OFTEN DESCRIBED AS FOUNDING INFLUENCES OF THE PUNK SCENE, CANVEY ISLAND’S DR FEELGOOD WERE AMONGST A CROP OF RHYTHM-AND-BLUES BASED ‘PUB ROCK’ BANDS IN THE UK DURING THE EARLY TO MID-1970s.
Frontman Lee Brilleaux (1952 – 1994) and guitarist Wilko Johnson formed the band in 1971, with Johnson’s choppy lead-and-rhythm, and the pair’s unusually charged dynamics, lending them a unique and aggressive appeal. The Johnson / Brilleaux line-up went on to record four albums – DOWN BY THE JETTY (1975), MALPRACTICE (also 1975), the chart-topping live set STUPIDITY (1976) and 1977’s SNEAKIN’ SUSPICION, before Johnson was unceremoniously ejected from the band following a series of conflicts between the pair.
Johnson went on to join the massed ranks of Ian Dury & The Blockheads for a while, co-writing much of the 1980 album LAUGHTER, before releasing several albums of his own: including ICE ON THE MOTORWAY (1981), PULL THE COVER (1984) and CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT (1987).
No mere mid-70s curio, Johnson’s commandingly odd stage presence – a series of tics, shuffles and “hard stares, basically” – plus a taut absolutely no nonsense three-piece rhythm-and-blues band (featuring ex-Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer extraordinaire Dylan Howe) ensure continuing tours are well received in their own right.
Following the soundcheck for a recent show, The Mouth Magazine was invited backstage to encounter a true icon, a man for whom the term “English eccentric” is purported to have been coined. He turned out to be modest, funny and an absolute gent. Johnson filled us in on his thoughts regarding OIL CITY CONFIDENTIAL, Julien Temple’s cinematic story of Dr Feelgood, and how much fun it has been to have had a role in TV series GAME OF THRONES. He also talks of his electric relationship with Lee Brilleaux, and how it feels to have been part of the dynamo lighting up one of the most important bands in UK music.
Chris Kench Photography