Wilko Johnson and Norman Watt-Roy
There was a real sense of anticipation in the air as gig goers headed to The Fermain Tavern on Saturday 19th October 2013. Not only was this down to the return of punk-poet legend Attila The Stockbroker to the Tavern’s stage, but also because Blockheads‘ “faith and grace” legend Norman Watt-Roy was headlining with his new band… not to mention the fact that it looked like he might be joined on stage by a third legend in the form of Dr. Feelgood founding member Wilko Johnson.
Before any of that though two Guernsey acts had the privilege of opening the show, starting with The Phantom Cosmonaut. For obvious reasons I won’t say too much about his set other than I had a great time on stage and, from my point of view it was the best gig I’ve played, at least since opening for Wilko on his ‘Farewell Tour’ earlier in the year.
The Crowman (and the “Fiddling Pixie”) were up next and, in his own inimitable style, he managed to break a string on his acoustic guitar during the first song of the set. None-the-less the alter-ego of Thee Jenerators/The Risk/Speakeasy frontman Mark Le Gallez picked up his banjo and carried on regardless with his unique brand of garage-folk that takes in influences of everything from traditional music to The Cramps via down and dirty blues and Hank III style country.
The raw power of The Crowman’s music was backed up for the last few songs tonight by James Le Huray on a four string slide guitar that added something of a Seasick Steve sound to the ongoing racket and made for a set that may have started in an inauspicious fashion but ended on a high.
Attila The Stockbroker
Attila The Stockbroker has followed in the footsteps of John Cooper Clarke in both making the phrase punk-poetry a respected genre and in being a favourite at The Fermain Tavern with three gigs here in three years, and tonight continued the trend as his set of spoken word and songs was greeted with warmth, laughter and applause from the start.
Famous for his polemic, ranting style Attila The Stockbroker took on political issues up front, from the off with no subject seemingly taboo with particular highlights of this being a poem about Maggie Thatcher’s recent descent into hell and a song about media coverage of one of Prince Harry’s more public indiscretions. These come alongside all out comedic stories from the road such as Punk Night At The Duck’s Nuts which had everyone in the Tavern laughing and cheering along.
What sets Attila apart from many others in the punk-poetry arena is the way he counterpoints the comedic and the polemic with the heartfelt and the personal. While every word he utters is as genuine as they come, it is when he begins reciting poetry about his family that the real honesty of all his work hits home – tonight this came in the form of a poem about his step father and a story about reminders of his childhood in his late mother’s house.
Following these though he left things on an up note with a solo version of his band Barnstormer’s song Bye Bye Banker! which may be a slightly uneasy subject for some in Guernsey but went down a storm tonight.
Norman Watt-Roy and Gilad Atzmon
After a short break four musicians took to the stage who, over the course of the following hour, would put on one of the tightest and most impressive performances I’ve ever seen.
Led by Norman Watt-Roy the band ran through a set taking in jazz-fusion numbers alongside their own versions of Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ classics and a few originals as well.
While Norman was undeniably the centre of attention and the leader of his band as he played his custom Fender bass in a way that no other can, seemingly being one with his instrument as his fingers danced on the strings and frets, the other three members all shone as well.
Particularly impressive were saxophone and accordion player, as well as occasional vocalist, Gilad Atzmon and drummer Asaf Sirkis.
Atzmon used effects to give an extra tone to the already fantastic sax playing and worked most closely with Norman in putting on the show and really making a strong connection with the audience in a way few musicians at any level manage.
Sirkis meanwhile was a technical drumming marvel as he switched from the pseudo-funk of the Blockheads numbers, through frankly amazing jazz-fusion work, to solid and R’n’B style beats with seemingly effortless ease and a huge smile, though he wasn’t alone as all four members seemed to be enjoying the gig hugely.
They weren’t alone in that though as the crowd was packed to the front throughout Norman’s set with many moving, how anyone could stand still to such insistent rhythms is unknown to me, and for those in the crowd who were fellow musicians we could only look on in wonder at the playing on stage.
If the atmosphere was high during the set it shot up even further as Norman Watt-Roy welcomed long time collaborator Wilko Johnson to the stage. With his unique guitar playing added to the mix the band’s sound developed further, taking on a more R’n’B vibe but still with a hint of the jazz and funk from earlier in the set so a couple of Wilko’s own tunes were given the Norman Watt-Roy treatment before the band ended their set.
They weren’t off stage long though before they were called back for an encore which rook the form of an extended version of Dr. Feelgood classic Roxette that reached a crescendo for an already amazing night.
The band left the stage with the promise that they would be back soon and with the crowd calling for more – much like Wilko’s gig here earlier in the year there was a bittersweet feeling that this might be the last time we get to see him in the flesh on a Guernsey stage but, if it was, what a way to go, and it feels like he’s passed his torch to Norman Watt-Roy, a man with an already formidable reputation, playing with one of the best bands I have ever had the pleasure to see in such intimate surroundings.
And all that’s not forgetting Attila The Stockbroker – I’m not sure a better night of varied musical entertainment could ever be had whether by happenstance or by design as this one.
You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.
And here is a video clip from the night thanks to Guernsey drumming veteran Sav Russo: