Born in Accrington in 1946, John Tomlinson read Civil Engineering at Manchester University before studying voice at the Royal Manchester College of Music and with Otakar Kraus. He made his professional debut as a chorister at Glyndebourne in 1970 and initially made his name as a Handel singer, working regularly with Trevor Pinnock and John Eliot Gardiner among others. It is as a Wagnerian, however, that Tomlinson is best known today: after exploring bass roles such as Fafner, Hunding and King mark with Reginald Goodall, he made his debut at Bayreuth in 1988 and sang there for 18 consecutives seasons, most famously as Wotan in the Barenboim Ring Cycle.
His non-Wagnerian repertoire includes Baron Ochs, Bluebeard, Claggart and Boris Godunov and he has created numerous roles in contemporary operas, most notably the title-roles in Birtwistle's The Minotaur and Gawain. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1997 for his services to music and was knighted in the 2005 Queen's Birthday Honours List.