Roger Johnson was a wonderful chap who was known and loved by loads of people. I knew him through gigs by Robb Johnson, the Hove Folk Club (now Railway Roots), Pog, Wob, and lots more – he was a tireless supporter of live music, and always came out whatever the occasion, to enjoy the evening and give you a boost. As I was taken into that community of folkies and acoustic punks, and started playing gigs myself, I saw that he was a constant, steady, friendly encouraging presence to EVERYONE involved, known and loved by audiences and bands from all walks of life. He was never showy about it, that wasn’t his way – but for billions of us small, DIY musicians trying to do what we were doing, he gave never-ending encouragement by always BEING THERE and liking what you did, and having a friendly word for you afterwards. He was eternally generous with his time, too. When he heard I was doing an MA dissertation on folk music, he offered to give me an interview and had LOADS of detailed memories to share. And he was amazingly omnivorous in his musical tastes – it didn’t matter how folky or abrasive or radio-friendly or avant-garde it got, he’d be there with a pint in his hand and a band T-shirt on, laughing with the crowd and smiling along.
I knew he had other huge areas of interest and knowledge too: he would travel to the Western Isles frequently to spot eagles and other birds, and was full of advice and tips when my son and I did the same. He volunteered regularly for the local RSPB here in Sussex, protecting landscapes and wildlife. And I only found out in the last couple of weeks that in his working life, he’d been an incredibly respected electrical engineer, called back to work after his retirement because they couldn’t do without his expertise.
It was a massive loss to hear that Roger died a few weeks ago from Covid-19. Those of us who knew him through music were immediately connecting on Facebook from across the country, sharing memories upon memories of this this sturdy, upright guy who was always there with us. He leaves a huge hole that we’ll all feel. I hadn’t seen him properly in a year or so, what with lockdown, but I can’t imagine him not being around. I miss him.
SO: a bunch of fantastic folks have got together and come up with a way to celebrate his life. We’re having an online gig to which ALL ARE WELCOME: Rocking The Roost: A Celebration of Our Friend Roger Johnson on 6th Mar, 12pm-9pm, with LOADS of bands and singers whom Roger supported all coming along help remember him. I’ll be doing something with a reunited Bandana Collective, and something on my own too, and we’ll be raising money for RSPB Pagham, where Roger volunteered for years. Please do join us if you can, it’ll be a truly fantastic day.