Dr. Feelgood
Wilko Johnson - Zigzag (avril 1975)

Propos recueillis par Andy Childs © Zigzag

To those fortunate enough to have seen and heard them, the name Dr. Feelgood has become synonymous with the spirit of Rock'n'Roll in 1975. At a time when the amount of shoddy, pretentious, arty-farty 'progressive' rock music is reaching new heights of abundance, Dr. Feelgood come on like a piledriver through so much candyfloss. They are aggressive, primitive, mean, uncompromising, and they sweat a lot. They are also slick, talented, and incredibly exciting.

Their appeal is almost universal among rock audiences. To those who were too young at the time to appreciate the end of the Rock'n'Roll era or the beginning of the Rythm'n'Blues boom, they will come across as something new and refreshing, and all those old stalwarts who lived through it all and whose memories haven't been annihilated by the excesses of 'flower power' will love them for everything they stand for. Believe it or not, I fall (with a youthful bounce) into the first category, and live been totally caught up in the whole thing. I think they're an ace band...

What they do is simple and straightforward, but like Smirnoff, the effect is shattering. On a good night they'll leave you drained and tingling with excitement as very few bands are capable of doing. All things considered, their rise to fame, fortune, and diamond-encrusted coke-spoons seems almost assured. Their success on the Naughty Rhythms Tour is undisputed, and now it seems that 1975 will definitely be their year.

So I thought that now is the time to take a closer look at the band through the eyes of their demonic lead guitarist Wilko Johnson, a man whose startling stage presence is responsible for much of their visual appeal.
Now the Feelgoods and their manager Chris Fenwick all live on Canvey Island, a desolate, wind-swept, Water-logged piece of land out in the Thames Estuary, and it was there-that.

I made my way for the interview which took place in Wilko's front room. Obviously tired and weary from the extensive Naughty Rhythms Tour, which still had three gigs to run, Wilko didn’t career around the room like an amphetamised dalek, he just talked quietly, deliberately, and with a sense of humour that he rarely exhibits onstage. An extremely pleasant bloke to meet. Afterwards, Lee, Chris, their able accountant, and myself went out on the piss and stayed up till some ridiculous hour in the morning listening to old Muddy Waters' records, but that’s another story.

Can you tell us a bit about your early history. When did you start playing ?

Well it was like most kids, I was at school and I saw people with electric guitars, so I just started because a lot of kids do. As a matter of fact I started with The Figure, our drummer, he's a very old friend of mine. In fact he was born just around the corner and we’ve known each other literally all our lives. I told him l wanted to start playing, and it seemed like a good idea to him, so he bought a drum and I bought a guitar, and we started basically trying to do Rock’n’Roll numbers. We got going, learnt to play to an extent, and after awhile we went our separate ways. I was getting more interested in Rythm’n’Blues. I think the way I play started when all the Liverpool thing was going. I'd just started, and I was very struck by the guitar solo on Johnny Kidd And The Pirates 'I’ll Never Get Over You', and it seemed to me like nothing anyone else was playing… it seemed so much better.

Then I started finding out "about this guitarist Mick Green, just getting all the records I could of his playing and trying to play like that, because it seemed to me that he was much closer to the heart of real American Rythm’n’Blues, although I’d hardly heard any real American Rythm’n’Blues, but I just knew he was there whereas most of the other guitarists in pop groups weren’t. They’d got it second-hand somehow or other, and as l got to hear more and more real stuff, I realised I was right about that. Not only that, but he was also one of the very few guitarists in the world who could honestly claim to have added something to the vocabulary of the guitar. So I carried on playing Rock’n’Roll and Rythm’n’Blues, and trying to play like him. I was doing that while I was at school, and then when I left school I kept on at it for a bit longer. I was in a Rock’n’Roll band then… we had a piano and things like that, it was quite a good band but things were changing. People didn’t want to hear it anymore, and we weren't really attracting any attention. I went to University then and I just stopped playing. I put my guitar away and thought well that's the end of it. I did try to find a band at University, and I couldn’t, so I just forgot all about it, I just left it completely.

Towards the end of this Rock’n’Roll band, my brother had started playing the guitar and he was very interested in traditional blues and things like that, and I liked it a lot as well. So we got this little jug-band together… we used to play in the streets, held play the guitar and I'd play the comb and paper and harmonica. We had a tea chest bass and all that sort of stuff, but we didn’t do it much, it was just something to do occasionally for a laugh. Anyway on one of these occasions this boy came up to me, well two or three kids came up actually, and it was Lee (Brilleaux) and Sparko (John B. Sparks), or was it Sparko ?, I don't know.

Anyway Lee was there and also Chris (Fenwick) who's now our manager. Chris at this time was a sort of tubby little boy… I just can’t ; really remember him at all. But Lee struck me quite a bit because although he was about 14 or 15 I think, and I was I8, he was very self-assured, and I found that I didn’t have to talk down to him at all, because that’s quite a big age difference when you're that age. He was very interested in what we were doing, I started telling him about jug-bands and things, and I told him I was in a Rock’n’Roll band. They started coming round now and again, and they (Lee, Chris & Sparko) started a jug-band of their own like that. Shortly after that was when I went to University.

How did you get to University? Was it something that just came along or had you always wanted to go ?

I wanted to go to University. I wanted to be a poet actually, and I went to University… I was sort of writing away, and I ran poetry magazines and things like that. I suppose that was really the centre of my life at that time. I forgot about music quite easily, it just didn't seem like any great loss to me once I'd stopped. In the meantime, Lee and the others were getting their jug-band going… they did it quite seriously and started getting gigs and things. I eventually left University and went to India. I was there for awhile.

What were you doing over there ?

Just cruising around, the same as everyone else was… getting out of my head, and also trying to work things out. I was in quite a bad way before I went, and I was probably in a worse way when I got back. I got back and I was unemployed, and I was just living in a kind of nightmare at that time. I was mentally disturbed I think, and I just had nothing then. Out in India I'd realised that I was never going to be more than a mediocre writer, and so I stopped because there are too many mediocre writers in the world and l didn’t want to be another one.

What sort of stuff were you writing ?

Well I don’t know really, that was the thing. I mean I wanted to write poetry because I was full of ideas, and I felt, I suppose like lots of people when you’re that age, you sort of think you’ve seen some kind of secret that you've never seen revealed before. But I found that technically I wasn't good enough as a writer to write about the things that were concerning me. The most successful things that I wrote were really on a much more mundane level. So I realised out there that I wasn’t going to write the things I wanted to write, and I packed that up, so that was another thing gone. Then I decided I was going to be a painter.

As I say, I got back, I was in a right state, and I was doing nothing really, I was just getting more and more lost. Then I met Lee in the street one day, and we started talking, and I found out that this jug-band had gradually developed into a Rock’n’Roll band, and they'd just split up. The guitarist had left or something, and there was just Lee and Sparko. So we were talking, and as we were talking I started thinking I'd like to start again, and maybe they’ll ask me to join this group and start again. But Lee was kind of giving off this vibe that he was fed up and didn’t want to do it anymore, and I didn’t like to ask, so I left it. And a few days later, Sparko came knocking at my door and said, ''I don’t know if you remember me, but we were wondering if you’d like to join this group". And I said 'yeah, yeah, great.' Apparently Lee had been wanting to ask me but hadn’t liked t because I think I'd been giving off the same impression, that I didn’t want to know. And that really was how we got going.

We had a rough idea of what we wanted to do. We thought we’ll do some Chicago things, and some Rock’n’Roll, and we'll learn some pop songs so that we can get some work. We had a couple of practices, and for the first one Lee brought this Little Walter album along, and he put it on. It was ages since I'd heard Little Walter and it just sounded so great I said 'oh f**k all this pop stuff, we'll just do this, it doesn’t matter if no one wants to hear it.' So we started doing that. As weld got that kind oaf line-up… they’d found a drummer from somewhere... and it was that kind of guitar, bass and drums set-up, and I said 'oh, Johnny Kidd And The Pirates' - they really had this technique off and we’ve got to style it on that. So I played all the records I'd got, and we started learning a lot of things like that.

What was the name of that original drummer ?

Well we used to call him 'Bandsman' Howarth. His name was Terry Howarth, and held just come out of the army. He was quite a bit older, I think he was 27 or something, and he never really seemed to fit. I suppose we used to find him fairly amusing in a way, he was quite good, he drummed quite well, and he was a nice guy. 'Bandsman' Howarth was with us for awhile… we were just doing little gigs, no real gigs at all; we used to play at a pub up the road to a completely straight audience who were just down there to have a drink. Nobody would look at us, and we had to play at about 5 watts. I don’t think anyone ever clapped once in the time we were playing there. We just carried on, forged away at it, but all the time it was doing me good and I started to get my feet back on the ground and getting much more into it. Then Chris, who I hadn’t seen since the early days, since I'd first met him doing the jug-band thing, suddenly turned up again. In fact one of the first things that he did… I was sitting at home and I'd just got my dinner, I didn’t feel too hungry and I put it down beside me, and Chris kind of burst into my house. One of the first things he said was 'don’t you want that ?', and I said 'well I’m not all that hungry', so he ate my dinner, which seems like quite a good start for a manager.

He was just kind of hanging around because he was Lee’s mate. Then he went out to Holland for something or other, and while he was out there he started talking to this geezer and told him he knew this famous English band. This bloke said held put some gigs on for us, so Chris fixed all this up for us to go to Holland. 'Bandsman' Howarth wanted to go back in the army, so I said I’d get my mate The Figure. The Figure had meanwhile been drumming with all sorts of pop bands… held been professional for quite a while. We drove over to see him and asked him if he wanted to come to Holland with us, and he said "yes."

He made some excuse to his pop band and got a bit of time off, and came with us. He was really a much better drummer and the whole thing started sounding a lot more real. We got out there, and for the first time we were confronted with a real Rock’n’Roll audience who were there to hear the music, and it all went very well. At that point I realised that I wanted to play as a kind of way of life or something, and I got serious about it then. Chris, who fixed it up, came along with us, and he had such a good time that he said 'look if I buy a van can I be the manager.' So we said 'all right.' So he did that, and The Figure had such a good time that he decided he didn’t want to be involved with these pop groups anymore, so he quit that scene…he had to go and get a straight job again to make a living so he could play with us.

We were just chugging along semi-professionally for quite a long time, a year or more, until we started to get gigs in London, on the pub circuit. It was quite good because the whole scene had been built up by the Ducks, the Brinkley’s, and people like that, quite unbeknown to us, and the first generation of those bands had moved on. So there was a little bit of a vacuum, and we came along. As far as London audiences were concerned, we were completely new, we were all quite unknown, nobody had been in any bands before, and yet at the same time weld had time to form a sound and an act that was ours. It had come together to a large extent, so we had the advantage of having some experience, and also the advantage of being something completely new as well. So we started doing very well, and also getting a lot more work than we'd ever had in front of good audiences, and that really kind of shaped us up a lot as well. And from then on I suppose it's all well-known what’s happened.

Those early bands you played in, can you remember some of the names ? Was there one called The Fix, or The Roamers ?

When me and The Figure started our first little group we called it The Roamers, which is a very ingenuous sort of name. Then when I went on to get more involved with Rock’n’Roll I had a group called The Heap, which was a very appropriate name… that was a real punk, Rythm’n’Blues band… there was me, and my voice had hardly broken, trying to sing 'I'm A Man'. I went on then to a group that were quite good called The Flowerpots… in fact that was the Rock’n’Roll band, that was the last band I was in. I did join this band called The Fix that were going locally, after this band had split up and I was waiting to go to University, so I knew I was packing it all in. I was with them for a while, but that was nothing really. In fact I think Lee and Sparko got involved with them sometime while they were evolving from a jug- band into a Rock’n’Roll band. But basically I’ve only ever been in two groups - The leap and The Flowerpots, and they were only local bands. None of us apart from The Figure has ever played in a real band before.

At one point you were asked to join Robin Trowels’ band weren’t you ?

Well at the time I was starting there were several bands in Southend that were working in the Rhythm'n'Blues thing ; there were The Paramounts that had Gary Brooker and Robin Trower, etc, and there was a group called The Orioles which later evolved into a band called Legend. The Paramounts were the top one and The Orioles were next, but in fact they were my favourite ; they had a guy called Mick Jupp who was the leader I think he's the best white singer I’ve ever heard, also an excellent songwriter; they also had a brilliant guitarist called Mo Whitten… he was one of the only other people I’d heard apart from Mick Green that could really play, so I learnt quite a bit from them. That Flowerpots group were like a kind of poor mans version of them, although this band had a couple of very good musicians in it, but the other two of us, me and the drummer, weren’t up to their standard really. In the last days of this Flowerpots band we had a regular gig at a place in Southend where about ten people used to turn up to see us, and sometimes more or less no one. On a few occasions the only people in there were Micky Jupp, Mo Whitten and Robin Trower, and after awhile they would get up and play with our instruments.

It was all very embarrassing for me having two such excellent guitarists just standing there watching me, but I got to know them. At this time as well, Gary Brooker had gone off and done 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale', Robin was in Southend without a band, and he started trying to put one together ; I think for a little while there was him and Micky Jupp and a couple of other people, and I think it was called The Jam or something… they were working on a Rythm’n’Blues thing they were doing, I only heard them rehearsing once, and then I think Juppy went off somewhere else and Robin Trower turned up here one day, and asked me if I wanted to join this band as a second guitarist. I thought about it but I had to say no because for one thing I'd got a place at University and I was going within a few months, and I didn’t think it was really right to start a band with someone knowing I would only be there for awhile; and also because I was a little bit paranoid about standing on stage with him because he was a lot better than me. That was all it was, and in fact nothing came of the band anyway because Gary Brooker got him into Procol Harum, but it was just like a couple of names I could drop if ever I wanted to start talking about how I used to play the guitar… that's all that was.

Have you ever been asked to join any other bands ? I believe Sparks asked you to join them.

Yeah, I was asked on several occasions when we first got going in London ; two or three people came up and said to me "we’ve got this band, do you want to do this, do you want to do that"… just really sort of bands more or less in the same position as us, maybe a bit further on. And l said "no" because this whole thing started off as just five people who happened to know each other, just started from scratch with nothing and no one behind us. And we were making progress, things were getting very enjoyable, and I didn't think it’d be really right to leave, because it would leave everyone else in the lurch. And also because of that I didn't want to be involved with anyone else because we were getting on fine. When Sparks' people came up and asked me to join, that didn't take any thinking about. They were sort of urging me quite hard, but for exactly the same reasons I just wasn’t interested. I didn't even have to turn it over in my mind, I didn't want to play their music, I didn't want to be in the position where I was just acting under instructions from someone else, so I didn’t join them. There’s been a couple of other things like that… people have offered me money.

People talk about The Yardbirds and Johnny Kidd And The Pirates, but a lot of people seem to compare you with the early Who. How do you feel about that ?

I don’t know whether it's flattering or not - I suppose it is, it depends on how you take it. I mean when people say The Yardbirds or The Who or whatever, I think it's not so much that we’ve been influenced by them or anything like that, because none of us have. The thing is that they are all bands that started and were influenced by the same kind of things that we were influenced by, so similar things have come out.

Also, as far as yourselves and The Who are concerned, you’ve got similar backgrounds in as much that all the people came from roughly the same area and got together early on.

Yeah, right. Because it doesn't happen so much these days that local bands do break through now - most bands that get anywhere these days are bands with established musicians who get together as professional musicians. It’s unusual to see an amateur group make its way like that these days, which is another quite enjoyable thing about being in this group, that it's all just a completely new thing for all of us, every stage we get to is something exciting.

I'd like to think that it's going to go on. As soon as it stops going on I’m going to stop doing it, I think everybody in the band feels like that. If we get to a stage where we’ve reached a certain I level, and we think we’re not going to get any further than that, then obviously the whole thing about it - y’know the trip will be over because we’ll have done it and it won’t have any new experience to offer. Personally I’ve led my life just going from one experience to another. I’ve probably been at this longer that live been at anything else now, because normally I get through things in about a year or two years, but with this particular one it kind of keeps offering new things. But once that stops then we'll stop. I think that’s what’s happened to Brinsley Schwarz, they all thought they’d got to that stage and they’d done every gig, and they thought well we’re not going any further than this and so they stopped it's a great shame, but I understand why they’ve done it.

Apart from Johnny Kidd And The Pirates, what other bands do you like ?

Johnny Kidd And The Pirates, and particularly Mick Green, are the kind of things I can point to that have influenced the way I play, but I've always liked listening to all kinds of music. I really really enjoy Chilli Willi and now they’re gone as well. I just like them so much; a lot of the bands that have been on that club circuit I really like, and a lot of more famous bands as well. It's a bit hard making lists of people you like, but I do like lots of people.

When did you start writing your own songs ?

I think about the time shortly after we'd done this Holland thing, and I started getting seriously interested in the band. And also it started when I realised it was the biggest preoccupation in my mind, and that I was devoting more energy to that than to anything else. I started to write songs then because I just always feel like I've got to make things. Previously I didn’t feel the need because I thought well first of all I'm never going to be able to write a song as good as 'Route 66', and so what’s the point in writing songs, because there’s so many of those sort of songs around that we could do. Why bore people with something of mine when I could be doing that. But then I started thinking, we’ve got a band and it’s taking a definite shape and direction and we found the songs that we were doing, we gradually came down to choosing a few songs in particular because they seemed to reflect what we felt, but I could get nearer to exactly what I felt by writing my own material.

Can you see your style of song writing developing perhaps a little away from the strict Rythm’n’Blues, Rock’n’Roll format that you’re writing in now, because a lot of your songs are very disciplined three-minute things.

Well, the three-minute thing I think comes about because a lot of the music that we’re interested in is made in that way. Also because we’re very much a performing band, doing the kind of performance that we do, you can't keep that energy level up longer than that length of time in those kind of bursts, and so it falls naturally like that. We couldn’t do a song for ten minutes with that kind of energy. Also you've got to consider that Lee sings the songs mainly, he's got a certain kind of personality, a certain kind of image, a certain kind of singing style, so consequently any songs that are going to be used by this band have got to fit in with that.

I quite often start writing songs that are quite a way away from that kind of thing, and then you know after a while I think we're never going to be able to do this song, it's not our kind of thing, and so the song won't get finished, because first and foremost we’ve got to find material for ourselves. I can’t really waste my time writing some kind of ballad or something that's never going to be used I'd like to think that things will develop, I think the others will probably get into writing, they'll probably feel the same way that I felt.

Do you find the four-man line-up, with three instruments, a bit restricting ?

Well of course that's another thing, you've got to have material that will work like that ; it is restricting, but I think what we want to do can be done with that. Again because we're a performing band I think it’s a very good kind of situation for a performance, when you’ve got that few people. Once you start getting more people it's very difficult to get a performance going because there's that many elements. In fact I met Mick Green recently… we've had a couple of sessions twanging our guitars together and that… and I've been asking him all about this. Like I asked him how he got his guitar style, and he said, "listening to James Burton", and I said "yeah, but it's not like that is it ?" And he said "well it's because we were a trio and if you're just doing James Burton licks it won't fill it out enough."

Afterwards I said to myself well I thought they were a trio because he could play the guitar that way, so they didn't need another instrument. So the next time I saw him I said "look, why were you a trio, why weren't there more instruments if you needed to work something out to fit in", and he said "Johnny Kidd wanted it like that - because he said it looked better - if there were just two guitarists and a drummer, and the singer standing in between the two guitarists, it looked a whole lot better than having another instrument which destroyed the balance of the set." That seemed really great, this whole great way of playing the guitar had come about just because it looked better on stage.

Did your stage act develop naturally, or did you go out of your way to put on a show ?

When we started getting in front of proper audiences, firstly in Holland, we realised we could create far more of an effect and emphasise the attack of the music by moving a lot. We'd all done this in the past… apparently the Rock’n’Roll band that Lee and Sparko had before had been into moving around and I'd also done this on occasions in bands I'd been in. That band called The Heap, we were all rolling on our backs and all sorts of mad things... It was like any kind of musical short-comings you had, you could make up for by performing. I still feel that now, that you can play a guitar solo that’s nothing amazing, but if you’re going along at 100 miles an hour while you’re doing it, then it has a whole lot more effect.

Like the two note guitar solo in 'I'm A Hog For You Baby' ?

Exactly, yeah. It's been suggested that we should have put that on the album, but the thing is, the reason that number always goes down a storm is because there are 36 bars of violent movement in it, and without that violent movement you’ve just got 36 bars of the guitar playing two notes, which is a different feeling. Nobody sort of planned how to move or anything like that, we all just started doing it. I started moving the way I move because the same nerves are working on your body as are working• on your mind when your playing. It seems to me to express what I’m trying to put across the same as the way I’m trying to play the guitar, and then you find that certain things you do have such and such effect on an audience and you start exaggerating them.

How do you feel about the album, were you satisfied with it ?

Yeah, oh yeah. You know weld become established through our own efforts as a band playing 'live', and weld been reviewed in the press and that, and people had come to know us as playing a certain way, doing certain kinds of things. So we thought when we come to record the first album, we want to do that… play as we normally play. We thought weld try and get the sound as it is, and to record very directly, do things in one take, with as little over-dubbing as possible. There’s a couple of extra instruments added on some tracks - apart from that more or less nothing.

And then we thought that although a lot of our act was built up on standards, we didn’t want to fill an album with standards because for one thing we all really dig the originals, and we’re not too sure about the way we do them, and another thing, there’s a whole kind of scene of Rock’n’Roll revival bands, teddy boy bands, that just fill albums with reworks of standards, which never seems very satisfying. Also we wanted to make an album that had some variety and interest as an album, rather than a reminder for people of what our gigs are like, because if we just took a stream of the ones that always go down a storm, it would suffer as an album on variety.

And combined with all that was the fact that we were all totally new to recording, we didn’t have any plan of what the album was going to be, we just recorded quite a few tracks, sat back, looked at what weld got, and picked out the ones we thought were best. Some things I’m not happy with, and although the album’s been criticised, l think the criticisms have been misdirected really. I think people have got a certain idea of what Rock’n’Roll is supposed to sound like, and this has been established largely l think by the Rolling Stones and people like that, which is a very kind of big, churning, full sound, very kind of loose really, a big rolling sound, and this isn’t the sound that we make.

It’s more Rythm’n’Blues than Rock’n’Roll really.

Yeah, sure. I think we were right in what we did… we've had some reactions from America about it, and they’ve all been good, which is quite encouraging. The people that have criticised it are all critics that know l the band as a performing band, the sort of people that have got a certain idea built up in their mind of what we ought to have done. If we'd have come completely new and they’d never seen us, then they wouldn’t have any preconceptions. Also I’ve found that the punters that come along and see us at a gig, everyone of them live spoken to has been very happy with the album.

For instance, there was a group of people, our first group of people that you could actually call a following, a sort of bunch of yobs from Southend, and they’d read the review in the NME where Nick Kent really slagged us off, and they came round to Chris' place, desperately worried, they hadn’t heard the album. They’d got the impression that it didn’t sound like us, and they wanted to hear it. So Chris played it to them and they all sort of said "where I do we find this guy Kent ?" They really dug it, and a load of people since have dug it, just ordinary punters, and also people that have never seen the band and have just heard the record. It's gone down consistently well with people that haven't seen us, and haven't got any preconceptions about us. So I think it was right, although obviously you listen to what anyone says and think about it, but I think generally we're right and they’re wrong.

Obviously you eventually reach at stage where you don’t have to play that often, but can you always see your- selves as primarily a 'live' band rather than a recording band ?

Well I think that's the whole reason why I do it, and I think it probably goes for the others as well. I’m a very kind of morose sort of person really, I’m often wondering around enveloped in gloom, and when I get on stage I can just get all the rage out of me. Like I think we generally always exert ourselves beyond limits, we always play totally and just throw everything we've got into it always, whatever the gig is, whatever the audience is like. We just do it, and I think it's because we're doing it for ourselves, it's something we want to do, and that's the main reason why we’re doing it.

So I suppose for that reason we see ourselves as a performing band really. Then again who knows, I don’t know what it'll turn into, but certainly the most important thing to me is performance, because that’s what the music’s for; it’s for release, and that’s when you get the release. I mean standing around in studios and trying to get the sound right is exactly the opposite of release, it's tedium. Like a performance we do is just us trying to break out of the tedium and anyone else can come along with it if they want to.

Is there a chance that you’ll put some more 'live' material out ?

Yeah, it's quite possible…we've got some 'live' tapes of the band. Just before we were signed we were on a tour supporting Brinsley Schwarz and Dave Edmunds, and United Artists had brought the Pye mobile along to a couple of the gigs. In fact it was a result of that that the 'Bonie Moronie' track was done, and we got some 'live' tapes of that. At the time, we knew they were recording, but we didn't know if they were actually recording our set. So we just went ahead and played; we were still very much an amateur sort of thing then I suppose.

Was that when UA first got in contact with you ?

Yeah, well shortly after that was done ; it was in fact more or less at the time of the tour that we were signed. They made the tapes and a little while after that they signed us. There’s some things on those tapes that are quite usable and that I think are quite exciting. They’ve perhaps got a bit more edge than what we’ve managed to get in the studio, but then again there are other deficiencies which you can get away with 'live', but it's not really on if someone's got to hear it over and over again. But I think there’s enough there to sort of make you feel well yeah, you could do a 'live' album.

But I think rather than do that, what we're probably going to do is carry on now we-Ire more confident in the studio. We’ve tried different sorts of methods of making a 'live' sound in the studio, and l think we're going to press on with that for a while ; I think we’ll do much better on the next album. As I say, we’re all pleased with this album, and I can't look back on it now and say "shit, I wish we hadn't done this or hadn't done that." I think well we did it and I’m satisfied that we did the best we could, and I think it's good. But everybody’s already thinking of ways of getting more of that attack, y’know.

What was it like in the studio ? Did you perform as you would 'live', did you go through all the motions ?

Well actually, first of all everyone was kind of standing there and just concentrating on getting everything right, and then after a while I found that I couldn’t stand still really anyway. I found myself moving around a bit, but a lot of the 'live' performance is provoked by the fact that there is an audience there, so it's a different thing. I think a lot of the tracks we felt best on, that came out best, was where we just got the gear set up in the studio, stood there together, and we didn’t have all this kind of scene where everyone’s boxed off in different parts, and we're all just bashing away as though it were a rehearsal for a 'live' gig.

Have you got much more material written ?

We’re all starting to think of things now, but we’ve been so busy on the road that it's not been possible. As soon as this tour is over, we're going to France for four gigs, and then when we come back we’ve got a break. During that time certainly we’re going to change the repertoire quite a bit, because there are a lot of things in the repertoire at the minute that we're fed up with, or we feel could have a rest now. We’ll be looking either for things that have been forgotten or new things, just numbers that anyone can think of that we can do.

We’ve all started thinking of old songs that we could do for the next album, and I’ve started trying to write some new things, but just how much I’m going to write I don’t know. It’ll be the same as what it was with the last album, we're just going to look at what we’ve got and decide what comes out best. If it's all sort of non original stuff, that’s the way it’ll be. I don't think it will, I've got some things coming along now that l think are going to be alright. Also having met Mick Green I’ve been getting a whole lot of new ideas… maybe we might write some things together, I don't know.

Does it generate you more playing somewhere like the Rainbow to a big audience as opposed to the average pub ?

Yeah, I prefer playing to a big audience in a way actually, because for one thing it's nice to have a great big stage… you've got that much more scope with what you're doing onstage, you're not in danger of poking peoples' eyes out with your guitar and things like that; and also it gives you a bigger rush if there's a great big audience there’s blinding lights and things, it's a different feeling, but it's potential a much bigger feeling, so I like it for that.

Also I feel very sort of scared of people, I don’t know, when we used to do the pub gigs I could never look in anyone’s eyes or anything like that. I'd just try and get completely possessed by what I was doing, and try and almost forget there were all those people there and I was close to them. So if you're on a big stage you're that much more detached. Although that’s supposed to be a bad thing, in a way it’s a good thing for us because I’m just in a world of my own when I'm playing anyway, and it just makes it that much more unreal, and that much more like I feel.

Is that why you adopt that stance ? Because you’re looking somewhere between the top of the audiences head and the ceiling.

Well that's it you know. I don't know what happens when I go onstage, I’m not really there, I don't know what's going on, it's just a weird thing. I suppose if I stopped and thought about standing there with all those people looking at me, and I'm doing this thing, it would be quite frightening really. But if I withdraw and become completely involved with what I’m doing, it's OK, I can carry it through.

Do you think your guitar style has developed a lot since you started ?

I think I’ve got better over the time we’ve been playing regularly simply through practice - doing it that often. I'm not that good. I do everything I want to do ; I don't sort of think oh I wish I could suddenly do this or that... I'm doing everything I want to do, I don't have to sit at home and practise for eight hours a day or something.

Is it something that develops naturally ?

Oh yeah. I mean there's always little bits in my mind and suddenly I'll find myself doing them. Yeah, I suppose I'd really like to play better. I'd like to play as well as Mick Green, but I don't think I will, because it’s not like he's better- than me, he's just in another class. He was doing that when he was T8; he joined Johnny Kidd when he was 17, and he’s just got a natural thing. I mean I don’t play just like him, it's like everything else, you're influenced by someone, you try and do it, you get it wrong, and then you end up with something that's your own. But I don't get too bothered about technique really.

You mentioned before that you filled a vacuum in the London pub scene, but if you draw a larger parallel you’ve filled a gap in rock music today, because there isn't another band around doing what you’re doing on that level.

Yeah, I think a lot of the reason that we got on was because we were doing a certain thing at a time when there was a need for it. Probably nobody even felt the need until some people had started doing it, but I think generally there’s a feeling now of people wanting to get back to basic music. I think the Naughty Rhythms Tour has proved this really, because you’ve got three bands that are all playing basic music. There’s no kind 3 of hype or fantasy or anything - well there's always fantasy with any performance l suppose, particularly ours but these three bands are quite different and they've all been going down very very well. And I think that’s because people want it, they want something more direct.

Do you feel that you’ve broken out of the pub circuit now ?

Well we’ve got to really. We can’t go on forever doing what we were doing, which is just one-nighters all over, because it really brings you down bad, the work’s so hard, and you go out night after night and give yourself totally, and there’s no real kind of end in sight, just gigs stretching on for infinity. It’s not really very healthy… it’s a great situation at first, and then gradually it turns round. So we had to get into a position where we could just become a touring band rather than a gigging band, because then it means you can organise yourself with a tour of a certain number of dates, and then each gig becomes significant again.

In the early days when we started doing the pub thing, every gig was significant then because it was a whole new audience, and we were building up a reputation, and it all meant something. Every gig you feel is important, and it's the same with the tour… every gig becomes part of the tour, and there's an end in sight. Then you can assess what the tour’s achieved. When you’re just gigging and gigging because you’ve got to earn your living this feeling gets lost, and I think in order to retain what we’ve got, we've got to change that situation, and I think the tour has been good. We’ve come out of the tour well.

How did the name Dr. Feelgood come about ? Is it from the song ?

Yeah, in fact it was a song that I always used to do in the old days when I was playing. In fact Johnny Kidd And The Pirates do it, and it was one of the first ones we learnt when we were going through all these old Johnny Kidd records. Sparko thought of using it for the band, and it seemed like a good name so we used it.

Wilko Johnson travaille sur un nouvel album
11 Mai 2017

Nouvelle biographie sur Lee Brilleaux
27 Novembre 2016

Docteur Wilko Johnson
20 Novembre 2016

4 Novembre 2017
Dr Feelgood
Les concerts à venir...
... sur le site officiel

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


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In Memory of Lee Brilleaux & Gypie Mayo