In Conversation with Living Legend Wilko Johnson

In Conversation with Living Legend Wilko Johnson


In Conversation with Living Legend Wilko Johnson


Having the opportunity to interview Wilko Johnson a genuine music icon and living legend was a little daunting and so exciting. Liz at Bluesdoodles, a fan of Dr Feelgood since her younger days. Ponder what he younger self would think about her chance to speak with Wilko. As Liz dialed the number she will openly admit how nervous she felt. Was this justified? No It was Not! Wilko answered the phone I took a deep breath and introduced myself with warmth in his voice and a feeling that he had all the time in the world to chat, whilst knowing there had been people before and a long list over the rest of the day. The often laughing Wilko shared his thoughts, experiences of being Alive and surviving cancer and much more. As he approaches seventy the blues flame still burns bright and true.  With twenty minutes and the clock ticking down the first question was asked:-

BD: What were your first musical influences growing up in Canvey Island?
It was the beginning of the swinging sixties of course. It was the electric guitar, I had seen one at school; liked the look of them. I was fascinated by the springs, knobs and I fancied myself playing one. Yea I wanted one, so the next Christmas I suppose I had a cheap electric guitar and started to play. I did not know much music at the time.  It was time of The Beatles and Rolling Stones through them got interested in American Rn’B that was influencing them. Johnny Kidd & The Pirates I thought the guitar sounded interesting, I want to play like Mick Green, play the blues. I was also listening to Chess Records, the likes of Chuck Berry Bo Diddley Muddy Waters hearing the blues opened a new world for me while still trying to copy Johnny Kidd. I couldn’t do it but ended up developing my style as I continued with the twanging through my teenage years.

Then university and I forgot all about the guitar. Four years went by.  and I bumped into Lee Brilleaux he said he was forming a band so Dr Feelgood was formed with me trying to play like Mick Green, playing the blues. Playing in London in the early seventies we were creating bit of a scene we had no multiple keyboards or light shows, we didn’t wear cloaks or dresses we just played good basic music. Lots of people were watching and a year later punk emerged. Dr Feelgood was influential in creating the sound that became Punk. I stumbled into music really.

BD: That leads neatly on to – The sound you make from your Fender is distinctive and instantly recognisable as Wilko. How do you achieve this on your signature Telecaster?

WJ: Yes, I do now have a signature telecaster. I am a great believer in standard and straightforward approach. There a great players who use pedals. Sometimes though, great things can interrupt the sound and you have to operate them with that tip-toe action on the pedal board. Just not for me and you have to stay on one spot too long! The signature guitar is based on the bog stand Fender Telecaster as my first guitar. Everything I do is straight forward, not technical it is skiffling. It [guitar sound] does what it does. From an early age I learnt from Chuck Berry not just about playing the guitar but as important to move about putting some action into it. The silly walk is part of the music rather than a technical 12 bar solo.

 BD: Turning 70, celebrating life and a gig at The Royal Albert Hall. Did you think you would be performing In Conversation with Living Legend Wilko Johnsonthere when playing at venues such as The Nag’s Head in High Wycombe? Which sadly like so many venues of our youth are closed now

WJ: I never did think about playing large venues. Times change, venues close have to accept it. Playing The Royal Albert Hall the last three to four years have been so crazy. Nothing surprises me anymore. I was given ten months to live that led to a fantastic year. Mad things happen in the year you are dying. Roger Daltrey, says let’s make an album. I thought I will never see the release of this album. But the last thing that I have done is an album with Roger Daltrey has to be a good result that was consoling It was very successful, bestselling I have ever had. It was made in eight days and best of all I saw it released.

Doctors in Cambridge, said they could operate, and they did more than a year after I was certain I was going to die. The tumour was the size of a melon weighing over 3 kilos, they opened me up lifted it out of me. Few days after the operation the surgeon Mr Huguet came with the results from the Lab along with the tumour, half my stomach, gut and pancreas every trace of cancer had gone. They had cured me. It was a strange old moment. Mr Huguet is a hero, super human to me, he is such a nice guy we are on first name terms but he will always be Mr Huguet to me.

 BD: How has the experience of living through the diagnosis, farewell tour and then operation and back in the world of the living effected your approach to music, performances and life in general?

WJ: During my farewell tour the year I was dying the audience all knew what was going on and there was a real closeness with the audience. I knew that I couldn’t change anything that had happened in the past and there was no future so there was only the moment. I could play my music in the moment not worried about what people thought it was such a strong feeling and I lived to tell the tale.

I hope that I can take this into the future. You have lots of profound insights when facing death I think I learnt some wisdom’s and hopefully retained them. I will not be such a prat as I used to be. I know how to play relaxed doing it in the now. Not thinking about it. In The Dr Feelgood days, we were so considered about we got to get it right, worrying what will the papers say. Now just play Rock n’ Roll all that matters is the moment.

BD: What are your plans once celebrating 70 fades away? New Record?

Yes lots of plans, in fact been in the studio this week, looking at what we have got. New album after our summer gigs. I would like to get going straight away. I love playing again have so many ideas. After the operation it took a while to get playing again up to scratch. I had not touched a guitar for a year, few more gigs to do, Royal Albert Hall, tour of Japan it is wonderful just being able to stand up and be capable of playing the guitar again.

BD: How does it feel to have been described as the best thing to have come out of Essex since the Peasants revolt??

WJ: Wat Tyler has definitely left a footprint on history more clearly than me. When Dr Feelgood started to be got known we made a lot of being Essex boys out of Canvey Island.  Canvey Island not been that famous since the Great Floods of 1953. There is no argument that Canvey Island have lots of reasons to be proud of us. They should definitely name a road after Lee Brilleaux – Lee Brilleaux Boulevard has a nice ring to it.

BD: If you were putting together the perfect band with members from across the years (dead or alive) who would you have playing
WJ: So many favourite guitarists and their playing would definitely show me up! I have to say without sounding this is a rubbish answer it has to be my guys who I am playing with at the moment. They are the business Dylan Howe on drums and Norman Watt-Roy on Bass.

BD: The time flew by, it was a fun twenty minutes of my life.

Let the music do the talking:
Wilko Johnson en el Teatro Apolo de Barcelona – “The More I Give”

In Conversation with Living Legend Wilko Johnson

HRH Turning Sheffield Weekend Blue

HRH Turning Sheffield Weekend Blue

HRH Turning Sheffield Weekend Blue

This was a weekend where the colour blue was stretched and melded with a range of musical shades. From Deep hard rock blues through to Texan clear blue skies and the British Royal Blue of blues taking everyone back to the 60’s British Blues revolution. The music was fantastic from the opening act Sugarman Sam & The Voodoo Men through to the closing notes of Dr Feelgood.
HRH Blues ensured that music was the thread that bound the sold-out crowd in the O2 Academy over the weekend. The outside may have been bright April sunshine inside we left that reality, it was dark and the stage lights beckoned. What didn’t excite and beckon was the price of the beer, resulting in people stepping outside the festival to sample the ales in town that were more affordable. I and many who I spoke to would have liked coffee and some food to eat the schedule was packed so going out of the venue for food and beverage ate into the time you wanted to be listening to the bands live. With these irritations set-aside the weekend was about the fabulous music.

The opening set confirmed this was a blues weekend, Sugarman Sam and The Voodoo Men delivered blues that appeals and on the back of winning a slot on the main stage of Skegness 2017 he has the confidence and the desired swagger to deliver. This they did with a mix of classics and their own tunes including Coming Home off their EP. How to follow that lets have a duo drum and guitar the Welsh wizardry of Henry’s Funeral Shoe delivered a festival set that excited especially people who haven’t seen the antics and heavy blues they deliver with showmanship. Slipped between some of the acts were the ‘unplugged’ sessions on a small stage upstairs; the first of these showcasings was The Dirty Thrills. The sound was interesting and certainly whetted the appetite and anticipation for the full festival set later in the afternoon. For this the drum kit became a Cahon, the guitar acoustic slide, bass and vocals. First of the weekend trio’s was next on the main festival stage. The Mudcat Blues Trio were a young band, and delivered an energetic set of authentic blues. The difference being the drummer was the vocalist, this local Sheffield band kept the blues pure and the festival tempo growing. Then two more unplugged sessions, an introduction and a promise of what was to come with Pig Iron including the first harmonica of the weekend; followed by Sam sugared and with his voodoo spin stripped down and it really worked. Sam’s vocals were reminiscent of a young Tommy Allen. The unplugged sets work giving an insight into the base-line of the main stage act.

The turnaround time of the main stage was kept to a minimum throughout the weekend. Now it was time for The Dirty Thrills what a difference a hyper rocky sound. These guys owned the stage as they moved with choreographed grace and kept the beat. This was a high octane fuelled modern twist on rock where the blues were hidden in the shadows but the band knew how to entertain. Live music with attitude and sparks that spat off the guitar and across the venue.


The excitement and anticipation for Ten Years After was high and we had a chance for a sneaky preview a toned down version with the members on the small unplugged stage up close and personal. This is a new line-up Marcus Bonfanti on vocals and bassist Colin Hodginson joining Rick Lee and Chick Churchill. This was a magnificent trio of songs, Hear Me Calling, I’d Love To Change The World, Me and My Baby. What a band tonight’s main stage show is going to be exciting. Marcus and Colin have added an extra dimension. The time was moving on the music flowing with Pig Iron on main stage. This was blues drowning in heavy rock that really packed a musical punch. This was a band that added heat to the line-up they knew how to excite the music ears of the festival goers. The combination of the Firebird Gibson and Rickenbacker bass worked so well the tonal qualities were deep and shaded with blue granite. This was a powerful set where the band worked in harmony and the vocals shone. Now for the last unplugged session of the day a duo from Mick Ralphs Blues Band. Adam Barron on vocals and guitarist Jim Maving. This was acoustic, bluesy, mellow and sublime. A real authentic blues set for the weekend leaving you wanting to hear more when the full band entertain later tonight. Three bands left to entertain us on the main stage. Ten Years After, Mick Ralphs Blues Band and The Yardbirds how could the excitement not be rising. Ten Years After may have had a change of personnel but the music continues and there is a spicy freshness. The re-energizing of the music excites. Marcus Bonfanti on vocals is electrifying and his guitar skill is Alvin Lee with his own hooks and bells added extending the phrasing. We had harp and scintillating guitar fireworks topped off with his deep and honeyed vocals. We had the drums take centre stage with Rick Lee’s masterpiece The Hobbit, surrounding this was a chance to hear I Would Love To Change the World, a dramatic, lengthened version of this classic number, took your breath away with the spirit and magic of the sound. Ten Years After just kept weaving the melodic groove that meant they were still going to be talked about when the was festival over. No wonder they were many people’s favourite of the night and even the weekend. How to follow that uplifting and exciting set? HRH Blues had the answer in the Mick Ralphs Blues Band. Mick Ralphs formerly of Bad Company and Mott The Hoople was on form tonight with new songs and a new album. If It Ain’t Broke not only the album’s title but the ethos of the blues. The music taking us back to the British blues scene so loved and valued of the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Interspersed was some Bad Company tinged with the blues and delighting the crowds. They lapped up Too Bad, a number Bad Company never played live and Feel Like Making Love and Can’t Get Enough. Then Freddie King’s Same Old Blues proving the blues is timeless. Adam’s vocals curled around the music the timing was crafted and Mick Ralphs guitar work shining through with a gilded touch. Saturday was drawing to close not with a whimper but a shout for The Yardbirds, keeping the feel of the 1960’s in the building. The members may have changed once or twice but the music stays the same ending day one with so much music, friendships made and others strengthened through the power of music that is the Blues.

Sunday was another day that promised to bring new bands to your attention and hear the music from your favourites. Once again the blues was shaken up, and the R n’B vibe promised this was going to be a blues Sunday brunch, Tea and Dinner.



Sunday Brunch, was hardcore not for the faint-hearted this was rock heavy blues from the Tasmanian Devil himself Rob Tognoni. He tore up the main stage what a start to the second day of HRH Blues. The set was Rob through and through, the rhythm section was the base that allowed the blues to be scorching. We had some jamming and then the gentler side with Butterfly Girl written for his German wife setting up the day with Antipodean Blues power. From the heat of the Tasmanian it was cooler Scandinavian blues from Pontus Snibb. Texan blues was strong throughout the set with the tone and shape of SRV. This trio knew how to show the bluesy side of Swedish music. The third trio, John Verity hit the main stage. His unplugged session was inspired. Now on the main stage the depth and breadth of his tasty blues licks became apparent, as he showcased numbers from his latest album My Religion. Blues runs deep in the music when playing re-vamped classics and new material. John played genuine electric blues with buckets loads of panache. He certainly kept the blues with a capital B in the festival. This was blues guitar heaven, pleasure for your ears as Prove Your Love flowed live and his version of Peter Green’s I Need Someone To Love was a joy. HRH Blues proved the Sunday afternoon did not need to be tame, three trio’s on the trot did not have to be about power guitar the mixing up of styles and approaches kept your music ear interested. Back upstairs to hear Pontus Snibb as a duo Pontus on guitar and his Dad on snare drum with brushes. What an absorbing duo great vocals and rhythm stripped down superb blues. The simplicity and purity shone through with a stellar version of Jimmy Reed’s Ain’t That Lovin’ and closing with Texas Flood. Tasty!

Pontus Snibb unplugged WM-9391 HRH Turning Sheffield Weekend Blue

Now the shadows outside were lengthening and the intensity of the music grew. First, Irish distilled blues form Pat McManus. It was fantastic to see Pat on stage, still with a smile playing the music we love as he mixes Irish Roots, Rory Gallagher and a touch of Pat’s own leprechaun emerald green dust. What a trooper did he give up when his equipment was stolen at the beginning of the current tour… not a chance. This is a trio that blends and twists the rock into a shape that they want you to hear. The first violin of HRH Blues added a dancing intensity. Entertaining, pleasurable as we listened spellbound to an acoustic tribute to Rory Gallagher. The rendition of Parisian Walkways from the late great Gary Moore was breathtaking. This was classy blues, with the energy and verve that colours the music with every shade of blue. Pat plays and we listen.

HRH Turning Sheffield Weekend BlueNow for the first piece of Whitesnake history at HRH Blues on a Sunday with the Micky Moody Band. The band featuring Ali Maas, vocals the first women of the weekend who sang the blues with soulful intensity. Stuart Dixon on rhythm/lead guitar added another depth and breadth to the sound. This was another classy set ranging from rip-roaring Southern Rock to really subtle quiet soulful ballads, punctuated with spine-chilling breaks from Stuart’s Strat. Micky entertained with finger-picking slide and guitars that sang deep with the feel of the blues. Same Blues, Different Day, full of salivating Moody slide delight. The set also included a taste of numbers from the forthcoming Moody & Maas album, like their great take on Dylan’s Serve Somebody. Closing the set that thrilled when Ali sang A Cappella interspersed with tasty mouth-watering licks from Micky. Closing out with a medley of Rolling Stone’s numbers we were flying with the music.

HRH Turning Sheffield Weekend BlueNext up was Bernie Marsden ever the entertainer. The next segment of Whitesnake past playing the blues Bernie up front with the original bass player Neil Murray. We had one Whitesnake number from Mickey would Bernie deliver as well? The set was a mixture of blues, with tracks from his current album Shine. The blues rocked and the smiles on people’s faces gleamed there was no need to ask if they were enjoying this. We had rollicking blues, instrumentals and Bernie’s version of Born Under a Bad Sign. There was nothing bad about the music the chords were full of power whipping up the energy throughout the auditorium. A tribute to Jack Bruce we were Sitting on Top of the world with Bernie as he played the classic Howlin’ Wolf number. Bernie plays real mean blues when he wants to. Dragonfly from his latest album was beautiful as was his intuitively delivered Peter Green’s, Need Your Love So Bad. Then the temperature rose for Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again, Bernie orchestrated the crowds singing we need no reminding of the lyrics the whole venue erupted with the pure joy that is live music. As the lights dimmed and the band left the football like chant was taken up Bernie! Bernie repeated louder and louder. He is a very popular guy in the Country, and we had more, the encore included the Bobby Bland number Whitesnake made their own! Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City, we were now in heaven the energy from the music was more powerful than any drug. Closing with Fool For Your Loving. The silence was deep and sudden then everyone started to talk about the magic that is Bernie and the blues.. Starter was tasty Micky Moody, the Main Course the depths of flavour of Bernie and his band and now for the sweet course. Dr Feelgood. The energy was electric, the words rolled out like our much-loved anthems. We just loved the tasty blues, rock punk sound that is Dr Feelgood.

HRH Turning Sheffield Weekend BlueSunday closed with a set from Dr Feelgood. The music was definitely the power that was driving the weekend forward, this is music that pleases, yes everyone has a favourite. The favourites varied and led to warm and intense discussions what shone through was the music which was top-notch.

Throughout the festival, the lighting was varied and interesting and the sound was spot on the vocals were warm cadences of tones that could be heard and enjoyed.

HRH, may stand for ‘Hard Rock Hell’ but they know how to deliver the blues. Now HRH Blues is alive and kicking up a dust storm of music, the community and the aim of the organisation is strong with staff listening to the views of the attendees of the weekend. This is the third blues event the momentum’s growing for HRH Blues 3 in Sheffield 15th & 16th April 2017!!!