It doesn’t seem long ago that we reported on Wilko’s last scheduled performance, at the Bingley Music Live following a diagnosis of terminal cancer (2013.)
However, the celebrated rock ‘n’ roll hero toasted a recent birthday (70 years) and also commemorated the 30th anniversary of his band by performing a prestigious show at the Royal Albert Hall last night.
We went along to see the event.
WILKO JOHNSON has often been credited for his enormous contribution to British rhythm and blues and is acknowledged as one of the founders of punk, first as guitarist/songwriter with Dr. Feelgood and later as a member of Ian Dury and the Blockheads. He’s been performing with The Wilko Johnson Band for over 30 years.
His fellow talents NORMAN WATT-ROY (bass) and DYLAN HOWE (drums) kept him company on stage in the dome… for one of the biggest gigs of his life.
Once the quixotic, irritatingly haphazard and slightly longish punk-poet Dr. John Cooper Clarke had finished doing his literary shenanigans, we were more than ready for the main act.
“He looks good…” shouted a fan — and it was true. Johnson strode on stage to a blare of happy applause, and hasn’t looked so strong and flexible in years.
Dressed neat and dandy, as always, he’s a perpendicular lightning-rod filled with peculiar natural electricity. He grasped the guitar in that familiar fore-grip style and right away he gave us brilliant flashes of emancipated luminescence.
The entrance song was impeccable — a portion of British pub rhythm and blues… The Detours, Yarbirds and Kinks rolled into one sweet, clean smoke.
Then the second number “If You Want Me,You’ve Got Me” was a juddering, jittering chunk of 1960’s bravado with vocals from Johnson that were as clear as the morning sun over the Old Leigh.
At times the guitar cut through the rhythmic chatter like a bawley boat slicing the estuary while the chippy ragstone bass notes provided the framework. And all-the-while Wilko provided the rhythm and lead simultaneously… the effect was fascinating.
“Going Back Home” [written with Mick Green for the Daltrey collaboration] had those famous revving, jolting-head rhythms and plenty of jangle. This song allowed lots of room for Wilko’s famous stagecraft — the machine-gunning and duck-walking — and it tested the orange curly lead (attached to his red-pickguard finished Telecaster) to the eve of destruction.
“Roxette” came surprisingly early in the set… an East London hymn pulsating with jealousy and despair. Watt-Roy grappled with his incorrigibly oversized bass… and it crackled and sputtered as if Norman was engaging in some sort of hedge-war using an uncontrollable flamethrower. While the drums went from energizing fury to dictating tempo in a blink.
Of course, all eyes were on the man of the hour. So when he pushed out his chin, pulled back hips and shoulders and thrust the Fender’s “killer end” into the night air one more time… it’s fair to say everyone wanted some.
What a show! What an achievement! As Cooper Clarke said, “Happy birthday Wilko we wish you many, many, many more…”