Fancy some proper rough-arsed drinking music on a Monday night? Try Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey Going Back Home then.
Becoming fast friends after being seated together at an awards evening Johnson and Daltrey decided it would be fun to record together, a process expedited by Johnson’s diagnoses with terminal pancreatic cancer. Johnson believed he was cutting his own musical epitaph last year, he fully expected Going Back Home to be his last act*, which adds a lot of poignancy to the proceedings – but absolutely no mawkishness. Resisting the temptation to make any grand statements, or push any overarching conceits Wilko decided to bow out as he’d lived by cutting 11 tracks of hard-assed unrepentant R&B belters.
Now Daltrey needs no introduction from me at all, but I appreciate that Wilko Johnson may do for some of you folks. He was the guitarist in the original incarnation of Dr Feelgood, a back to basics, mean dude R&B combo that laid down the stripped-down blueprint for punk, by burning away all the 70’s excess, all the extraneous shit that got in the way of a rollicking good tune powered by stabs of rocking guitar, their first three LPs are just priceless, after that Wilko left and they became mortal**; but I’ll have ample opportunity to bore you stupid about them some other time. There followed a stint with Ian Dury and a solo career that never set the world alight, unlike his gigs; my parents became big fans after seeing him a few years ago. Vast fame and fortune eluded him but he remained a guitarist’s guitarist and a rocker’s rocker. You may even know him better as Ilyn Payne from Game Of Thrones.
Going Back Home is a collection of 10 Wilko Johnson tracks and a Dylan cover. The record company, very rightly pulled out all the stops too it was released on the previously defunct Chess Records label and has an old style, fold over cover, hubcap thick vinyl and a really good full size booklet of lyrics and photos of our two heroes down through the ages. The band is Johnson’s touring band as far as I can gather and it has all been produced brilliantly by Dave Eringa, who I associate as the ace producer of Manic Street Preachers records; the sound he captures here is perfect – warm and real. The band is everything you’d want from a time-served R&B outfit who can play it smooth when they need to and Steve Weston’s harp playing really shines. However the two titular gents really steal the show.
Roger Daltrey if anything steals the show for me and I have to declare that I’m really not a Who fan – I know it’s rock sacrilege but you can stick ’em, apart from about 8 tracks as far as I’m concerned^*. However I love the way his voice has sunken into a gruff, powerful manly growl here – check him out on the title track when he sings the put down:
The last time I saw her she was burying a bone
So now I’m going back home
and contrast that with his joyful Dylan sneer on ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window’ and the tender, yearning ‘Turned 21’ where he turns in a wonderful performance. Surrounded by all the pictures of young Daltrey on the LP cover it just gives me the feeling that this is the voice he’s been striving for all these years, one you can’t just buy off the shelf, this tone has to be earned.
As for Wilko he’s no grand stander, he’s firmly in the engine room throughout, it fits his conception of the guitar as the third member of the rhythm section. But just check out the way he drives ‘Going Back Home’ and the loping ‘Everybody’s Carrying A Gun’, masterful. Not to mention the song-writing chops spread throughout, my favourite is the choppy rocker ‘Ice On The Motorway’ which Daltrey bawls out just right. It really is a joyful set, there’s something about that R&B sound that just satisfies, it’s the bridge back to soul and rock and roll, or forwards to punk and/or hard rock – AC/DC aren’t a million miles away.
Funnily enough though the number they all cut loose on the most is the Dylan cover, ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window’, a proper Dylan aficionado’s choice an off-cut from his best period. The Dylan versions I’ve heard sound a bit peremptory but Johnson and Daltrey give it enough roll, to swing with the snark and really sell the song.
Going Back Home is a really good LP maybe just a sliver or two away from greatness. This is music made by real men purely for its’ own sake, because it sounds good and it makes them happy. Nothing here is going to change your life, but it may well remind you just why it’s worth living.
537 Down (Only 1000 to go!).
*his subsequent diagnosis with an incredibly rare variant of pancreatic cancer has meant that it was an operable cancer and he’s still with us, a year after his operation. Hopefully he’ll be able to cash in a little on his recent elevation to national treasure now.
**’She Does It Right’ is one of my favourite songs by anyone, ever. That guitar thrust and cut thrills me more than some axe-wielding, self-styled, guitar hero ever could.
^*Don’t blame me, I inherited my views from my mum.