WILKO Johnson often deadpans that cancer was a good career move.

When the musician thought he had two months left to live he recorded an album with The Who’s Roger Daltrey which became his most successful since Dr Feelgood’s live album, Stupidity, topped the charts in 1976.

And since his miraculous recovery from pancreatic cancer, adoring fans have been keen to celebrate Wilko’s life leading to a sold out show at The Royal Albert Hall to mark his 70th birthday.

Now he is counting his blessings but is still struggling to make sense of it all after being declared cancer free four years ago.

Wilko, whose real name is John Wilkinson, was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer in January 2013.

After accepting his ‘death sentence’, it was later discovered that he had a less virulent and more treatable form of the disease.

With only a 15 per cent chance of surviving the operation, a tumour the size of a melon was successfully removed, as well as part of his pancreas, spleen, stomach and intestines.

Wilko, who played an executioner in Game of Thrones and famously killed off Sean Bean’s character Ned Stark, said: “It was strange because I was assured I was going to die from this cancer.

“I wasn’t in pain with it, although the cancer was actually huge. It had swollen out on my stomach. My guitar used to actually rock on it when I was playing.

“It was the size of a melon and it weighed three and a quarter kilos when they pulled it out of me.”

Just months before this Wilko was recording Going Back Home with Roger Daltrey and thought he would never get to see it released.

The 71-year-old added: “It was actually an idea he’d come up with some time before that but it had never come together.

“Then I was ill and Roger got in touch and said: ‘You know what, we should do that album’.

“I said: ‘We better do it quick…’”

You can say that again.

Wilko, who was renowned for his choppy guitar style in his Dr Feelgood days, said: “When I was diagnosed with cancer, they reckoned I had less than a year to live.

Warrington Guardian:

“And when Roger proposed this, I think 10 months had gone by. I certainly felt it was going to be the last thing I did.

“I didn’t even think I would see it released so it was quite a peculiar feeling doing that one.

“Because I was thinking: ‘I’m going to die’ and I was stepping out of the studio into the night, coming on like Hamlet, musing away about this weird situation.

“Even the fact I was making an album with Roger Daltrey made it a bit dreamlike.”

The record got to number three in the charts and was gold certified.

Wilko said: “When I received the gold disc for it, I was lying in the hospital bed and the surgeons at Addenbrooke’s had performed this miracle.

“They’d saved my life and I wasn’t paying much interest in anything around me. I was full of morphine and I took a long time to recover. It was a massive operation.

“But anyway I did see the record released but I couldn’t really enjoy it because I was in a stupor.

“I missed that little buzz of having a record in the charts and that.”

Remarkably Wilko now feels fine – almost as if that brush with death happened to someone else.

He said: “I feel as fit as a fiddle now. I have scans every six months. They keep a real eye on me but everything’s ok.

“I’m diabetic now with not having this pancreas so I’m having insulin injections all the time.

“In the morning I have to take half a dozen pills and capsules.

“I didn’t have much of an appetite to begin with and now having half a stomach that’s just as well.”

After that year of limbo when he accepted his mortality, the psychological impact has taken more of a toll though.

Dad-of-two Wilko, whose wife Irene died of cancer in 2004, added: “It was very intense and it does transform your whole attitude to existence. You do see what matters and what doesn’t.

“You’re having all these truths forced on you and you’ll sit there and start thinking of things and going into some quite profound meditations.

Warrington Guardian:

“Sometimes I’d reflect on things and these feelings ran so deep that at times I’d think the cancer was almost worth it. Almost.

“When I look back on all this now the closest thing I can compare it to is a huge and intense dream that is fading away during the afternoon.

“It’s beyond my grasp now. Before I got cancer I used to wonder, like everybody must, what would it feel like if a doctor told me I was fatally ill? Then actually happening, it was nothing like I imagined. I never felt sorry for myself. I was never in tears.

“I suppose there was a huge dread I was living with. The moment you wake it doesn’t take a few minutes to remember it.

“I’m thinking now: ‘How did I walk around? Why wasn’t I screaming?’”

Strangely his serious illness did have some benefits.

Sid Vicious famously snarled ‘no future’ and that same thought gave Wilko’s post diagnosis shows much more intensity.

Wilko said: “One of the first things I did after the diagnosis was go to Japan, a place I love very much.

“I’ve been there a lot and I went to see all my friends and say goodbye but I did a couple of gigs.

“The money went towards the Fukushima disaster fund and I did one in Tokyo and it was packed.

“There were people out in the streets who couldn’t get into the place so they had TV screens up and everything.

“There was another one in Kyoto like that and later in the year we went out and played the Fuji Rock Festival. I also did gigs in the UK and there was this feeling of walking out on stage like it could be the last time.

“It’s almost an ideal state to play rock and roll because you have got to live in the moment you’re in.

“You can’t do anything about the past, the future’s not there and all you have is that moment.

“Of course normally when you’re playing a show you’re thinking about stupid everyday things as you’re going along.

“But back then I was just in that moment. I was reduced to this bloke in a black shirt twanging a guitar. It’s very intense playing that. I could also feel the affection of the audiences. That’s a choker.”

So after the cancer scare and recent 70th birthday celebrations, has it made the Q Icon Award-winner think about his legacy?

Despite more than 15 influential albums, across his various bands and solo projects, and his adoring fans, he remains modest.

Wilko added: “I’m not going to leave anything lasting in this world at all and that doesn’t bother me. It was like what I was saying, rock and roll is in the moment.

“That’s why I’ve always preferred playing live to making records. I just want it now in that moment.”

Wilko Johnson will play at Parr Hall with special guest Glenn Tilbrook on March 1.

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