Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

Wilko Johnson, 66, known for his distinctive guitar style, was one of the founders of Dr Feelgood, played with Ian Dury’s Blockheads, and fronts the Wilko Johnson Band. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year.

What was your earliest ambition?

To write or paint. I never wrote my novel and I was too lazy to make a good painter.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

Grammar school: Westcliff High School in Southend. Then Newcastle University, studying English. Those were the happiest days of my life. The late 1960s was a good time to be young. I got a job as a teacher, then one day I bumped into Lee Brilleaux and we started Dr Feelgood.

Who was or still is your mentor?

At university, Tony Harrison, the poet. He had a great effect on me, not least the realisation I’d never be a poet. And [guitarist] Mick Green was a hero when I was a teenager.

How physically fit are you?

I see myself as a showman, not just a musician, and part of the entertainment is violent physical movement. I couldn’t play any other way. I’m still physically able.

I was supposed to be dead back in October. When they told me I had 10 months to live, I accepted that. People talk about fighting against cancer but there’s no point in fighting because you cannot win. It’s made me think a lot: it gives you a different perspective, which is almost worth it. Almost.

Hero: The Pirates’ Mick Green

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

When I look back on what I’ve done, a lot of it has got to do with accident. I’ve just let things happen.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

No. I’m not that insecure. I know I’m clever!

How politically committed are you?

I’m old Labour – or something like that.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I’ve never learnt to drive. I recycle and do the things everyone does now.

Do you have more than one home?

I used to have a few establishments but now it’s just one.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

Nothing, certainly not now.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

After I got this diagnosis, I thought, “I’m going to have anything I want.” Now I’ve lived past the deadline, I’m thinking, “Hang on, slow down!” – I don’t want to end up in penury.

In what place are you happiest?

At home. My wife Irene died 10 years ago; we’d been together for 40 years. Life was never quite the same for me. Her absence has meant I can never feel really good or happy, there’s always this little heartache.

What drives you on?

We decided we’d do a farewell tour last March. Then I was retired. I was just this old geezer walking down the street in a black suit. By summer I was still fit, and we started taking bookings. I’m not being driven, just getting things done while I can.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

I don’t know.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

I’ve never had ambition so I’ve never been thwarted.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

“Who’s that old idiot?”

Do you believe in an afterlife?

Absolutely not. If I believed I was going to see Irene again, I would have killed myself years ago. When was the big bang, 13 billion years ago? I was dead all that time, until I popped out in 1947, and now I’m going back into that state of non-being. I’m happy to have had the little bit I’ve had.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life, out of 10, what would you score?

8.2.

‘Live at Koko, Camden Town, London, March 2013’ by Wilko Johnson is out now on DVD, released by Cadiz Music. His album ‘Going Back Home’, recorded with The Who’s Roger Daltrey, is released in March

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
myFT

Follow the topics mentioned in this article