TRIBUTE: Wilko Johnson 1

TRIBUTE: Wilko Johnson

Wilko Johnson has died. He passed away at home on Monday evening, 21st November 2022. He was 75 years of age.

These are the stark facts. This is the very sad reality that the Canvey music legend, former guitarist with Dr Feelgood, who had such a huge influence on British rock music and the punk movement of the ‘70s, and man who subsequently enjoyed a solo career spanning more than four decades not to mention his starring in two series of Game Of Thrones as the mute executioner Ser Ilyn Payne, has gone.

In 2013, Wilko Johnson was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer. Knowing that he had nine to 10 months left to live he made the decision not to undertake any chemotherapy to ensure that he could continue working for as long as he was able to do so. Knowing that death was upon him and to offer his sincere thanks to those people who had supported him throughout his long career, he planned a series of what would be quite literally his farewell shows. I had the immense pleasure and undoubted privilege to catch him at Holmfirth Picturedrome on that tour. It was a deeply profound and moving experience.

Subsequent tests, however, discovered that Wilko Johnson’s pancreatic cancer was in fact a rare and less aggressive neuroendocrine tumour. He underwent a radical, 11-hour operation that removed his pancreas, spleen and parts of his stomach and intestines, and was declared cancer-free in 2014. In the man’s inimitable own words, he was “snatched from the jaws of death!”

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Wilko Johnson at Cambridge Folk Festival, 31st July 2015

I caught Wilko Johnson in concert many times before and after that night in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. Invariably backed by the powerhouse rhythm section of Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe on their respective bass guitar and drums, each show capturing the band’s relentless energy, drive and Johnson’s individual guitar playing, a mixture of lead and rhythm at the same time with routine bursts of his machine-gun style for very good measure, all topped off by his trademark penetrative, thousand-yard bug-eyed stare.

Such was Wilko Johnson’s indomitable spirit, determination, and untrammelled desire to perform he continued to play live until last month, hosting his final gig at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 18 October this year.

RIP Wilko Johnson. You brought us so much immense excitement and pleasure over the years.

Photos: Simon Godley

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.