Wilko Johnson and Joanne Shaw Taylor @ O2 Ritz
When you think legendary musicians, for some, you’ll think of the game changers and the names that have been and done it all. For others it maybe the forgotten gems from the past that no one seems to speak of anymore. No matter which way you slice it, Wilko Johnson should be in your mind. The singer-songwriter’s career has spanned over 4 decades and has influenced a multitude of musicians, from Paul Weller to most of the modern day punk and indie movements and it’s all accredited to guys like Wilko pathing that way. Getting to see him live was, to say the least, pretty damn cool and I love the mid-80’s punk/college rock scenes as well as being a big fan of Dr. Feelgood, so I knew walking in that I was going to be in for a fun time. Also, with the rising star of Joanne Shaw Taylor joining him for these string of shows made this an extra treat.
Joanne Shaw Taylor
If you are familiar with my work on this site, you should know that I am no stranger to this British blues songstress. I have loved her work and live performances since the first record. So, what did I think of her set opening for Wilko? Well, I thought it was great, Joanne just has that stage presence unmatched by most that I have seen live in recent years. She makes herself known and plows through her setlist most of which consisted of songs from her latest album The Dirty Truth with a sprinkling of tunes from the past, including Diamonds In The Dirt and Watch ‘em Burn. This was more than plenty to win the crowd over, however when you add the banter she had with the audience, making brief mentions of her past relationships and also the last time she was in Manchester, all bound up in that dry British wit it was pretty funny. I think she is good enough to be considered one of the modern blues greats of the stage. Her technique is pretty much always on form and the solos are greatly executed, that are usually short on the album, turned into amazing listening experiences that last several minutes at a time on the stage. Genuinely, what more can I say about Joanne? She is becoming such a big name for a reason. Talented, charming, producing great music all of the time, I can’t wait to hear what she has in store next.
I have to admit to not knowing a lot of Wilko’s music going into the show. I soon found myself getting an education in why this guy is one of the all time greats of rock n roll. Wilko, strutted on to the stage and just bust out some of the best rock jams ever. There wasn’t a single dull moment of the set, not just musically but visually too. Wilko was just jamming out, just three friends having a fun time playing it. Wilko in particularly was clearly having a blast just playing these songs. Dancing around the stage and messing with the guitar more than actually playing it. Yet the songs were excellent, not a beat missed nor a tune out of place this just showed the years of time that had gone into creating and performing these tracks. He busted out all of the songs from all generations and styles that he had played, from the swinging rock n roll to the the straight up pub-style punk rock. No matter the tune, the crowd was dancing and singing along to every moment creating an amazing atmosphere where everyone was friendly and fun, bringing out the best mood of the crowd. Not to mention the sheer musical talent and skill that was on display from drummer, Dylan Howe and especially bassist Norman Watt-Roy. Seriously Norman stole the show for me. The talent was there and he was clearly having a blast just grooving along to all of the tunes, it was incredibly old-school, the set was well played. However I enjoyed the few Dr. Feelgood tunes that I did know, like Roxette and Back In The Night. This gig just left me with a good feeling inside, I had an amazing time.
Now here I am trying to sum up the whole gig. There really doesn’t seem to be a word that I can think to describe it, both Joanne and Wilko did a great job. I’m not saying this is best gig I’ve ever been to but it’s definitely up there, top 25 at least. I guess I’ll sum it up like this: it was a good night to be a rock fan.
Words: Mick Birchall / Photos: Anthony Firmin