The Telegraph, 26-02-2014
Despite his pancreatic cancer prognosis, Wilko Johnson is still here, and his collaboration with The Who's Roger Daltrey at Shepherd's Bush Empire impresses Catherine Gee.
Wilko Johnson was supposed to have been dead by October – that was the prognosis given to him when, in January last year, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Refusing to put his body through the ravages of chemotherapy, in March 2013 the former Dr Feelgood guitarist embarked on a UK tour that was meant to be his last.
But he didn’t die by October. Nor November. Nor December. Johnson is still here and living life to the fullest point that his health will allow. He has even been added to the bill of the heavy rock festival Sonisphere in July.
For Johnson to record a new album made up of his old songs (plus a Bob Dylan cover) with The Who’s Roger Daltrey is something out of rock fan fantasy, and a hefty crowd packed into the Shepherd’s Bush Empire to see a one-night-only performance of it – Bob Geldof, Blondie’s Clem Burke, and Top Gear’s Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson among them.
Staring out from the stage wild-eyed, bald head thrusting back and forth, the 66-year-old cut a familiar figure, backed, as ever, by his bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe (all three of whom have played with The Blockheads). Johnson looked sprightly, and the moment that his fingers touched the guitar strings, those signature punchy, scattergun riffs which blazed a trail for British punk were unmistakable.
The trio kept the stage to themselves for the first third, blasting out powerfully bluesy renditions of old hits such as Dr Dupree and Roxette, before Daltrey strode on – bringing harmonica genius Steve Weston and former Style Council keyboardist Mick Talbot with him – and launched into the album’s title track, Going Back Home. Johnson relinquished all solo singing duties to Daltrey’s more powerful voice, and it took gentle ribbing and encouragement from Daltrey to draw him back to the mic just for the last half of All Through the City.
Dr Feelgood (whose songs were written by Johnson) and The Who were very different rock bands. But, like complementary flavours, when placed together they worked in tandem. Laying Daltrey’s robust and complex vocals on to Johnson’s choppy, jagged rhythm and blues gave that old pub-rock sound a new level of power.
“This has been good fun, I’ve got to say,” Daltrey assured us, in between good-natured grumbles. “We’ve had a bloody good time with this one.” And that’s exactly what it was: six British rock stalwarts thoroughly enjoying themselves, despite the circumstances.