Tall blokes in front of me, blokes with big tummies squeezing past behind me...
Last time they did this they were sylph-like, but no longer; I sucked my own tummy in self-consciously.
The Ruts were already playing Staring at the Rude Boys, their singer Molara powering through in her Ruts t-shirt. The sound was crystal clear and more than did justice to their songs, whose nod to their 1970s origins was perfectly updated to 2013. Dave Ruffy, their brilliant drummer, sings too and the effect was that of complete commitment- and boy, were they well-rehearsed! The bass-lines had that melodic characteristic and particularly came to the fore (or the under-fore?) in the song Shine On Me.
'A lot of these songs are 30 years old but they sound as though they were written about David Cameron' observed Molara. And they did; and when Babylon's Burning drove into the building, the crowd erupted. Jangly chords, the driving bass, that Peer-Gynt-on-the autobahn thing. I wore out my vinyl copy on my tinny Woolworth's stereo; it even sounded good on that. Live, it was incredible!
The band looked absolutely great and the crowd loved them. They could have easily encored, but they had good manners and vacated the stage swiftly and neatly so the technical crew could set up for Wilco's lot.
By this time Chris Carr, who is a gentleman, had hoisted me up out of the crowd and into a box at the side. I watched the change-over with interest. Looking at it all from the middle-aged perspective is so different from being a rookie, I almost think I could mic up a drum-kit myself now. I have been on a big stage and I know what's behind it. What a pity I missed out on the rich and famous bit though!
After a few minutes, the anticipatory yell-chatter increased in volume. Everyone was very excited and the venue seemed to be packed to the gills (or maybe we are all just bigger!). Was it morbid to come along to this?
Not really- I'd heard that he is doing fantastic shows at the moment, and the double-whammy of Wilko Johnson plus the Ruts... well, who could miss that?
And his occasional lapses into misogyny in interviews are balanced out by his amphetamine strut.
In this perhaps I join the black women who get a kick out of listening to Gangsta Rap 'in spite of...'.
I am here not only 'in spite of...', but also: '... because the guy is brilliant'.
Suddenly, he's there: white-faced, black-clad, whacking the sh*t out of his guitar, face in an Essex snarl. He's in great voice and jerking like an automaton.
The feeling from the crowd is touching: they are there in support of an iconic musician of their era, feeding him energy and goodwill with an unusual degree of tenderness from such a lot of blokes (and some Significant Women too).
Same face, same glare; he used to look more ill when he wasn't ill. His sharp, harsh guitar playing is to the forefront in this minimal line-up. Was that the glimmer of a Canvey Island smile I caught between him and Norman Watt Roy, the bass player?
'THANKYU', he barks at the end of each song. He buzzes round the stage like a rock'n'roll bee, attached by a thick coiled red lead to his amplifier. Is it that that is stopping this strange dark rock'n'roll angel from taking off?
Norman mouths the words... 'I'm tired of waiting for her and I'm going back home!
Wilko's guitar: CHAKATA ACHAKATA CHUG!
The audience swells up with love.
WENGACHACKA WENGACHACKA WENGACHACKA WENGACHACKA.. his right hand pulsing up, down, his left gripping the guitar neck. Somehow he is simultaneously relaxed and aggressive. Wilko Johnson is elegant!
In When I Was A Cowboy, the guitar clucks like a demented electric chicken and we nod our heads in affirmation.
'HUYU': the song has ended.
I crane my neck to look at Norman Watt Roy. He's an act in himself. Grey and shiny, he hunches over his bass, singing along in a world of his own and puzzling over the instrument as if someone has placed an elephant in his hands and told him to play it. His rumbling bass lines form the perfect foundation for Wilko's spiky guitar activity. Booble-oop, booble-oop, booble-oop, he rumbles; boom-thwack, boom-thwack, boom-thwack drums Dylan Howe, who is getting younger every day.
'I may be right, I may be wrong...' Wilko machine-guns the crowd, much to our delight.
He is feeling his songs: he breaks off playing occasionally to make a point with his hands.
CLACKA CHUCKA CHUCKA CHAH!
Meanwhile, Norman Watt Roy's hands, enormous and spider like, arch over the bass as his fingers flutter and pluck. One song has shades of Bolan lapping away inside it... which I could remember which one...
In Don't Let Your Daddy Know,Wilko delivers the lyrics to the headstock of his guitar, which he has turned to face him, body nestled into his crotch. He's still playing it. 'I love you', he grimaces and coos to the machineheads, much as an exotic countess would address her miniature Pekingese.
Boy, rock'n'roll sure creates some alien men!
Back in the Night is a mass singalong, sliced up by searing guitar chops.
I'm singing too! What am I?
Not a rock chick... I'm a rock tomboy!
More high-speed Wilco-walking ensues, followed by two encores called for at deafening levels:
Louder than his guitar, even.
He was gracious enough to remember to thank the support bands, and he sang Bye By Johnny so the crowd could say goodbye to him, or rather, roar goodbye.
Wilko Johnson does that proper rock'n'roll thing of simultaneously sending the whole thing up and venerating it; at times his persona is comical, at times powerful and scary; as he always did, he is playing out his defiance, challenging God to take him mid-thrash so he can go out with a BANG!
What a night.