As Wilko Johnson darts across the stage and then pings back the other way on an invisible elastic band there’s nothing to give even the merest hint this is a farewell show in the very truest sense.
Declining treatment for pancreatic cancer he is not long for this world but here he is, fizzing with energy, wide eyes flashing, holding his guitar like sub-machine gun mowing down his audience, stabbing the strings with the back of his fingers to make a chopping crunching noise, giving a lesson in how to play the guitar. If I was starting a band now I’d want to play like this. Woody Guthrie famously labelled his guitar This Machine Kills Fascists, Wilko’s Telecaster did much the same to hippies in the mid-70s, helping lay some foundations for punk with Dr. Feelgood.
That said, I’m not particularly a fan of Dr. Feelgood or that pub rock scene but after watching Julien Temple’s excellent Oil City Confidential a year ago did come away with much more of an appreciation for what they did and seeing Wilko up close increases that further. His influence on the young Paul Weller is well documented but it hadn’t dawned on me how much Billy Childish has also absorbed. Any unease I felt attending my first Wilko gig at this time, and perhaps depriving a long term fan a ticket, was offset by him being the person Mrs Monkey most wanted to see since watching that film and at least we bought tickets in good faith rather than the hundreds snapped up by cold hearted blood sucking mercenaries out to profit via online touting.
Not having such a strong emotional connection did enable us to watch the gig and really enjoy it as a straight forward show, which to Wilko’s enormous credit was totally devoid of sentiment. He made no reference to his situation, no grand speech, no tear jerking thank you. He’d told Claudia Elliott in The Blues Magazine for people to leave their hankies at home and from where I stood I didn’t see anyone need one. It was only during the “bye bye Johnny, bye bye” section of “Johnny B Goode” when hundreds of hands cheerfully – yes, cheerfully - waved at him that the circumstances were even obliquely referenced. Truly inspiring.