Wilko Johnson. Bull & Gate, London June 1985.
If you ever get the chance to see him, go. Demented. He’s a snapshot from a sweaty pub somewhere in 1974. Slack-jawed, machine-gunning, gum-chewing, duck-walking, leg-kicking axe man. He looks exactly the same as he does in old footage of Dr. Feelgood. When bands like Yes were releasing triple albums with Roger Dean sleeve covers (“Tales from Topographic Oceans”, the Platonic Conception of the Ultimate Bloated Excess Prog Album) Dr. Feelgood were sharp, 2-minute stabs of amphetamine R’n’B. All the Punks of ’76 – Pistols, Clash, Damned – saw them and enjoyed the speediness of it. Loud, fuck-off Rock music. They are the missing link between the New York Dolls and the Clash. Attitude in a riff.
Their “Stupity” live album hit Number One in age of ELO, Elton John and The Eagles. Unheard of. The Kidz were mobilising against the Forces of Blandness.
Bull & Gate is next door to The Forum and has been a bedrock of the north London music scene for generations. My flat-mates Nick and Howie played there. A typical Tuesday night with 4 bands on the bill, usually outsiders playing their first London gig, and each band has brought along 30 friends and family so the Pub’s happy selling beer on a Tuesday night. And for this rare privilege each band paid £50 to cover “costs”. Pay-to-Play. A monopoly that has been broken, thankfully. Still, it was a lovely old Victorian boozer and almost a rite of passage for any band.
Wilko was fanatastic. A genuine performer. He plays guitar like Hendrix in that he uses his thumb and fingers to press down on strings to form chords and with his other hand plays lead and rhytmn. The secret’s in the thumb as it makes a barre shape leaving the fingers free to shred axe. He machine guns the audience with his battered Fender Telecaster. Tight 3-button black suit, done up, and white shirt. Simple, striped down, basic. “I’m a Hog For You Baby” was glorious. One little piggy went to Hong Kong. Cue Chinese melody as Blues riff. On the beat. Tighter than a nun’s chuff. Body and tune in sync. The Form indivisible from the Content.
Wilko. A normal bloke who plays the Idiot Savant but who probably is one for real. A holy goof like Neal Cassady. Unique. He’ll make you smile.