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!


Anonymous said...

'Wilko is a man who doesn't look right without a Telecaster strapped to him.'

Errr sorry Piley, but that ain't no Telecaster!

Piley said...

Bloody hell, a Fender! I can see it in my own pics! I wrote it from memory, as I thought the man was always championing Tele's... Good spot Anon!!

Mondo said...

Wish I'd been a bit livelier in getting me tickets, this would have right up my Benfleet High Road..

Seen storming Norman a couple of times now (with Ian Dury and The Blockheads and Blockheads at Village Green last year). He's a stunning player with crab-like hands that crawl around the fretboard..check the bass run to Rhythm Stick to see how nimble fingered he is..

PS did you know, the bass on Frankie's Relax is played by Norm ?

Piley said...

yeah, shame about that Mond. Will give you the nod early if I hear of any more local bashes. He always seems to be playing somewhere, but oddly not all that often in Essex.

Yes, saw Norm' at the Blockheads gig last year - "crab-like hands"!! like it! very accurate.


Anonymous said...

Ahh 'legendary harmonica player'...I really love some serious harmonica sounds, sounds like a cracking night out Piley.
Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a lovely New Year too!

Heff said...

"Oysterfleet" ?

That's what I get when I eat too much seafood.

Merry Christmas & shit, Piley !

SickSam said...

Did Eight Rounds Rapid used to be called Meatfist?
They used to be really good

Piley said...

JJ - Yes! "legendary" harmonica player! None of your 'alright' harmonica players here!! T'was a top night, well worth a peep if they ever head your way. Hope you had a great Christmas and New Year too.

Heff - step away from the seafood... likewise, hope you had a blast.

Sam - no idea I'm afraid, I know nothing about them, and can find out nothing about them either! They were good tho!

Furtheron said...

I was going to point out the obivious but Anon got there - i.e. he has a vintage looking Strat in his mitts in the photos. Which frankly doesn't look right but I know I've seen footage of him using a Strat onstage with the Feelgoods so...

Norman - what a bass player! Saw the old Wilko line up at a pub in Medway with a mate some years back - brilliant

Piley said...

F-Ron, yeah well worth seeing aren't they?

Weird about the telecaster\strat business. Not being a player I don't always notice these things, but one thing I have noticed over the years is how much Wilko bangs on about Teles!

Anonymous said...

eight rounds rapid support Wilko and company again at shoreham on May 14th. They were called meatfist.
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