It was the fourth day I hadn’t drank after an almost day to day two (or maybe three?) month binge, so insomnia was in full force. Yesterday the shakes had set in and I’d spent the past, at least 72 hours petering on the edge of a full scale panic catastrophe. But fuck all that, the brink of oblivion could wait because, tonight, I was off to Leeds to watch Dr. FeelGood famed, Wilko Johnson.
We drove down and, after much trouble, found the venue after parking in what looked like a U.S. Ghetto (the housing was poor, this is not a racial statement) and staggered around in the heavy rain until we (quite accidentally) rounded a corner and was slap bang outside the damn place. We entered, my father and I, giving our names to the burly security and being given AAA guestlist passes. Finally, I thought, some goddamn recognition. The name on the pass wasn’t right and it was my actions or position as a maniacal journalist that had got us these passes, but still…recognition. My father was an old friend of Wilko and the band and had booked a full week off work to drive about the various locations and watch some shows, it was a good week for old-time rock and roll.
We headed backstage and I still hadn’t had a drink. There was a bar, I had some money, but I was determined to stay sober. The fear of the reaper had crept back upon me and, though the drink was a short term solution for the dark demonic hand of depression and anxiety, I was going to try to fight this in the long term, not the short. The backstage area was a tiny room, more a corridor, filled with old cinema chairs. For a group of artists with as much musical history as these three (with both bass player Norman and drummer Dylan having played in the Blockheads, among others) I was surprised to see such squalid conditions.
We all hung around there, myself, my father, the band, along with manager Bob, and said very little to each other, which was fine. I didn’t feel much like talking anyway and it was just nice to be in the company of such talented people. Wilko spent the time reading on a kindle, Dylan warmed up banging sticks on a hit pad and Norman came in and out, occasionally heading back to the van to get high.
The opening act tore into their set and I considered being a professional, a real journalist, but instead decided sitting in this dank hole with some of the U.K’s greatest musical minds. The opening act sounded great even from back here, intrinsic melodies being churned out on guitar, bringing the old blues sound and giving it a fresh kick in the balls. It was like the best of the blues mixed with indie-rock (and I know most indie rock sucks, but believe me, this worked.) The band was called Virgil & the Accelerators and the only downfall of their set (apart from being unable to see them) was a 20minute long “slow blues” song that I thought would continue until the damn apocalypse started to commence. The vocalist thanked the audience but from my position in the backstage area this was muffled and sounded like a Elvis Presley impression coming through a supermarket P.A. “aaaaahh, thankyaverymuch.”
Wilko and band took to the stage and, beside (with the exception of the youthful looking Dylan) looking like a pensioners day trip, played with the energy of a trio of ecstasy fuelled disco teens. Wilko has the facial features of a crack-addled duck and this add tremendously to his haunting stage presence which he has perfected over the past thirty eight years of performing live (achieving this, mostly, by going bald and looking like the fucking grim-reaper.) The man who inspired bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin was now playing clubs that fit around 500 instead of 10,000. This may be a bad thing financially for the band but it’s a great pleasure for the audience who are able to stand in perspirations distance from arguably the most influential man associated with guitars since Leo Fender. But Wilko wasn’t the only one with a loyal following, it seemed a large portion of the audience were there entirely for Norman (it seemed this was proven as fact when I observed the merchandise table and noticed the two had their own custom shirts for sale. Dylan, unfortunately, didn’t.) The band played for almost an hour and a half and didn’t seem to break a damn sweat, crushing through an abundance of hits from both Dr. FeelGood’s, and Wilko’s own, back catalogue and the songs do not seem to have lost any of the intensity of when they were first played (I wasn’t alive when most were first played so I just have to go off live recordings, but still).
The band finished the set and after a brief cooling down period invited us back stage where we sat around and listened to stories from Wilko’s past. These were great and went from a story of Lew Lewis robbing the local post office to his hate for deceased bass-virtuoso, Phil Lynott. I personally love Thin Lizzy but decided to keep my mouth shut and sat there staring at a table full of beers and whiskies, fighting the urge to inhale as much as possible until someone in that cramped squat tackled me to the ground for being so damn rude.
The day after I was on my way to a suburb of Nottingham to watch another musical legend, T.V. Smith. The former adverts singing had a show booked in a what looked like the local public stink-hole and, after a picturesque drive near the Pennines, arrived in this tiny pub and was greeted by a snot-filled landlady who, with the greatest of respect, tried to converse with me but her phlegm filled sinuses made it impossible to comprehend a single damn word. I smiled, nodded politely, and felt bad that I couldn’t communicate with this snot filled woman like a normal human being.
We took out of the pub after asking about some food, “we have PORK SCRATCHINGS and PICKLED ONIONS,” and eventually found a place that served food after 4pm. I ordered some noodles and a pint of Stella, it had been five days down. Drinking it down tasted like sucking off an angel and, finally, the world seemed right. We ate our food and I finished by beer. Heading back to the venue in a mild drizzle, entering, and ordering another set of drinks at the bar, my father was driving so was on nothing but coke (-a-cola, not white powder.) We headed up the stairs into the room where the magic would be happening. The place was astonishing, what I’d expected to be nothing more than a set of floorboards with a speaker (if we were lucky,) turned out to be a capacity worthy of a king. Perhaps that was a little bit of an overstatement but the booze was back in my system and the place did look pretty swell.
We took a seat until the first act started. A group of middle aged men fronted by a dreadlocks sporting punk rocker. I’ll admit I didn’t think much of the band by looking at them but they played a good strong set. Though Pax seemed to be a typical politcal punk outfit, they put forth their opinions in an honest and convincing way. This was not just some rehashed Guardian articles with a back beat, this was genuine opinions from a group of musicians who were pissed off with the way the things were in society (and probably had been for a while by the looks of things).
Unfortunately, this couldn’t be set for the next two acts with The Reverends were nothing short of terrible. In their defence the start of their set was plagued by sound problems but even when these were amended there was very little difference. Their frontman was a brace-wearing, cliché-tattoo miserable little disgrace of a man. He sang with anger, though what exactly he was pissed off at was unsure, the vocals were barely audible and it was hard to pick up a single word, let alone an entire song topic. He looked like someone left their daughters doll of a baby too close to the fire.
The band that followed were Verbal Assault, they were better than the previous group but not by very much. Unlike Pax, the Assault’s opinions seemed half-hearted and the music wasn’t anything more than tedious. “Channel 4 said the last Big Brother had finished, the Channel 5 bought it and it’s back on our T.V’s. This song is about that!” If some goddamn shitty T.V. show was the worst of your problems, I thought, you really have nothing to be angry about, just turn the damn set off. The plethora of Mohawk donning punks sat up front nodded in approval at the subject of this tune, if these were the “non-comformists” then god helps us all. They all looked the goddamn same. The band themselves were dressed like some kind of bizarre Beatles tribute act and looked pretty ridiculous, a fitting look as their music sounded just as nonsensical. But perhaps I’m being too but am I not entitled to an opinion? They did have a healthy dose of charisma and, even though it only added to the camp atmosphere of this whole damn fiasco.
Thankfully the distaste in the air was soon cleared and, after more drinks, T.V. Smith took to the stage. Even though he was just one man with a guitar there was enough electricity in the air you soon drifted so far into the animation of T.V. that the usual sombre atmosphere of an acoustic show was transformed into a near-riot. In fact, the previously mentioned Mohawk’s pogo’d there way about in front of Smith. I couldn’t hate them, they were having a great time and so was I. One of the Mohawk’s grabbed me and pulled me into the fray, a pretty girl with a blue Mohawk.
“HEY! YOU CAN KEEP A BEAT! I’M GONNA TEACH YOU HOW TO DANCE!”
She showed me a few times, it went, heel, toe, heel, toe, but I couldn’t get the rhythm fast enough. I could dance quite well but this was nothing but a chaos of the lower limbs. So, instead, I waited for a slightly slower tempo song and grabbed the blue Mohawk, leading into a slow dance. I hadn’t realised by this point but the girl had been with a yellow Mohawk guy and this seemed to annoy him immensely and she soon backed away.
T.V. Smith played all of his hits, his own and those of the Adverts, finishing with Gary Gilmore’s Eyes. I thought the place was going to explode.
After the show the blue Mohawk came over and spoke to me for a while, asking me to come to the next Verbal Assault show. I told her I didn’t live anywhere near here and, after being given a quixotic stare when I said “Salford,” we decided on Manchester, she took my details, and decided to have a drink sometime during the Rebellion festival later in the year (if I was even able to enter after last year’s review)
We got back into my fathers car, spending the two hour drive back hour drive navigating around blocked motorway exits and listening to Nils Lofgren’s second album, Cry Tough.