Dr. Feelgood
Nutters In May (1981)

N.M.E. © Inconnu

SPRING IS IN the air, the sun is shining and the little birds are singing. Isn't it wonderful ?

"I 'ate it, me self", says Wilko Johnson. The man in black is definitely unimpressed. "Always the same this time of the year. I see these little buds poking their 'eads out and I think 'Yurgh ! Get back, yer bastards. They're sorta mockin’ my mortality…'' Be this as it may, Wilko Johnson has more cause for seasonal cheer than normal this year. 'Ice On The Motorway', his latest LP with The Solid Sanders, has re-established Canvey Island's answer to the combined professions of psychiatry and professional hairdressing as a popular and credible musical force In his own right. Add to that the productive niche he’s found for himself in Ian Dury's rejuvenated Blackheads, and bastard buds or not, things are currently looking up for our mad axe man.

Wilko's contribution to English rhythm'n'blues, and his lingering Influence on guitarists everywhere, are too well known to need trotting out again. But to be enjoying the fruits of not one, but two successful careers as he’s doing now, well, that's living to some purpose. The strain, lf there is one, is certainly not showing, even though his schedule's stopped him having a free weekend ever since he signed up with Dury last year.

"It’s been great. You don't have time to get messed up at all. It only takes a couple of weeks off the road for me and I start going through this 'Ohhh, what the hell am I doing this for ?' It seems really futile. And than you go out on a gig, and you understand what it’s all about."

"And since the present Sanders line-up got going, I've found it’s the best working situation since the early days of Dr Feelgood, In that we're all good friends with no fractions. When It came together with Russell (Strutter, bass) and Alex (Bines, drummer), I'd lust about found my way back to some kind of sanity. I was very much out of control a lot of the time before that. What with finding myself without a group after Dr Feelgood, and then trying to get something going again."

The new Solid Senders (still a trio unless/until Wilko can talk pianist John Denton into going professional) have, with the acclaimed LP and a string of great shows, proved themselves in a way that Johnson's first attempt to set up a group never quite managed. The old Sanders, you might recall, brought out an indifferent Virgin LP and then crumbled under the pressure of rivalries arising out of their efforts at band democracy. Now, Wilko says, he's got the bottle to really front a group, and he's found sidemen prepared to let him act as the driving creative force. "I found out that it doesn’t have to make you a horrid tyrant."

The plan is to establish the Sanders on something like a systematic footing - an Intention which he made clear to Ian Dury at the time of joining the Blockheads. In any case, his role within that band has been clearly fixed. "It was such a good band that l was confronted with, that it was for me to fit in with that. The role I was trying to play with the Blockheads was providing that basic rock’n’roll element."

With no certain commitments on the Blockhead front at the moment, Johnson is free to indulge, with Alex and Russell, in his first and one true love : rhythm'n'blues. "I just believe it's the best kind of music that was ever invented… The big pitfall is that you're lust gonna be revamping, in an inferior way, music done over a generation ago, in a different continent, in a totally different world, in black America."

Ah yes, I was lust about to ask you about that...
"To overcome that, it’s down to producing original material. It's difficult, but it has to be tried. When we did it with the Feelgoods I thought it was going to lead to a whole blues scene. But in the end, although we did influence new groups, it wasn't in a blues way. It would be nice to see it happen, because the British method of rhythm'n'blues is good."

But at worst, it can lapse into that stale, beery clique thing, like trad Jazz, can't it ?
"Yeah, wall lust look at rhythm'n'blues as ’you gotta play 'Dust My Broom'', I can't understand that. lf, instead of just trying to do what Elmore James did 30 years ago, you rip off slyly, and selectively, and also say something about you, you can come up with something new, a valid kind of music.

"And the way to play new rhythm'n’blues that isn't just a hollow mockery, is to draw from your own experiences. In songs, the imagery should have some kind of reality, not just be exotic sounding - all these awful songs where people talk about jumping on freight trains : it just doesn't go down on British Raill There's plenty of other things. I mean, life can get pretty dramatic if you want it to" (laughing enigmatically, as one who knows) "and there's plenty of reasons you can say a lot about it. R'n'B is a living thing. It always connects for me, when it's done right."

He does it right. For a practical demonstration of the argument outlined above, you could do no better than to consult 'Ice On The Motorway', wherein it's WiIko’s own numbers - far more than the cover versions, in fact - that demonstrate how deadly effective English rhythm'n'blues can be in the right hands.

"Then again, the greatest line in rock'n'roll is 'Awopbopaloobop AIopbamboom' - top that if you can! But I could write half a dozen songs a day if I just wanted to include freight trains and mojos, but I'd feel daft singing them."

It's especially apt, then, that he should find himself collaborating with one of the masters of the contemporary English vernacular lyric.

"Ian's world and my world are different. Ian’s particular magic is in taking the language and the attitude of the ordinary bloke, and that's what's so appealing. It’s like, ell of us, behind our image, we're all kind of soppy, and he manages to capture that. Whereas" (that sly grin again) "I s'pose I tend to dramatise things more…"

Afore y***, though, any more words of advice for budding guitar heroes ? '(oh God, I shouldn't have said 'budding', should I ?)

"Yeah ! For Christ’s sake, somebody get some new licks - and save us from these bloody synthesisers !''

Wilko Johnson travaille sur un nouvel album
11 Mai 2017

Nouvelle biographie sur Lee Brilleaux
27 Novembre 2016

Docteur Wilko Johnson
20 Novembre 2016

31 Décembre 2017
Wilko Johnson
Les concerts à venir...
... sur le site officiel


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© Dr Feelgood & Lucie Lebens - Tous droits réservés
In Memory of Lee Brilleaux & Gypie Mayo