Listening to CRUEL TO BE KIND the second volume of Nick Lowe's first band Brinsley Schwarz's live BBC performances. Brinsley Schwarz is like the Velvet Underground of 70's 80's British singer/songwriters - Ahead of Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Graham Parker but influencing all in sound and songwriting. In particular two of their records are absolute masterpieces - SILVER PISTOL and NEW FAVORITES OF. Their version of "Cruel to be Kind" written by Lowe and fellow band member Ian Gomm was originally supposed to be on their seventh record but they broke up first and Lowe snagged it for his solo career.
Robert Christgau, the esteemed rock critic, once wrote (and I’m paraphrasing that) Brinsley Schwarz initially came across as England’s answer to country rock with a Hammond organ in place of the pedal steel. That in itself was a revolutionary bit of instrumental placing.
However, what really made Brinsley different was Lowe’s songwriting which quickly evolved and pulled the band out of the amiable country influenced jams of the first two records and into a vehicle for top notch pop songwriting.
Their discovery of English pubs as places one could tour and make a career would influence the punk and new wave bands that came later in the 1970’s. This was a big advance that gave bands a way to reach a greater audience without being played on the radio.
Listening to their charming, unpretentious, catchy music buoyed by Lowe’s clever lyrics and hooky melodies, one sees the whole new wave scene of the 70’s and early 80’s pre-synth pop. If there was ever a band that lacked commercial success but had massive musical influence, it’s Brinsley Schwarz.