Listen to this track by British pub rock kings Brinsley Schwarz, featuring one Nick Lowe on bass and vocals, and the author of this song. It’s the anthemic “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”, as featured on the group’s 1974 The New Favourites of Brinsley Schwartz, and more recently on the Nick Lowe compilation album, Quiet Please: The New Best of Nick Lowe.
Lowe would later pass this tune along to one of his charges in the studio as a producer – Elvis Costello – who went on to make it famous.
The band, named perhaps confusingly after lead guitarist Brinsley Schwarz, is known as one of the key groups in the early 70s British pub rock scenes, which began to spring up all over England at that time.
At first, the Brinsleys didn’t quite fit in, being something of an anomaly on the scene that was coming out of psychedelia and about to plunge into complex progressive rock and ironic glam rock. Instead, the group traded partially on a great influence from The Band. This of course makes perfect sense, seeing that The Band were also reaching back into the country and R&B origins of rock music, at a time when other groups were embroiled in a psychedelic rut.
The Brinsleys emerged as a spearhead of a whole movement of down-to-earth, cleverly rendered, and economic rock ‘n’ roll. They built a following by wowing audiences live at every turn, pulling from country-rock, early R&B, and 60s British Invasion-style power pop. Other groups following in their wake in the ensuing years would include Elvis Costello, Graham Parker & The Rumour, Squeeze, and Ian Dury & the Blockheads, among others.
And this tune is certainly a great example of their skill, espousing a lyrical point of view that could be described as optimism under pressure. Yet, the song does what pop music does best; it provides a voice for the audience, a practice that would be an important ingredient to another movement on the horizon, which Lowe would also help to bring into existence as a producer; British punk rock and new wave, although peace, love and understanding wasn’t exactly the banner under which those newer movements would associate themselves.
His work with this band would produce this tune, and another one – “Cruel To Be Kind” – which would be his signature hit as a solo artist. Even if Brinsley Schwarz is not the household name that they may have been , they certainly proved to be an important training ground for Lowe as a singer, songwriter, and bassist.
Of course “Peace, Love and Understanding” would mean something else, too.Thanks to a cover version on $17m-selling the Bodyguard movie soundtrack, it would mean liquid capital in the form of royalty payments at just the right time for a critically acclaimed comeback in the 90s for Lowe. It would help him to create an artistic and commercial momentum to carry him into the present, with a series of excellent albums partially financed on the back of those earnings. He continues to make some of the best music of his career, forty years on.
For more information and music about and from Brinsley Schwarz, check out Brinsley Schwarz on MySpace.
Also, don’t forget to drop by NickLowe.net, too