Mick Green: Wilko Johnson Pays Homage
The Pirates’ Mick Green, who passed away yesterday, was an enormous influence on founding Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson. In fact, Dr Feelgood took their name from an American R&B tune covered by The Pirates. Come inside to read Wilko’s tribute to Green.
Interview: Ian Fortnam
Mick Green was clearly an enormous influence, when did you first see him play?
It was a Saturday I know, because Saturday Club was on, which was a programme on at midday on the BBC, which was one of the only bits of pop music that you would hear then, it was before pirate radio even.
Anyway, I was walking across the room and Brian Matthew said: “This is Johnny Kidd & The Pirates” and it was their new record I’ll Never Get Over You. I heard the guitar and I just sort of stopped in mid-stride, and when the solo came in I just thought: “This is fantastic, its sounds just brilliant.”
And then the next week they were on Thank Your Lucky Stars, a rock programme where the bands would come on and mime to their records, and there’s Johnny Kidd with his three-piece band. And I’m looking at the guitar player and I’m thinking that the lead guitarist must be sick or something because this guy’s not doing all of that… and then I found out, yes he was, so I wanted to be exactly like that.
In fact when the Stones’ first album came out I remember taking the day off school, and when we went out to get the Stones album I was flicking through the old second-hand singles in there and I found I Can Tell by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates and we took them back to my friend’s house, and we sat there all afternoon listening to the Stones album and I kept putting that on and I was just like: “It’s all great, I don’t know which one do I dig then most.” So I was a fan from then on.
So did you immediately set out to learn the rhythm and lead combination that Mick Green was pioneering?
Yeah, although this was really difficult to do, I mean, you’re playing the singles at 33 rpm to try and find out what’s going on. In fact it’s all quite simple, I suppose. Well, the way that I worked out of doing it. But yeah, listening to those, but of course there is so little of it that’s actually on record apart from these singles that I managed to buy, and just listening to them over and over. Yeah, I really wanted to play like that, but it was a bit of a struggle.
It’s great to watch, watching you play it’s like watching somebody do a magic trick, you’re hearing all this going on but you can’t equate it to what the right hand’s doing. There’s seems to be so little going on, there’s such an economy of movement,
It is actually very simple what’s going on there, in fact I think it’s the left hand that’s really doing it, the right hands just really sort of chugging away like a metronome. When we started attracting attention with Dr Feelgood, I’ll never forget we’d be playing in London pubs and people would come up and either asking how you did it or coming up to the roadies and saying: “Where’s the tape recorder?” And they’re going: “What do you mean?” And they’re going: “We’ve been watching that guy and he ain’t playing all that.” And it’s baffled me, until the first time I saw it on film and I thought: “Bloody hell, I can’t see how it’s done.”
Did the fact that geographically speaking he was just down the road encourage you in your own playing endeavours?
I had no idea about him, or anything about him really, but shortly after I got into this whole Johnny Kidd & The Pirates thing, he left Johnny Kidd to join Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas. So I remember me and my missus, well, girlfriend then, going to see him play up at a college on London and I stood at the front gawping at him and, this is so embarrassing, the show’s finished and, oh man, I jumped on the stage and I wouldn’t even let him get off stage, and I’m standing there going: “I think you’re the greatest.” And I mean, what a twat, and he was really good about it: “Do you play in a band do you” and all that, and then I went: “Can I have your autograph?”
And all I had was a school copy of The Winter’s Tale, so I went: “Sign that.” And he signed it, and years went by, and I eventually met him and he came down to my place and we were talking and after I said to him: “Actually, we’ve met before.” And I had to describe this incident, and he didn’t recall it, but I pulled out that very copy of The Winter’s Tale.