Here’s the interview we did for ME1 TV with the legend that is Wilko Johnson. Pure delight:
Underwater, Underground, Underrated
John Peter Wilkinson was born on Canvey Island in 1947, more or less opposite me, separated by the river Thames. Canvey Island is below sea level, a fact which Wilko discovered in 1953 when the island flooded. Wilko was just 6 years old when Canvey was “twinned” with Muddy Waters and likes to think that it informed his life as a submariner subsequently.
Hippies, Teachers and Pirates
Wilko’s early days were spent travelling in Goa, Afghanistan and Nepal on the late 1960’s / early 1970’s hippy trail. On his return his mum got him a job as an English teacher at a local school, a job which lasted a year before his interests took him elsewhere. He had bought a Fender Telecaster guitar for £90 in 1965 having been hugely influenced by the simultaneous rhythm and lead guitar style of Mick Green from Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, which he claims is at the root of his own unique style or “USP” as we say in business.Wilko still uses his trademark Vox red curly guitar leads which propel him back and forth across the stage like some kind of whirling dervish on a spring. Just take a look at this great film with Roger Daltrey to see Mr Johnson spring loaded and dangerous.
Wilko has carved out something of a niche for himself, in common with my friend Richard Strange. In Wilko’s case, he found his centre as a mute executioner in Game of Thrones. Richard’s niche seems to involve anything where he wears a hood, having been Kevin Costner’s executioner and ‘ate’ Harry Potter as a death eater! Wilko comments on his acting career from Oil City Confidential to Ser Ilyn Payne:
“They wanted somebody really sinister who went around looking daggers at people before killing them. That made it easy. Looking daggers at people is what I do all the time, it’s like second nature to me”
Death Cheaters – Down to the Doctors
In 2013, Wilko was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given just 9 months to live. He refused to take any treatment for his condition and embarked on a final tour. About a year later one of his fans who was also a cancer specialist heard a radio interview and thought that Wilko should indeed have been dead by this time. He got in touch with Wilko, suggesting that he may have a more treatable form of the cancer. Wilko agreed to undergo an operation with an uncertain outcome to remove the tumour which by then weighed 3 kilos and declared himself cancer free in October 2014. As a result Wilko is somewhat shell shocked by the news that he is not about to die and having to reconsider what he now does next. I recall a similar situation with a school friend who has also cheated death. One thing is sure – Wilko will be making some more music and hopefully putting in some appearances at The Railway Hotel in Southend where he is immortalised on the sign.
I had the great privilege of performing with Wilko Johnson and Norman Watt Roy down in Kent some years ago. Also the more dubious honour of escorting him through French customs with John Otway, dressed as a nurse! My copy of “Stupidity” plays on the turntable as I write this. Long live Wilko Johnson!
Peter Cook offers keynotes and longer masterclasses that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock Come along to our next showcase event with Harry Potter’s “Death Eater”, Mr Richard Strange on Tuesday June 9th in Kent – Tickets are selling fast at Punk Rock Biz so pick yours up now