A gentleman on Dr Feelgoods road crew was telling me how even now people come up to him and ask where Wilko is. It seems like the bands star is rising again in some ways. The Film ‘Oil City Confidential’ and the Terminal illness of Wilko Johnson have put the bands name and music back in the spotlight, but what of the men currently behind the name? The eternal pub rockers were back in Bonn on Sunday.
Dr Feelgood are a conundrum to me. A part of me says that without the twin driving egos of Wilko and vocalist Lee Brilleaux this isn’t really THE Dr Feelgood and could never be as good. A thought that I had, even as I caught the band in the 80’s at Portsmouth Polytechnic when Brilleaux at least was still the main man. Having got to The Harmonie early on Sunday I managed to get a few words with bassman Phil Mitchell and discovered that the last link with Dr Feelgood mark I, drummer John Martin, has fallen victim to that plague of the seasoned rock musician Tinnitus. So is this really a cover band I hear you say?
If you take a quick Wiki peak at the Feelgoods history it’s rather amazing to discover that most of the current line-up has actually been together longer than a good many other bands. The fore-mentioned Phil Mitchell joined in 1983. Guitarist Steve Walwyn in 1989 (after a stint with Steve Marriotts band) and ‘baby’ of the regular line-up Robert Kane first unpacked his Hohner special 20’s in 1999 to replace Pete Gage who had spent five years in the unenviable bootsteps of the magnificent Lee Brilleaux. In short, a little over twenty years after Brilleaux’ tragic death, and a good many more after Wilko left, the name Dr Feelgood is still synonymous with solid good time RnB and THAT is down to THESE guys onstage THIS evening.
If there was ever a likelihood of the present line-up making a new studio album it probably never got past the stage of a momentary thought. I have no doubt they could come up with some great RnB tunes in the Dr Feelgood mould – but what would be the point?
This evenings show is the first date of a short German tour and only the second time Wayne Bronze has sat in on drums. Not that you would have known it if Robert Kane hadn’t pointed it out. He looks like he’s been there all his life as opposed to the man he’s replacing who really had been. Bronze has a melancholic face that shows little in the way of emotion, and a pair of drum-sticks planted firmly either side of his trouser waistband for instant mid-song access. He really gets to start from the very beginning too as the band kick off with ‘The first song Dr Feelgood ever sang’ as Kane recalls ‘I Can Tell’ and I CAN tell too that it’s going to be a fine night of music because these guys look like there bursting to play.
You don’t need me to tell you what exactly they played – you’ll know for the most part even if your last gig with them was in the late 70’s. Steve Walwyn plays a Fender as Wilko did but he doesn’t play it LIKE Wilko did. Which is not a condemnation. Walwyn’s chords aren’t as chunky as Wilko’s but he sure doesn’t lack power. At times I found myself looking for his footpedals – to no avail, he gets those sounds with his powerful hands – sleeves rolled up in advance of the effort. ’Roxette’, ‘She Does it Right’, Going Back Home’, all great songs of course. These guys may not be the youngest but they can teach the kids a thing or two (I remember last years show here with Jimmy Bowskill supporting when they just plugged in, played, and were every bit as powerful as the excellent Bowskill.
Those invisible Walwyn foot pedals were put to good use especially on ‘Jetty Blues’ and I loved the slide work on the classic ‘Rollin and Tumblin’.
Robert Kane is still the consummate showman with bulging eyes, shuffling dances and rasping harp runs. Phil Mitchell is looking amiable as ever so I spend the second half of the show down his side of the stage watching the banter and smiles that make Dr Feelgood special. Robert Kane described it in an interview once as the bands ‘edge’ and he’s right. There’s a ‘here and now’ about everything they do. Those meaty bass riffs from Mitchells ’65 Fender Precision bass are as timeless as the battered speaker cabinets it’s plugged into.
As usual we’re at‘ Boney Maroney’ before we know it, and as it’s the encore, for most bands that would be that. The Feelgoods though are back to play requests and get one from the front row. “This one’s for Horst” calls out Kane and launches into a furious ‘Route 66’, waving the mike stand menacingly out into the dancing masses in front of him.
Three years ago I caught John Martin after the show to ask why he still does it after fourty years “Cos I love it!” was his instant reply (see review HERE ) . This time around I put the question to Steve Walwyn and not surprisingly get the same reply. ‘Loving it’ wasn’t enough to keep The Big Figure on the drum stool though and I can’t help but wonder how much longer these Doctors will be in business. Hopefully music will long be the medicine both for and from Dr Feelgood.