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Looking Back at Me, By Wilko Johnson


Wilko Johnson is much more than the manic-looking former guitarist with Dr Feelgood. Oil City Confidential, Julien Temple's 2010 film, revealed Wilko to be a true English eccentric, combining post-punk philosophising with a love of astronomy and latterly a chain-mail-wearing part as a mute executioner in the fantasy series A Game of Thrones.

Looking Back at Me, written with Zoë Howe, is a fascinating biography. The excellent design mirrors Wilko's offbeat personality; a coffee-table book with photos, pull-out quotes, old school reports and thoughts from Planet Wilko. It begins with Johnson, aka John Wilkinson, being born on Canvey Island, Essex, and as a five-year-old surviving the floods of 1953. His father is an ex-soldier from Stepney, "a stupid and uneducated and violent person" who used to hit him. His dad dies when Wilko is a teenager. Johnson makes it to grammar school and university, where he discovers a love for art, Shakespeare and Icelandic sagas.

Johnson guides us through his years on the hippy trail in India and Afghanistan, his spell as an English teacher, and then the epic years of Thames Delta R&B with Dr Feelgood. The other three band members were boozers and Wilko was into speed; they stupidly split up over nothing much in 1977.

Post-Feelgood, Wilko forms a band with Solid Senders ("useless, conceited prats"), joins Ian Dury's Blockheads, and has an unwise dalliance with whisky. He married Irene when he was at university and they had two children. Despite admitting to affairs in his rock-star years, he remains terribly affected by her death.

Wilko is still playing and finds solace in the stars. He's built an observatory in Southend and the book contains his photos of the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter.

This is, after all, a man who says: "I really would like to go into the galaxies, to be in the intergalactic void." After reading this massively entertaining book, it feels like the reader's been there, too.

Pete May's 'The Joy of Essex' is published by Biteback in October