Wilko Johnson has had a very interesting life. Credited as one of the founders of the punk movement in England, he tasted musical success with Dr Feelgood, The Blockheads and the modestly-named Wilko Johnson Band. He then made a name for himself as an actor, playing the terrifying mute executioner Ilyn Payne in Game of Thrones. He’s also been an English teacher and a poet.
But that interesting life seemed about to end in 2013, when Johnson was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given just ten months to live. Accepting his fate, the musical icon turned down chemotherapy and embarked on an emotional farewell tour, recording a final album and visiting friends across the world to say goodbye.
It’s now 2016, of course, and remarkably Johnson’s still here. At 68, he’s healthy and cancer-free, and will be appearing at the University of Sheffield Students’ Union on 6 June to discuss his memoir, Don’t You Leave Me Here, as part of Off The Shelf Festival of Words.
It turned out that he didn’t have terminal cancer after all. A top surgeon, who also happened to be a big Johnson fan, proved the original diagnosis wrong, and after having a 3kg tumour removed, Wilko is back. Having to change his entire mindset, no longer facing imminent death, must have been very confusing, and Johnson admits he misses “the sense of urgency” his diagnosis gave him. It promises to be a fascinating talk.
More information and tickets are available here: offtheshelf.org.uk/events/wilko-johnson-2
Words: Dan Rawley