A Certain Ratio Pay Tribute to Late Manchester Songstress Denise Johnson w/ ‘Wonderland’
Image by Paul Husband and Danny Bird
Denise Johnson was one of the great unsung heroes of British music in the post-punk era. Born into a gospel-loving household in Hulme, Manchester in 1963, she would go on to provide the shiver-inducing backing (and sometimes fronting) vocals on recordings by such musical legends as New Order, Johnny Marr, Pet Shop Boys, Ian Brown and Michael Hutchence.
But nothing could ever match her astonishing performances on Primal Scream’s exalted 1991 masterpiece Screamadelica, arguably one of the greatest records ever recorded. Just check out ‘Movin’ On Up’ for definitive proof.
Still active as ever, last year she took up with Manchester cult icons A Certain Ratio, who reformed and released ACR Loco in the spring of 2020 – their first new record in 12 years. But tragically last July Ms. Johnson took suddenly ill, and shockingly died shortly after at aged just 56. The Manc music community immediately went into mourning for the utterly beloved songstress – who was actually due to deliver a new solo record in September. And now as a proper tribute, ACR will release ACR:EPA via Mute this May 7 – a collection of four tracks from the sessions the band had with Ms. Johnson last March, just before the UK went into lockdown.
As a teaser, they have just released the head-spinning new single ‘Wonderland,’ a true distillation of the ACR ethos, with its stylistic nods to punk, funk, free jazz, and Anglo-psychedelia. Johnson’s echo-laden voice has never sounded so eerie and enigmatic, with a decidedly haunted overall quality to her performance. What’s most fascinating, is that the lyrics to the songs hadn’t yet been written, so she was in fact using her voice as another instrument.
“We’re so happy with the results and the outcome,” says ACR’s Martin Moscrop, “and hopefully this release gives an insight into how much fun and energy Denise would always bring to a session when we recorded together. She was always laughing and smiling and full of passion.”
And here, her passion truly lives on.