Punk poet who ‘died’ twice is back
PUBLISHED: 10:00 07 February 2016
A punk poet who survived 29 days in a coma after “dying” twice has made a miraculous comeback, releasing an autobiography and album this week.
Garry Johnson’s life was saved a year ago by Princess Di’s ex-boyfriend, Dr Hasnat Khan.
The top heart surgeon inserted a metal valve in the 53-year-old’s heart after a triple heart bypass operation – following four heart attacks – went wrong.
His three children, aged 21, 19 and 15, had already been told he would not survive.
One of the new breed of angry working class poets, “Gal” came to prominence in the 1980s as a rebel with a social conscience.
Born in what he dubs “Hackney the slums”, and growing up in Overbury Street, he was heavily into football and boxing.
But his life changed when he saw David Bowie perform on Top of the Pops one night.
“When Bowie died I didn’t go out all day,” he said. “He was my absolute hero, but unfortunately I couldn’t sing like him.
“I tried to get into singing but our first gig was our last gig in the Duragon Arms in Homerton. It was the first and the last because we were so bad.
“I can’t hold a note or get rid of my Cockney accent – when I sing it’s more distinct than when I talk.”
Following criticism of his performance he decided to become a punk poet instead, writing “poems that Jonny Rotten would have sung”, with a radical, anti-racist and anti-establishment edge. His message was that black and white working class youth had the same enemy and the same interests.
“Boys in the World” is his answer to John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”, with lines like: “They’re not soldiers, they’re just kids; blown to pieces, smashed to bits.”
“It’s always us that has to do their dirty work,” said Gal.
“If Tony Blair wants to fight, let him go in the ring with the leader of another country – don’t let all the working class boys do the fighting.”
He continued: “I’m half Irish. I always supported the underdog – I always liked Robin Hood and Guy Fawkes, Jesse James and Ned Kelly, all the rebels with a cause.”
Gal spent a stint as the Stone Roses’ manager helping to launch the “Fools Gold” band.
“It was before they became famous, unfortunately,” he said.
“I went up to Manchester to interview them and got on so well with them I ended up staying the week instead of coming back the same day.
“They would stay in my flat in Hackney – we would stay up singing all night.”
He led a ‘rock and roll’ lifestyle, permanently on speed and then coke once he “got more successful”, and blames this for his recent heart problems.
“In them days it was just party, party, party,” he admitted. “The Stone Roses broke when the rave scene was starting. Bowie said he couldn’t write unless he was under the influence, so I took that as mantra.
“I never used to think of them as drugs but I enjoy being creative far more now – it’s done with natural adrenaline.”
But last year as he was walking through the barrier at Southend Railway station, he collapsed with a heart attack and was rushed to Southend Hospital.
When he was in a coma his internal organs collapsed and he contracted septicaemia. Only a third of his liver now works, and he has to take a cocktail of 23 prescription drugs daily.
Among the get-well messages, he was delighted to hear New Haven would like to publish his autobiography, and that Swedish rocker Soran Sufo Karlssen wanted to perform his songs for an album.
Having to learn how to speak again, he didn’t imagine he’d ever be able to write – but he has penned some new works for Karlssen, and is currently working on an “ironic God Save The Queen” for her 90th birthday this year.
Punk Rock Stories and Tabloid Tales is published by New Haven, and Soren Sulo Karlsson’s CD of the same name is released by Cargo.
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