Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Humbling Tale of an Old Rocker Facing the End; Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Humbling Tale of an Old Rocker Facing the End; Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: Bernard Trafford

WILKO Johnson, the lead guitarist who gave the distinctive choppy rhythmic feel to that longstanding R 'n' B band Dr Feelgood, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the pancreas.

He's 65 and was offered chemotherapy which might have stretched his survival to a year, but he declined. He hopes to remain well enough for a farewell tour.

Now, here's some history. In 1977, I appeared on the same bill as Dr Feelgood.

My mates and I, aged 21, were a little student jazz band (we still get together occasionally). The members of Dr Feelgood were older, had been around since 1971 and had just achieved their first major hit, the live album Stupidity.

We were the warm-up act. College Balls used to (and probably still do) book big-name bands to play at the height of the evening, after a rather splendid dinner in a marquee in one of the quadrangles. Earlier and later on, come mainly student bands which, in my time, generally played in return for free tickets.

We thought it was fantastic to get a free double ticket to the ball just for playing an hour's jazz. You could even take a girl. (Mind you, that wasn't as easy as you might imagine in those days of single-sex colleges in the older universities.) It's fair to say that we were callow youths from pretty sheltered backgrounds.

Sharing a dressing room (a cupboard, really) with a high-profile rock band could be a searing experience.

While the giants of rock wound themselves up we tiptoed around, muttered "sorry" every time we bumped into anyone in the confined space, and tried not to upset their roadies.

Dr Feelgood gave a high-pressure performance. The lead singer, Lee Brilleaux, famously sweated so much during performance that he took a towel on stage. People whispered of the salt tablets he took to get him through the gig (in the Seventies, I guess those were pretty harmless as tablets went).

Surely, though, it was adrenalin that carried the whole band along: how could that naturally produced chemical not kick in with an audience going wild, yelling for more, worshipping those pop idols? …

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