Reviews Zone

Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers: Real Sharp 2 CD (The Last Music Company/Proper)  24th February



4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)



This is a cracking release. A two-disc anthology of Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers – a band who were at the centre of the so-called British “pub rock” movement in the 1970s that spawned such legends as Dr Feelgood. They released three albums and toured relentlessly, notching up circa 400 gigs in two years, had a loyal following but broke up in 1975 – and that was that.

“Real Sharp,” packs a punch offering up their three albums across two discs and a total of 44 tracks. Rare and original recordings plus a 24-page booklet beautifully illustrated by the legendary Barney Bubbles, and lots of photos.

The limited edition double CD album anthology features the complete sessions from “Kings Of The Robot Rhythm”, “Bongos Over Balham” and “I’ll Be Home”, plus other rarities and live recordings.

When it came to recording their first LP “Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers – Kings Of The Robot Rhythm” in 1972, duo Martin Stone and Philip Lithman asked various members of Brinsley Schwarz (Nick Lowe, Billy Rankin and Bob Andrews) to join them just for the sessions.

The result led the pair to recruit three full-time Red Hot Peppers in the form of Paul “Diceman” Bailey, Paul “Bassman” Riley and Pete Thomas to hit the road with. They dropped second album “Bongos Over Balham”, by the expanded line-up, and the final album, “I’ll Be Home”. Just before they disbanded, they went out on the ‘Naughty Rhythms Tour’ of 1975, with Kokomo and Dr. Feelgood.

The first disc of this set is of a different quality and vibe to the second. Lots of that would now be called Americana, and some of it is a tad rough and ready in the recording quality. But it captures what the band were all about very nicely. Most of the second disc is far more polished and produced, and delivers more commercial material perhaps. There is some very fine musicianship hip here, especially the guitar picking and authentic American country swing feel these UK cats had nailed. If you have ever seen Albert Lee and his former band Hogan’s Heroes or bought their albumns and dug it, and they knew how to really tear it up with a heady mix of country swing and rock and roll/rockabilly, then this is for you.   

In 1974, Andy Childs the editor of the UK music magazine ZigZag wrote this about Chilli Willi and the boys: “The number of English bands who are currently performing and perfecting the many eclectic styles of American music can be counted on the thumb of one hand. They are Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers. To see them live is an experience. Their music melts your heart, invites you to dance and sing along, and when it’s all over, you feel a rush of energy and exhilaration pulsing through your blood. Like you don’t quite believe what you’ve heard or seen, so come back and shout for more and you come back and see them again and again.”

This value for money (circa £11.99) double disc will bring back fond memories for those who saw the band live back then, for those who bought the original albums which are maybe long gone or scratched to bits by now and is a delightful piece of British music history and testimony to how good these Brit’ boys were. But who never quite got the recognition and commercial success they deserved, and perhaps jacked it in before their sell by date. The album is dedicated to the memory of Martin Stone, Phil Lithman and Barney Bubbles who have all left us.


By Simon Redley




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