Friday, 1 June 2012
Wilko Does It Right
Less than a week after Shelly & co. I'm back standing in front of a stage waiting for another legend/old fella (delete to choice) to come on. Back when I was listening to the Buzzcocks in 1977, Dr Feelgood seemed like a band who'd been around for ages and were not for me. Wilko Johnson had already left them by the time I first heard my mate Robert's sister playing She's A Wind Up.
Later at Manchester University, me and Michael - who I am out with tonight - used to go regularly and see the then-named Wilko Johnson Band at Band On The Wall in Swan Street. If I'm honest, the thing I used to love most about going was watching Wilco's bass player Norman Watt Roy, who, ike everyone, I knew from Ian Dury and The Blockheads, his bass playing and look was (and still is) so distinctive - fingers like frenzied spiders, shirt soaked with sweet from the opening number. We've all heard Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick but did you know Norman played the bass part to The Clash's Magnificent Seven when he and Blockheads/Clash keyboard player Mickey Gallagher were jamming in the studio waiting for Simenon and Jones and Strummer to arrive? These days he'd get a writing credit.
Now 25 years later, Watt Roy is introduced by Wilko at the Rough Trade East shop as "The man I nicked from Dury's band". Wilko is here to launch his book Looking Back At Me and has been charmingly plugging it by gurning his way though some vintage anecdotes. He generously reveals how we can copy his guitar style: instead of bar chords, use three fingers over the top three strings then bar off the bottom strings with your thumb; next lift the thumb and fingers to dampen the strings in percussive style while you chug away with your right hand. Simple, right? He blames this rudimentary style on the fact that he was left handed trying to play a right-handed guitar, "it was year's before Hendrix, so playing it upside down wasn't cool, man..." Of course this is ludicrously modesty because the moment he demonstrates the method the room is filled with his such magical Telecaster choppery that it immediately seems pointless bothering trying to emulate it.
The audience is comprised of men even older than those who were at the Buzzcocks show. Here's proof:
See what I mean? A audience of Big Figures. We lap it up though, and are treated subsequent to the anecdotes, to half an hour of choice Wilko: She Does It Right, Roxette, Back In The Night... I love Dr Feelgood now in a way that I don't think I could have when I was at Manchester. I think you have to have got a bit of listening under your belt to appreciate the simplicity and stupidity of it. And EMI have done the decent thing and put together a handsome box set which I've been gorging on for the last couple of weeks. It's the sort of thing that makes me wish I still worked in the industry.
As the band play on I weave my way to the side of the stage where I can see Norman better. Like Wilko, he doesn't have a great deal of hair now but his distinctive Indian look and magnificent sweating fingers are still the same. During the inevitable bass solo, a thought occurs to me that we are now so far out into the waters of middle aged man that any woman here must surely have arrived by mistake - this is the sort of bluesy old muso territory they loathe. Or is that just my wife? I share the thought with Michael and he agrees.
Later as we leave (passing a dapper Charles Shaar Murray at the door) we bump into my friends Sophie and Imogen who immediately trounce my theory. They are beautiful twins who have come - on their joint birthday - to see Wilko play. It seems then that for both men and women, Wilko does it right.