The early support slot goes to Eight Rounds Rapid, a four piece from Southend-on-Sea, who play snappy, punchy tunes very much in the mould of Dr Feelgood. Good stuff!
It’s been 33 years since the death of Ruts lead singer Malcolm Owen and 3 years since the death of their lead guitarist Paul Fox, both were integral to The Ruts as a band but Ruts DC do what real musicians do and make music regardless. They’ve got a new album “Rhythm Collision Vol 2” (mixed by Prince Fatty, the ubiquitous go to man for all things dub wise) and judging by the songs they play from it tonight they’ve still got the knack for writing incisive and pertinent lyrics melded to music you can definitely skank to. Ruts DC is now made up of lead guitarist Leigh Heggarty, Seamus Beaghen from the Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra on keyboards, Molara singing back up and occasional lead, original drummer Dave Ruffy, and original bassist Segs who also sings lead vocals.
They start with a song about child labourers, set to the trademark punky Reggae sound that I always thought they perfected better than The Clash. Whilst The Clash played reggae with enthusiasm and obvious love for the music, the Ruts always had the drum and bass groove just right. Their very first single “In A Rut” came out on Misty In Roots’ “People Unite” label in 1979 and they clearly learned to play Reggae by playing alongside Reggae musicians. The classic Ruts songs are all aired again, so we get to hear “It Was Cold”, “SUS” (reinvented with a Reggae beat on the new album as a song called “Smiling Culture”, about the events leading up to the death of Smiley Culture), “Staring At The Rude Boys” and “Jah War”, sung by Molara – her powerful vocals giving the song a fresh twist. After this number, she says that even though some of these songs were written over 30 years ago they could have been written today as they apply perfectly to “Cameron and his fuck wits”.
They then launch straight into “West One (Shine on me)” (best Ruts song ever!), a spirited version of “Babylon’s Burning” and finally a rousing version off “In A Rut” to huge applause from the packed venue. I’d go and see them if they were headlining somewhere, but then I’m a lifelong Ruts fan. A perfect blend of Punk attitude and Reggae good vibes.
With quiet dignity and a good deal of humour, Wilko Johnson is making little fuss of his battle with cancer and seems to be taking his current tour dates in his stride. He’s backed by two members of The Blockheads, Dylan Howe on drums and the bass monster himself Mr. Norman Watt-Roy. If you’ve never seen his guitar manner, the jerky walk, wild eyed stare and sideways crab shuffle then there’s plenty of footage of him online. It’s his own unique style, and it fits perfectly with the angular chords he chops out as he thrashes his way through 40 odd years of his career. His guitar sound is quoted as leading the way for all the UK Punk bands who emerged in the 70’s and you can hear exactly why throughout the set. We get plenty of songs from the awesome Dr. Feelgood album “Down by the jetty”, with his take on “Roxette” going down particularly well. Norman is as loose and funky as ever, a perfect bedrock of self assured bass vibes. Dylan Howe is rock solid on drums and the whole thing keeps the crowd moving, nodding, clapping and cheering.
Wilko is in his element tonight and gets a huge round of applause when the show finally ends. A masterclass in raucous R ‘n’ B played with skill and feeling. Great to see him out on the road doing what he’s always done. There’s a quote on Wilko’s website by Elton John, which sums it up perfectly – “He is too busy living life to think about fucking dying!”