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Oil City Confidential: The Doctor Feelgood Story

Fri Mar 15, 11.35am-1.25am, BBC4

It’s ironic that Julien Temple’s full-throated celebration of Canvey Island pub-rockers Doctor Feelgood proves that talent, charisma and a fascinating backstory don’t necessarily produce an iconic band. The film itself – essentially a series of interviews with loveable, loopy lead guitarist Wilko Johnson and fellow band members and hangers-on, interspersed with live and archive footage – is nothing less than a masterclass in musical hagiography, beautifully photographed, superbly edited and utterly involving.

The only area where Temple fails is in persuading us that Feelgood were more than just a highly competent but fatally unambitious R&B combo. The good news is that it doesn’t matter: what draws us in are the personalities, particularly that of mad-eyed, hyperacute Essex eccentric Johnson, whose poetic musings on his own storied past form the bedrock of the narrative and feel especially poignant in the light of the sad news of his terminal illness. And it’s quite a tale, from the postwar industrial desolation of the Essex hinterland to the fleshpots and TV studios of London town, and out across the Atlantic to find the band rocking with The Ramones at the height of the NYC punk explosion.

What emerges is a film to rank alongside Temple’s own Joe Strummer elegy ‘The Future is Unwritten’ as the very best in British rock documentary. Riveting, even if you don’t like the music.


Declan Rice
Declan Rice

I don't know why Huddlestons' sniffy assertions that Doctor Feelgood were never more than "just a highly competent but fatally unambitious R&B combo" comes from- other than a willful refusal to listen to the many contibutors who testify to the contrary. For the record, the band were the original antidote to the pomposity of the 'progressive rock', heavy metal and banality of the glam-rock trends that dominated the music scene at the time. They were much more radical in their authenticity than many of the punk and new wave groups that followed in their wake. Temple highlights their influence very well. But Huddleston is correct that it doesn't matter whther you believe in the importance of the band of not- the film is comprised of truly compelling personalities. And not just within the band. The start of the film is the late Lee Brilleaux's aged mother Joan Conniston. Even if you never cared about their music but are interested in the human condition, you will love this this film.