It’s fair to say that the music world owes a lot to Wilko Johnson. His unique and exciting style of guitar playing has inspired many ever since he first stepped on to a stage, and without the renowned Dr Feelgood, punk rock wouldn’t have happened and neither would everything after it. In early 2013, Wilko was diagnosed with terminal pancreas cancer, and given ten months to live. The guitar icon says a euphoria overcame him after hearing the news. He embarked on a farewell tour, but as the months passed, found he had no reason to slow down. “I did think this year would be a tapering-down, but the plan is to just keep going until it hits me. I was supposed to have been dead in October… I just don’t know how long I’m going to live.”
Johnson and Who legend Roger Daltrey discussed working together several years ago, and eventually got together to record in November last year. Taking not so much a walk but a buoyant lap of honour down memory lane, the fantastic ‘Going Back Home’ serves up 12 brusque rhythm and blues selections from Johnson’s back catalogue. Beginning with the upbeat strut of the title track, and the no-nonsense choppy riffs of ‘Ice On The Motorway’, the listener is taken on a most enjoyable ride. Following ‘I Keep It To Myself”s highly infectious rock n roll kicks, a cover of Dylan‘s ‘Please Crawl Out Your Window’ injects plenty of extra bite and uplifting power to the original, while a poignant ‘Turned 21’ provides the record with a moment of inevitably moving reflection.
But despite the circumstances, this album doesn’t deal with sentimentality, it’s a celebration of being alive that’s only concerned with living for the moment. Johnson’s a man who isn’t going out with a whimper. This is apparent from the superb licks he deals out on ‘Keep On Loving You’ and the addictive Feelgood vibes of a brilliantly arranged ‘Some Kind Of Hero’. The tough swagger of ‘Sneaking Suspicion’ couples staccato riffing with the tremendous sound of Daltrey at full throat, while it’s hard not to marvel at that guitar sound on ‘Keep It Out Of Sight’, something only Wilko Johnson could be responsible for. After ‘Everybody’s Carrying A Gun’ proves impossible not to move to, the raucous ‘All Through The City’ rounds things off with a resonant blast of energy.
While Daltrey’s vocals are powerful and spot on, it’s Johnson who steals the show as he genuinely gets stuck into each riff like it’s the last he’ll ever play, a man giving it his all while he’s still on this planet to dish it out. The arrangements are top notch too, the pair backed by an impressive group including a couple of members of The Blockheads, as well as Mick Talbot on organ. Perhaps it would have been nice to get some newly written material, but it matters not when these veterans have delivered a fine record such as this. Nostalgic, but never sad or dejected, ‘Going Back Home’ turns out to be a fun, invigorating testimonial.
We know it’s only a matter of time before he leaves us, but we can at least be happy that he’s going to be leaving us with this. And his influence? Well, that’s never going to be leaving us. Cheers, Wilko. [Rating: 4]