Joan's Feelgood memories of her son Lee

Joan Collinson with Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson

Frontman - Lee Brilleaux on classic form

First published in Features by

POSTURING in a white suit, staring intensely at the crowd as he sang, Dr Feelgood frontman Lee Brilleaux was as confrontational as he was exhilarating to watch.

But there was another side his fans would never see. He was thoughtful, caring and loyal, says his devoted mum, Joan Collinson, now 88.

Joan’s quiet pride for her son, who died aged 41 of non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1994, was documented in Julien Temple’s astonishing documentary about the band, Oil City Confidential. Having moved from Lee’s beloved Canvey, Joan lives in Prittlewell, where pictures and mementoes of her son’s life and career adorn the walls.

While leafing through old family photos, Joan says: “He loved it on stage. He never spoke about it, but you could tell how much he loved it. “Lee was a first-class son, a wonderful boy. He would give me a phone call from wherever he was in the world.”

Lee was born in Durban, South Africa, in 1952 as Joan and husband Arthur, known as Collie, moved there after the First World War. Joan says: “As a baby Lee would only sleep four hours out of every 24 and when he was awake he wanted to be entertained.

"Me and Collie used to take it turns to stay up with him and keep him amused. “We were living in Durban during apartheid. As he grew up, we decided we didn’t want him believing people weren’t equal, so we came back to Ealing where my people are from.” Joan travelled with Lee by boat to East Africa and they stopped in Egypt – where Joan was born – and on to Italy, then through Switzerland by train.

“I got quite good at geography because of all our travelling,” says Joan, tracing the journey with her finger on an imaginary map in the air.

“I remember waking him in Switzerland so he could see snow for the first time. He was so excited. He already had a fearlessness and sense of adventure because of all the travelling.

“He never minded going off and doing his own thing. He was a bit of a loner.”

A naturally-clever child, Lee passed his 11-plus and went to a grammar school in Ealing. Joan says: “He used to absorb so many books. He won competitions in reading and was chosen to read from the Bible at Cubs, but you never heard him speak about it.”

What Joan remembers clearly, is how much Lee loved Canvey. She says: “I used to come home from work on a Friday and there would be a note on the table: ‘To mum, I’ve gone to Canvey. See you Sunday.’ “He would go and stay with my parents, who had retired there. “By that time he had a boat he used to take out on the estuary. He always wanted to be there.”

When Lee was 13, the family moved to Canvey and he enrolled at Sweyne School, now Sweyne Park School, in Rayleigh.

He got into music and by 16 he started a jug band. Joan says: “He loved Buddy Holly and Muddy Waters and used to play records all the time. He was obsessed with it and wanted to bring New Orleans to Canvey."

By the early Seventies, Lee was playing in Dr Feelgood. It was then he took the stage name Brilleaux as he thought his hair looked like a Brillo pad.

Joan recalls: “He was living a double life, training to be a solicitor and being in the band and it was killing him. “He came in my office one day, where I worked as a secretary in a solicitors, in blind panic because he thought he would get into trouble having two jobs. I helped him change his name by deed poll that lunchtime to Brilleaux.”

Joan has fond memories of watching Lee perform live. “When we went to see him perform for the first time at Hammersmith Apollo we couldn’t believe it. Me and Collie did a lot of our courting there.

“Collie loved the show so much he wouldn’t leave, even though Lee warned us to leave early to miss the rush.

“On the way home Collie, the old big mouth, told everyone on the train he was Lee’s dad and we were signing autographs all the way home.”

Collie died fours year before Lee passed away. Joan says: “In a way I’m glad his dad passed away before Lee because he wouldn’t have wanted to see what happened.”

Lee’s widow Shirley and two children Kelly, 25, and Nick, 22, now live in the USA. Kelly is a lawyer and Nick recently graduated in history.

Joan adds: “I went to America on the first anniversary of his death. I got to see where the children went to school and where they live. It put my mind at rest. They are such wonderful grandchildren and are both doing so well. Lee would have been so proud."

Comments (1)

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3:04pm Tue 23 Nov 10

Ronaldo Marteen says...

Lee Brilleaux - oft imitated, never bettered. Cheers.
Lee Brilleaux - oft imitated, never bettered. Cheers. Ronaldo Marteen
  • Score: 5

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