'A favourite from the days when Notting Hill still had riots' (The Independent).
In 1974, the mosque at 76 Golborne Road, Ladbroke Grove, was a record shop. Previously it had been a butcher's, and the records were displayed on the marble slabs that had been used for cutting meat, and the floor was stained with blood. The owner, Jeff Francis, was soon off to more salubrious premises in Baker Street, headquarters of the mini-chain All Change Records, a partnership with Graham Griffiths and the late Ed Dipple. With various branches, including South Woodford, and premises in Hanway Street underneath Contempo Records which would become Daddy Kool's, All Change was also a forerunner of Mole Jazz, now as lost amongst the massed ranks of closed-down London record shops.
Jeff Francis passed on the Golborne Road lease to two friends from Liverpool — a Sociology student named Jon Clare, and Dave Ryner, the son of a Trinidadian doctor. They stickered their own record collections, and put a big sign in the window: WE BUY RECORDS FOR CASH. 'Dave liked James Brown, I liked Clifford Brown,' recalls Jon.
Honest Jon's quickly settled in this street locals called 'The Town' — a Caribbean-Iberian-London stop-over on the rag-and-bone trading route from Shepherds Bush to Kilburn. The music wasn't punk — rather bebop, reggae, funk, R and B — but the ethos was. Johnny Rotten and Malcolm McLaren were customers (and Geoff Travis, Mick Jones and best-dressed chicken Doctor Alimantado remain regulars); Declan McManus wrote his fist cheque as Elvis Costello in the shop; Joe Strummer was a close friend (Jon taught the 101ers' drummer how to play clarinet); the rasta deejay Weasel — whose sessions back then introduced the early punk scene to reggae — was still coming in every other day twenty-five years later. 'Music was just part of it. It was more important — if you came in the door — that we took each other seriously, we had a laugh, we showed respect, we found each other interesting. That was what having the shop was all about.'
Early staff included Rae Cheddie, a St. Lucian who was skiving off work so much to hang out in the shop that Jon asked him to run the reggae section (his favourite memory is Horace Andy and Augustus Pablo dropping by with a carboot-full of still-warm copies of Unfinished Melody); Lloyd Bradley, recently the author of a history of reggae entitled Bass Culture, but back then a fruit-and-veg wholesaler, trading pineapples for LPs before crossing the counter; Nick Gold, who tried and tried to get Jon interested in a partnership releasing music from Latin America, before leaving to start World Circuit; New Zealand Phil, who these days works for Topic; Ali, who sells collectibles in the basement of Rough Trade West; and Steve Barrow, the guiding light of Blood And Fire, who joined after Keith Stone terminated their business partnership in late 1976, one year after the duo co-founded Daddy Kool's.
In the late 1970s Jon and Dave bought a lease from Compendium Books — also gone now — in Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town. (The two shops faced each other across the road, a kind of counter-cultural stronghold.) In 1979 they moved from Golborne Road to our current address in Portobello; and then they opened a shop in the Kings Road, and another on Monmouth Street in Covent Garden (where Dave Godin and John Abbey had Soul City) specialising in avant-garde jazz, managed by the founder of The Wire magazine, Anthony Wood. And they opened a reggae shop on Greek Street, called Maroons' Tunes, run by Rae — who was gearing up to establish Bullwackies in the UK — and Leroy, who started the Dread Broadcasting Corporation.
But it was too much, and in 1982 Jon and Dave got rid of most of the shops, and ended their partnership. Dave retained the Camden shop —re-named Rhythm Records, gone too — and Jon returned to the roots of the business, aided by jazz unexpectedly coming back into fashion. A variety of projects started up, including a collaborative label with Ace Records, called Boplicity, reissuing classics from catalogues like Riverside and Contemporary, and a regular shop night at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, putting on virtually every great tenor still standing (Harold Land, Teddy Edwards, Lockjaw Davis).
The shop became a meeting-place for different generations of the London jazz scene: a never-ending stream of cabbies would park up to eulogise Mobley and reminisce about Tubby Hayes; the Dingwalls posse would re-draw the canon daily; John Stevens and Tommy Chase would lecture anyone who'd listen; Stuart Baker (who owns Soul Jazz) tried out briefly — in batty riders — but he already had his own thing going in Camden Market; Courtney Pine — who's been coming in since he was nine, buying reggae with his pocket money — might bump into Coleridge Goode, veteran of the great Joe Harriott lineups (and resident in the Grove since the 1940s), or Duke Vin, sound-system pioneer and jazz fiend.
By the time rare groove kicked off we were selling the best soul and jazz records the world has ever seen, drawn from trip after trip all over the US. No shop has ever had a better reggae selection than Bob Brooks' Reggae Revive in those days, and soon he was to bring his Portobello stall (outside Honest Jon's) indoors, into the back room. And before the turn of the eighties, a barely-legal James Lavelle had started commuting from Oxford to work behind the counter — in no time launching Mo Wax — and the shop quickly became a key focal point of the new triphop and breakbeat scene...