Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

A Feelgood Night with Wilko Johnson

Had a great night out on Saturday – good old rock and roll with one of Britain’s legendary guitarists.

We went to see Wilko Johnson at the Manchester Academy. Wilko has a unique guitar style that blends what used to be called ‘lead’ and ‘rhythm’ – basically, he plays both at once in a percussive, economical way that owes something to Chuck Berry (and before her to Sister Rosetta Tharpe – see my post on her from way back) but is really all his own.

Wilko’s name may not mean much to you if you’re under 40 but he is still remembered as the star attraction of a sensational rhythm and blues band called Dr Feelgood back in the 1970s – just before the punk era dawned. Wilko was famous for the way he would go whizzing around the stage while he played – he never seemed to keep still and he would slide and tear around as if he was on skates, with a weird hypnotic glare on his face.

More recently the band – and Wilko above all – have been the subject of a fascinating film by Julien Temple called Oil City Confidential about the band, its history and the highly individual Wilko, who is a natural star – quoting Shakespeare and Milton fluently (he read English at Newcastle under my old friend Robert Woof, later curator of Dove Cottage – another crazy genius), demonstrating his highly personal guitar technique, and climbing onto the roof of his house in Canvey Island, Essex, where he has a high-grade astronomical telescope. In fact, he’s such an expert that there’s a Facebook group campaigning for him to take over on The Sky at Night when Patrick Moore finally has to retire!

Amanda and I had a quick chat with Wilko in the dressing room and he told us that he’s now got a solar telescope, which has darkened lenses so you can look directly at the sun, so he’s able to watch the solar flares erupting.

But mainly we listened to Wilko and his band performing a classic set of blues numbers and Dr Feelgood songs. Exciting, energising and great fun. And if you want to meet one of British rock’s great characters, or learn about a key episode in British popular culture, or just see a fine documentary film which I guarantee you’ll enjoy, do get hold of Oil City Confidential .