Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Wilko Johnson Band at the Oysterfleet - Live Review

The Wilko Johnson Band, Live at The Oysterfleet, Oil City, Thames Delta, Essex - 28th November 2010. A.K.A a night out with a bunch of Blockheads!

To the uninitiated, there is probably a view that all gigs are the same; you go along, act comes on stage, you watch, they go off, you go home.... and whilst that is probably a description at its most basic level, we all know there is much more going on than that. Each and every gig is totally unique, and they can all evoke very different feelings and emotions;

Marc Almond's torch songs can be genuinely touching and sad, Neil Hannon's clever lyrics and audience banter can have the whole place howling with laughter, The Prodigy can make every pair of feet in the house dance, Take That can have a whole arena singing the words to every single song (I assume, not a fan!), and an Oasis gig can make you drink 10 pints of lager and start a fight with a stranger....
So what particular brand of enjoyment does a Wilko gig trigger then? Well, amongst many other things, I'd have to say that a lesson in pure unadulterated musicianship is high on the list.

Back in the late 90's through to the mid 2000's, I saw The Pirates a number of times - Johnny Kidd's original backing band. Watching Mick Green's guitar work was worth the entry fee alone. I've never seen anyone play quite like he was able to, and the sounds he squeezed out of his guitar were simply amazing. I'll always remember walking up to the stage with a friend after one of these gigs, to see exactly what pedals and kit Mick had as his disposal. We were both open mouthed when we saw that there were no pedals and no kit! Just a Fender Telecaster plugged directly into an amp. Every sound he created was man-made. Sadly, Mick passed away earlier this year, but I will always look back on those gigs with great fondness.
It's very fitting that this gig should put me in mind of those Pirate gigs, and I doubt you could pay Wilko a bigger compliment. It was The Pirates, and in particular Mick Green, that inspired Wilko to pick up a guitar in the first place. Mick was also the originator of the playing technique that Wilko copied and uses to this day - playing both rhythm and lead at the same time.

More than 30 years after his famous rift with the band, Wilko is of course still best know for his time in the original Dr Feelgood line up (don't forget the name Dr Feelgood was also 'borrowed' from a Pirates track!). But in the big scheme of things, the Feelgoods are but a thin slice of his distinguished career.... The original line up of The Wilko Johnson Band goes back as far as 1977. Membership may have been a little fluid at first, but legendary (and still current) Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy (Wilko himself was a Blockhead for a bit back in the early 80's when he replaced Chaz Jankel) has been in the band for 25 years now. Drummer Steve Monti (ex-Jesus and Mary Chain, ex-Curve) was with the band for over a decade, but Dylan Howe (who is also still a current Blockhead) is now sitting behind the kit.... so this is one hell of a well oiled outfit!

Wilko is a man who doesn't look right without a Telecaster strapped to him. A long time ago, man and guitar merged, and it became part of his body... rarely do you see some THIS comfortable with a guitar! I'd imagine he's more nervous without it. Everything you want from the man is here, as he breezes through classic solo and Feelgood tunes... that incredible guitar playing, the Wilko stare, the Wilko gurn, the Wilko waltz... at one point his Tele transforms into a machine gun, and in classic Feelgood style, Wilko guns down half the audience!

But don't go thinking that Wilko is the only thing worth watching here... Norman Watt-Roy is quite possibly the most mesmerising bass player I've ever seen, and at times it's hard to take your eyes off of the man. Watt-Roy is no oil painting, looking more than a little like a skull on a stick... But he's not always that handsome... his contorted, gurning face is amazing to watch, as he loses himself in his musicianship and wrings out every note from his instrument. I don't think I've ever watched a bass player as much at a gig as I did on this evening!

And behind all this showmanship sits Dylan Howe.... a genuinely respected stick man, he's played with em all over the years.. Nick Cave, Damon Albarn, Ray Davies, David Gilmour, even Macca McCartney has employed the man. He can't compete with the onstage antics of Messrs Johnson and Watt-Roy, but he certainly can match them in talent... pulling together all the threads to make this one of the tightest (and nosiest!) three-pieces I've ever seen.

And just when you thought the evening had rocked till it couldn't rock no more.... "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Lew Lewis!". Right there, up on that same stage... Original member of the Southside Jug Band with Lee Brilleaux back in the late 60's, early member of (Paul Grey era) Eddie and the Hot Rods, Feelgood and Wilko solo collaborator, and legendary harmonica player to boot! The last I heard of Mr Lewis was when he got 7 years at Her Majesties pleasure for an attempted armed robbery!

What a night! It was one of those gigs that makes you thank the Lord that you became a music nut... the best hobby in the world!! imagine being oblivious to all this!

Oh, and if that wasn't enough, support came from the excellent 'Eight Rounds Rapid', featuring a cracking young guitarist by the name of Simon Johnson... yup, you guessed it, son of Wilko!


Not from the Canvey show, but a great live clip of Wilko and Norman doing the Feelgood classic 'She Does It Right':

not taken from the Canvey gig, and not the greatest of sound quality... but a great little peep into a Wilko gig from side of stage, and some fabulous Wilko and Norman gurnin' and a rockin' too!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The John Lennon Scrapbook

It was 30 years ago yesterday that John Lennon was murdered outside the Dakota building.... and it's 30 years ago today that I started my John Lennon scrapbook.

I remember feeling numb at the news of his death.... told to me by my parents when I got up for school that Monday morning. Elvis had been a shock back in 1977, but Lennon felt more personal. I had just turned 14 and had over the last couple of years or so become quite a big Beatles fan (oddly, via the Monkees). Lennon's death left me (perhaps for the first time) with a real sense of loss. I remember the atmosphere at school that day being more than a little subdued, as teachers and pupils alike tried to come to terms with the news.

I had been making scrapbooks for some time, and immediately decided to try and capture the events, buy saving as many cuttings about the tragedy as I could. Looking back I guess it was a little macabre to set up a scrapbook all about someones murder, but that's not how I looked at it at the time.

I knew the scrapbook was still sitting up in the loft, so popped up to retrieve it yesterday. It's looking a little worse for wear these days, but it made for fascinating reading. Odd that I chose a jolly Perishers scrapbook to hold such sad cuttings!

Here are a few photos I took from some of the pages.


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others....

You remember that game on Sesame Street huh? A selection of things shown on the screen, and you had to spot which one was the odd one out? Well I'm delighted to report that W.H Smiths are bringing back this fine old tradition, and I spotted their first quiz at lunchtime today.

Just in front of their new release DVD's proudly stood a display of 'seasonal' titles. You know what it's like, as soon as the calender clicks over to December, you can't resist an over schmaltzy film or two. I perused the slightly lopsided metal rack with a warm glow in my heart, but on closer inspection, I'm not sure the person in charge of setting up the display was perhaps the DVD expert that W.H Smiths had hoped...

Apologies for the shaky picture (had to use my mobile phone), but can you spot the odd one out?

Why not listen to the soundtrack of this Sesame Street clip whilst you play along?

Dad? Can we watch SpongeBob Christmas or The Grinch?? You'll watch Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and like it, the suicide bit will get you right in the mood....


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Marc Almond at the Cliffs Pavilion - Live Review

Marc Almond. Live at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend - 11th November 2010.

After 27 years of traveling the length and breadth of this country (literally!) to see Marc Almond, finally he has returned the favour and come to see me!! Just 3 or 4 miles down the road from Piley Towers, The Cliffs Pavilion in Westcliff staged the opening night of Marc's '30 years - Hits and A Sides' celebratory tour.

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, Marc has never been one to churn out the hits live. He might drop one or two in the set if you are lucky, but that's your lot. So apart from the '12 Years of Tears' celebrations back in the early 1990's, this is the first time he has thrown himself into a full on 'hits and singles' show.

I'd been feeling more and more nervous about this show the nearer it got. I've seen Marc play to a crowd that wasn't specifically his 'hardcore audience' a few times over the years, and just about every time have felt a little uncomfortable about the whole thing. I particularly remember one evening in Edinburgh where a drunken meathead attempted to assault Marc on stage during one of his intense torch songs. His beef? "I want fackin Tainted Love".
And this is problem. Marc is a genuinely credible artist, not a performing monkey. There is a lucrative 80s revival market out there, and it's one that Marc has consistently refused to tap in to, favouring instead to continue his career ('progressive' rather than 'regressive' I guess!). The clientele at these events are a long way from his die hard fans, and by and large assume all these acts are stuck in a time warp and have done bugger all since 1984. And they don't give a flying one about what you've been up to in the last 20 or 30 years at any rate... The 'revivalists' have no patience to sit through any other material, all they want is "fackin Tainted Love"..... But this tour has been promoted as an out and out celebration of Marc's more commercial success, so am guessing that a good percentage of the audience are likely to be in that 'revival' bracket. But if Soft Cell is all they know about Marc, how are they going to take to all the minor solo hits, that they may well be unaware of?
That was all a rather long winded way of saying that I was a little apprehensive about this show!

The lights went down and the usual buzz of excitement ramped up. But it's opening night, and in typical first night fashion, the huge video screen at the back of the stage malfunctioned. The footage was there, but no sound. It went blank as someone hastily stopped and restarted the video... same again... and again... and again... We see the same bit of silent footage at least a dozen times as the video was restarted time after time. The buzz of excitement was by now extinguished, replaced with ever increasing laughter. After a considerable amount of time, someone finally found the right button and the audio kicked in. We see a montage of clips of Marc through the decades, and as it came to an end, the man himself emerged from stage right to the opening bars of Memorabilia. The clumsy video gaff had immediately put him on the back foot, and he looked awkward and nervous. A nice appreciative response from the audience would certainly have helped to settle the nerves, but there wasn't much of one... gentle applause at best greeting the performance of some early big hitters.

But Marc Almond is a fighter.. a survivor.. a showman! and it'll take a lot more than a dodgy video player and a luke-warm audience to beat him! Slowly but surely, the crowd started to become more responsive, but ironically, it was one of those dreaded meatheads that inadvertently kick started the evening. We were about 6 or 7 tracks in, and enjoying a heartfelt performance of Child Star. During one of the dramatic pauses midway through the song, Mr Meathead shouted "do Tainted Love"... Marc was visibly pissed off at this ignorant outburst, gave Meathead one of his Paddington Bear hard stares, flicked him the V's and managed to complete the song. The crowd gave their warmest applause of the evening as a result, but Marc wasn't finished, and proceeded to give Meat a bit of a dressing down... the crowd goes wild! Ans that was it! The spark that finally ignited the evening, and Marc had the audience in the palm of his hand from then on.

The set list was a joy, a collection of Marc tracks that I'd never of dreamt of hearing all in one show, although perhaps not quite in the right order as yet. The flow of the songs is a bit jerky here and there - high energy crowd pleaser one minute, reflective melancholy the next - just not quite allowing the vibe to blossom and bloom. But it's a teething problem that I'm sure will be tweaked and reshaped over the coming nights.

Marc's confidence grows with every song, and he gives the Mr showbiz performance that those in the know have been enjoying for the last 3 decades. He really should be a 'national treasure', although we all know full well he'll never be inducted into the heart of the nation. Vocally, this is as good as I've ever heard him sound.

I think people sometimes forget how small a part of his career Soft Cell accounts for, and there are not as many songs as perhaps people think there are. Still the Soft Cell period was well covered with the aforementioned Memorabilia, Torch, Entertain Me, Where The Heart Is, What, Bedsitter and more to come in the encore (bet you can't guess which ones!).

His solo career is beautifully visited - picking on almost all of his albums for a song or two... Tears Run Rings, My Hand Over My Heart, Melancholy Rose, You Have, Stories of Johnny, Tenderness Is A Weakness, A Lover Spurned, The Days Of Pearly Spencer, Somethings Gotten Hold Of My Heart, Jacky and many more were all given a rare outing. As this performance was on Armistice Day, Marc dedicated 'Gone But Not Forgotten' to all those who lost their lives in battle. Good also to see a couple of tracks from his stunning new album in the shape of Nijinsky Heart and Variety.

By the end of the evening he'd managed to coax everyone out of their stuffy seats, and clambering at the front of the stage, singing ("fackin") Tainted Love and Say Hello Wave Goodbye as loud as I've ever heard an audience participate. It's one of those 'hairs on the back of your neck' moments, as artist and audience become one.

Marc seemed genuinely touched by the rapturous applause he earned at the end of the evening. I think it's still a novelty to him to be warmly received by the general public, rather than just his usual fan base.

Any doubts Marc may have been having about this tour were well an truly quashed by the end of the evening. I hope the rest of the audiences appreciate this show during the tour, as I'd say it's very unlikely he'll ever do anything like this again. He's seen he can do it, and there's big money to be made doing it, but I have a feeling the small intimate venues and soul wrenching songs will return.


Child Star - complete with Meathead midway, and mouthful from Marc at the end!

The much underrated glam rock of 'The Idol'

Southend sings its heart out to Say Hello Wave Goodbye