Wilko Johnson and Glenn Tilbrook on stage in Cambridge next week
Famously rescued from an imminent demise a few years ago, Canvey Island’s finest, Wilko Johnson, is back on the road and will hit The Junction with Glenn Tilbrook.
Not many people can say they’ve survived pancreatic cancer but musical icon and former Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, known for his distinctive ‘chopping’ playing style and thousand-yard stare, is one of them.
Given the heartbreaking diagnosis in 2012, the then 67-year-old was initially given 10 months to live after rejecting chemotherapy.
He went on a ‘farewell tour’ in 2013 and made a very successful album – Going Back Home – with Roger Daltrey of The Who.
But then, after doctors had expressed surprise that he was still alive, he underwent radical surgery to remove the 3kg tumour in 2014.
“The thing I have to keep reminding myself is that not so long ago, I was written off,” says the down-to-earth star, speaking to the Cambridge Independent from his home in his beloved Southend (“I have to be within spitting distance of the Thames Estuary or who knows what I might evolve into?”).
“I’d written myself off – there was no hope for me, and that was that. And now here I am admiring this wonderful day.
"Miraculous is not too strong a word – here I am when I should have been gone five years ago.”
Wilko, 71, continues: “I have these scans about every six months, just to see everything’s okay – and everything is. In the end, the whole thing has been a fantastic experience.
“It’s certainly made me think, made me appreciate things that maybe I used to moan about.”
The Wilko Johnson Band features Norman Watt-Roy – formerly of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, with whom Wilko also performed in the 1980s – on bass and Dylan Howe on drums.
“We have a new fabulous album out now called Blow Your Mind, which is real good,” enthuses Wilko. "We’ve been playing songs from this album at live gigs, and I love it.
"I don’t understand the mechanics of all this, records and all that – it’s all a mystery to me.”
It’s safe to say his dramatic recovery has made Wilko more well known than he was before.
He said: “When I got back on my feet after my operation, my profile had risen quite a bit and my agents were thinking, ‘What are we going to do, there’s obviously quite a lot of demand to see Wilko Johnson
now, so we’re going to organise tours with gaps in between because we want to be careful of Wilko’s health’.
“I love it on the road, playing live – that’s what I do – so they arranged things so that we would have tours and then some time off.
Really, I would much rather be out actually playing because then I feel like I’ve got a purpose.”
His relentless gigging included a sold-out show at The Royal Albert Hall in 2017 to mark both his 70th birthday and 30 years since the formation of The Wilko Johnson Band.
On how Squeeze co-founder Glenn Tilbrook ended up on the bill this time around, Wilko says: “We’ve done several gigs with Glenn, it’s all going very well.
“I think it’s a good line-up because Glenn and I both emerged from the same milieu, and I’m sure that the majority of the audience appreciate Glenn as much as they appreciate me, so it’s a good show.”
Wilko is also very enthusiastic about his band. “Same band I’ve had for ages, mate,” he says, “I don’t muck about...
"Of course, Norman Watt-Roy on the bass, who is kind of an attraction in himself – I mean half the audience are watching him, but he is a good bass player.
"Also we’ve got Dylan Howe on the drums, who’s absolutely the best drummer I’ve ever had.”
Wilko plans to carry on doing what he does best. “That’s it, that’s what I do,” he states. “I mean it’s a bit late in the day to change my job now...
"I just like to play rock ‘n’ roll and let things happen.”
The Wilko Johnson Band, with special guest Glenn Tilbrook, will be appearing at The Junction’s J1 on Thursday, April 25.
Tickets: £30 adv
Box office: 01223 511511, or junction.co.uk.