Monday, 12 October 2009

Wilko Johnson

A couple of weeks ago I went to see “Oil City Confidential” at the National Film Theatre on the South Bank. It’s a film about Essex R and B band Doctor Feelgood, that centres heavily on guitarist Wilko Johnson.

Last Friday I saw Wilko play live at Walthamstow pisshole, The Royal Standard.

I wish Wilko got to spend more time performing at the South Bank, curating Meltdown Festivals or one off showcases at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, but he will forever be treading the boards of the Half Moon at Putney.

Wilko Johnson doesn’t mind though. In ‘Oil City Confidential’ Wilko explains how down he has been since the death of his wife and that the only lift he gets is being on stage.

Wilko plays a set possibly identical to one he played in 1974. Wilko doesn’t care if the song is thirty years old or five days old. He doesn’t care how many times he’s played “She Does It Right.” He doesn’t even care that he’s in Walthamstow. He duck walks, he ‘machine guns’ the audience with his guitar, he plays it behind his head. But at all times he looks completely dignified, at home with his age and his surroundings.

This is what old men playing rock and roll should look and sound like.

I want to be like him when I grow up.

I understand why you may dismiss the Feelgoods and Wilko as boozy pub rock, and you’re half right. But at it’s best it’s vital, caustic and visceral music and forms an often forgotten link between your beloved sixties and your hallowed punk.

Special mention must also go to lank haired, buck toothed, sweaty, silk shirted bean pole Norman Watt-Roy on bass. Have you seen this man live? He played bass in the Blockheads, he played bass on Sandinista, he played bass on Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

He will survive a nuclear war. He looks like he has survived a nuclear war. My wife can’t take her eyes of him, she can’t close her mouth.

Here is a young Wilko teaching you how to play guitar like him on Rock School.

Here is Norman Watt-Roy in the worst interview ever.


  1. I think I heard that Frankie bassline, its not the famous one, I recall in Holly Johnsons book he may have said that the released version was electronic and was the guy out of Art of Noise.
    Other than that Mark Radcliffe is a huge Dr Feelgood fan, my knowledge of them doesn’t extend beyond Milk and Alcohol, unlike FGTH.

  2. I used to go and see Wilko at the Half Moon in Putney back in the 80s - never got bored of seeing him. Used to see Feelgood around the same time - but Wilko was better. Norman Watt-Roy was playing with him back then too. Should maybe go and see him again sometime...