Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Wilko Johnson "Looking Back At Me" with Zoë Howe

Cadiz Music, the producers of Julien Temple's excellent Dr. Feelgood documentary "Oil City Confidential" have published a beautifully presented new book "Looking Back At Me"This is the fascinating and visually stunning autobiography of former Dr. Feelgood guitarist, Wilko Johnson. Written in collaboration  with acclaimed music writer Zoë Howe, Wilko tells his own story in short sharp bursts, reminiscent of his unique and wildly energetic guitar style. Of course Canvey Island plays a large part in the story, from his upbringing - "I was born below sea level" - to the devastating floods of 1953 and his difficult relationship with his father. When Dr. Feelgood started out, they deliberately cultivated the "myth" of Canvey, turning the rather desolate and rough Island, with it's smoke-billowing oil refineries, into the altogether more romantic and Bluesy sounding, Thames Delta. Wilko then goes off on a hippy Indian odyssey, and he takes us through some amusing experiences on his rather drug-addled journey. Returning home and vowing to lead a "normal" life, there are musings on his spell as an English teacher and Zoë has unearthed an affectionate poem from some of his pupils, along with numerous school reports and photographs. Then of course we get to the wild, turbulent days of Dr. Feelgood and Ian Dury and The Blockheads, to his superb current band featuring Norman Watt-Roy (bass) and Dylan Howe (drums). 

Wilko in his element - Photo by David Coombes
There is a searing honesty in his recollections on the sad demise of Dr. Feelgood. Wilko admits that, although he and once close friend Lee Brilleaux hated each other with a vengeance towards the end, he couldn't actually pin-point the reason that sparked the animosity in the first place. There is a sense of melancholy and regret seeping through the pages when he looks back on this period and how he never made his peace with Lee before he passed away. However, Wilko is a man of many interests, and there are chapters devoted to his passion for astronomy, art, literature, clouds, poetry, sci-fi, and Shakespeare, not forgetting his acting in the sci-fi drama "Game Of Thrones". "Looking Back At Me" features anecdotes from notable Wilko fans, including Robert Plant, Alison Moyet, ex-flat mate JJ Burnel, and Keith Levene, amongst others. There are also many previously unseen images of Wilko from throughout his life, copies of handwritten lyrics, tour passes, paintings, posters and lots of memorabilia all brilliantly compiled by Zoë, making this the ultimate dream of a book for any Dr. Feelgood and Wilko Johnson fan.  

Wilko - Photo by Jerry Tremaine
Zoë Howe is a music writer whose books include the acclaimed biography "Typical Girls", The Story Of The Slits and "How's Your Dad? Living In The Shadow of a Rock Star Parent", both published by Omnibus Press, and her writing has appeared in The Quietus, NME, BBC Music, Channel 4 Music, Contemporary Magazine, Company and others. In addition to writing she has made music radio series for Resonance FM and RTI, and has appeared as a pundit on Absolute Radio, BBC 6 Music, E4 and Planet Rock. Zoë is also a drummer and has worked with Viv Albertine (The Slits), Anne Pigalle, Mick Jones, and Steve Beresford. Zoë's next book is the biography of Florence & The Machine called "An Almighty Sound", also to be published by Omnibus.

You can order "Looking Back At Me" along with the DVD of Julien Temple's superb Dr. Feelgood movie, "Oil City Confidential", directly from Cadiz Music. Read about our little Dr. Feelgood' Southend and Canvey Island excursion, inspired by the movie, on the Blog here. The book also features some very early Dr. Feelgood photos taken by Retro Man Blog contributor, Rock Photographer, Paul Slattery. You can listen to Paul talking about the impact of seeing Dr. Feelgood had on him and his music photography, in our special edition of the Retrosonic Podcast.


  1. Good review Steve - you've nailed it. There's more on the Looking Back book over at my place tomorrow...

    Did you see Wilko popped up for another improv gig at The Railway Friday (with Fi on drums)?

  2. Thanks Mondo! Yeah, I saw Wilko popped in for a jam at Fi's wedding...great stuff!