ONE of the most emotional nights ever witnessed at the Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival came three years ago when Wilko Johnson played what everyone thought would be one of his last ever gigs.

The former Dr Feelgood guitarist had announced he was retiring from live performances having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and grown men stood and applauded with tears in their eyes as he left the stage.

Now Wilko is back and will return to Colne Muni for this year's festival on Sunday night having undergone radical treatment and being declared 'cancer free'.

One man who has shared Wilko's rollercoaster journey is bassist Norman Watt-Roy, an ever-present in Wilko's band.

"It's incredible," said Norman, "He shouldn't be here. We were all expecting that last visit to Colne to be part of the farewell tour and now he's as good as ever.

"We started back on the road around March last year and Wilko's having the best time ever.

"Three years ago it was looking as though it was all going to come to an end. We'd accepted that and went to Japan and all sorts of places and said goodbye to everybody. Three years on we're back on the road and having a fantastic time and the crowds are loving it. It just shows, you never know what's round the corner."

When Norman isn't playing with Wilko along with drummer Dylan Howe, he's also constantly touring with the Blockheads

"I pretty much stay on the road all the time," he said. "I love being busy and I love my job.

"To be able to make a living all my life playing the bass, an instrument that I love, seems crazy and it has taken me all over the world. I've done 37 tours of Japan with Wilko and been there as well with the Blockheads. I probably couldn't have afforded to go once if I didn't do what I do and yet in this business I get taken there, get looked after and get paid - oh and I've got to do my work which is something I love, it's fantastic."

Norman's boundless enthusiasm shines out from the stage as anyone who has ever seen him play will testify.

He's also developed his own style as a bassist, often playing the instrument more like a lead guitarist.

"I've been told that I play bass like a lead before," he said. "I blame Jaco Pastorious for that. In 1978 I saw Jaco at the Hammersmith Odeon and it totally changed my world . He was and still is the god of bass. Even the greats before him say there was life before Jaco and life after Jaco.

"He opened the door for all bass players and made them realise what they have in their hands which was an orchestra. Before Jaco nobody had played that way, bass was basically just playing the note and holding it down and suddenly he made everyone realise what you could do."

Having spent his life making music, the enjoyment Norman derives from live shows remains as strong as ever.

"With the Blockheads we never rehearse, we still get off jamming together," he said. "We just know the stuff so well, we kind of say let's see what happens. Every gig is different so it's a bit of an adventure. It's great fun.

"It's the same with Wilko, we've never really rehearsed. The first time I played with him he came round and said his bass player has left and he'd got four or five gigs and asked if I could help him out.

"He'd been touring with the Blockheads and we'd become good friends so I said of course I will. For the first gig at the Half Moon. Putney. we never rehearsed. Wilko said 'I'll just start and you come in when you want'. After the gig he said 'I don't know what you were playing Norm but I loved it!'"

Norman has played Colne a number of times and can't wait to come back.

"I love Colne, it feels like a European festival as the whole town comes out for it and it seems to get better every year. There's always an amazing atmosphere."

Wilko Johnson plays the International Stage at the Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival at Colne on Sunday, August 28. The festival opens tomorrow and runs until Bank Holiday Monday. Details from 01282 661234 or