A Certain Ratio’s Martin Moscrop remembers Denise Johnson: “Her voice should comfort in these times”

Following the passing of Manchester vocalist Denise Johnson, her friend remembers a supremely talented and compassionate collaborator

“The first time I heard Denise Johnson was on ‘Just A Little More’ by Fifth Of Heaven. Manchester’s a small place and if anyone’s got talent it’s difficult to not know them – and that record was a standout. In the very early stages of Acid House in 1988, Donald Johnson and I were producing a track called ‘Acid To Ecstasy’ and we got Denise to sing on that. That was the first time I worked with her. I produced some tunes by other artists and I got Denise to do backing vocals, and then we got Denise to come in and sing on A Certain Ratio’s album ‘ACR:MCR’. That was in 1990 and she’s been with us ever since, right until our last gig and until we finished our last album in March this year.

“It wasn’t only artists; it was everyone who liked Denise. The outpouring of love for her when her death was announced yesterday just goes to show how well she was respected by everyone, not only as an amazing singer but as a person. She was the perfect all-rounder because she was so talented, but along with that talent she was such a caring person. At the end of every gig we always had to wait for her because she had to go and personally thank everyone involved, the bar staff, the bouncers, the people cleaning up, the promoter, the ticket person and the technicians. That’s a measure of the type of person she was.

“Even though she was younger than us, she always looked after us at gigs. She’d always have treats in the van on the way to the gig, and afterwards she’d always pour extremely large rum and cokes and make sure everyone was OK. In the studio she was something else. We were never ever worried about her delivering the goods. It would take her a few minutes to learn her lines and then she’d deliver an amazing vocal in one take.

“We finished a new album in February. She was singing four songs on it and after we finished we decided to go back into the studio for a couple of days with no preconceived ideas and just jam. Denise was just so awesome in those sessions – she was churning out brilliant ideas to the extent that after one take we all cheered and clapped. Not many artists can have that effect in the studio because it’s quite a sterile environment compared to live performances, but she’d have the same effect on a tiny audience like that as she would in a big gig.

“From the very first time we recorded with her to the last, her pitch was perfect and the tonal quality of her voice was just amazing. It’s taken her a long time to do her own solo album which is due to come out on September 25 – and it’s long, long overdue. A lot of the reports yesterday about Denise cite her as Primal Scream’s singer, but she’s far more than Primal Scream’s singer, she doesn’t belong to anyone. The fact that she’s been with A Certain Ratio for 30 years doesn’t mean she’s our singer. She’s Denise.

Denise Johnson
Denise Johnson CREDIT: Pete Smith

“She’ll be there with us forever in all the music she’s made. Her soaring voice should be a comfort to us all in these difficult times. She always spoke about her mother who was a nurse. Anyone that followed her on Twitter would know she was passionate about the NHS, disliked the way this government have treated it. She was passionate about Black Lives Matter and equality for all. If we had more people like Denise in this world, we wouldn’t be in the state that we’re in.

“It’s a sad fact that when people pass, they tend to get more attention. But with Denise’s new album that’s coming out, she would have got the attention she deserves anyway. It’s just so sad that she’s not there to see it.”

As told to Patrick Clarke

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