Tales from the Shop Floor – Georgea Blakey interviews Johnny Mono.
As we reach the finale of LLOYD JOHNSON: THE MODERN OUTFITTER the CHELSEA Space staff thought they’d had heard all the rock and roll stories they could handle, from Lloyd regaling them during the install on the history of the many donated items in the exhibition to the numerous visitors and friends of the shop who each have a tale of their fashion experiments and trends fueled by the Johnson’s label. Then, ex Johnsons Saturday girl Georgea Blakey now a freelance journalist and writer, presented CHELSEA Space with an article packed with even more tasty rock and roll antics and memories from the shop floor. These stories collected from ex Johnsons shop assistant Johnny ‘Mono’ Graham give us an insight into the day to day occurrences which made Johnson’s such a cool and ubiquitous hang out for the era’s rock/pop stars. Below are some of the anecdotes as told by Johnny and Billy Duffy.
THE MOD SQUAD
In 1979 Lloyd was making 40s, 50s & 60s inspired clothing, the kind which was used in The Who film, Quadrophenia, worn by Sting & Phil Daniels.
Such was the demand for this range of retro clothing that mobs of ‘Ska’ fans would be waiting for us to open on a Saturday morning and long queues would form.
The Specials were one of the bands who would come in. Lloyd didn’t often have much contact with the stars, as he was always busy designing in the warehouse. However on this particular occasion he happened to be in the basement of The King’s Road Store arranging some displays.
John Bradbury, The Special’s drummer was hammering out a beat on one of the units upstairs. Lloyd could hear it reverberating through the ceiling and shouted up the stairs, ‘Will you shut up and stop drumming… please! ” The drummer, being terribly affronted, walked out in disgust.
TOP OF THE POPS; FROM THE ROLLING STONES TO LIAM GALLAGHER
Keith Richards bought one of our ‘Kamikaze-bombs away’ brown leather jackets for The Rolling Stones American tour in 1981 to promote their ‘Tattoo You’ album.
He used this clothing to great effect. The stage would be blackened and he would duck walk on backwards, Chuck Berry style, with his back to the audience, a spotlight illuminating the design of the pilot on the jacket. He had just beaten his well-documented drugs and alcohol problem but it didn’t stop him using his guitar to hit a rogue fan that ran onstage.
We used to do black cotton jeans that were so tight they had to have a zip running from the knee to the ankle to aid in pulling them on. All of the band, except maybe Charlie, would go mad for these jeans. They bought the smallest size, a true 26-inch waist. They were miniscule. Half our female customers couldn’t even get them on… To this day they reckon The Stones could still get into the 28’s.
Whenever I watched Top Of The Pops from the mid 80’s to mid’90s it seemed that almost every band would be kitted out in our clothes. It wasn’t a case of if you were going to see one of our outfits; it was a case of how many times in one episode you would see our clothes!
We became so ubiquitous that it was often the only common ground between artists as various as The Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Samantha Fox.
DRINKING WITH THIN LIZZY
Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy were customers in the very early 80’s; they were partial to the black leather jackets and waistcoats we sold.
They would often take our manager Steve for a drink in his lunch hour, normally to The Man in The Moon pub opposite our Kings road store in Worlds End. Steve would arrive back after one of these sessions and have to go to bed for the afternoon. I couldn’t understand why until they took me one day, there were six of us in total.
I’d never witnessed anything like it. They secured one barmaid and put in an order for 6 pints of ‘fighting’ lager, strong lager, and 6 large Jameson chasers. While we were drinking the next person who’s round it was put in a repeat order and so on, until we were perpetually supplied with booze. The drinking of the order took the time it took to pour the next round.
Then Thin Lizzy would stroll off up the Kings Road to continue their day whilst I staggered back to the shop and passed out in the stock room.
He credits Johnsons with saving him from bedsit squalor in North London.
He had moved there in 1979 from Manchester and was working weekdays as a porter at The Whittington Hospital in Archway. Every Saturday he would make a pilgrimage to the Kings Road. He wanted to be a part of the action he had heard about growing up and of course, he wanted to meet girls. He hung around Johnsons and badgered the manager Steve, for a job.
As well as working in the warehouse (for £15 a day as a Saturday boy) Billy was also in charge of the little Johnsons van, using it to cart stock from warehouse to both shops. It was like a fortified rickshaw, a black Suzuki with a motorcycle engine.
He soon made pals with American ‘Psycho Rockabillies’, The Stray Cats. They all shared the same hair pomade, a tin of Black and White, and would line up in front of the shop mirrors slicking their quiffs into place.
Billy is still mates with their drummer, Slim Jim and sees him often in Los Angeles where they both now live.
Lots of long lasting friendships were made. All the shop staff would go out every night. Boy George worked in Worlds end about eight shops down from us and there was a little scene…
..We’d go out every night pubbing and clubbing. Boy George had a huge man crush on Billy and helped him find a job as a guitarist with post punk band, ‘Theatre of Hate’. So it came to pass in September 1981, that Billy had to leave Johnsons. He was soon kicked out of that group but fortuitously so; as he went on to join Death Cult, which later morphed into The Cult.
He was gutted when he had to leave and remembers hating having to tell Peter and Lloyd. He was fretful that he was trading in a cushy job, fawning women and job security for the back of a transit van and impending poverty. He needn’t have worried!
THE END OF THE ROAD
We thrived in a pre-digital world of shopping, retailing, production and design, one where our boutiques became total environments and the place to be seen. All sorts of shenanigans went on in the stock room as members of staff often embarked on steamy love affairs with each other. We were even allowed to smoke and drink on the shop floor. Bands were always giving us their CD’s and cassettes so we would play their music really loud on the shop stereo.
It all came to an end in 1999. Independent shops like Johnsons started to die out and the high street chains took over.
For those of us who lived and worked around Chelsea in the 70’s, 80s and 90s, London was a very special place, and Johnsons was the epicenter. I loved it there and can’t help but be nostalgic – as the old saying goes “Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson – you find the present tense but the past perfect”.
LLOYD JOHNSON: THE MODERN OUTFITTER finishes today – Saturday 3th March where Lloyd is joining us for one more day of stories and antics. Here at CHELSEA Space we’ve had the chance to learn about the importance of fashion to culture from the 60s onwards and for some of the younger CHELSEA space staff, get a taste of an era which changed youth culture for us today. Join us for the last day of this exhibition and experience some Johnsons history.
Thanks to Georgea Blakey – Freelance journalist and artist for her interviews with Johnny ‘Mono’ Graham.