Page 32 - the Noise July 2017
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WILKO JOHNSON I Keep It To Myself – The Best Of (UMC)
Wilko Johnson is unquestionably a musician of vital importance. His musical fingerprints and influence are wide and plentiful. His back to basics rhythm and blues band Dr. Feelgood in the early ‘70s almost single handedly pioneered the London pub rock scene, and refocused how music was perceived. It also did a great job of kicking over the ‘70s pomp between “pop star” and audience. Pub rock also primed the musical landscape for the fledgling punk rock movement. Many of the UK’s major players on the punk rock scene attribute Wilko and Dr. Feelgood as a guiding light, in particular Joe Strummer (The Clash) and Paul Weller (The Jam), both of whom have early works based in the raw R’n’B style that Dr. Feelgood excelled in.
Hailing from Canvey Island, a dislocated and desolate reclaimed Island in the dirty Thames Estuary, toughened the Feelgood’s sound, leaving many edges raw and intact. Wilko’s guitar style, from a technical aspect, is equal parts bizarre and brilliant and is stunning to witness. Highly percussive and without the aid of a pick, Johnson manages to play both rhythm and lead at the same time while doing his trademark “duck walk.” And in the early days of the Dr. Feelgood more often than not his technique was also accompanied by a bulging-eye am- phetamine fueled grimace. It’s most entertaining, visibly visceral, and certainly worth a few minutes of your time on YouTube to witness the magic of Johnson in full flow.
This double CD is a wonderful romp through a rich back catalog spanning the last 4 de- cades. All the songs appear to be re-recorded with his current simple 3 piece band. I’m not sure the reasoning behind this, but it does add to the continuity and flow of the songs. Wilko’s choppy Telecaster guitar is center stage throughout the proceedings. The first CD kicks off with several of Dr. Feelgood’s notable classics. The much loved “Roxette” and “She Does It Right” are both perfect examples of Wilko’s guitar style. Slightly slower pace than the original recordings, with Johnson’s vocals a little anemic compared to guttural blues-bark of original Feelgood vocalist Lee Brilleaux. However, I am more than happy to give Wilko a free pass, as he wrote the darn songs in the first place after all!
Wilko’s passion for the history of R’n’B and rock and roll is apparent, and is why there is so much joy in listening to these songs. There are many covers included on the 2 disc set which is keeping with the tradition and rites of passage for most aspiring bluesmen. Wilko is no ex- ception to the rule and it’s a testament to his dedication to the blues masters he idolizes that lines are blurred when regarding the authenticity of Wilko’s original songs and the covers he chooses. It’s hard to tell the originals and covers apart. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter when listening to music of this caliber.
The only part of Wilko’s fascinating career that isn’t covered on this set is his time as guitar- istintheearly‘80swithIanDuryandtheBlockheads.JohnsonplayedonacoupleofDury’s biggest hits such as “I Want to Be Straight” and “Superman’s Big Sister,” and was an integral part of the Ian Dury live experience during his time with the band.
In 2013 Wilko was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He refused all treatment at the time, instead opting to grab his guitar and head out on a world tour whilst he was still able. It’s a testament to the healing powers of Rock and Roll that Wilko Johnson is still with us 4 years later and still playing shows worldwide.
VISUAL VINYL by Harry Prenger & Heerlen Schunk (DruckVerlag Kettler)
Art and music have historically always made great bedfellows. Back in the glory days of vinyl, before the necessary downsizing of artwork from a 12-inch LP jacket to a 5-inch square CD booklet, the art of the vinyl record sleeve was an important artistic endeavor. It was a consideration often as vital as the music itself. And let’s face it, iconic images such as Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band look a tad ridiculous reduced down to tiny CD sleeve. This lofty coffee table book examines all genres of music and artist approaches, and is beautifully assembled. It’s clearly a labor of love. It is a serious collection with an emphasis on the art of inspired record sleeves.
There are many standout works contained within the 232 pages. There is a focus on Ray- mond Pettibon, who’s very distinctive black and white pen drawings adorned many hard- core punk record sleeves throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s including bands such as OFF, Sonic Youth, and Black Flag, to name but a few. Pettibon also gives a very rare somewhat blunt and illuminating interview, where he talks at length and in detail about the art of the jacket, his time as in-house artist with SST Records (influential US hardcore punk label), why he choose to work primarily with only black and white images, and also how he came up with the US punk band Black Flag’s highly iconic band logo.
There are also fascinating freaks of packaging, such as for the German Avant minimalist band Die Todlich Doris. Their included artwork by Wolfgang Müller (1983) fascinates me in that I only have a very basic understanding of what the packing actually is. It appears to be box set including 8 tiny miniphon color records, 2 inches in diameter, that play on a tiny player built into the inside of the box. So the art and packaging serve as the only means to play the music within. This is a concept that appeals to me greatly.
I also took delight with the destructive nature of some of the artwork. Record Without a Cover by Christian Marclay (1985), was just that. A single sided picture disc, with text-based artwork distributed without a sleeve, with the specific instructions on the record itself: “Do Not Place in a Protective Sleeve.” Such a delicious intent to purposely compromise the playing surface.
Another Christian Marclay piece included in the book is Footsteps (1989). Footsteps is com- prised of 3,500 records placed as a floor covering in a German art museum. The general pub- lic was encouraged to walk over the discs, damaging the playing surface. The chipped and scuffed records were then included in a box-set release, often leaving only fragments of the playable area intact. A fascinating concept.
Elsewhere there are more traditional art based designs, with a focus on different packag- ing materials, such as the instantly recognizable Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground Peel Slowly And See banana LP sleeve. There are also works by many other art superstars such as Salvador Dali, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jean-Michel Basquait, rubbing shoulders with un- known DIY aspiring amateurs.
In these desktop days where anyone with Photoshop is suddenly an overnight graphic designer, it’s pleasing to consider this wonderful and insightful collection. It will appeal to many fans of popular culture, as well as serving as an inspiration for many new bands’ art direction.
32 • JULY 2017 | the NOISE arts & news |

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