Wilko Johnson and local support at The Fermain Tavern

Wilko Johnson at The Fermain Tavern

Update: The Niche website has now been taken down, scroll down the page to read the full review

Friday 15th and Saturday 16th March 2013 saw Wilko Johnson appear at The Fermain Tavern in Guernsey as part of his farewell tour.

Support on both nights came from a selection of local acts (Andy Sauvage of Lifejacket, The Risk, The Phantom Cosmonaut, Memoirs Be and Last of the Light Brigade) before Wilko, alongwith Norman Watt-Ray and Dylan Howe, took to the stage.

Both nights saw excellent performances from all involved, despite some occasional technical issues for Wilko and co, though it was Saturday night that really brought the house down.

You can see my full galleries of photos for both nights over on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page (thanks to Jordan Allen for his help with these):

Show 1: Wilko Johnson with support from The Risk and Andy Sauvage

Show 2: Wilko Johnson with support from Last of the Light Brigade, Memoirs Be and The Phantom Cosmonaut

My review of the shows has been published on Niche showcase:

Wilko Johnson review screengrab

I also got videos of some of the support bands (it was too packed to get anything of Wilko but suffice to say video wouldn’t have done the show justice):

Over the weekend of 15th and 16th March 2013 The Fermain Tavern staged two very special nights of live music as Wilko Johnson’s Farewell Tour rolled into the venue with support coming from a range of local acts.

Wilko made his name in the mid 1970s as guitarist and chief songwriter for Canvey Island based ‘pub-rock’ R ‘n’ B band Dr. Feelgood before joining Ian Dury & The Blockheads and then embarking on a solo career in the early 1980s which has seen him play The Fermain Tavern several times over the years.

In January he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and rather than receiving treatment set out on a farewell tour with longtime bandmates, bass player (and fellow Blockhead) Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe – so no matter what this pair of shows was going to be something special.

Day One

The Friday night show started out with Andy Sauvage, more often recently seen fronting hard-indie band Lifejacket, in solo acoustic mode. While Andy’s set may have been somewhat on the melancholy side, perhaps a hint of the downbeat was suitable for a show such as this which certainly led to mixed emotions for many both involved and attending.

Seeing Andy play solo in this manner really shows off an extra side to his voice that is not so often seen in the full band setting of Lifejacket and, as ever, his performance was top notch with covers of songs by the likes of The Smiths, Placebo and Tears For Fears slotting together excellently.

Tonight was a more serious set than some from Andy, but started the night off well as the Tav began to fill up for the sold out show.

Guernsey’s own rock ‘n’ roll legends The Risk were the main support for this first leg and punched up the energy in the room from the start as more headed down towards the stage and soon some were dancing along to the mod-ish power pop tunes.

As ever Mark Le Gallez was the consummate frontman and, even when Colin Leach took on vocal duties, remained centre of attention as he took his bass onto the dancefloor to join in with the crowd.

One thing that really struck me tonight about The Risk was the effortless chemistry between the Mark and Colin that added a sense of real enjoyment to the set which transmitted to the crowd and left them fired-up and ready for the The Wilko Johnson band, following a set closing rock ‘n’ roll double whammy culminating in The Risk’s now standard cover of Born To Be Wild.

Wilko, Norman and Dylan took to the stage with the crowd in the comparatively small venue packed right up to the front, all but nose to nose with the band, and launched into their set. Unfortunately it was soon clear, and then confirmed by Wilko, that the amp that had been provided was causing some issues for his sound while the drum kit was proving a similar challenge for Howe.

Despite this, and possibly because of it, once the band got rolling the set was as packed with energy as we’ve come to expect from the staring, skittering frontman and his band as they raced through a mix of classic songs from Johnson’s time with Dr. Feelgood and his solo material with All Through The City and Chuck Berry’s Bye Bye Johnny providing a pair of highlights amongst highlights.

While it seemed tonight’s show may not have been a high point of the tour for Wilko himself, the crowd at The Fermain Tavern were reveling in the classic blues, rock ‘n’ roll and r ‘n’ b sounds and were left wanting more which, for those lucky enough to have got tickets to both nights, they would certainly be getting.

Day Two

The second sold out night of the weekend at The Fermain Tavern started out with The Phantom Cosmonaut, but to avoid a conflict of interests I won’t review his set (if you were there feel free to post your thoughts on this one).

So, onto Memoirs Be, the first full scale band of the night.

At first I wasn’t sure what to make of this very young and very new four-piece. Clearly they have a lot of talent, particularly guitarist Charlie Sherbourne and singer Roanne Sanchez, but they seemed to be missing something.

As the set went on however, they did seem to start clicking more and the audience’s appreciation certainly increased with every song.

By the time they closed their set with a cover of The Beatles’ Come Together, Memoirs Be certainly had proved themselves a very talented new act and one worth keeping an eye on as they grow and reach the potential I think is possible.

Last of the Light Brigade continued their march to indie-rock ‘n’ roll domination with a set that took them to a new high.

Throughout, the sometimes reserved (on stage at least), Tyler Edmonds was on fine form as a self-deprecating yet confident frontman talking to the audience, throwing shapes and putting in the best performance I’ve ever seen him deliver.

Backed by Ben Queripel on bass, who also hit a new level of on stage confidence, and Stu Carre, who remains the band’s solid drumming backbone, Last of the Light Brigade tonight proved why they should be one of the biggest bands in Guernsey as they cross over punk rock, mod and rock ‘n’ roll all with a good sense of pop and clearly knowing what makes a good tune.

Much like The Risk last night this set the tone and warmed up the audience perfectly for the main event.

With a new amp and a new drum kit The Wilko Johnson Band were on fire from the start of their set tonight as they played a similar mix of songs to last night, though with a few changes (we got to hear Paradise tonight, a personal favourite of mine).

Once again Wilko was a constantly moving focus, tearing up the stage in the manner that only he can, and really playing the ringleader for the band.

Away from the charismatic frontman Dylan Howe and Norman Watt-Roy proved they are not to be overlooked too as one of the tightest rhythm sections I’ve ever witnessed and Norman seemed like the bass is an extension of his body rather than a separate musical instrument as his entire body moved and contorted with his deceptively complex bass licks.

Throughout the set the band indulged in a few extended jams during their more straight blues numbers and even these held the audience enraptured, right down to Howe’s tremendous drum solo, after which the energy in the Tav seemed to hit a new high.

As the band returned to the stage for their customary Chuck Berry encore of Bye, Bye Johnny with Wilko variously strafing the crowd with his guitar like a machine gun, playing it behind his head and skittering all over the stage in his trademark manner, it was clear a state of euphoria was at large as we all sang back at the band and waved bye, bye in a way that had even more meaning than any of Wilko’s past gigs here.

Once again leaving the crowd shouting for more it was with a real sense of mixed emotions that the show came to an end and many stayed in the venue discussing what they had just witnessed and running high on the adrenaline of the proceeding hour and half.

While this is the last we’ll see of Wilko on a Guernsey stage he certainly left us on a high and with some great memories that proved why he has become revered for his more than 40 years in music.

All I can say, coming off the back of these two shows, is that it was an honour to play one of these gigs and that we are on the verge of losing a true great, but I’d rather not focus on that and remember the great music we got to experience and still have to listen to and the mark Wilko has made on so many of us who strap on a six string to play some good old rock ‘n’ roll.

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