Meet the Wakefield councillor who's toured with Bon Jovi and Nickelback - and is now a Freddie Mercury tribute act

Karl Johnson needs little prompting to talk about his number one passion - music has been his life since he was a boy.

Monday, 15th July 2019, 10:29 am
Karl Johnson (2nd left) travels all over Europe as Freddie Mercury.

It was a hobby that started out with him playing the euphonium in a brass band in Wakefield, and it took him to performing his own hand-written songs in front of 60,000 people.

In between though, was the bit where the vocal chords needed some work.

"I'd done a music degree and I'd qualified as a music teacher," Councillor Johnson, now 44, remembers.

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The act was first proposed by one of Coun Johnson's mates.

"Then one night I was out with my mates and there was a bit of karaoke on. I got completely drunk and I went up and sang 'Puff the Magic Dragon'.

"It was awful, and my mates let me know about it too.

"That was the point when I thought I've got to learn how to sing."

Learn he did, and so much so that he ended up touring with rock acts Bon Jovi and Nickelback across the UK.

Coun Johnson's band, Spin, toured with some of the most famous artists in the world.

Shadowing the 'Living on a Prayer' artist in particular, was an honour.

"He's just a brilliant musician and a very, very nice man," Coun Johnson says.

"He was helpful, humble and very focused. Whatever you think of his music, he just keeps going. He's never involved in any scandals, you can't fault his ethics. He's iconic."

And so to those days and nights where he played, with his band Spin, to crowds totting up to more half the population of the city of Wakefield.

Coun Johnson describes Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott (left) as one of the nicest people he's ever met.

What was that like? There's a sense he yearned for even more, although pride is the overriding emotion.

"I think, "What would it have been like to play in front of 120,000?"" he reflects.

"But it’s one of those things, when I’m sitting in my rocking chair when I’m 70 or 80, I will be able to look back on and smile about.

"I remember one day we played during the 2006 World Cup and England had just won a game, and the audience that day was just absolutely stunning."

Coun Johnson with fellow Conservative members Richard Hunt and Nadeem Ahmed, and his predecessor, Monica Graham

These days he's a Freddie Mercury tribute act, a gig that takes him all over Europe, such is the demand.

"It all started with a text from someone saying I'd be great at it," Coun Johnson explains. "I thought 'no I won't' but then it just happened.

"It puts smiles on people’s faces, it pays the mortgage, feeds my kids and I enjoy it. It puts a smile on my face too.

"My favourite albums are 'A Day at the Races' and 'Queen 2', and 'March of the Black Queen' would be my favourite song."

The music took slightly more of a backseat recently, when Coun Johnson was chosen to defend a Conservative seat in Wakefield South, where he took over from his respected predecessor, Monica Graham, who retired.

He's eager to place on record his thanks to those who voted for him. But how did he get into politics?

"I've always been quite an opinionated person," he says.

"Now I only teach part time I've got more time to devote to politics.

"I grew up in what I'd describe as a Conservative family. My dad was an accountant and I was always taught to take care of money. Both my parents worked hard.

"I believe hard work pays off. People go through good times and bad times, but if you believe in yourself you can be success."

As someone born in Manygates and who's spent most of his life living in Wakefield, he's not shy about expressing his view about a number of issues he sees, not least the problems facing the city centre.

"We had a great market and then we knocked that down and put something up that just wasn't fit for purpose," he says.

"Any city centre street that runs alongside a cathedral should look fantastic, but ours doesn't.

"People aren't coming into the centre anymore. Leeds is miles ahead of us in terms of nightlife. We need to think big."

Although he accuses Labour of talking about austerity too much and of wasting taxpayers' cash, he insists any constituent of any political persuasion can pick up the phone to enlist his help.

He's keen to stress he's part of a "team", in Wakefield South, alongside fellow Tory councillors Richard Hunt and Nadeem Ahmed.

One of his ambitions is to see a community centre built for people in Sandal.

"If that happens while I'm a councillor, I'll be very happy," he says.

His final musings marry his hopes for the future of his home city and his love of music.

"You look around these days, and there aren't enough kids playing guitars. There aren't enough kids playing drums.

"All the venues have shut down and there's not many places for them to go. But people still want to be entertained.

"Let's put some big music events on in Wakefield, get something on for the youth and make it happen."

He may have come along away since drunken karaoke nights and getting ribbed by his mates, but as he enters a new chapter of his life, Karl Johnson still has grand ambitions. Don't stop him now.

Local Democracy Reporting Service