Wilko was accompanied, as he was back in 2014, by Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe, who make up a very classy trio. They wandered onto the stage with no fanfare whatsoever, all dressed in black, plugged in and just started playing.
This gig really was just about the music, with subtle lighting, no stage set, no constant guitar change-overs, and possibly the smallest mixing desk I’ve ever seen at a gig at the De La Warr.
And great music it was too, mixing material from his long solo career with a nice sprinkling of hits from those heady, and now far away, days of Dr Feelgood. Was that really 40 years ago?!
Naturally those familiar classics got the best reception, but the sizeable crowd seemed determined to enjoy everything that was thrown at them, including a couple of extended songs which almost seemed to turn into a jam at times.
We were treated early on to renditions of ‘Going Back Home’. Roxette’ and ‘‘Sneakin’ Suspicion’, which certainly got everyone livened up and set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Wilko Johnson was on fine form, prowling the stage with his familiar gun slinger guitar poses, staring at the audience in that sinister way that only he can do. You can certainly see why he was cast as an executioner in ‘Game Of Thrones’!
Special mention must be made of bass player Norman Watt-Roy who is also a joy to watch. His bass playing has a certain style all of its own and you find yourself torn between choosing to watch him or Wilko, as they are both compelling performers.
Watt-Roy must be one of the hardest working musicians around, as he’s still a full time member of The Blockheads too. His sweat soaked shirt, after just a few songs, was testament to that. I’d love to know how many gigs he’s played during his long career.
Dylan Howe is no slouch either, as he proved during his Jazz influenced drum solo. Drum solo’s aren’t always guaranteed to set an audience into a frenzy, but this was a noble exception.
This was a shortish set by some bands standards. But as Wilko pointed out himself, his son, who was acting as a roadie on the night, had told him not to play for too long and risk collapsing on stage. Something I think we were all in agreement with.
The main set ended with ‘Back In The Night’ and ‘She Does It Right’, another couple of Dr Feelgood classics which had Wilko playing the guitar behind his head at one point.
We were then treated to an extended encore of a version of ‘Johnny B. Goode’, complete with the main man himself duckwalking across the stage. He certainly puts his all into his gigs, as did the rest of the band.
I think the last time Wilko Johnson played in the local area was at the Black Horse Festival around 15 years ago, which I remember well.
It was good to see him back in the Hastings area once again, but it was also just good to see him here at all.
Judging by the reaction of the crowd tonight, everyone else feels the same way and the feelgood factor was much in evidence.
Long may he duckwalk.