Wilko Johnson at Manchester Academy

Wilko Johnson at Manchester Academy

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Words: Diane Taylor & Anthony Firmin | Photos: Anthony Firmin

Mollie Marriott should need little introduction to readers of Manchester Rocks and tonight's performance is a stripped back one, with just the lady herself along with guitarist Chaz Thorogood who is known for playing with Judie Tzuke on stage. Transformer is simply stunning and this acoustic set, for one thing, shows how powerful her voice is. As her far-too-short set finishes with Control I wonder why she is on the bill, she certainly doesn’t fit in with the rest of the acts and being on so early she sadly didn’t have much of an audience. I wasn’t complaining as I loved every second of her set, but perhaps this wasn't her most captive audience. 

The Salford Jets are always fun and tonight’s performance is no exception. It is 40 years since they started and they are still playing the same songs. Walking Round The Town Town Looking At The Squares, a “hit” on 261 Piccadilly Radio back in 1978, has a somewhat ironic feel as they are now the same age or older than the squares they were singing about many years ago. Don’t Catch The Last Bus Home is about being signed to a label and drinking champagne out of pint pots in a Salford pub, they knew how to live. 

Considering he is 70, Mike Sweeney still looks amazing and his voice is in fine fettle; the rest of the band are in on point too and clearly enjoying themselves. Their second single, Manchester Boys, was featured on Juke Box Jury – a TV show where stars critiqued the latest single releases and Dusty Springfield commented “I hope it is a hit so they can get out of Salford”. Obscure B-side Don’t Start Trouble brings back memories of the 70s but judging by the average age of the audience at this point that is hardly likely to happen. 

I Don’t Believe You features Carla Lewis on vocals because Sween’s can’t sing high enough these days, maybe he needs tighter jeans! Gina I’ve Got A Cortina brings those 261 Piccadilly Radio memories flooding back again, followed by the Bobby Fallon song I Fought The Law And The Law Won (they covered it before The Clash), and finishing with their biggest hit Who You Looking At which got to number 72 in the charts.  With everyone dancing and singing along and this was a perfect supporting set.

Hugh Cornwell was up next and it didn’t start well as we were told at the last minute he didn’t want photos taken, what a miserable sod he is! 

The choice of material he plays is interesting considering he has an extensive solo catalogue, such as I Want One Of Those from Token and Taboo.

Stranglers material features heavily in the set – Nice N Sleazy, Duchess (reminding him of royal weddings) and Always The Sun are all well known but it is seeming a little flat probably because of the lack of keyboards, something that is integral to his old band’s sound.

To be honest, his solo material is strong and works far better with a three piece band and I would rather he concentrate on that, but much of the audience seems to be unfamiliar with it. Guilty is great as is Monster (about Harry Housen who did the animations in Jason and the Argonauts).  The Most Beautiful Woman In Hollywood is a fine too, about a woman who, in addition to being an actress also invented the technology that is used in Bluetooth today. Stuck In The Daily Mail comes across well and Cornwell seems happier singing it and the band are really enjoying playing too. Set finale is (Get A) Grip (On Yourself) and is much heavier than the original. Overall a mixed bag making me wonder who the real Hugh Corwall is. 

Wilko Johnson is a legend, a man whose career I have followed since the 70s having caught him live with the Solid Senders at Reading in ’79.  Every gig of his these days is an absolute celebration of his music and his life (following his health issues) he was 70 last year too, and celebrated in style at the Royal Albert Hall.

His band is equally legendary with Norman Watt-Roy on bass and drummer Dylan Howe (son of Yes guitarist Steve Howe) providing a solid rhythm section – the perfect accompaniment for Wilko and both feature in solos during Everybody’s Carrying A Gun, with the man himself turning his guitar into a staccato gun at times.

As expected the set was littered with Dr Feelgood songs with Roxette being the point where everyone put their boogie shoes on. Back In The Night continued the party atmosphere as did She Does It Right, which is and received with fervour. Wilko certainly doesn’t look or perform like a man who was at Death's door a few years back.

The encore keeps the party going with Bye Bye Johnny, a Chuck Berry cover, which from what I can tell is on the guitarist's forthcoming album. 

In all, it is an excellent performance, as it always is when he plays, and the audience, with a varied array of support acts in tow, seemed plenty satisfied. Long live Wilko Johnson.

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