said: ‘Funny you should mention that we’re clearing out the tape library this week and that’s going in the dumper.’ So I got in my car and I drove that afternoon to Rockfield and rescued it. Then I mixed it down because I had the studio time.”
'It’s All Over Now' was again scheduled to be released in the 80s but was then withdrawn – for a second time. Undaunted, Gomm sold CD-Rs of the album for years on his website.
The album sounds like a bar band on the verge of a massive breakthrough, but the choice of material designed to achieve that breakthrough in America is somewhat odd. There is the expected country-tinged rock, but there’s also a strange glut of AM radio sweetness emphasizing sugary harmonies and nods to early soul. The band’s interpretation of white soul works best on their brilliant version of Garnet Mimms’ 1966 hit 'I’ll Take Good Care of You' but is baffling on 'God Bless (Whoever Made You)', recorded by Jona Lewie a few years later.
Nick Lowe’s voice is rich and unabashedly sentimental, somehow cutting through the heavy orchestral backing on 'As Lovers Do' (written by Dave Edmunds) and 'Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)' that seem taken from early 60's American pop vocal groups. Lowe uses his effective and now well-established narrative voice of a wayward lover, who is well aware that he is a bit of a bastard, swanning back into someone’s life on 'We Can Mess Around' and 'Private Number', either of which could have been an early Rumours song.
The lovely early version of 'Cruel to Be Kind' here is much mellower and less choppy than the well-known hit from Nick Lowe’s solo album 'Labour of Lust'. A similar version was recorded for the B-side to Lowe’s 'Little Hitler'. It’s by far the strongest original track and undoubtedly would have been the first single off 'It’s All Over Now'. Glimpses of Rockpile to come, 'Everybody' and 'Give Me Back My Love' are the hardest rocking and least treacly moments on the record. There is a pointless instrumental, 'Do The Cod', and a silly reggae version of Bobby Womack’s 'It’s All Over Now' that was hopefully recorded when they were all very high indeed.
Brinsley Schwarz’s compelling story as a hardworking band enduring strange twists in their career can be found in the accompanying book from Mega Dodo: Brinsley Schwarz: Happy Doing What We’re Doing.
by Kimberly Bright
1. We Can Mess Around (Nick Lowe) - 3:00
2. Cruel To Be Kind (Ian Gomm, Nick Lowe) - 2:47
3. As Lovers Do (Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe) - 3:56
4. I'll Take Good Care Of You (Bert Berns, Jerry Ragovoy) - 3:58
5. Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song) (Carole Bayer Sager, Marvin Hamlisch) - 3:14
6. Do The Cod (Billy Rankin, Bob Andrews, Brinsley Schwarz, Ian Gomm, Nick Lowe) - 2:23
7. God Bless (Whoever Made You) (Ian Gomm, Nick Lowe) - 3:57
8. Everybody (Tommy Roe) - 2:38
9. Private Number (Booker T. Jones, William Bell) - 3:49
10.Give Me Back My Love (Ian Gomm, Nick Lowe) - 3:44
11.It's All Over Now (Bobby Womack, Shirley Womack) - 3:25
*Brinsley Schwarz - Guitar, Alto, Tenor Saxophone, Vocals
*Nick Lowe - Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
*Billy Rankin - Drums, Percussion
*Ian Gomm - Guitar, Vocals
*Bob Andrews - Keyboards, Alto Saxophone, Vocals