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Julien Temple: The Ecstasy Of Wilko Johnson

Director Julien Temple captures guitar hero’s post-Oil City Confidential afterlife.

When Wilko was diagnosed with (seemingly) terminal pancreatic cancer at the start of 2013, his unexpectedly euphoric reaction made his final months documentary gold.

The undoubted star of Temple’s Oil City Feelgood history, Mr Johnson is animated by the director’s allusive style, cinematic sampling and psychedelic inclinations.

Ecstasy charts a spectacular odyssey – a vital and erudite rock’n’roll life force symbolically plays chess with death on the shore of his beloved Canvey. Sundry revelations (a gleeful, Telecaster-toting Wilko recalling his abusive father’s death afront a local arcade is particularly potent), astute contributions from Roger Daltrey and Charlie Chan (the photographer/doctor who suggests a second opinion) fill out the picture.

To the previously screened-on-TV version, the handsomely packaged DVD adds a “watch with Wilko feature” and an excellent new essay by his biographer, Zoe Howe.

Wilko is a reluctant, humble, human and a warmly philosophical hero. He insists on maintaining a, wait for it, “sense of tumour”, but Temple adds footage of head-cleaving Viking berserkers to complement the incendiary presence captured on contemporary and archive clips. All told, the sort of life-affirming, death-defying Ecstasy everyone can share in.

Classic Rock 221: Stuff

Late NME, Daily Mirror and Classic Rock writer Gavin Martin started writing about music in 1977 when he published his hand-written fanzine Alternative Ulster in Belfast. He moved to London in 1980 to become the NME’s Media Editor and features writer, where he interviewed the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer, Pete Townshend, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Ian Dury, Killing Joke, Neil Young, REM, Sting, Marvin Gaye, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, James Brown, Willie Nelson, Willie Dixon, Madonna and a host of others. He was also published in The Times, Guardian, Independent, Loaded, GQ and Uncut, he had pieces on Michael Jackson, Van Morrison and Frank Sinatra featured in The Faber Book Of Pop and Rock ’N’ Roll Is Here To Stay, and was the Daily Mirror’s regular music critic from 2001. He died in 2022.