Wilko Johnson live at the William’s Green Stage, Glastonbury Festival, 25th June 2015

Live Performance

Setlist:

1. All Right
2. Barbed Wire Blues
3. Unknown
4. Unknown
5. Unknown [1]

The second day at Glastonbury is when the fun starts to get interesting. A few familiar acts start to pop up and by and large nobody has a 50 minute pilgrimage with a 40kg weight strapped to their back to kick-off the day.

Our first act of the day was Wilko Johnson on the William’s Green Stage. It was a short set (about 30 minutes) followed by a long interview (about 30 minutes) followed by an exclusive screening of the new Julien Temple documentary The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson.

I’m largely unfamiliar with Wilko’s music but the set gave me a flavour of what he’s about. I’ve seen many bad versions of this band in pubs across the country on a Friday night, playing vintage 12-bar-blues to an older audience. We drink ale, they play music. It’s a great night even though the band aren’t always great. Well, imagine how much fun you’d have if the band were actually really top quality. This is what you get from Wilko Johnson.

The first thing you notice when watching Wilko Johnson is that he has thunderously focused eyes. It brings an intensity to the music I can’t quite describe. Whilst doing that, he’s also carrying his Fender Telecaster like it’s a machine gun. It’s wholly intimidating. [2]

Those unfamiliar with his music might be more familiar with his role in Game of Thrones as the executioner Ilyn Payne. He wasn’t in many episodes but when you see his eyes on stage it instantly brings it back. You can see why he was cast.

So there you have it. Instead of reviewing his gig all I’ve done is talk about his eyes, the machine gun guitar technique and Game of Thrones. Oh how the true Wilko fans will be fuming. It was a brilliant gig though, it has to be said. I’m hoping I get to see the band in a full set soon.

Wilko and Julien speak in the pre-screening Q&A

Wilko and Julien speak in the pre-screening Q&A

Film + Q&A

Prior to the film was an extended interview with Wilko, Julien Temple and Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian. Wilko stated early on that he isn’t a fan of seeing footage of himself, so seeing a film based entirely on himself would be hard work to watch.

The film is ostensibly about Wilko’s battle with cancer as he was given ten months to live. It covers this period, then goes on to what he describes as “extra time” and then his miraculous recovery following some radical treatment.

He talked in the Q&A about the difference between being told you have cancer and being told you have the all-clear. “You go and see the doctor and he says you have cancer and, like that, the universe changes. You go back after a year and they give you the all-clear and it’s not instant at all. I had an 11-hour operation to remove a 3.5kg tumour from my stomach… and then weeks of recuperation with post-operative-infections. So I had time to feel sorry for myself.” Of course, when he announces he’s all-clear, the crowd erupts in joy and applause.

Speaking on the album he did with The Who’s Roger Daltrey, Wilko was in a reflective mood: “I think of all the things I did that year. I was in a bubble. Doing the record with Roger was just one of the many strange things that happened to me that year. It was the first thing I’d done in “extra time”. I was walking around outside the studio thinking ‘this is going to be the last thing I do, this is freaky, I’m going to die soon'”.

He also spoke humorously about the fact he never got his coffee from a backstage assistant, and reflected that he was looking forward to the end but now has to keep gigging because people keep coming back for more.

This mixture of lighthearted humour with honest reflection is indicative of the tone of the film, which is far more than just a rockumentary on a band’s final tour. It is in fact a hugely emotional journey and a fascinating insight into people battling with terminal illness. It’s well worth watching when it appears later this year.

[1] Can anyone help me with these?
[2] After you’ve finished absorbing the awesomeness of Wilko himself, you may find yourself drawn to the equally bizarre bassist Norman Watt-Roy. He’s unique.
[Note] Massive thanks to Scott Wetherill for the video. Hope you’re okay with me using it! Let me know if not.

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Glastonbury Day Two: Wilko Johnson, Beans on Toast, Elle and the Pocket Belles, Silent Disco

The second day at Glastonbury is when the fun starts to get interesting. A few familiar acts start to pop up and by and by and nobody has a 50 minute pilgrimage with a 40kg weight strapped to their back to kick off the day.

  
Our first act of the day was Wilko Johnson on the William’s Green Stage. It was a short set (about 30 minutes) followed by a long interview (about 30 minutes) followed by an exclusive screening of the new Julien Temple documentary The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson, ostensibly about Wilko’s battle with cancer as he was given ten months to live. It covers this period, then goes on to what he describes as “extra time” and then his miraculous recovery following some radical treatment. The film was a fantastic introduction to Wilko’s music (admittedly I’m not overly familiar with it) and a fascinating insight into people battling with terminal illness. Well worth watching when it appears later this year.

Later on we caught a bit of Elle and the Pocket Belles at Avalon Café. Their set was the perfect way to see in the sunny evening as they nailed a series of popular tunes with their own style of blended vocals and punchy brass backing. I think they’re playing elsewhere over the weekend so I’m hoping to bump into them again.

Beans on Toast was next on the Hell Stage in Shangri-La. It was heaving and it was obviously a hot ticket but it didn’t really resonate with me. It’s and act that has become a frequent performer at festivals though and if you like political statements in humorous song form then maybe you’ll be more inspired.

The evening became a bit of a blur after this, though I do recall dancing to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” in the Park Silent Disco in the early hours of the morning. It would have been rude not to. 

Glastonbury Day One: Driving, Walking, Camping, Blade Runner

Well, I’ve made it through the first day of Glastonbury festival. Wednesday is always a day full of excitement – the long drive down from the East Midlands, the epic walk from the car park to the camp site (it only took 50 minutes this year!), putting up a tent that I haven’t looked at since the last festival I was at, finding my friends and heading out to explore. It feels like work but it’s worth it knowing a weekend of fun is just around the corner.

Something I always forget about when I come to Glastonbury is the sheer vastness of it all. I will always say “It’s way bigger than any other festival”, but it’s still pleasantly shocking when you actually get here. It dwarves every other festival I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a huge amount across Europe over the last 15 years. The Park area, for example, is about the same size as V Festival and is home to only the fourth biggest stage of the festival and a handful of other stages and tents.

There’s never a shortage of things to do or places to visit, even on what is essentially an arrival and aclimbatisation day. We spent some time in a small tent listening to a few bands, which was a nice start to the musical fun around the corner.

You can’t fear getting a good meal either – there are hundreds of stalls to try and they’re all reasonably priced. Drinks aren’t over pricey either and you can take your own anywhere you want, unlike most other festivals.

  
I spent a portion of the evening at the cinema tent watching one of my favourite films – Blade Runner: The Final Cut. The perfect way to round off the evening. I actually watched it a few weeks ago and had a review pending, which you can find here.

The vibe is something of a loving community that just wants to have a great time, which is what truly sets it apart from other festivals. It’s awesome to be back here and I can’t wait for the fun to really start tomorrow.