Wilko Johnson packed out the Royal Albert Hall and there was much to celebrate. Officially the event was to mark his 70th birthday earlier this year, after recovery from a once terminal cancer diagnosis, and this year also sees the thirty-five year anniversary of the Wilko Johnson band, formed after leaving Dr Feelgood.
Words: Liz Medhurst
Photos: Laurence Harvey
Main support tonight was from John Cooper Clarke who is always a fantastic draw live. We were treated to his dry Salford tones, at times phlegmatically delivered but always so profound. His act is just as good as it ever was and has matured but thankfully not softened.
A mixture of poetry and stand-up, there were alternate belly laughs and weighty reflective moments with stories about how he tried to hire a butler, and poems including ‘Get Back On Drugs You Fat Fuck’ and ‘Beasley Street’.
From punk meets poetry to punk meets pub rock, the Wilko Johnson Band packed a setlist with gems encompassing Dr Feelgood and Solid Senders as well as his solo material.
Backed up by current and former Blockheads Norman Watt Roy and Dylan Howe, the rhythm section added jazzy notes and grooves while retaining the raw and aggressive notes of the material.
All three have been touched by ill health and bereavement in recent times and tonight was a display of living life to the full, giving it their all, grabbing life in the moment. This performance was filled not with urgency, but vibrancy.
But even without the drama surrounding it, the art itself has earned the celebrations in its own right. It was all here – the fiery percussive notes, the ferocious stare, rollicking blues, the duck walk.
It’s hardly mellowed with age and the energy flying around could put bands half their age to shame. The Royal Albert Hall may be an impossibly grand setting for pub rock, but it was fitting and earned its place here.
Two encores brought the crowd to their feet, up and dancing to ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ and ‘Route 66’, John Cooper Clarke guesting on guitar for the former. On this showing it looks like there is still plenty more to come from Wilko – one more reason to celebrate.
If You Want Me, You’ve Got Me
Going Back Home
Keep On Loving You
When I’m Gone
Everybody’s Carrying A Gun
Some Kind Of Hero
She’s Good Like That
Back In The Night
She Does It Right
Bye Bye Johnny