IN THE end it was emotional, although perhaps not in the manner which might have been expected.
Billed at time of sale as the last ever gig by unforgettable former Dr Feelgood and Ian Dury and the Blockheads guitarist Wilko Johnson, the fact it would be superseded as such by a second finale in London the following night didn’t dampen the atmosphere. The ABC’s main hall has rarely been as packed.
This was due in no small part to the recent announcement that Johnson, 65, has inoperable pancreatic cancer and only a short time to live, and very much for the dignified and courageous way he’s dealt with the news in public. Yet it was no wake, more a youthfully excited reminder of his raw skill as a blues guitarist and his indefatigable personality, fortunately now immortalised in Julien Temple’s 2009 biopic of the 1970s Canvey Island scene Oil City Confidential. Dressed in black, bald headed and wild-eyed, Johnson’s urgent duckwalk and trademark machine-gun stance breathe fresh life into the potentially trad act of playing a guitar.
Fired by his electrifying playing and that of bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe, standards and Feelgood classics like Sneakin’ Suspicion, Wooly Bully, Back in the Night and She Does It Right added up to a stunningly unreconstructed set which was short on slack-jawed sentiment but rich in freighted poignancy: witness the use of the line “I may be right, I may be wrong/but you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone”.
We will, but at least we had the chance to rediscover just what we’ll be without.