The Johnnys, a leaner trio after the recent sad loss of Spencer P Jones, still gave a rollicking pogo down the “cow punk” road of yesteryear, and the packed house whooped and hollered their way through one of the most fun sets I have seen for quite some time.
It was The Bads who kicked off the evening as the punters came in dribs and drabs with their cowboy hats and spurs on. It was a neat and tight acoustic set with the usual suspects, Dianne Swann and Brett Adams, leading the charge. They were joined by the multi instrumentalist Dave Kahn, who really bought their songs alive with his frantic fiddle and mandolin contributions. Dave lifted the set and seemed to encourage, if not challenge, Brett and Dianne to lift the pace just a little... which made the songs come to life a little bit more. Kicking off with the gentle plucking of the mandolin, Fly Together off Travel Light saw Brett and Dianne harmonising sweetly, and their style of indie folk pop was delivered to their normal high standard.
It was a bit of a tough crowd at the beginning. Paying attention to what was happening on stage was at times challenging. But, as the room filled up and the audience shuffled their way closer to the stage, things started to warm up nicely with Losing Heroes, the song of the set for me. Off their 2017 album of the same title, it was a nice tip of the hat to Kiwi legends that have passed, calling out Graeme Brazier and Dave McCartney as key influences that are still with them today.
The last song of the set Helensville off the 2008 album So Alive finally got the crowd slapping their thighs reminiscent of the magic that Johnny Cash and June Carter once had and a nice close of the opening set.
After a short break and a run to the bar, The Johnnys climbed up on stage with beers in hand. Bass player Graham Hood greeted all the 'passengers' with the bravado you would expect from three boys looking for a little fun tonight. Then with everybody on board, the Johnnys’ steam train took off with Way of the West off their album Highlights of a Dangerous Life. A frantic ride through the wild west and a track that set the scene for the rest of the night.
The band – comprising Kiwi-born Graham Hood (bass and vocals), Slim Doherty (guitar) and Billy Pommer Jr (drums) started as they meant to go on. There was nothing tight about their playing but that didn’t matter one bit. These boys were full of energy and a vibe that was contagious throughout the whole saloon. It reminded me just why these boys were quite a revelation in the mid 80s.
The band formed in Sydney back in 1982 when the original line up was Hood, Pommer and lead guitarist Roddy Ray’Da who was also with the Hoodoo Gurus at the time. Spencer P Jones joined the line-up and they released their first single Think You’re Cute not long after. While their flame didn’t burn too long, they made a huge impression live across the ditch and here in NZ during the mid to late 80s in watering holes like Gluepot, Warners, and even down in the deep south where my mate Timbo saw them play at the New Field Tavern. A gig to this day, he still says, was his finest.
Taking a breath through the tracks, there were plenty of story telling and fond memoires of past band members, and live gigs. Hood told a brilliant ditty about his walk through Ateoa Square while coming to the gig tonight. A young lady came up to him and said “You are famous aren’t’ you?” A little taken back and impressed she knew the band... he was quietly stoked however when she said, "you are famous aren’t you cause' you are one of the Topp Twins!” He was funny as... but to be honest, in that light, there would have been more than just a passing likeness I suspect.
The Johnnys’ intention from the start was to have fun and they played with vigour and an intensity that you just couldn’t help find yourself being pulled into. The tracks kept coming with Move It, the 1958 hit by Cliff Richards, given special rockabilly attention and just a smashing song that got everyone dancing and singing along. The hits kept coming with Hood yelling out as they tore through Showdown, InJun Joe, Green Back Dollar, and the Edge of Death which off the album sounded like it could have come off a Hoodoo Gurus album.
Anything Could Happen was the real surprise of the night. Originally released by The Clean, The Johnnys released their version at the latter end of their career as a single and it sounded just as good as the original. I’m sure Dave Kilgour would have been impressed.
The ride drew to a close too soon for most… and before we knew it, the song I trust many came to hear was delivered in the traditional rustic style that it deserved. Bleeding Heart had always been my favourite Johnnys track and has travelled with me ever since I saw it on Radio with Pictures. A wonderful throbbing driving bass and sneering vocals makes it just a brilliant song and the sing-along chorus “ Darlin, listen, we will cut the others down to size, there’s something that they are missing behind the armour of your eyes” works perfectly.
The usual encore was short and rightly delivered with two songs… the best being Mountain Man causing almost a stampede.
The night wasn’t just a nostalgic trip for the old cowboys and cowgirls… there was another generation or two that came to hear what all the fuss was about and looking around the ranch, it seemed they enjoyed it as much as the old hands and that, my friends, is what great live music is all about.
More highlights from the show can be found in our photograph gallery further below.