The (sadly) soon to be no longer with us Wilko was the driving force behind the early Feelgoods and their main songwriter. His manic bug-eyed quasi-robotic stage presence and his chopping stuttering combined rhythm lead style (modeled on the late great Mick Green of the Pirates) contributed such a lot to the success of their early concerts and albums. Filling his boots was always going to be a tough job - but John Cawthra, a guitar obsessive from Harlow, did a great job in his own style, albeit renamed 'Mayo'. 'Gypie' Mayo's guitar style is more traditional, perhaps, when compared to Wilko, but he certainly is a fine guitarist who was likely to indulge in more solos than Wilko and more likely to stretch out in a more relaxed style. Check especially the fine cascading guitar solo in "Shotgun". Throughout this period the rhythm section bed-rock remained unchanged with the solid and unflashy just behind the beat drumming of the Big Figure blending formidably with Sparko's bass playing. Out front lee Brilleaux carried on in his own dynamic style, always giving 100% in every performance.
The received wisdom from journalists is that the Feelgoods were less of a force without Wilko because they had to rely on other writers. However, even with Wilko some 30%-50% of material was covers of old material or written by others. It is worth noting that success in the singles market was considerable with Mayo, although the albums sold less. Mayo tends to rather downplay his song-writing in the interview on the DVD, but actually he made some very worthwhile contributions - and not all of them fully credited. Certainly, I enjoy the post-Wilko material as much as what came before.
The first two CDs cover the four studio albums, the third and fourth cover the two 'live' albums, plus unreleased live performances. The quality of sound, is, as noted by the first reviewer, excellent. Although "Let it Roll" was recorded in an apparent rush to get some new product out featuring Mayo, and despite his not entirely positive comments about the material on it, I have always really liked this album. The first 6 tracks are especially great - my favourite being "Thought I had it Made". Whilst "Private Practice" has some very good stuff on it, including two chart singles (Mickey Jupp's "Down at the Doctors" & " Milk & Alcohol"), I feel that the other material is weaker than the preceding album. The "Let it Roll" album is smoother but with some real stand-outs like "Java Blue", "Put him out of Your Mind" & the previously mentioned "Shotgun". Nick Lowe's production on "Case of the Shakes" provides an entirely different sound with the drums very much to the fore. Again, a very enjoyable album. After the "On the Job" live album (and the title is not in any way "witty" as claimed in the notes in the booklet!), Mayo had had enough, fatigued by constant touring, boozing etc. In came "Johnny Guitar" from the Count Bishops and there is one single (two tracks) on here featuring him. They would make another album "Fast Women and Slow Horses" on the 'Chiswick' label, but after that the rhythm section also left. Very soon most of what was distinctive about the Feelgoods was being lost, so that it ended up with not a single original member - more a sort of Feelgoods tribute band.
The DVD is also a very fine document of their live performances - especially the BBC "Sight and Sound In Concert" footage. There's also TOTP appearances and two numbers of Tyne-Tees series "Alright Now" - check the 'head-banging' audience members (including a hairy Led Zep fan!). There are videos made to go with the singles though it is fair to say that the budget didn't extend far beyond a studio and a packet of Woodbines for Lee! They did push the boat out for hiring a vintage pink Cadillac in one. Melvyn Bragg gives the Feelgoods the intellectual seal of approval in an edition of the "South Bank Show". The interviews with US producer Richard Gottehrer (producer of "Private Practice") and John Mayo / Cawthra are probably for obsessives only - they go on for ages and perhaps could have done with some editing, though there are still many useful insights contained within. John could probably give Steve Howe a run for his money in terms of number of guitars - echoes of "Spinal Tap"?!
For any true Feelgoods fan this is a must - along with the earlier "All through the City" box set "with Wilko".
*The sad footnote to this review is that John Cawthra / 'Gypie' Mayo died on 23.10.13 - he had apparently been ill for sometime, which I am sure many (like me) were unaware of. Respect to him and thoughts to his family. This box set is a fitting memorial to his skill and contribution to the UK music scene. ** The somewhat cheerier footnote is that reports of Wilko's impending doom were too pessimistic - he's apparently clear of cancer.