Sunday lunch with Wilko Johnson


Charles Shaar Murray does Sunday lunch with Wilko Johnson and Team Wilko in Southend

After a delightful visit to Wilko Johnson — who, leave us not forget, stared death in the face and saw death back down — I dashed off a quick Facebook post, which went sort of like this:

“Yesterday: a lovely Sunday afternoon by the seaside … to be precise, hanging out with Wilko Johnson and a bunch of his mates, including the inimitable Norman Watt-Roy, Wilk’s manager Lisa Climie, his saviour cancer specialist/ace photographer Charlie Chan (yep, that really is his name and yep, he’s heard ALL the jokes at least 100 times each so he doesn’t need to hear any of them again, ever), the splendiferous Anna Chen and several other lovely peeps.

“Festivities included an epic Chinese meal, during which everybody ate until it hurt and everybody who wasn’t driving drank until their back teeth floated. Wilk’s still in the comparatively early stages of recovery from his MASSIVE life-saving surgery, but he’s in good spirits (though he’s no longer drinking any), working hard to rebuild strength and stamina, itching to resume maltreating Telecasters in public and even speculating on returning to Game of Thrones once Ser Ilyn Payne is no longer ill in pain and he’s strong enough to wield the Big Sword once more. And he thanks all y’all for the good vibes.”

Imagine my surprise (and I’ll imagine yours) when THIS suddenly showed up in the Daily Express We noted with some amusement that my offhand reference to ‘the seaside’ somehow ended up in Express-ese as a visit to the beach. Which it wasn’t – we convened chez Wilk and then decamped en masse to the raththah mahvellus Zen City for the Big Eat.

Gad sir, will these meejah vulchaz stop at nothing?

Pix by Team Wilko member Micky Fawcett

Charles Shaar Murray’s next Hothouse Project “Journalism as Craft and Art” writing course starts Tuesday 30th September in West Hampstead NW6. More info here.

Wilko Johnson, Yuriko, Charles Shaar Murray, Lisa Climie, Anna Chen, Micky Fawcett,

CSM’s Choice: Norman Watt-Roy storms the Half Moon, Putney – review

Norman Watt-Roy at the Half Moon, Putney,

Charles Shaar Murray reviews

Half Moon, Putney
June 24, 2014

By all accounts, the veteran master bassist — I’ll repeat that: MASTER BASSIST — Norman Watt-Roy was crapping Land Rovers before he took the stage of Sahf Landan’s hallowed Half Moon for his first gig in over a year as frontman for his own band. With Wilko Johnson’s recuperation from miracle surgery leaving a hole in Norman’s normally busy schedule and coinciding with the release of a rather impressive solo album, Faith & Grace, to promote, it was time for Norman to take centre-stage. Hence panic attack.

He needn’t have worried. From beginning to end of the set, he and his band — drummer Asaf Sirkis, keyboard guy Frank Harrison and Gilad Atzmon (who produced and co-arranged the album) on saxes and accordion — were loudly and lovingly received by a near-capacity house in which everybody present seemed to be fully paid-up fans of The Blockheads, Wilko or (in most cases) both.

Repertoire: beginning and encoring with Ian Dury’s Hit me With Your Rhythm Stick and, in between, a mix of crowd-pleasing faves drawn from the Wilko and Dury catalogues and the jazzfunkier Faith & Grace material, including Jaco Pastorius’ John And Mary (performed as a tribute to a key influence), the autobiographical Me, My Bass and I and the stunning Norman! Norman! (with Atzmon leading the title chant), in which he pounded seven shades of used food out of a few riffs which he’d contributed uncredited to other people’s records, notably Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax and The Clash’s Magnificent Seven.

The band gave Watt-Roy plenty of both space and support. The sure-footed (and sure-handed!) Sirkis locked into the leader’s bass like a very tight thing indeed; Harrison restricted himself to cushy chordal beds (apart from the odd fleetfingered solo) and the burly, bespectacled Atzmon displayed his unparalleled instinct for knowing when to chip in a tersely appropriate riff, when to blast out a characteristically formidable tenor solo … and when to lay out. As for yer man himself, you might feel that a sax/keys/bass drums quartet in which the featured instrumentalist is the bass player might seem overly sparse and skeletal … and you’d be wrong. Watt-Roy’s consistently surprising sonic and harmonic invention, his tautly muscular sound and balletically agile playing render him as compelling as a featured artist as he is in his more familiar sideman role . Plus (as anyone who’s ever seen him with either Wilko or the Blockheads will know) he’s almost as much fun to watch as he is to hear. He’s not exactly a singer (yet) … but his voice has charm and character and his phrasing is a delight.

There’s an ancient cartoon of a prisoner being grilled in a cell by a couple of interrogators. Next to the prisoner is a guy playing a bass. One interrogator tells the other, “Everybody talks during the bass solo.” Not when it’s Norman Watt-Roy they don’t. He is, after all … NORMAN! NORMAN!

If Jeff Beck ever again performs with a male bassist (let alone one not significantly younger than he is) the only real contender would be Norman Watt-Roy. And if Norman was a superhero, it would be Wolverine — because he’s ‘the best at what he does.’


[Anna writes: Would the photographer who took the great pic of Norman please get in touch re credit and permission? Thanks.]