Heard in the cold light of the present, England’s pub-rockin’ Ducks Deluxe sound rather inconsequential (if amiable). Back in the dark ages of 1974, however, they were manna from heaven. Along with Brinsley Schwarz and Dr. Feelgood, the Ducks championed a much-needed return to basics by playing in traditional American styles diametrically opposed to the glitter and art trends then in vogue. And that paved the way for punk.
The Ducks’ first (and best) LP captures the ultimate pub-rock band in all its glory — great for dancing and drinking, not critical analysis. Bursting with boisterous pride and spirit, the quartet careens through covers of songs by Eddie Cochran and the Stones, plus “originals” that borrow heavily from Chuck Berry, Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” Otis Redding and so on. Three of the four sing: Nick Garvey is the rough-hewn romantic and Martin Belmont the awkward crooner, but it’s Sean Tyla’s growling boogie that sets the tempo.
Taking its title from a line in Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” Taxi to the Terminal Zone beats the sophomore jinx but also exposes the band’s limitations. Many of the tracks are simply rewrites of songs from the first LP, which themselves were hardly groundbreakers. A cover of the Flamin Groovies’ “Teenage Head” is inspired, however. The album benefits from Dave Edmunds’ production and the addition of keyboardist Andy McMaster(s), author of the surprisingly poppy “Love’s Melody,” a foretaste of the work he and Garvey would pursue in one of the Ducks’ many outgrowths, the Motors.
In 1978, RCA sensed that the Ducks could be tied to the growth of new wave, and released Don’t Mind Rockin’ Tonight, a collection titled after one of the standout boogie tracks on the first album. A must for the band’s fans, as it contains some previously non-LP B-sides; expendable for everyone else.
Last Night of a Pub Rock Band — that is, July 1, 1975 — is so abysmally recorded that even aficionados should skip it.
After Ducks Deluxe, Tyla formed the Tyla Gang and became an early Stiff signee (his “Texas Chainsaw Massacre Boogie” was the label’s fourth release). Tyla’s three albums (the first two with a steady band of pub compadres) are hard-rocking and honest but not thrilling, despite good playing and Tyla’s sincere hoarse vocals.
Yachtless is the raunchy one, full of lead guitar and aggressive drumming. Moonproof takes a subtler attack, introducing acoustic guitar and a more American sound, but no energy loss. Just Popped Out, which employs an amazing cast of pub-rock characters (including former members of Ace, Bees Make Honey, Ducks Deluxe, Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers and Man) not to mention Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna, offers bitter, depressed songs given the best studio treatment of Tyla’s career. Comparisons to Bob Seger’s gritty rock don’t exactly say it, but both have a commitment to personal vision and unfancy, straightforward music.
Tyla died of chronic liver disease in May 2020.