Denise Johnson: Primal Scream and New Order singer dies


Denise Johnson

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Shirlaine Forrest

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The singer’s family said she had “died suddenly” after an illness

Singer Denise Johnson, whose rich voice provided backing depth to the likes of Primal Scream and New Order, has died.

The Manchester native, who came to prominence on Primal Scream’s 1991 landmark Screamadelica album, also featured on the records of many of her home city’s “Madchester” bands.

She had been due to release her debut solo acoustic album in September.

A statement issued by her family said she had “died suddenly” after an illness.

Tributes have been paid to her on social media by some of the artists she worked with, including electronica act 808 State, who said her voice “sews so many memories together in many contexts”.

In a statement, her family said the singer had been “ill in the week prior to her death, but told friends she was ‘much better’ on Friday”.

“The cause of death is not yet known, although she was discovered holding her inhaler on Monday morning.”

Johnson was most well-known for her work with Primal Scream and for her formidable backing vocals, which saw her work with a host of stellar names, including Manchester legends New Order, Johnny Marr and The Charlatans.

Away from rock music, she was a keen Manchester City supporter and also played the role of Mary in the BBC production, The Manchester Passion, in 2006.

‘Wonderful voice’

New Order, who were joined by Johnson on their most recent album Music Complete, paid tribute to “a beautiful person with a huge talent” on Twitter.

But her most regular work came with fellow Mancunians A Certain Ratio, who she sang with for more than 25 years.

In a pair of tweets, the band tweeted said people should “spend some time listening to her wonderful voice, remembering her loving nature and infectious sense of humour”.

Analysis – Mark Savage, BBC Music reporter

As a child, the first record Denise Johnson remembered listening to was the soundtrack to The Sound Of Music – and The Lonely Goatherd in particular.

“The whole record fascinated me and made me want to sing,” she later recalled.

After joining the school choir and working as a model, she ended up in a cover band playing soul classics in clubs around the UK.

Before long, she was playing Wembley Arena, supporting US funk band Maze as the vocalist for A Fifth Of Heaven – with whom she recorded the underground soul classic Just A Little More in 1989.

From there, she went on assist Primal Scream on their groundbreaking Screamadelica album. “There was a song [frontman] Bobby Gillespie couldn’t sing, which turned out to be Don’t Fight it, Feel it,” she said, recalling one of the record’s most enduring club smashes. (Before that session, however, she’d turned the band down eight times).

The prominence and vitality of her vocals meant she was in demand for much of the 90s, working with Michael Hutchence, A Certain Ratio, Ian Brown, Beth Orton, New Order and Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s joint project Electronic.

While her own solo music never had the success she would have liked, her voice gave character and depth to some of the biggest records in the Madchester scene – and she was well-loved and highly respected musician by those who worked with her.

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