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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
WILKO JOHNSON
Half Moon, Putney - Saturday March 5th 2005 - by Nick Morgan
I’m not so old that I can’t remember those teenage dreams that made us boys so hot, sweaty and sticky. For Serge, I guess, the subject matter was motorbikes, a Ducati 900SS perhaps, or maybe even a 1952 Vincent Black Lightening (Serge, you do know this most wonderful of all biker songs don’t you?). For me it was an orgy of raunchy rhythm and blues (properly defined, none of that modern-day R&B nonsense) bass and guitar. So I had to pinch myself (could I be dreaming?) when I woke up on Saturday night in a Fender fantasyland, as Wilko Johnson strutted his stuff at the Half Moon in Putney, ably supported by the blistering bass of the incomparable Norman Watt-Roy, and the rhythm machine drumming of (ex Jesus and Mary chain) Steve Monti (actually to be honest, it should have been him, but I’m not 100% sure that it was).  
Wilko JohnsonWilko Johnson
Let me remind you once more about Wilko. An Essex boy who first came to fame with the Canvey Island All-stars, Dr Feelgood, he went on to become a Blockhead, before setting up his own Solid Senders. All that was many moons ago, and for the past decade or more he’s been a regular circuit performer, supported by Norman and a variety of drummers. In that time he’s released a number of frankly disappointing albums (a new one, Red Hot Rocking Blues is on the way), and his song writing, which never offered much by the way of lyrical subtlety or curious and complex structure, has probably gone into reverse gear. But that’s not really the point. We’re not here for complex or subtle. We’re here for Wilko’s quite unique guitar style, his truly bonkers eyes and facial expressions, and his on-stage histrionics. He was, and remains, one of the great R&B live acts.
Wilko Johnson   I know I’ve mentioned it before, but the Wilko Telecaster technique (“borrowed unashamedly” I read recently, from Mick Green, guitarist with Johnny Kidd and the Pirates – “when I first heard him it changed my life”, writes Wilko on one of his websites) spawned hordes of imitators (along with bulging eyes, crew-cuts, and buttoned-to-the-collar black shirts) and inspired a few, like the Gang of Four’s Andy Gill, to take it to even greater heights. So if current pop-darlings Franz Ferdinand (and I understand the even newer and hotter Kaiser Chiefs) are determined to look to Gill and the GOF as a source of inspiration, then Wilko’s contribution to the current (and much to be welcomed) revival of the British guitar band, should also go on record.
But a note to the youngsters. No plectrums please – copy Wilko’s incredible thumb and fingerpicking style if you can. And forget the effects pedals. Wilko blew us away with just his Telecaster and a clever use of pick-ups and amplifier tone and volume. Nothing else. Just keep it simple.
Wilko Johnson   By way of a set list I may mention some of the Feelgood classics and old Wilko compositions, ‘Sneakin’ suspicion’, ‘Back in the night’, ‘Don’t let your Daddy know’, ‘Dr Dupree’, ‘Down by the waterside’ and a raft of other twelve-bar standards. Some truly stunning improvisation from both Wilko and Watt Roy (with Johnson’s grey eye-brows theatrically hitting the ceiling whenever Norman strayed into a jazz riff) was accompanied by more than a sufficiency of machine-gun guitar. Wilko let his Telecaster (and his face) do most of the talking, but his self-depreciating “Just to show we’re not as stupid as we look ….” as the band took to the stage for a series of encores (much to the satisfaction of their packed beery audience) was undeserved. This is a man whose place in the history of rock and roll is assured, and whose playing should put him high on everyone’s list for a rocking Saturday night out. - Nick Morgan (photos by Kate)



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