The Fleece, Bristol
Simon Price on pop: We'll miss you when you're gone, Wilko Johnson
A farewell tour like no other, as the Dr Feelgood star hits the road
Sunday 03 March 2013
Raffles. Reginald Perrin. Sherlock Holmes. The Fonz. Ross from Friends. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Fiction is littered with instances of the protagonist contriving to attend their own funeral. Real life is providing a character as colourful as any on that list: Wilko Johnson. And, for all the misty eyes and lump-choked throats, his living wake is the most joyous celebration around.
As he stepped into the January sunlight after receiving a diagnosis of inoperable pancreatic cancer, Wilko Johnson has spoken of his "elation" and of feeling "vividly alive". Given less than a year to live, he announced that he would, while in relatively rude health, play a handful of farewells for his fans. The tiny silver lining is that Wilko gets to read his own eulogies. Here, without apology, is another.
Wilko Johnson is one of the true cult heroes of British rock'n'roll. Dr Feelgood, of whom he was main songwriter and co-frontman, came rattling out of Canvey Island in 1971 looking – and sounding – as if they were out for a fight. Precursors of punk on the pub-rock circuit, they brought an edge and aggression to blues in a decade when it had become masturbatory, and put the "rhythm" back into R'n'B.
Behind the brutish exterior, Julien Temple's wonderful Feelgoods doc Oil City Confidential revealed Wilko as an erudite aesthete and a bit of a dandy on the quiet, with a glass dome in his roof for watching the stars. Tonight, though, he's on duty. The self-confessed "show-off" gives us the psycho stare (the one that landed him the part as the executioner in Game of Thrones), the pigeon-necked jut, the amphetamine sulphate shuffle and the clockwork-duck walk, machine-gunning us with the headstock of his 1962 Telecaster.
Johnson's trademark "skittering" guitar style – metronomically strumming with his right hand while alternately pressing and damping the chords with his left – is as distinctive as Bo Diddley's. Backed by drummer Dylan Howe and Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy, he attacks badass-blooze classics such as "Roxette" and "She Does It Right" with gusto.
Wilko is not a sentimental man. There's no valedictory speech, but he has enough showbiz in his bones to milk the situation just a little. The couplet "I may be right, I may be wrong/But I bet you're gonna miss me when I'm gone" is delivered with pointed emphasis.
For the encore of Chuck Berry's "Bye Bye Johnny", he has the whole place chanting "bye bye, bye bye". A great man and a great musician, Johnson's final gift is to share his aliveness and elation with the rest of us. For that, Wilko, thank you and bye bye.
Wanna feel old? Then watch The Big Reunion, the ITV series in which pop acts of the late Nineties and early Noughties are reconvened before your eyes. Nearly everyone had fallen out and many had developed drug and alcohol issues.It's all smiles, though, for the concert of the TV show (Hammersmith Apollo, London ***). Atomic Kitten's Kerry Katona is, according to my inner decibel meter, the biggest draw, while her day-glo sidekicks are merely anonymous Cheshire landowners. I've nothing but admiration for the way a working-class girl has parlayed a brief pop career into an endlessly lucrative living as a reality star.
If you want a shock, look up 911's chart stats. For two years the boy trio were massive – according to tonight's show – thanks to a succession of dismal disco covers and ballads. The turn of the millennium was clearly a dark time for pop.
The group who top the bill, 5ive, are ludicrous – "wiggy wiggy, I'm getting jiggy" is an actual lyric – but "If Ya Gettin' Down" has Hammersmith on its feet. No matter that it's delivered by a bunch of blokes pretending to be 5ive. Essentially, that's what they now are.
My Bloody Valentine follow their excellent comeback album MBV with a short UK tour starting at the Academy, Birmingham (Fri) and Barrowlands, Glasgow (Sat). Meanwhile, Belgian mixmasters 2ManyDJs (aka Soulwax) bring their audio-visual mash-ups to Sub89, Reading (Fri) and Concorde 2, Brighton (Sat).
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy has not been arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Breaking Bad season 6 is still not happening
Disney announces new female-led film Moana
Eight seconds of white noise is top of the Canadian iTunes chart because people love Taylor Swift that much
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Sensitive, silly and sensational
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
Worst Airports of 2014: Poll names Islamabad airport in Pakistan worst in the world