Looking back at your time in Dr Feelgood (pictured above), what’s your best memory of those times?
I think it was when we started to play in London pubs and clubs. We started the band purely for fun. If you had told me back then you’re going to be a professional musician and spend your life doing it, I would never have believed you. And what we were playing was not – this was the early ’70s – fashionable or anything.
It was all Prog-rock and Glam-rock…
Exactly. In fact, we were rather looked down on by the other local bands because we were playing this old-fashioned music (laughs). So we were playing locally for a couple of years and we got our style together, the look of the band, the show and the music. So the whole thing was kind of fully formed and then we found out about this London club scene, which was happening quite strongly at the time. It was a time when people were going to venues, to pubs, not just to drink but hear music and see bands and there were a lot of different kinds of good bands playing and both professional and established musicians even playing. But we came up from Canvey Island and we were completely unknown but the whole thing was completely together, what we were doing. We just had such an impact and very quickly we got very, very popular. That feeling was great. It made you feel special. That was nice. They were great days.
And with that came the pressure of stardom and fame, which affected the band, I suppose?
Yeah, exactly, it’s the old, old story. When you just asked me, what do you look back on fondly, it was that. But it was good and we started getting bigger and bigger and you’re playing at Hammersmith Odeon instead of Dingwall’s. That’s a nice feeling as well. In the end it was probably more fun at Dingwall’s though.
In the seventies you had a scary onstage persona – charging about on stage like your guitar was a machine gun and staring intensely straight ahead. How did that persona come about?
Dr Feelgood’s show came from Lee Brilleaux, the singer. He was a very intense kind of person. Very nervy. And on stage, this really came out and he would have this urgency and violence about what he was doing and I used to bounce off of that really. To me, he was the focus of it. I didn’t deliberately invent what to do. I just did what was natural, feeling like that. In fact, if you were dancing to a record you like and you want to get up and dance, you don’t care what kind of idiot you look or anything, you just start flinging yourself about. And that’s exactly what I was doing, and finding that with a guitar solo you could excite people with it. It looks a darn sight more exciting if you’re playing it on a machine gun and looking serious (laughs). The whole point of everything was just to create excitement, which people enjoy. So, it was never deliberately worked out, it worked itself out by us going with what we felt like.
Some younger people will know you from your role as an executioner in Game Of Thrones (pictured above) rather than your music with Dr Feelgood.
Certainly. When it was announced that I’ve got terminal cancer and had declined treatment, somehow it got picked up by the mainstream press all over the world and I remember the New York Times said I was the actor, Wilko Johnson, because I was much better known over there for Game of Thrones than anything I’d ever done musically. (Laughs). But that’s the only acting I’ve ever done.
How did being an actor then compare with working as a musician?
It was completely different. With filming you’re sitting around a lot drinking coffee dressed up as warriors (Laughs). And then you got five minutes waiting to be lit right. And then you sit down and relax again for another half hour or so while they do what they do, but the whole thing was so enjoyable and so much fun. I remember the first scene I did in it was supposed be in a hall in some torch lit situation with the King and there’s all these knights, so we’ve got swords and chainmail. And standing there, I had to give some kind of reaction. Ah man, it was just like being a kid. I thought “yeah, I really am a warrior.” It was so much fun.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of having achieved?
I’m proud of Dr Feelgood as I think that as well as was what we did, we changed history in many ways because I think it’s certainly true that we were the absolute forerunners of the whole punk movement. All of those people, all of those bands that came out in ’76 had been watching Dr Feelgood in 1975. So yeah, I feel quite proud of that.
What does the future hold? What’s in the pipeline after this album?
We’ve been off for four or five weeks. We don’t like that. We’re back on the road again soon and off to Finland. Before we do, we’ll probably have a couple of days to rehearse in the studio and also see what we’ve got material-wise for another album. So I guess I’m hoping to make another album, which is a sort of short-term goal. What does the future hold? Well, I can’t say ‘I’m going to spend the next five years doing this or that….’ because I haven’t got five years, not unless I’m lucky.
But you never know, do you?
No, that’s another thing I learned: you never, never, know.
WILKO JOHNSON’S ‘I KEEP IT TO MYSELF: THE BEST OF WILKO JOHNSON’ IS RELEASED ON 3rd MARCH VIA CHESS/UNIVERSAL.