As Wilko Johnson and his two Blockhead chums played a second night at London’s Koko, Willow Colios went to check them out with formidable support from another Louder Than War favourite, The Ruts DC.
‘I don’t know any of his songs, I just think he’s great.’ Says a man, descending the steps into Mornington Crescent station. And he’s right. Wilko Johnson is a great presence, a great guitarist and a genuine guy. Tonight the songs themselves don’t really matter. It’s the joy of seeing Wilko, plectrumless as ever in almost 40 years of playing live, duck walk around the stage and machine gun the audience with his trademark black telecaster with red scratchplate. So what if Roxette isn’t the same as when Dr Feelgood played it, missing Lee Brilleaux’s sexual malevolence, the packed house at Koko can’t get enough of Wilko’s every move.
Tonight these include some impressive moves indeed, not just guitar moves, but the full gamut of Wilko facial expressions. However he’s destined to lose this particular gurning contest as he has a world champion to his left in Blockheads’ bassist Norman Watt-Roy. Completing the three piece is another Blockhead, Dylan Howe, and they all play off each other and don’t stop smiling throughout Dr. Feelgood classics including All Through The City, Going Back Home and She Does It Right.
Wilko hardly says a word all night apart from dedicating the gig to Mick Farron who died in August saying, “I love that guy.”
After a First encore of Chuck Berry’s Bye Bye Johnny, featuring some impressive round the back guitar licks from Wilko, the crowd won’t let the band get away easily and force them back on stage for a second encore of Twenty Yards Behind. They even hold out for a third, but that’s asking a little bit much even for the incredible energy Wilko has shown tonight. Always leave them wanting more.
Wilko Johnson is alive and clearly loving playing more than ever. For embracing his mortality so openly and gracefully he’s even more brilliant.
It was a brave move to have The Ruts DC supporting tonight. This lot can play most bands off stage with huge songs of the caliber of In A Rut, Backbiter and Babylon’s Burning. They’re not from the American capital city by the way. DC (Da Capo) is the suffix the band have employed since the death of original singer Malcolm Owen in 1980 and they dedicate the song It Was Cold to the ‘sorely missed’ front man.
Tonight The Ruts DC effortlessly move from dub on Jah War to straight ahead punk rock on Dope for Guns. “As you know Punk and Reggae, always together” says singer Molara, later adding “A lot of these tunes are 30 years old but they sound like they were written for David Cameron and his fuckwits”. And that’s what’s great about The Ruts DC; they are totally relevant right now as well as sounding so strong. The themes of the songs are still current and the band are passionate about them. Tales of police brutality in S.U.S aren’t just retrospective, they’re coupled with a call from the stage to remember victims by marching on Trafalgar Square.
Singer / bassist John “Segs” Jennings pays tribute to their host this evening too:
“Without Wilko Johnson there wouldn’t have been all of those American punk bands, and without them there wouldn’t have been us”.
They really are formidable both sonically and in attitude, and are not to be missed when they support The Damned on Tour in November and December.