Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home

What an inspired coupling! The vocals of Roger Daltrey and the Telecaster guitar of Wilko Johnson. Although both qualify for bus passes these days and are only four years apart in age, fame came to them in different decades, Daltrey idolised at an early age with The Who, while Johnson only came through a decade later with the pre-punk, pub-rocking Dr. Feelgood, who at their height reached number one in the album charts with Stupidity, a live album released in 1976.

38 years later, Johnson may be about to enjoy his second number one album, ‘Going Back Home’, with Roger Daltrey on mic duties instead of the late Lee Brilleaux.

Johnson, rather miraculously, is alive and well (as well as he ever was…), having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer over a year ago. This most efficient and ruthless of diseases, even by the standards of cancer, hasn’t claimed him as yet and in fact seems to have stabilised, allowing Johnson to gig here and there and carry on living his normal existence. Perhaps the combination of impending death and a sudden hit has no doubt left him scratching his bald pate, in wonder at this crazy world.

Recorded at Yellowfish Studios, deep in the Sussex countryside and produced by Manic Street Preachers long-time producer Dave Eringa, Daltrey lets rip, sounding very comfortable in going back to his R&B roots, singing to a batch of songs written by Johnson over the course of his life, many of them consciously and thematically harking back to his young man days, when it seemed that girls were always on ones’ mind… Even the length of the album, a little less than 35 minutes was how it was back in the 60s and 70s golden days of vinyl.

Apparently done in a rush, the album has perhaps benefited from this. There’s nothing better to focus the mind than a time limit and the possibility of death any day. In any case, this is how they both used to record; quickly, with minimal fuss, quick judgements made and very focussed on the job at hand. The result is one of the albums of the year.

Daltrey’s voice was always an acquired taste. But here, his voice is more controlled, deeper, richer and sounding very much like an R&B singer of one of the bands Daltrey would have enjoyed listening to in the early 60s.

Johnson, meanwhile, hasn’t changed his style much over the years, although it is slightly less frantic than in the Dr. Feelgood days. He is 66 after all, but his original percussive plectrum-less rhythm style is as sweet as ever.

The simple guitar, bass and vocal set up is augmented by some splendid keyboard work by Mick Talbot and Steve Weston lets rip on the harmonica here and there.

Lyrically, this is good-time throwaway stuff, the sentiments expressed those of much younger men. The inclusion of Dylan’s ‘Can You Please Crawl Out of Your Window’ only heightens the sense that Johnson was only doing no more than was necessary to complete a song. But no matter, Johnson is recalling the spirit of his youth, doing what he does best and together with Daltrey and a batch of superlative musicians, ‘Going Back Home’ is Home Sweet Home indeed.

Jeff Hemmings