2017 is certainly a special year for Wilko Johnson. Not only does it mark the 30th anniversary of the Wilko Johnson Band, but this year sees the guitarist celebrating his 70th birthday.
Given the events of recent years, this celebration at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 26th September is all the more meaningful: here is the death-defying Wilko Johnson leading his own party with partners in crime Norman Watt-Roy (bass), Dylan Howe (drums), family, friends and special guests.
Wilko’s special guest at the Royal Albert Hall show is Dr John Cooper Clarke – poet, movie star, rock star, TV & radio presenter, comedian, and social & cultural commentator.
‘I’m supposed to be dead!’ So says Wilko in a recent interview, having been diagnosed in late 2012 with terminal pancreatic cancer. Despite the doctors’ predictions he continued to perform and present himself with vigour and a new zest for life. In 2013, Wilko announced that, thanks to a second opinion and subsequent life-saving surgery, he was cancer-free.
The original Dr Feelgood guitarist, known for his distinctive chopping guitar style, recently found further fame on TV in Game Of Thrones, and also rose up the charts once more after teaming up with Who frontman Roger Daltrey on hit 2014 album Going Back Home, which features re-workings of songs from Wilko’s Dr Feelgood days including All Through The City and Going Back Home.
The Wilko Johnson Band consists of Wilko on guitar and vocals, plus Blockheads Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe; a rhythm ’n’ blues power trio widely acknowledged as one of the most exciting live acts in the world today.
Keep It To Myself - The Best Of Wilko Johnson was released in February 2017 via Chess /Universal. Wilko’s bestselling memoir Don’t You Leave Me Here (Little, Brown) has recently been published in paperback edition.
Dr John Cooper Clarke – Biography
“I say to people, have you heard of John Cooper Clarke and if they say, yes, yeah he’s an absolute genius and you just go, ‘oh – ok, you’ve saved me a lot of time.” – Steve Coogan
John Cooper Clarke first shot to prominence in the 1970s as the original people’s poet. His career has spanned cultures, audiences, art forms and continents. Today, JCC is as relevant and vibrant as ever.
His influence is relevant in today’s pop culture. Aside from his trademark look continuing to resonate with fashionistas young and old, and his poetry included on national curriculum syllabus, his effect on modern music is huge.
His influence can be heard within the keen social observations of the Arctic Monkeys and Plan B. John has been involved in two global No.1 albums in the last two years; with The Arctic Monkeys putting one of John’s best loved poems, “I Wanna Be Yours” to music on their critically acclaimed “A:M” album.
His latest show, touring across the UK and Europe this year, is a mix of classic verse, extraordinary new material, hilarious ponderings on modern life, good honest gags, riffs and chat – a chance to witness a living legend at the top of this game.
Wilko Johnson Biography
‘I’m supposed to be dead!’ So said Wilko in a recent interview, having been diagnosed in late 2012 with terminal pancreatic cancer. But despite the doctors’ worst predictions he continued to perform and present himself with vigour and a new zest for life. In 2013, Wilko announced that, thanks to a second opinion and subsequent life-saving surgery, he was cancer-free.
“Man, there’s nothing like being told you’re dying to make you feel alive.”
Born on Canvey Island, Wilko studied English at Newcastle University before doing a bit of travelling. He was lured into music by the dark magic spun by his first Telecaster, bought from a music store in Southend, Essex. He soon became the strutting, grimacing, six-string rhythmic guitarist behind Lee Brilleaux in Dr Feelgood.
Throughout the mid-70s, Wilko duck-walked his way across countless stages and venues in the UK with Dr Feelgood in the vanguard of the pub rock movement, performing the gutsy down-to-earth rock and roll that was a welcome antidote to Prog rock.
Heavily influenced by legendary guitarist Mick Green from ’60s rockers Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, Wilko employs a finger-style, chop-chord strumming action that allows for chords and lead guitar to be played at the same time, giving a fluency and a distinctive sound very unlike the cleaner swat of a pick.
With this economic sound, coupled with that black-suited, scowling look, and the yards he covered across the stage pausing only to twist the guitar lead out from under his feet, Wilko became one of the guitar heroes of the era. His influence was felt in bands up and down the country, and later in the punk movement (Joe Strummer of the Clash bought a Telecaster after seeing Wilko play).
Dr Feelgood released four albums in Wilko’s time. A busy creative period followed in an early incarnation of the Wilko Johnson Band with the Solid Senders, before he joined Ian Dury & the Blockheads in 1980.
All through the ’80s, ’90s and into the new millennium he continued to gig in the UK, Europe and Japan. But it was when Julien Temple’s award winning Oil City Confidential came out in 2009, with Wilko emerging as the film’s star, that the world once again sat up and paid attention to his extraordinary talent.
His career took another twist in 2010, when he was offered an acting part in the hit series Game of Thrones, playing the role of mute executioner. He appeared in 4 episodes shown in 2011 and 2012. In the same year, Wilko and biographer Zoë Howe released the book Wilko Johnson: Looking Back At Me, a coffee-table book of Wilko’s favourite memories and images.
2014 saw the release of the hit album Going Back Home, Wilko Johnson’s collaboration with Roger Daltrey which went to Number 3 in the UK album charts. The pair decided to work on the album together not just because they were both huge fans of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, but because, as Wilko was still believed to be dying from cancer, it was believed that they’d ‘better get on with it’.
In 2015, Wilko and Julien Temple teamed up again for the documentary The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson, a film which explored Wilko’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, and the unexpected reprieve that followed. The film became a hit, and captivated audiences whether they saw it on the big screen or on BBC 4, and earned him a ‘Kermode’ award in 2016, followed by Wilko’s memoir, Don’t You Leave Me Here, published by Little Brown.
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