In the early stages of his set, Wilko Johnson sings the Dr. Feelgood song, Going Back Home. The opening line is: ‘I wanna live…’. Given his own remarkable story, rarely has a lyric seemed quite so apposite.
Three years ago, Johnson embarked on a farewell tour unlike any other, after receiving a diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer and being given only months to live. Happily, that initial judgement proved to be incorrect. Following major surgery in 2014, he was declared cancer-free. As rock and roll “survivors” go, he has few (if any) peers.
The Grim Reaper’s loss is (for tonight) a packed Glasgow audience’s gain. During Roxette, Johnson moves around the stage with manic energy. He is a mesmeric presence, trading guitar licks with bass guitarist Norman Watt-Roy, his close friend and musical partner in crime. This dynamic duo are ably complemented by drummer Dylan Howe (son of the legendary Yes guitarist).
Throughout the gig, Johnson’s familiar moves are showcased: machine-gunning the crowd with his guitar; wild-eyed staring into middle distance; guitar hand maintaining a sharp staccato tempo during guitar riffs; and jerky head movements accompanied by energetic strutting across the stage. An absolute joy to watch.
Before Paradise is played, a spot of guitar tuning is required. After a brief interlude to facilitate this, Johnson announces, ‘That’s near enough for rock and roll,’ and launches into the song. Fair point.
In the second half of the gig, Johnson introduces Watt-Roy and Howe and both are given solos to showcase their considerable talents.
All too soon Johnson announces, ‘Time to say goodbye. We hope you have enjoyed the show.’ The crowd roars its approval in response, as the anthemic Dr. Feelgood song Back in the Night is played, which then effortlessly segues into the equally classic, She Does It Right.
Fortunately, there is still time for an encore, which is utterly deserved. Johnson and the band return to launch into a rousing version of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode.
Johnny B. Goode? Wilko be great!