Ady Johnson

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Image by Rob Kelly
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Ady Johnson, as he’s known on stage, hails from Suffolk but is now settled in Colchester. About 12 years ago, Ady began performing as a singer/songwriter. He gathered a band, and at the end of 2010, self-released his debut ‘Tell The Worry Dolls’. Now, he is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its release and Ady reflects on how it all began.

Ady Johnson first found his passion for music in the school classroom after getting a reputation for playing 80’s theme tunes with his ruler and desk. His mother later suggested he get guitar lessons, which he hadn’t given much thought to previously and the rest, as they say, is history. It led him to studying a music degree in Classical Guitar Performance at Colchester Institute, where he found his band mates for FuzzFace, a visceral Rock’n’Roll band inspired by the likes of The Who and Small Faces. They encountered plenty of success locally in the 90’s, including a slot on the BBC Radio Suffolk Stage at Ipswich Music Day.

Once the band went their separate ways, 2010 saw Ady’s breakthrough as a solo artist with the release of his debut album ‘Tell The Worry Dolls’. Remising on that time, Ady remembers the troubles mother-nature caused during the album launch gig: “It was at the Colchester Arts Centre and I remember watching the snow falling heavily after a very dry spell and thinking the launch isn’t going to happen. On the night, it was a case of people abandoning their cars, we thought about calling it off but decided to go ahead and 150, maybe 200 people attended. It was lovely that people turned out for that night.”

With the pandemic meaning no gigs, and it being impossible to plan anything in advance right now, the recent 10th-anniversary of ‘Tell The Worry Dolls’ didn’t quite get the celebrations it deserved. As a result, Ady thought it would be a good idea to finally get an unedited video recording, directed by Rob Watts of the album launch gig from the 2010 out there, explaining “I planned to stream it live the week prior to Christmas, which was actually 10 years to the day of the launch, but tech gremlins caused it to be really glitchy and I couldn’t go ahead with it. I was devastated because I put so much work into it. Not all was lost though, I put it up on YouTube instead and it’s got a lot of hits – so that’s nice.”

Shortly after the release of his debut album, Ady spent some time living in London and getting to know music scenes and playing the circuit, which led a release of an EP in 2015 ‘Thank You For The Good Things’ and second album ‘London Songs’ in 2018; both produced by Gerry Diver. During his time in London, Ady was invited to support Ivor Novello award-winning artist Scott Matthews on three tours, who Ady first supported at Colchester Arts Centre back in 2014. “Those gigs were great, as they got me more established and exposed to a wider audience. We played beautiful venues such as the Union Chapel and the Minack Theatre near Penzance. I felt very fortunate, playing some lovely venues with a quality artist, and here we now are.” explained Ady.

The pandemic has evidently changed the way musicians approach gigs now, one of the main adaptations being live-steaming. Ady has done a handful of live streamed gigs too and confesses he initially didn’t like the idea of it. The idea of doing something at home felt a bit weird to him as he believes live performance is about relationship you have with the audience and that you can’t engage with the audience in the same way using this medium. Ady adds: “It can feel quite remote and surprisingly nerve-wracking at first but it’s a nice thing to do for both yourself and for people who are stuck at home and want to engage with something. They’ve been fun and very rewarding.” 

Audiences love to stay connected and supportive of the industry and independent artists, and many are doing so already by tuning into the online live streams but despite the technical advancements the music industry has made during this pandemic, Ady admits that he still worries about what this pandemic means for music: “Everyone involved in the arts and entertainment industry have taken a big hit. Live music’s something people are really missing. It enriches our lives, it takes us beyond the humdrum of day-to-day life, and it’s an essential ingredient to human welfare and happiness; so I would encourage people to do whatever they can, attend online shows, buy artists merchandise and music, or put a few quid in the tip jar. There’s no live music without venues of course, so try and support them in any way you can. My friend Johnno Casson has recently contributed track to #HelpForMusiciansUK charity compilation ‘And in the End’. So do go check that out at hopenothate.bandcamp.com/help-musicians-uk-charity-compilation.”

In between his working making music and playing live, Ady teaches guitar for his bread and butter, and also does a little bit of antique furniture restoration, which was his trade when he left school. He’s been focusing on teaching a lot more over the past year; but looking forward, the future looks bright for Ady.

He has been getting involved with the Warm and Toasty Club in Colchester. Before the pandemic, they ran events at the Colchester Arts Centre – it’s a community-funded non-profit arts organisation working in the arts, music, and entertainment. Events have now moved online; people share stories, talk about memories they had when they were kids. Ady comments “The hosts, Johnno, Jeanette and Tom are a good laugh – it’s a great tonic for these times. There’s a ‘biscuit of the week’, ‘retro raffle’ and ‘poem of the week’. Musicians are invited to play a few songs. I’ve played a few now and been invited to play again on the 9th of April and the 21st of May.”

He’s also looking at getting the original ‘Tell The Worry Dolls’ album remastered and to re-release in some capacity; possibly on vinyl. However, there are some doubts as Ady explains: “the best way to sell vinyl is at live gigs – people like to purchase a physical item after the show. So, it’s a case of working out what’s viable, but either way I’d like to have something available in the next few months. At the same time I’m working on the third record as well, so I’m keen to get that under way.”

Speaking more of those plans, Ady explained “I started chatting with Steve Mann at Backwater Records, and we demoed a few songs before the lockdown, with a view to maybe doing an album – returning to my old classical guitar, not playing classical style but using that instrument and having something much more intimate and introspective, and recorded quite raw – but you go into a studio situation with that in mind the then next thing you know you’re thinking about hiring The Royal Philharmonic or something!”

There’s also been a few bookings made for gigs in October, but it’s understandably up in the air right now, therefore, it’s worth following Ady online for all the latest news.

Before we left, we asked Ady which three albums he would put as his Desert Island Discs, he responded with “I’d put something quite visceral in there to jump around to when I’m feeling a bit primal so I’d put Iggy Pop’s Raw Power in, which might surprise a few people! Let’s put a Beatles album in there, it’s a toss-up between Revolver or Sgt Peppers, but I’ll say Sgt Peppers. Lastly, I’d like an album of Julian Bream playing Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal for Guitar on a theme by John Dowland. That’s a bizarre mix of things there!”

You can find out more about Ady Johnson on www.adyjohnson.co.uk. Follow him on social media: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram. You can listen to his Music on Spotify or YouTube, or find CDs and merchandise at adyjohnson.bandcamp.com.