Keeping it in the family

Dave Woodhall talks to rock aristocrat Will Johns.

When your dad is noted music producer Andy Johns and your uncles include Mick Fleetwood, Eric Clapton and George Harrison, with your mum’s sister being supermodel Pattie Boyd, there’s a fair chance you might end up in the music business. You could always have the novel idea of teaming up with the sons of your uncle Eric’s old bandmates to play The Music of Cream. which is currently touring and will be playing the Mill in Digbeth on 17th Octobr.

To state the obvious, you must have had a fairly unusual childhood.

“Er, yes I did. Most of it was spent with my mum in our little basement flat in London, then sometimes at weekends and holidays I’d go and hang out with uncle Eric and auntie Pattie.”

Nowadays a basement flat in London would be worth millions, but back then people would see you had family like that and assume you were loaded.

“I guess so, but sadly not. And still not.”

There must have come a time when you realised that yours wasn’t a normal childhood. Did you think up until then that all kids you knew had famous family?

“I think it was probably at the time when we were roaring off from school in Eric’s Ferrari Testarossa waving the other kids goodbye. That would have been when the penny dropped. But when you’re kids I suppose you think that everything you do is completely natural.”

I would guess that when you got to thirteen or fourteen you suddenly became a lot more popular, particularly when auntie Pattie dropped by.

“You’d think so but at that particular time we’d just back from a time living in southern Ireland. I went through a number of schools as we settled around so I was always a Johnny Come Lately and it all took a bit of believing.”

But taking everything into account it must have always been assumed that you would become a musician.

“By that time I certainly thought so. I didn’t really have much of an interest in school, not in maths and stuff like that. I was always creative, a bit naughty and trying to show off, trying to distract everyone in the class and make them laugh.

“Of course there’s always been the preconception that my family has made it easy for me. When I was about fifteen we did a school concert to raise money for Elizabeth Fitzroy Homes. Eric provide a Marshall amp stack and that’s about all the help I’ve received in my career. Everybody’s got to find their own path, especially in music. Everywhere I’ve gone and everything I’ve done has been through hard work and ruthless relentlessness.”

And given your upbringing the best way of annoying your parents would have been to say you were going to run away and become an accountant.

“Probably. My son might go that way – at least he’ll be able to look after me in my old age.”

But you have worked for a long time with your own band.

“I’ve got three albums out and pretty much toured all round the world. I’ve had some great musicians, sometimes I’ve been abroad and employed great local musicians who’ve been able to play my songs from the album exactly as they were recorded.”

And now you’re doing the Music of Cream with Kofi Baker and Malcolm Bruce. It seems a logical progression but it took some time to ome about.

“Back in 2013 my father had just died and I got a call from Malcolm. He and Kofi were coming over as Sons of Cream and did I want to sit in? I was honoured, there was clearly synergy there and the band was formed. Our first proper tour was Australia and New Zealand in 2017 and that’s where we proved what we could do.”

It’s a genuine, heartfelt tribute as well, about more than just the music.

“Playing’s only about five per cent of it. We’re going to be playing our choice of the classic Cream tunes, there’s a lot of improvisation, which is what Cream were famous for and we’ll have a semi-interactive visual and light show featuring some of the most wonderful contemporary images and lighting but also images from out childhoods and stories as we go on through the show. It’s an all-encompassing experience, a genuine tribute. We all have great reverence for this music.”

If it was going to be a faithful reproduction you’d have to have a fight every night before you go on stage.

“We don’t. They played out all the bad stuff and these days there’s no time for all that, life’s hard enough as it is. There’s no age-old feuds between the families, in those days everything was chemical-fueled, now it’s quinoa and broccoli.”

Does uncle Eric ever come to watch you?

“I haven’t seen him but you probably wouldn’t because he’s very good at dressing up incognito. You might be standing next to him and you’d never notice him.”

What’s next – teaming up with Zak Starkey and Julian Lennon, maybe?

“We’ve talked about that, but I can’t say any more. It’s top secret.”

The Music of Cream play the Mill on Thursday 17th October. Tickets

This interview took place before the death of Ginger Baker was announced.