Denise Johnson, singer with Primal Scream, dies aged 56

Famous for her vocals on Screamadelica, the Manchester-born singer was due to release her debut solo album this year

Denise Johnson, the Manchester-born singer best known for her vocals on Primal Scream’s 1991 album Screamadelica, has died aged 56. A friend of Johnson’s confirmed the news on Twitter. No cause of death has been shared.

Johnson’s lead vocals featured on Don’t Fight It, Feel It, and she performed with the band from 1990-1995.

She was also a noted guest vocalist on releases by post-punk group A Certain Ratio – with whom she performed live until recently – Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s duo Electronic, the Pet Shop Boys, Ian Brown, Bernard Butler and Michael Hutchence.

The musician Rowetta paid tribute to Johnson on Twitter. “I have so many great memories of Denise from when we were young,” she wrote. “We just used to sing & laugh like naughty schoolgirls all the time.” Rowetta described Johnson’s death as “a great loss to Manchester and music”.

Manchester electronic duo 808 State said that Johnson’s voice “sews so many memories together in many contexts – but most of all she gave the best hugs”.

Denise Johnson.
Denise Johnson performed with A Certain Ratio (ACR) over 200 times since 1990, according to a statement from the band. Photograph: Pete Smith

Johnson was born in Manchester on 31 July 1963 and raised in the suburb of Hulme. Her mother was Jamaican and Johnson grew up in a household filled with reggae and ska music, which she heard at regular house parties. She sang often as a child and started singing professionally in a covers band in the mid-80s, joining soul group Fifth of Heaven later in the decade.

She was introduced to Primal Scream through the duo Hypnotone, whose Tony Martin had been working on programming for the nascent Screamadelica album. He recommended Johnson to sing on Don’t Fight It, Feel It.

After watching Johnson perform with Hypnotone at Danny Rampling’s Shoom club night, Primal Scream asked her to sing with them. Recording with the band was “more like going for a night out and you might do a bit of singing in between”, Johnson told Louder Than War.

When the band asked her to tour with them, she told them no six times. “Then I thought I might be missing out on something here, so the next time they asked me I said yes,” she told Product magazine. “What followed were five or so truly magical, hair-tearing-out, raucous years.”

Johnson described her criteria for collaboration as: “Does it make me feel something? If it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, just that it hasn’t moved me enough or I don’t think my voice will suit it.”

She was due to release her debut solo album on 25 September. Where Does It Go, an acoustic record, features original compositions in addition to covers of songs by Manchester bands including New Order, the Smiths and 10cc. Johnson maintained a spirited presence on Twitter, commenting on politics and live-tweeting her thoughts on the BBC’s Top of the Pops reruns.

• This article was amended on 27 July 2020 to replace the main image. A captioning error in photos supplied by an agency led us to publish a picture that was not of Johnson as claimed. It was further amended to correct the incorrect assertion that Johnson sang on Higher Than the Sun, to remove a video showing that song, and to correct Johnson’s age and date of birth.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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