Wilko Johnson was a teacher, but his true vocation was rock and roll.

Forty years on, he is still going strong. Matt Westcott speaks to the former Dr Feelgood guitarist ahead of his visit to County Durham.

"I THINK I got the teaching job almost on the same day that I bumped into Lee Brilleaux in the street and we decided to start Dr Feelgood,” says Wilko Johnson, relaxing at home during a break from an extensive UK tour.

“But by the end of that school year, I had decided that I would go for the rock and roll life.

“I announced to the staff room ‘I’m leaving and I am going to be a rock and roll star and I will see you all next year when I will be driving a golden Cadillac’.”

What might have sounded to some like a rash boast, turned out to very prophetic as he and Brilleaux laid the foundations for what became one of the most influential rhythm and blues bands of the Seventies.

“When Dr Feelgood started it was purely a local band, we wanted to play for fun,” says the man from Canvey Island. “But when we got going I kind of felt that the band had something. That had a lot to do with Lee, who was a very intense character and performer.

I thought ‘this guy’s a star’.”

Johnson’s signature style – combining the facets of both lead and rhythm guitar – was as key to the band’s success as Brilleaux’s persona in front of the microphone. Nationwide fame followed and he went on to feature on four albums before the cracks began to appear.

“We were tremendous friends,” he says of his relationship with Brilleaux. “That’s a horrible phrase.

But we had so much fun, especially in the early days. Sadly, when success did come our way, relationships got strained and, eventually, they rejected me.”

Though hurt and somewhat angered at the manner of his departure in 1977, Johnson pushed on undaunted.

“I always thought Dr Feelgood would be my only venture into music,” he said. “But I was hooked and I couldn’t really do anything else, so I just had to struggle along.”

“It was pretty freaky really,” he says of that time.

“They were like my family. They were the only people you know and suddenly there I was on my own without the protection that offered.

“It’s funny you know, you get a little bit rich and famous and it’s amazing the amount of friends you get.

“They all came swarming around and helped me to do all the wrong things and I was floundering about for years and years.

“I remember Vic Maile, Dr Feelgood’s record producer, saying ‘you could take a year off and people will still remember you’ and I didn’t believe him. I said ‘a year? People will forget me in a year’ and I just wanted to get going. I had no management or direction and I kind of drifted right up until Ian Dury asked me to join the Blockheads.”

That and the fact he was to play alongside one of his heroes gave Johnson’s life new focus.

“One of the main motives for joining was that I loved Norman Watt-Roy’s bass-playing. I had never met him at this time, but he was my favourite bass player,” he says. “We have been playing together for 30 years or so now. I joined the Blockheads and took Norman with me.”

While he has never really gone away, Johnson’s name was thrust back into the headlines thanks to the 2009 rockumentary, Oil City Confidential, directed by Julien Temple.

Telling the story of Canvey Island and Dr Feelgood, the critically-acclaimed film uses Johnson as its centrepiece.

“I was wondering how on earth he would manage it. Dr Feelgood existed during the days before video cameras and there is little live footage. Lee is now dead and so there aren’t many people to talk to,” he says.

“The first thing he wanted to do was to go over to Canvey Island, to the oil depot, to do some interviews.

If you live in Canvey Island, you are always aware of the oil depot, but no one ever goes there.

“I had never been in there in my life. But he didn’t just want to go in there, he wanted to go in the night time and project live footage of Dr Feelgood onto the side of one of these big oil tanks in order to provide a backdrop for the interviews.

“To stand in the oil depot, in the night-time, with these images from 30 years ago in the background, it was a breathtaking experience – I could have stood there all night. I thought ‘Julien Temple’s a live one’. I found found myself being swept along by him.”

Now 64, this accidental musican is as energised as ever.

“I like to hurl myself into it with gusto. It’s what I do. I think that if I find myself slowing down I shall buy a little cottage in the country and contemplate the world from there,” he says.

“Almost nothing gets me up in the morning, but I do spring up very early in the afternoon. I kind of got into this way of life by accident, I never intended to do this really, but there is something rather nice about it and it never loses its appeal.”

Wilko Johnson plays Shildon Civic Hall on October 22. Box Office: 07836-350507