WILKO JOHNSON / GLENN TILBROOK - Queens Hall, Edinburgh 12.04.19
During the bridge in The Clash’s song ‘Remote Control,’ Joe Strummer sings “You’re my guitar hero”. This got me thinking about who today’s guitar heroes are. Who’s my guitar hero? The list is short but on top is a man who I have no qualms about giving the moniker ‘legend’ to and that’s Mr. WILKO JOHNSON. When I was 16 years old, a wiser man than myself told me that if I wanted to learn how to play the guitar better than anyone else then I should study the unique playing style of WILKO JOHNSON. From that point on I listened to ‘Dr. Feelgood’ religiously and I was hooked!
Wilko’s guitar style is derived from the technique that was adopted and played masterfully by ‘Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’’ guitarist Mick Green (1944-2010). Wilko’s take on this ‘choppy’ style of ‘plectrum-less’ guitar playing is what gave ‘Dr. Feelgood’ their unique sound and made hits out of songs such as ‘She Does it Right’ and ‘Roxette’.
In late 2012 Wilko was diagnosed as having a pancreatic neuron-doctrine tumour and given 9 months to live. Wilko underwent surgery to have a 3kg tumour taken out of him. Thankfully the operation and convalescence were successful and he recovered and was able to pick up his life and career and get back to doing what he loves, playing music. Those of you who are fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones will also recognise Wilko as Ser Llyn Payne in the first and second seasons.
As a fan, I greatly anticipated Wilko’s 2019 tour, which saw him back on the road with long-time friend Norman Watt-Roy, who was a fellow ‘Blockhead’ with ‘Ian Dury and The Blockheads’. Watt-Roy is also a trailblazer in his field as being one of the most talented and charismatic bass players ever to grace a stage. His presence is larger than life and his performances are flawless.
This was my first time in Queens Hall, Edinburgh. My first impression was what a lovely, quaint old place. On entering the hall I was astounded as it has been transformed into contemporary art and music centre with friendly and helpful staff. Beyond the curtains, I entered into a hall that had chairs neatly laid out in rows where I’d imagine the wooden pews once were. The upstairs had seating too, giving a spectacular view over onto the stage. The venue was warm and inviting and I could tell it was going to be a refined cultural experience. I was very much looking forward to the night’s event.
Tonight’s support act is none other than ‘Squeeze’ guitarist, GLENN TILBROOK, who performed a one-man acoustical jam, playing a wide array of hits, interspersed with the stories behind the songs which the audience lapped up. It’s a hard thing to do for one hour, stand-alone and play guitar and sing, but Glenn’s performance was mesmerising. The old church hall acoustics rolled the music around, giving a nice warm tone that was not too loud. The mix of vocals and guitar were perfectly balanced; something that’s not easy to get right. They say a great artist’s skill is tested most when they are asked to draw a perfect circle freehand. So too the test of a great sound engineer is their ability to balance one guitar and one vocal in a large echo-type room. To the engineer’s credit, they did a great job!
What I found really refreshing about this gig is that during the intermission between Glenn and Wilko, a man took up a position stage right selling ice creams. How often do you see that at a gig? The night had more of a theatre feel than a gig about which was very pleasant.
As the backing music faded way and silence filled the room, the assembled audience took to cheering as Wilko, Norman and Dylan Howe walked on stage. In no time at all the band lunged into their first number. For me, the next three songs were a blur. Usually, at the gigs I’m shooting at there is a dedicated pit area for us photographers to scuttle about in as we shoot or we’re lumped in with the rowdy crowd and it’s a free for all. However, tonight was different. It was not the sort of event you could cut about at. I anchored myself stage right as I set my long lens to task shooting away at Wilko. From this vantage point, Norman was just slightly out of my line of sight as he stayed close to the side of the stage. I managed to make a few manoeuvres and get myself situated without fuss to get more shots and just like that the three songs were over and my camera was retired for the evening.
I can honestly say hand on heart that seeing Wilko play was a humbling experience, given his past health problems and seeing the three men play live and getting lost in the music was just so much fun. The band gel together really well and I dared not take my eyes off Wilko in case I missed something, but I also did not want to tear my eyes away from Norman either! I think this is what you call tennis neck! What an amazing gig this was in a lovely venue. Everything about the night was great and more importantly the sea of smiling faces from the audience, who after speaking to some of them, confirmed they were in seventh heaven. Good job guys, come again…soon.
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