The story of Wilko Johnson’s last year is an incredible one. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2013, he was told he would have around nine or tenths month left to live. Rather than fight it with chemotherapy Johnson elected to go on a farewell tour of the UK and record one last album with The Who’s Roger Daltrey. Over a year later Johnson is still with us and recently underwent surgery to have the pancreatic tumour removed and in fact there is still a chance he may survive. In that time he did record with Daltrey and Going Back Home is the product of that labour and hit number 3 in the UK album chart.
When most people think of R’N’B the last thing that comes to their mind in this day and age is rhythm and blues. However, Johnson and Daltrey are from an era where R’N’B didn’t mean Beyonce but rather meant Fats Domino and The Yardbirds, musicians who are as influential as you will get (I mean if you are unfamiliar with The Yardbirds just go look at the names that were members of that band at various times and then give yourself a slap for your ignorance). It’s that era of R’N’B that flows through Going Back Home and this is about as classic a sounding British rock and roll album as you are likely to hear this year.
Right from the opening groovy blues filled riffs of “Going Back Home” fans will feel at home with this music. Johnson’s guitar howls like it always has done and Daltrey’s vocals defy his many years. However, where these songs really sparkle is in the song writing. Johnson has been there, got the t-shirt and then spent several years selling the t-shirt to other people who have turned up for a gander and it shows. The former Dr Feelgood man knows how to write a classic rock song and whether it’s the slowed down “Turned 21” with it’s melancholic edge or the funky dance along vibes of “Some Kind of Hero” these are songs that stick in the mind and make you want to come back for more.
Going Back Home doesn’t remake the wheel. In fact it goes back and finds a wheel that’s been left on the shelf for a while, dusts it down and takes it back out for a spin and that’s bloody fantastic to be honest. I think the only people who can lay claim to understand the last year or so of Johnson’s life are those who have been in a similar situation, but in this album he has proven that when it comes to his music it doesn’t really matter. He is a supremely gifted musician and if this does prove to be his final effort, which I’m sure everyone will pray it isn’t, it’s one hell of a way to go out.
For Fans of: Classic R’N’B
Choice Cuts: “Going Back Home”, “Some Kind of Hero”