I’m not the biggest Wilko Johnson fan on the planet but he’s one of those guys you have to see at least once in your lifetime. And since he’s slain a dragon even the mighty Lemmy couldn’t beat, I’ve managed to witness his frantic rhythm and blues capers twice. Add in a stunning support act and you’d be hard-pressed to beat value for money on this ticket.
Wandering up to the ABC and dropping my name in the box office, the gentleman in front of me is having a chore of getting into the venue (normally that’s me in this place) as he seems to have been omitted but here’s hoping he got in. Due to the delay and the fact I didn’t hear doors opened at 18:30 until the next day (oops!), I’m climbing the stairs as support act Joanne Shaw Taylor is already ripping through her first track. There’s already a sizeable crowd and I can see people singing along with her throaty vocals. From the minute I clapped eyes on her, I could understand why. She doesn’t just play blues, it pours straight from her soul all the while a Cheshire cat grin is plastered on her face.
Greeting the crowd with an affable “How the devil are ya, Glasgow?” she sinks her hooks into the crowd and refuses to let go. Whilst she does have a drummer and bass player backing her, the attention is focused on the blonde Black Country girl. Whilst the well-qualified rhythm section did a great job, it’s easy to see why. Her blues playing is almost like she’s simply acting as the vessel for the Les Paul to unleash some of the most captivating blues I’ve heard.
Being the only support act on the night and the earlier stage time, she’s given a lengthy set to ply her trade and it doesn’t outstay its welcome in the slightest, to the point I’m slightly dismayed when she calls time on the set. Given her next UK tour brings her to Aberdeen and Dunfermline, it may be some time until the next time I catch her live. However, there’s always her myriad of albums already in the wild to listen to.
House lights still on, Wilko Johnson and his band are led out by a stage-hand, a look of mock surprise on his face that so many people are in attendance. Battering through an hour and a half of songs, Wilko doesn’t waste any time chatting to the crowd, stopping only to say thank you and introduce his band, giving them their own moments in the spotlight with drum and bass solos. Within the space of a couple of songs, it’s made clear why Wilko has the amount of reverence he’s been given and he really should be given more. The man’s not just a player, he’s an originator. I can’t say I’ve seen anyone play guitar quite like him.
It’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that just three short years ago, this guy was told he wouldn’t see the end of 2013 and here he is, grabbing his new lease of life by the balls. He’s got more energy onstage than most people half his age as he inimitably struts across the stage in his characteristic jagged ways. Actually, he’s got more than me but having been awake since half four in the morning is going to have that effect.
That aside, Wilko makes for an entertaining night, his effortless playing blends blues with a sneering punk attitude alongside a bit of pub rock and it makes for something pretty unique, especially on encore track “Bye Bye Johnny”. Having only heard it as Status Quo’s show closer, this newfound take on the song brings a fresh twist to it yet instantly recognisable as the first notes are played.
Having seen Wilko twice already in a short space of time, it’s something quite incredible and this time showed what an overlooked guitarist the man is. Not knowing much of his material, he doesn’t even have that hit that you know when you hear it but it doesn’t matter, it’ll capture your attention regardless. He is however a rather niche musician and the crowd is (as is usually the case when I’m at a gig) made of older characters but there are a few youthful mods in attendance (yeah, they’re still kicking about) but it’s a nice reminder of how music can be universal. And while we still have characters like Wilko reminding us how good live music is, all is well.