Fourteen months have passed since Wilko Johnson’s public announcement of his diagnosis of terminal cancer of the pancreas. The former Dr Feelgood guitarist and current National Treasure expected the cancer would claim him in October last year, but he’s nothing if not a fighter. Even though it has been over a year since he performed a series of farewell concerts, he still feels well enough to keep playing.
Even better, he has recorded a new album with Teenage Cancer Trust patron and Who singer Roger Daltrey.
The resulting record “Going Back Home” has been on my turntable all day and features terrific performances from both men, acting as a career retrospective of sorts for Wilko. Daltrey turns back the years, growling out some maximum RnB alongside the choppy licks and chords that are Wilko’s trademark. Alongside re-recorded Dr Feelgood and Wilko solo classics there’s even a cover of Dylan classic single “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window”.
Wilko told Mojo magazine last month the record is “probably the last thing I’ll ever do”. I asked Wilko what it was like working with Daltrey. “He is really lovely” he replied.
Although the two men first discussed recording together three years ago, Johnson’s diagnosis meant making the album became more urgent: “procrastination was no longer an option” as Wilko put it. The whole record was recorded in eight days with Wilko’s band (also featuring former Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe) in tow.
Interestingly, before linking up with Daltrey, Wilko did try to record another farewell LP with Wayne Kramer of the MC5 and Rat Scabies of The Damned. The MC5’s disastrous appearance at Wembley Stadium was a big influence on the young Wilko, as he described a couple of years ago at the launch of his book with Zoe Howe, “Looking Back At Me”. Sadly the sessions were unproductive even if the line up was mouth watering.
Impressively Wilko found time from his busy schedule to sign copies of the album for fans at his (and my) local record shop Fives Records in Leigh on Sea. Business was brisk – the hundred vinyl LPs sold out quickly. This is unsurprising as Dr Feelgood were local heroes – their live album “Stupidity” hit #1 on the UK album charts – and the effect they had on people locally can still be felt today.
At the front of the queue (he got there three hours early) was a fan who had seen Dr Feelgood play The Esplanade in Southend back in the early seventies. He told us he knew immediately Dr Feelgood would go on to play bigger venues, and was visibly moved as he recalled the morning of his birthday when he heard about (Dr Feelgood singer) Lee Brilleaux’s death. Dr Feelgood were a blueprint for punk and spearheaded the pub rock movement in the mid-seventies, as Julien Temple’s Oil City Confidential documentary captures so brilliantly (see my list of Top 25 Music Documentaries).
It says much about Wilko Johnson that he is still embracing life at every opportunity, still playing shows and meeting fans as long as his health allows. He looked a little tired yesterday yet was due to be in London tonight at HMV signing more copies of the album (Update: Wilko pulled out today as he was feeling unwell and Roger Daltrey stepped in his place).
But “Going Back Home” is a terrific upbeat record and if you like your vinyl I’d recommend you get this (limited) version. It’s on the Chess label, it has a retro flip back cover and a glossy insert with loads of pictures of Daltrey and Johnson through the years.
“Going Back Home” by Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey is out on Chess Records from 24th March 2014