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2 May 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 4:15pm

Wilko Johnson: “It’d be hard to make a living with a lute and curly shoes”

Wilko Johnson answers the New Statesman Q&A.

By Wilko Johnson

What’s your earliest memory?
Running down a hill and shouting, “I won’t be long!” Of course, there are no hills on Canvey Island. This must have been a heap of detritus from a building site but, to my three-year-old self, it was a Kilimanjaro.

Who was your childhood hero?
“Bill”, the captain of the Queen Mary. My adult hero? The guy who stood in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square. I can never watch this footage without choking up, and I don’t even know his name.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?
Lately, Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, Moby-Dick, and The Third Policeman by Brian O’Nolan. Every one a winner.

What politician, past or present, do you look up to?
How do you look up to the shit on your shoes? Politicians past are the fabrications of historians. Politicians present are squares, mediocrities, liars, time-serving cowards, thieves, dimwits and [consults thesaurus for suitable epithets and finds it wanting].

What would be your Mastermind special subject?
My recent appearance on University Challenge would discourage me from any such attempt. Maybe the works of the food engineer and science-fiction author E E “Doc” Smith, which I sometimes read compulsively. It’s like feasting on dolly mixtures and is not to be recommended.

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Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?
Shakespeare’s time. I could verify all the disputed texts of the plays, or I could be a groundling and piss off Burbage by shouting out, “That is the question!” at the appropriate moment. Making a living might be a problem – hard to play “Johnny B Goode” with a lute and curly shoes.

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What TV show could you not live without?
Family Guy, though I think my family could live without the theme tune bellowing through the house at 3am.

Who would paint your portrait?
Salvador Dalí. I first experienced Dalí on a school outing to the Tate Gallery in the Sixties, and I still remember the thrill of finding there was a world full of colour and mystery and laughter far away from GCEs. Give me the Spaniard. Exhibitionist, charlatan, vulgarian? “Avida Dollars”? I’ve got the money.

What’s your theme tune?
“Greensleeves”. So stately and mysterious. Who would not die broken-hearted for the Lady Greensleeves?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? And have you followed it?
“Never listen to any prat so pretentious as to give you advice.” I have followed this advice unswervingly, which is why I’m so rich and famous.

What’s currently bugging you?
The fecundity of the vegetable kingdom. My garden is turning into a dangerous jungle.

What single thing would make your life better?
If my dear wife, Irene, could rise from her grave and tell me, “Everything’s all right.”

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I’ve always been deficient in ambition or aspiration and I’ve just gone where life took me. I became a musician quite by accident.

Are we all doomed?
Of course. As William Burroughs said, “the planet drifts to random insect doom”. 

Wilko Johnson’s memoir “Don’t You Leave Me Here” is published by Abacus

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This article appears in the 26 Apr 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On