Wilko Johnson / John Otway / Chris Stuckey Band

The Corn Exchange, Exeter on Fri 27th Nov 2009

Another blustery night temporarily subdued itself as we made our way to The Corn Exchange in Exeter's city centre. Although I had been to the venue before in its previous incarnation as St George's Hall, I'd never seen a band at this venue before, it had been the domain of quiz nights and Christmas parties for me usually.

The venue was upstairs and had sofas and tables in front of the bar, ale was £2.50 a pint at the Council run establishment, which had the feel of a social club but with nicer decor. There were very few people in the room when we arrive and I assumed the place was empty. Suddenly the sound of local rock guitarist, and sometimes Rory Gallagher tribute act, Chris Stuckey and his band thumped through the wall, and on entering the wooden floored room next door it was clear there are much more music fans here in the large school hall like room.

Stuckey delivered straight shot, well-worked guitar driven rock n roll, with some well written songs. However, John Otway was in the bar and so I go over to see him rather than take in much of the Exmouth trio. Otway was trying to decide which of his 20+ songlist he would play in his short set. Stuckey’s final song 'Never Going Back' had an intricate guitar hooked rock groove and warmed us up nicely, as the venue filled up even more. The sound system in The Corn Exchange was impressive and the instruments all perfectly clear audibly, we were clearly in for a good night.

The lights come up completely between the acts, which I thought was a bit weird. As they dimmed again a lithe John Otway walked out on stage with an infectious grin, and opened with his "big hit" 'Really Free'. Following that with the b-side that sold just as many copies. Also the 7th favourite lyric of all time as voted by the public recently - the excellently delivered 'Beware Of The Flowers'.

John Otway

The banter between the humorous songs was as good as the exuberantly delivered songs themselves, and the crowd were in stitches. The man is a legend, and one of this country’s finest unsung musical heroes. A double headed guitar is exhibited for the old Sweet song 'Block Buster'. Otway linked each song to Exeter, at times precariously, but even a slightly thin reference was amusing. 'Louisa On A Horse' was almost slapstick in delivery with his Blue Peter made hands free, coat-hanger version of a Madonna styled head microphone, the routine had us in stitches.

The terrific 'Body Talk' with drum effects courtesy of drum pads stuck over his body and with added etherwave-theremin accompaniment was both an original classic and entertaining. Throughout Otway threw himself about on stage and it was amazing he didn't do himself an injury.

The charming eccentric told us that at nine years old he wanted to be a pop star but thought it beyond his reach until he saw Bob Dylan and thought, "I can do that". He certainly can and with much more energy, his version of 'House Of The Rising Sun' had the crowd singing the heckled parts (as is traditional), and clearly there were a lot of his fans in the crowd.

Otway displayed his punk rock roots with a blistering 'Rumplestiltskin', before ending with a triumvirate of 'You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet', the Osmonds' song (a theramin heavy) 'Crazy Horses', and ended with 'Headbutts'. I'd not seen him in a few years but he was as entertaining as ever, and the highlight of the night for me. Jokes, amusing anecdotes, musical genius, acrobatics, singalong moments, lively 'built in' heckling, and well written one of a kind songs, what more could you ask for?

John Otway

Well the night wasn't over, so we'd clearly asked for some jaw droppingly accomplished musicians in the form of Wilko Johnson and band. Back when rock'n'roll was pre-punk Dr Feelgood shook it up and it was their guitarist Wilko Johnson who was their driving force. Wilko was joined on stage by the incredible bass playing of Norman Watt-Roy (from Ian Dury & the Blockheads), and Dylan Howe, the current Blockheads' percussionist and son of Yes guitarist Steve Howe.

I'd not seen Wilko before, as I was mainly there to see Otway, they might not be top of the table on pretty boy looks, (it's more a case of Addams Family relatives), but they make more sound than is surely possible from a trio. The music they generate tonight was terrific. The audience were enjoying their dirty upbeat rock/blues is mainly middle aged, and I wonder if you have to reach a certain age to appreciate their sound which oozes class, a bit like a taste for olives or ale. Wilko made it look effortless as the crowd get dancing (proper dancing not foot tapping or leaping about), to a host of classic Feelgood tunes like 'Roxette', and 'Paradise'.

Wilko Johnson

My original impression was that drummer Howe was under par, but he grew in stature as he drove the rhythm on through 'Wooly Bully' and seventies written (but still sounding timeless) 'Back In The Night' with the blues never quite reaching self-indulgency or losing its way we were captivated. 'She Does It Right' is proper old school rock and left us wanting more. The band didn't engage us much between tracks, but they didn't need to, the music does the talking, and their faces were awash with concentration as they got the most from their respective instruments.

The encore had more expertise flourished with the Johnny B Goode reworking of 'Bye Bye Johnny' with an almost Hawaiian guitar feel with decent mood lighting. It exuded a lovely warm feeling from the speakers and merged into a protracted dizzying finger work out with Wilko repeating, "train coming down the line' over and over into the night.

A terrific, if unexpected on my part, night of music had been delivered by some of the UK's greatest musical elder statesmen. Some of those modern indie bands need to see this powerful stuff to see how it should be done, if they want a career with as much longevity as these musicians have had.

Wilko Johnson

article by: Scott Williams

photos by: Karen Williams

published: 01/12/2009 16:34


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