Wilko Johnson review: Finger pickin’ good

PUBLISHED: 18:43 06 May 2018 | UPDATED: 19:04 06 May 2018

Wilko Johnson, left with Norman Watt-Roy right. Picture Nick Richards.

Wilko Johnson, left with Norman Watt-Roy right. Picture Nick Richards.


The Wilko Johnson script is such a good story that a Hollywood film director would struggle to turn it down.

Iconic lead guitarist with cult 70s rhythm and blues band leaves under dubious circumstances, carves out own career, is diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, goes on farewell tour, has major surgery, makes full recovery, teams up with Roger Daltrey for excellent album and is now back performing live with more heart, gusto and fabulous fretwork than ever before.

So it’s a lean, mean Wilko that takes to the stage in all black alongside bassist and former Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy along with drummer Dylan Howe for a sublime, tight, bluesy 80-minute set.

Johnson, now 70, churns through the songs at a frantic pace - it’s more than hour before he offers any sort of interaction with the crowd, instead, he converses through his black and red guitar, playing it upright, behind his head and frequently pointing it at his adoring crowd as if it were a machine gun.

I think it’s fair to say that good old Wilko doesn’t possess the most distinctive voice, but the sound he can produce from a guitar, which is more than matched by Watt-Roy on his left is simply spellbinding. You can’t take your eyes off him especially when he starts that familiar Canvey Island chop and throws an icy, penetrative stare that cuts right through the LCR crowd.

Considering he left Dr Feelgood 40 years ago the love and affection for his material with the pub rockers still has a remarkable pull for fans of all ages - when he launches into a quick pre-encore hat-trick of key Dr Feelgood classics Roxette, Back in the Night and She Does it Right, it does crank things up a notch or two.

But it’s the guitar and the moves that swing it for me, there are hints of Chuck Berry and surf guitarist Link Wray throughout the night and while MJ may have had the moonwalk, WJ has the duck walk, his shoe-shuffling guitar-strumming signature move with his head bopping like a chicken that really is finger pickin’ good.

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