Denise Johnson, who sung with Primal Scream and New Order, has died aged 56.

Manchester singer Denise Johnson has “died suddenly” aged 56. The news was first announced by a friend on Twitter and has since been confirmed in a statement issued by the singer’s family. The cause of death is yet to be known, but it is noted that she was discovered “holding an inhaler on Monday morning”.

Best known for her work on Primal Scream’s landmark 1991 Screamadelica album, Johnson has also sung with a host of other ‘Madchester’ bands. She sung vocals for New Order, Johnny Marr’s duo Electronic and The Charlatans, among others. Johnson had finished recording her debut solo acoustic album, ‘Where Does it Go’, which will be released posthumously in September.

Born in Manchester on 31 July 1963, Johnson grew up surrounded with reggae and ska music, which her mother would play at house parties. Whilst she never had singing lessons, she would delve into her mother’s record collection, enjoying the likes Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and Simon & Garfunkel, singing “every part, the lead, the harmonies, over and over again till [she]’d learnt every single note.”

Johnson was introduced to Primal Scream through the duo Hypnotone, when they watched her play at Danny Rampling’s Shoom club night in London. She recalls guitarist Andrew Innes calling singer Bobby Gillespie,  “Get down here now, we’ve found the fucking singer for Don’t Fight It, Feel It!”. 

“What followed were 5 or so truly magical, hair tearing out, raucous years,” she told Louder than War. Johnson performed with the band from 1990 to 1995, her lead vocals featuring in the legendary Don’t Fight It, Feel It. The band were a key name in the mid 1980s indie rock scene, but with Screamadelica, the band brought techno, acid house and rave into the British mainstream. 

“Recording with Primal Scream was nothing like I’d experienced before”, she reminisced. “It was more like going for a night out and you might do a bit of singing in between!” 

Many artists who have worked with Johnson have paid tributes to her on social media. Recalling how the two would “sing & laugh like naughty schoolgirls all the time”, the musician Rowetta described her death as “a great loss to Manchester and music”, whilst electronic duo, 808 State said that Johnson’s voice “sews so many memories together in many contexts”.

📷 Evening Standard: Getty Images

Author Arielle Domb
29th July, 2020

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