First Night: Wilko Johnson, The Fleece, Bristol

Wilko Johnson’s farewell tour is, for once in rock’n’roll, poignantly irrevocable. The pancreatic cancer doctors say will kill him this year has seen to that. With bitter irony, his discussion on Radio 4 of his post-diagnosis sensations of pin-sharp connection to the world finally introduced a general audience to one of British rock’s lost treasures.

Inside the honest club sweatbox where Johnson has aptly chosen to start his last go-round, there’s barely room to move. These fans don’t know him as a spiritually articulate cancer casualty, but the songwriter-guitarist of Canvey Island’s great 1970s r’n’b band Dr. Feelgood. They had a theatrical menace which cleared the way for punk, and in Johnson a bug-eyed guitar gunslinger whose lyrics carved pulp poetry from the landscape and people of his Essex home.

With Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe backing him, Johnson is soon tearing into songs from a solo career still awaiting discovery. In “Barbed Wire Blues”, his serrated, stuttering guitar stabs are an art a personal, irreplaceable art. TBC Here

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