Review: Wilko Johnson, at the Robin 2, Bilston
If rock and roll changed the world – which it did – Dr Feelgood played a highly distinctive role in that process.
The Feelgoods were one of the ultimate live acts, a sort of mid-70s cross between Chuck Berry at his height and the Stones at their most rebellious, with their own irrepressible homegrown Canvey Island menace.
The on stage combination of burly vocalist Lee Brilleaux and guitarist and songwriter Wilko Johnson was a devastating example of rock music’s primal power to challenge conventional attitudes whilst sticking two fingers up at petty authority.
Sadly, the charismatic Brilleaux died of cancer back in 1994. He was just 41 years old.
Now his old sparring partner Wilko is facing his own – and apparently losing – battle against pancreatic cancer.
Wilko left the Feelgoods way back in 1977 but will always be remembered as the man who gave the world the likes of Roxette and Back In The Night. Their 70s album Stupidity has rarely been bettered as a raw slice of live rock and roll at its very best.
Typically, Wilko seems to be facing the challenge of dying in his own inimitable manner. He has refused chemotherapy and is going out in true style – with an official farewell tour.
The Robin 2 was packed to the rafters with fans desperate to catch a last glimpse of one of rock’s most compelling performers. Nobody ever quite matched Wilko’s machine-gun style approach to the guitar.
It may have been the hottest ticket in rock due to the tragic circumstances but this was no mawkish send-off.
Wilko might have only months to live, but he refused to compromise his unique approach to live performance.
There was no maudlin reference to his cancer.
Instead, backed by ex-Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe, Wilko was simply Wilko, complete with that uniquely manic wild-eyed stare.
Unlike the rest of us, this sort of stuff will never grow old.
Down By The Jetty, Paradise – adapted in tribute to the death of his own wife Irene from cancer – Dr Dupree and Roxette were delicious hors d’oeuvres to a blistering final course of Back In The Night and She Does It Right.
There was always going to be an encore, and Wilko blasted out Chuck Berry’s Bye Bye Johnny, with the audience waving their own poignant farewells in unison.
Tragically, there may now be no further encore for Wilko Johnson in the annals of live rock.
But when he eventually joins Lee Brilleaux in the great concert hall in the sky, there’ll be a hell of a noisy reunion.