Sonisphere 2014 appearance for terminally-ill rock star at Knebworth
- Credit: Archant
A terminally-ill rock legend will make an emotional return to Knebworth Park this summer as part of the Sonisphere 2014 Festival.
Also on the bill is Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, who has pancreatic cancer.
Last year, festival co-founder Stuart Galbraith told the Welwyn Hatfield Times – Sonisphere’s local newspaper – that the 2014 bill would pay homage to Knebworth’s rich musical heritage.
Celebrating the Hertfordshire rock venue’s 40th anniversary, Sonisphere will feature the return to Knebworth of guitar great Johnson.
Credited as a major influence for the English punk movement, the musical heavyweight last played the Hertfordshire stately home in September 1978 on a bill including Frank Zappa, The Tubes, Peter Gabriel and more, with his band Wilko Johnson’s Solid Senders.
The electric axeman’s outstanding contribution to music was recognised when Led Zeppelin legend Jimmy Page presented Johnson with ‘The Innovator Award’ at the Classic Rock Magazine Roll of Honour in November last year, in front of an audience including Black Sabbath, The Kinks’ Ray Davies and Manic Street Preachers.
After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last January, the veteran former Dr Feelgood guitarist refused chemotherapy treatment so that he could keep on playing live and record a final album with The Who frontman Roger Daltrey.
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That record, Going Back Home, is released next week and features 11 tracks, 10 of which are Wilko originals from both his Dr Feelgood days and solo years, while the sole cover on the album is a version of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited classic Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window.
Wilko and Daltrey performed tracks from it at a very special one-off show at London’s O2 Shepherds Bush Empire.
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The album’s roots began in 2010 when Roger and Wilko found themselves sitting together at an awards ceremony talking about raucous old school British rhythm & blues.
“It turned out we both loved Johnny Kidd & The Pirates,” said The Who star Daltrey, name-checking creators of Shakin’ All Over and Please Don’t Touch.
“They’d been a big influence on both our bands. That heavy power trio sound, backing up a singer: it’s a British institution. No-one does that better than us.”
They decided on the spot it would be a great idea to collaborate together on an album but both being busy men, the idea drifted away.
Then, in January 2013, Wilko was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he had just months to live.
The guitarist, riding high after Julien Temple’s acclaimed Dr Feelgood documentary Oil City Confidential, seized upon the opportunity to make the most of his time left.
When The Who finished a sold-out world tour Daltrey was delighted to discover that, mercifully, Wilko was still well enough to fulfil their ambition of making an album together.
“Roger jumped up and said ‘let’s do it’,” said Johnson. “He knew this lovely little studio called Yellow Fish in Uckfield. Unfortunate name for a place, but a great studio.”
The album was recorded last November in a week, using Wilko’s crack touring band of Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe, with ex-Style Council and Dexys keyboardist Mick Talbot also guesting.
Wilko credits the producer, Dave Eringa, with pulling it all together in such a short time.
“Everyone got on famously, it was a great atmosphere,” said Johnson.
The album mostly features re-makes of vintage Wilko gems, including the Feelgood’s All Through The City, Keep It Out Of Sight and Going Back Home – the latter co-written in 1975 with Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ guitarist Mick Green – plus Everybody’s Carrying A Gun, originally recorded by his post-Feelgood group The Solid Senders, who played at Knebworth 36 years ago.
For Wilko, who has faced down his cancer with admirable good humour and steely courage, Going Back Home represents a dream fulfilled at the end of his life.
“I’ve had a brilliant year,” he said. “I was meant to die in October and now I’ve recorded this with Roger. I can’t keep gushing, but I saw The Who in 1969 when I was at university. He’s a star to me.”
“I’m very proud of this album,” added Daltrey, who is donating his royalties from the album to a teen cancer charity.
For further Sonisphere information, visit the festival’s website at www.sonisphere.co.uk
* For pictures of previous Sonisphere Festivals at Knebworth, look through our gallery of images.
* Keep checking back at the Welwyn Hatfield Times website for the latest line-up news, interviews and ticket information.