"I woke up singing this song about being in jail waiting for the electric chair": Medicine Head's John Fiddler on inspiration, love, and the perils of getting older

John Fiddler studio portrait
(Image credit: Danny Clifford)

John Fiddler formed the duo Medicine Head with Peter Hope-Evans in 1968. Thanks to tireless guerrilla gigging plus mentorship from DJ John Peel (who signed the skeletal blues-rock duo to his Dandelion label at John Lennon’s behest) they were embraced as doyens of the underground. 

Having broken overground in ’73 – enjoying hits with One And One Is One, Rising Sun and Slip And Slide – they shunned the mainstream and split. Alongside stints with the bands British Lions and Yardbirds spin-off Box Of Frogs, vocalist, guitarist, pianist and drummer Fiddler has occasionally recorded and gigged under the Medicine Head name, and has just returned to the fray with the twelfth album, Heartwork.


Who is in today’s Medicine Head line-up?

Well it’s me, basically, but David ‘Dzal’ Martin, who was in a band called No Dice, plays a fair amount of guitar on Heartwork, along with another dear friend, Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell who plays on Making Up For Lost Love

The track Get Your Hands In The Air retains a classic Medicine Head feel; with brooding restraint and warm, understated harmonica it’s an incarnation of the blues that never gets old

It doesn’t. And that’s exactly the feel we were going for. Get Your Hands In The Air also features Belinda Campbell. She and I record the backing vocals together, and she’s got a phenomenal voice. I got the idea for that song walking in the rain reaching up to the sky. 

It’s got a distinctly supernatural feel. There’s a kind of darkness to it. 

You can feel the sky come tumbling down. 

There’s a lot of love on the album

I know. The funny thing is that almost every track had ‘love’ in its title. But as my old pal Nick Lowe used to say: “What’s so funny about love and understanding?” I eternally believe in peace and love, but there is a lot of love on there, so I changed some of the titles. Gotta Hold On To Love became Gotta Hold On.

Love Is Not A Dream finds you immersed in country, with lashings of sweet slide guitar. 

It was a dream, I actually dreamt it. I woke up singing this song about being in jail waiting for the electric chair. A really weird dream. It just came out like it came out, including the three-four feel – if it is three-four. I don’t know, I can’t count… You know, One And One Is how many? 

Are there any plans to take Heartwork on the road? 

I want to go out on the road, but I’ve got to find out how to do it, but I’ll err on the positive side and say yes. I’ll be too old, otherwise. I haven’t quite got Mick Jagger’s stamina at the moment. I’ve gone from covid to bronchitis, so it’s not so much No Sleep Till Brooklyn as no sleep till bronchitis. 

Are you and Peter Hope-Evans still in touch? Might we ever see you together on stage again? 

Put it like this, I am available. Peter often says “I am not available”, so that’s why I’m saying I am available. He did express some interest a few years ago in playing some gigs, but only if we played the first album and nothing else. Those were his words, and… I don’t know. It’s been a long time, as they say.

Heartwork is out now via Living Room.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.