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On the beat with Robert Nichols.

THERE are few gigs I've awaited more eagerly than Wilko Johnson at ARC.

I go back a long way with Wilko Johnson.

My schoolmate Stephen Unsworth lent me a live album by a group called Dr Feelgood. It was back in 1976 and the R'n'B band from Canvey Island, Essex were all the rage. Stupidity, their third long player release was No.1 in the album charts.

They were about to conquer the world it seemed. That was until the Sex Pistols let rip on national TV and on the streets and Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson left the band and travelled to India.

That is a long time ago now but the fans still pack out the halls in force for the enigmatic guitarist with the unique style of playing lead and rhythm at the same time. His jerky back and forth motions across the stage also set him apart.

One of the most influential forces on music since the 1970s, Wilko the entertainer and Solid Sender of rhythm and brilliance packed out ARC to standing room only. He delivered one of the best nights that many of us have ever seen in the venue.

Tour support, Virgil and The Accelerators certainly won a few friends. In fact at the end of their hard hitting blues rock set the trio earned a standing ovation and afterwards were overcome by new devotees eager to get the young musicians signatures on their album, The Radium.

It was a set that moved seamlessly from heavy rockers sliced and diced with solos to heart felt soulful sensitive slowed down blues numbers. A band with a future.

Wilko, the man in black, zig-zagged on to and across the stage, immediately ripping into a familiar, trademark, staccato riff. The great Norman Watt-Roy, of Blockheads fame, stood legs planted to stage left, his fingers flying up and down the frets with bamboozling speed.

Behind the two veterans, broad smile plastered across his face, son of Yes guitar man Steve and another former Blockhead, Dylan Howe, held a steady beat.

Feelgood classic after classic, Back In The Night, Going Back Home, She Does It Right and Roxette - they were all in the set as well as Wilko's own post-Feelgood solo work like the mystical eastern influenced Dr Dupree.

Paradise saw him inserting a moving verse to his late wife and soul mate Irene.

There were also plenty of R'n'B and rock and roll standards all given the Wilko treatment, as he moved back and forth continually like a robot gone wrong or machine gunning the crowd with his bullet scratching guitar.

The trio came back on the night for encore after encore. Now officially a pensioner, Wilko Johnson shows no sign of slowing down or taking anything other than a jagged path.

A great English eccentric and a phenomenal performer, please come back again soon. You do it right.

- Robert Nichols @rob_fmttm

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ROCKING ARC: Wilko Johnson, left, Dylan Howe, centre, and Norman Watt-Roy Picture: Tracy Hyman www.tracyhymanphotography.co.uk
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Apr 27, 2012
Words:505
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