Former Advertiser reporter tracks down local man who made rock 'n' roll history

Former Advertiser reporter John Phillpott tracks down a local man who has helped to make rock ‘n’ roll history…

Southam’s very own - Steve Walwyn (furthest right) of Dr Feelgood.

a Rugby lad born and bred, I must confess that I frequently search the internet for news about my home town.

Yes, I know. It’s an age thing. But there’s nothing unusual about wanting to reconnect, especially as one gets older. The facts of the matter are that with more times to look back on than there are years to anticipate, I reckon it’s perfectly understandable, and therefore forgivable.

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I’ve often talked in this column about the music of my youth, and in particular, mentioned the names of the Rugby and district rock and rollers who provided the soundtrack to what I will always consider to be a golden age.

This area of Warwickshire did indeed contain a rich seam of musicality. You will recall that I’ve periodically waxed lyrical about the great bands of the 1960s that were household names for far and wide. There was once a time when it was possible to enjoy musical entertainment in and around the Rugby district on any day of the week.

In this stay-at-home era, it’s easy to forget that it was once possible to access rock, jazz, blues and folk at a wide variety of venues throughout the area.

And let us not forget that nearby Coventry also made a massive contribution to this hall of fame, the emergence of Two-Tone during the late 1970s placing the Midlands very firmly at the epicentre of Britain’s musical map.

Today, at every level, there seems to be no shortage of musicians keeping the faith. For example, whenever I access the Rugby and District Memories Facebook site, I often see video footage of bands playing at The Squirrel, Rugby’s oldest pub.

The age groups of the band members seem to range from early 20s to people of around my vintage. Too old to rock? Never!

I find this very heartening. All we seem to hear about these days is doom and gloom about Covid, but that little ray of musical sunshine bursting forth from The Squirrel helps to remind us all that the human spirit can - and so often does - overcome much of the adversity that we face.

Not long before Covid and the lockdowns changed all our lives, I attended a concert in my adopted city of Worcester by a very famous and legendary band.

After the show, I met up with the lead guitarist, who was signing CDs and other merchandise in the foyer. It was only the briefest of encounters because there were a lot of fans vying for his attention.

Nevertheless, we managed to have a few words. The guitarist’s name was Steve Walwyn and he has been a member of the world-renowned Dr Feelgood rhythm and blues band for more than half a century.

He only vaguely remembered me, but his memory was soon jogged as soon as I started to mention a few place names and recalled faces that he would also once have known.

The Feelgoods originated in Canvey Island, London, and probably need very little introduction from me. But there will be a number of music fans among you that may not be aware that Steve hails from Southam.

I first met Steve during my days working in Leamington Spa and his story reads like a rock ‘n’ roll fairytale. Taking up the guitar during his early teens, he played in various bands, including one outfit that went by the name of the Mosquitoes, which regularly performed in the Rugby, Leamington and Coventry areas during the early 1980s.

As his career progressed, he subsequently joined a band called Chevy, which also earned no small degree of fame in this neck of the Warwickshire woods.

But as in all good fairytales, even greater fame and fortune beckoned. For it wasn’t long before he was head-hunted by the then lead singer of Dr Feelgood, Lee Brilleaux, who – according to legend - saw Steve in action at The Robin pub in Bilston, the Midlands’ premier rock venue.

The late Brilleaux immediately recognised Steve’s talent and signed him up as the Feelgood’s guitar player. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I have always thought that there is something special about my home county of Warwickshire. Throughout the time that I have written this column, I have taken great pride in highlighting the lives and achievements of the men and women associated with Rugby and its environs.

They might be engineers such as aviation engineer Frank Whittle… or world-famous bards like Rupert Brooke, who arguably penned the greatest war poem ever written, The Soldier.

There again, they might just be strange characters such Rank gong man Carl Dane and Churchover’s ‘Snuffy’ Jack who just achieved a very localised fame and notoriety.

Nevertheless, they all contributed to the rich tapestry that has, down the ages, been woven by so many natives of the Bear and Ragged Staff county.

And I’m glad to include Southam’s Steve Walwyn among their number, a musician who has once again confirmed Warwickshire rightful and glowing place in the artistic firmament.

John Phillpott’s books Beef Cubes and Burdock: Memories of a 1950s Country Childhood and Go and Make the Tea, Boy! are available from booksellers and the internet.