‘œLooking Back At Me’ from Cadiz Music by Wilko Johnson with Zoë Howe

‘Looking Back At Me’ by Wilko Johnson with Zoë Howe, follows her widely acknowledged publications, ‘Typical Girls the story of the Slits’ and ‘How’s your Dad?: Living in the Shadow of a Rock Star Parent’. As musician and writer, and strategically placed within the Southend music/writers scene, Zoë is uniquely poised to gain personal insight into the Wilko Johnson story. ‘Looking Back At Me’ is fast gaining triumphant acclaim. When I ask Zoë where this latest project fits in with her other publications she explains that this has been a very personal project as her husband Dylan Howe happens to play in Wilko’s band. This is not inconsistent with Zoë’s previous approach; her Slits association includes musical collaborations with Viv Albertine

1970’s Canvey Islanders Dr Feelgood, with their uniquely soulful R n B rose to fame in an ascent characterised with smouldering masculinity by the combined forces of Wilko Johnson, renowned for his distinctive punctuated guitar playing and stage strut, and singer Lee Brilleaux. The band has provoked a good deal of commentary from peers and critics in music. ‘Looking Back At Me’, Wilko Johnson’s autobiography is published on 30 May; within the pages are some industry gems:

‘I often say to journalists there is a bridge between the old times and the punk times. That bridge is exclusively the Feelgoods, it allowed us to go from one thing to another. That’s the connection, the DNA.”
JJ Burnel

“When I heard ‘Down By The Jetty’ by Dr Feelgood I thought, those cunts! That’s what I’d been trying to arrive at. A brilliant re-interpretation of primal music coupled with words that were pertinent to me.”
Bob Geldof

Whilst giving a detailed and frank insight into the musician Wilko, Zoë Howe has rooted in to get to the man behind the stage persona ‘I like to pick up the stone and look underneath it’ she comments. Zoë succeeds in revealing Wilko’s sensitive side and the substance of the man. The book is beautifully constructed with stylish sequences of photo-journalism and stand alone quotes. Thus it works on a number of levels, as conversational and pictorially engaging; the images (many by music photographer Jerry Tremain) telling their own story of performance, character and band dynamics. With some clever structuring we have the sense of now and then conveyed in the title.

Recollections from Wilko, a proficient raconteur with an expansive catalogue of experience, are presented in the format of an oral history. The book covers the hugely formative era of Dr Feelgood, within the context of Wilko’s greater journey. The story progresses from Canvey Island and the flood of 1953 ,one of his earliest memories, family life, grammar school, meeting his wife Irene (who is discreetly yet hugely present within the pages), to Newcastle University, India, a brief spell as a teacher, Dr Feelgood, Ian Dury and the Blockheads and Wilko’s current band with Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe. Also included is the Julien Temple film ‘Oil City Confidential’. Wilko’s life is peppered with amusing anecdotes, rich in the creative process, and lifelong friendships and experiences that are not only etched on his mind, but jump from the page.

The book captures the intense energy of Dr Feelgood, an arsenal of young guns with Wilko on guitar posturing his combination of musical prowess and deep somewhat troubled expression, and the sense of the chemistry between the band as powerful as dynamite. The back drop of their heritage, the Canvey Island estuary industrial, ugly-beauty infusing the music, completes this very male identity and the sense of a phenomenon that sprang from below sea level.

Playing on the now and then quality of the title, Zoë Howe’s selected melange of ‘œthe man’ and ‘the life’ from astronomy, to literature, to guns, captures the enormity of his experience and the diversity of a life lived and the power of the Dr Feelgood era: a short by intensely influential time. Wilko today is reflective, with a pragmatic manner of talking about the big incidents of his life, and the future.

Wilko & Zoë will sign copies of “Looking Back at Me” at Rough Trade East at 6pm on Wednesday 30th May 2012. The signing will be followed by a Q&A and a half hour set with Wilko’s band featuring Norman Watt-Roy (bass) & Dylan Howe (drums).

Rough Trade East, Dray Walk, Old Truman Brewery,
91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL.
Tel: 020 7392 7790.

Zoë and Wilko will be in conversation on 3rd June at Stoke Newington Town Hall for the Stoke Newington Literary Festival; Wilko and his band will be performing.

Zoë Howe’s next publication FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE: AN ALMIGHTY SOUND comes out in September.

Bryony Hegarty

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