‘Keep the old folks waiting; keep them waiting’ The pre gig music may have been full of The Clash, Joe Walsh, Ian Dury, XTC and The Stranglers but it was the tune of the Camper Van Beethoven song (with my own customised lyrics) that was going through my head as I stood, an oldish bloke amongst older folks waiting for Joanne Shaw Taylor. The moral of the story? Don’t (as The Silver Surfers and I did) trust social media for stage times.
Mind you the only skinheads here were those who had given nature a helping hand. The spurious stage times may have been a ploy to get the army of aching joints up the stairs at The Assembly in good time for the gig, but the host of middle-aged blues fans were on tenterhooks by the time the Black Country Blues Rocker took to the stage accompanied by the tallest, thinnest bass player and a white hipster version of Russel from Gorillaz.
No. He wasn’t a cartoon, but his huge frame overwhelming his drum kit along with a wrist-less metronomic style had me thinking of the opening segment of Clint Eastwood straight away. It didn’t detract from his playing but took until the last song on the set, Dirty Truth, for Russel (I think his name was actually Oliver) to loosen up.
Joanne Shaw Taylor comes with a reputation and I’m glad to say that she had a good hour on stage to live up to it. It was one of those cases where the songs were OK but the performer was something else. I’m no blues aficionado but her material seemed to be standard blues-rock fare fundamentally illuminated by how good she really is live. She has a playing style that seems to owe more than a bit to Wilko Johnson’s choppy lead/rhythm amalgam, more solo licks than are good for most people and a husky gravelly voice to deliver her pugnacious lyrics.
You get the feeling that she’s not someone to mess with. Tried, Tested and True was proceeded with a character assassination of her recent Ex. Apparently if he didn’t want his dirty laundry washing on Youtube then he should have “tried to be less of a sh*t” and realised he was in a relationship with a singer songwriter whose declarations from the stage were likely to be all over Facebook. As a result she is no longer welcome in Texas!
After an interval filled by Jo Jo Gunne and Stiff Little Fingers, the guy we nearly lost sauntered up the peculiar little steps at the side of the stage, to a loud welcome. Looking a bit older and thinner Wilko Johnson proceeded to defy social media claims of diminishing faculties, and of course his recent ill-health, by giving one of the best performances I have seen from the bloke.
I had the tremendous good fortune to interview Wilko a few years back, and at Brumlive we have covered him several times. He is a genuinely lovely man. Still joking sheepishly in the press about not being dead and having had the audacity to beat his illness he retains a fundamental innocence about him that draws people in. He always seems surprised at the applause at the end of a tune and combines this with an enthusiasm for the songs and his band mates, almost like a teenager in his first band.
It helps that his connection with his audience is instantaneous. Opening with Alright his first trademark charge across the stage brought the expected cheers and he was on an upward slope from then on.
Dylan Howe was doing his usual job of restraining his improvisational tendencies to keep the beat going and the two veterans in front of him in check.
Norman Watt-Roy was also in his customary mode of making every note wrung from his bass a palpably tremendous effort. There are a lot of notes and his is always a truly physical performance. By Going Back Home he was soaking wet. There are deep indentations on the body of his bass marking the millions of time he must have played those notes, but he keeps on hammering them out.
But really this is all about Wilko; the distinctive playing style, the charging around the stage during solos, eyes wide and slack-jawed. We could tell that he was enjoying himself; the improvised bits were just that little bit longer and his impatience to get on with the next number infectious. The typical selection of Dr Feelgood numbers or “a few things I wrote in the ‘70s” were scattered around the set including the marvellous first encore Back In The Night/She Does It Right.
A prolonged Bye Bye Johnny ended a top night that was definitely worth the wait.
Wilko Johnson Set List
If You Want Me, You’ve Got Me
The More I Give
Going Back Home
Keep on Loving You
Machine Gun Guitar
The Beautiful Madrilena
Everybody’s Carrying a Gun
Back in the Night
She Does It Right
Bye Bye Johnny
Review: Ian Gelling
Photographs: Stephanie Colledge