the news broke on July 27 that Denise Johnson ~ one of Manchester’s most talented and cherished singers ~ had died, so much love poured out for her from across the world.
Her stunning voice can be heard on many iconic singles and albums over the last 30 years.
These include New Order, Primal Scream Johnny Marr, The Charlatans, Michael Hutchence, 808 State, Electronic, Bernard Butler, Ian Brown, The Waterboys and A Certain Ratio – whose album released later this month will also feature Denise.
Denise had been working on her debut album before she passed away, which means it will now be a posthumous release when it comes out on Friday, October 2.
A stripped-down, acoustic album apart from two tracks was near completion. Denise’s delight at finally getting it to the point of release was immense. She was hugely proud of this album, and responses to her twitter comments about it show that this was going to be an incredibly well-received record.
Working with Manchester-based guitarist Thomas ‘Twem’ Twemlow since 2013, Denise had found the perfect accompaniment for her astounding voice. Their arrangements of covers had already seen two single releases: 10CC’s I’m Not In Love (2017) followed by New Order’s True Faith in 2018. Both tracks earned great reviews and – most importantly to Denise – approval from both 10CC and New Order.
Twem first met Denise in 2003 through a producer friend – she sang on a couple of his tracks as he describes:
“Denise got back in touch a few years after we’d first worked together, asking if I’d play acoustic guitar for her. We set about doing our own version of her favourite songs from various Manchester acts. One of the first she asked me to play around with was True Faith: my first thought was “how the hell can I make an electronic track work on acoustic?” But, to be honest, when you’ve got someone like Denise singing, you can make anything work!”
Where Does It Go was recorded at Hope Mill Recording Studios in Ancoats, Manchester. Alongside Denise’s previous singles – and Well I Wonder by The Smiths – is Evangeline, a song by one of her favourite writers, Simon Aldred of Cherry Ghost. Another song Denise wanted to include on the album is her version of Ellie Greenwich’s Sunshine After The Rain, a song Denise performed in her role as Mary, in the BBC’s incredible live staging of The Manchester Passion in 2006. Denise always cited this event as one of the highlights of her career, for the simple reason that she knew it had made her mother incredibly proud.
The album also features Nothing You Can Do, written by Denise, and Steal Me Easy which was penned with former collaborator, the French guitarist Fabien Lefrançois.
With the exception of Steal Me Easy, the recording of the album is completely live and features no studio tricks or computer wizardry. It was engineered by Twem and produced by Denise.
The desire to capture the essence of their live sound was borne from the joy of performing. Early sets at Denise’s friend Terry Christian’s ‘Mad Manc Cabaret’ events led to one-off shows, appearances at several UK festivals, and a number of intimate acoustic performances at wider events such as Tim Burgess’s ‘North by Northwich’.
Festival No 6 in 2018 saw a joyful mass singalong to their set finale, an acoustic version of Primal Scream’s Don’t Fight It Feel It, with Twem playing bass guitar for a change. And at Bluedot 2019 Denise and Twem opened with The Carpenters’ Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft – a fitting nod to a stage in the shadow of the Lovell Telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory.