To paraphrase that popular fantasy slasher series Game of Thrones – Wilko is coming.
And that’s appropriate because legendary former Doctor Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson played tight-lipped executioner Ser Ilyn Payne in the bloodthirsty HBO show and he is actually coming – to Glasgow’s O2 ABC on Friday, May 11 to play some songs from his forthcoming LP Blow Your Mind.
Talking to The Falkirk Herald from Southend-on-Sea, Wilko was the antithesis of his Game of Thrones neck chopper – he was animated, eloquent and self deprecating as he discussed everything from his new album to the on stage heart attack of best pal and bass player Norman Watt-Roy.
Wilko fans, who count Feelgood numbers Back in the Night, She Does It Right and Going Back Home among the finest British blues and rhythm ‘n’ blues songs ever written, are excited by the prospect of a full album of Wilko originals.
Wilko said: “We recorded this album in two weeks last November – it’s amazing how long these things take – and it’s coming out in June. It’s the same people who were involved in the Going Back Home album we did with Roger Daltrey.”
That means Wilko’s tried and tested touring rhythm section of “stolen Blockheads”, Dylan Howe and Norman Watt-Roy, with the addition of former Style Councillor Mick Talbot on keyboards and Steve Weston on harmonica.
“Going Back Home was recorded under peculiar circumstances,” said Wilko. “I was expecting to die at that time. We did it very quickly and we were very pleased with the results actually.”
And Wilko promises this new album will be simple and straight to the point – just like his unique guitar style.
“I supposed the way I play is very direct, so it’s quite recognisable. I don’t know – when I pick up a guitar and play that’s just the way it comes out.”
It’s hard to picture Wilko without his trusty black and red Fender Telecaster, an instrument he chops and stabs at to produce a riot of rhythm each and every time he goes on stage.
“When I was learning to play I heard Mick Green playing with the Pirates and that just galvanised me. I thought I want to play just like that and Greeny had a Telecaster so that’s why I got one.”
Although he spent a relatively short time in Doctor Feelgood, he is forever linked with the band which built an energy packed bridge between rock ‘n’ roll and punk.
“Doctor Feelgood was an extraordinary band – we changed things a lot. We were a local band that just happened to happen. When you’re in a band like that, a band that made such an impact, then people are always going to associate you with that band.
“Well that or Game of Thrones now I suppose.”
Wilko’s well publicised fight back against a terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis has now become part of rock folklore and he says he is still fighting fit and gig-ready.
“I’m very well thank you very much. I go for scans every six months and things have been fine so far. I had that year thinking it was the end and now here I am three years later.
“For a long time I didn’t even know if I would be able to play again I was so weak, but the surgeon told me give it time, it will come back – and it did.”
Having had his own issues with mortality, Wilko almost lost a great friend last summer and music fans almost lost one of the best bass players who ever walked the earth.
“That was scary,” said Wilko. “We were about three quarters of the way through the set and suddenly the bass is going all over the place and Norman’s not looking good. He went off to the side and Dylan just kept things going – we kept thinking any minute Norman’s going to come back on.
“I was getting the sign from the side of the stage and I said I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to stop. We went backstage and found Norman lying on a stretcher looking frightful.
“People were telling me he’d had a heart attack – those words are enough to terrify anyone. We were at Hampton Court and there were swimming pool attendants there who knew exactly what to do.
“He was taken to hospital in an ambulance and we followed behind, driving through the streets of South London. I’m thinking about Norman – I’ve known this guy all these years, he’s such a friend.
“We got to the hospital and we were sitting in the corridor and the doctor tells us Norman is being treated for a heart attack. Then they wheel Norman into the corridor and he’s trying to get up – he’s quite irrepressible.
“The procedure took 20 minutes and the doctors said he should be okay in a couple of days. He’s had to make some adjustments to his lifestyle, but he’s been absolutely fine.”
Wilko has been touring with the same band for some time now and he believes they have become as tight-knit a unit as you will find anywhere.
“Norman is like a part of me, a part of what I do – and now Dylan has come into that category. They’re both ex-Blockheads that I nicked – that’s how you put a band together.
“I love playing, it’s the best thing in my life. I’m so thrilled to be going out there again. With Doctor Feelgood I thought, this will do me for about three or four years and now here I am past 70 and still doing it.”
For those who cannot wait until June 15 for Blow Your Mind, Wilko, Norman and Dylan will be at the O2 on Friday, May 11, supported by sometime Strangler Hugh Cornwell.