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Honest Jon's Records

By Ed Pybus

Honest Jon's Records - The Basics:

  • What: Indie record label Honest Jon's
  • Where: London, UK
  • Founded by: Jon Clare and Dave Ryner founded Honest Jon's Record Shop - the label was was started by Mark Ainley and Alan Sholefield, who took over the shop when Clare and Ryner departed.
  • Founded: 1974 (shop founded)

We Buy Records for Cash:

In 1974, two students from Liverpool, Jon Clare and Dave Ryner, took over the lease on an old butcher shop in London's Ladbroke Grove and began flogging second-hand records from the marble slabs that had previously been used for chopping meat. Stocking an eclectic range of funk, reggae and R'n'B, they soon build up a solid reputation among music fans that persists to this day. In the early years, the shop was frequented by Clash members Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, Sex Pistols Johnny Rotten and Malcolm McLaren and jazz musician Courtney Pine has been a regular since he began spending his pocket money there aged nine.

Honest Jon's It Is Then:

After opening several stores the partners split, Jon taking over the Portobello Road shop in the early 80s. Continuing to sell a eclectic range to discerning clientele, Honest Jon's thrived supplying DJs and sound systems across London with rare grooves and music from across the globe. (The shop was named when the old guy painting the shop asked it's name. “Err dunno” replied Jon, “What's your name” the painter asked, when told he replied “Well Honest Jon's it is then.”) Many customer relied on the staffs' expert knowledge to guide them. When Jon retired 1994, two staffers, Mark Ainley and Alan Scholefield, took over.

Damon Who?:

One of the shops loyal customers was Damon Alban. Despite Blur being one of the most famous bands on the planet at that point (or at least in the UK!), Scholefield needed telling who the scruffy mod looking character was, and it took Damon a while to strike up a conversation with them. When Alban was asked to go on a trip to Africa by Oxfam, he swatted up on West African music with recommendations from Honest Jon's staff and on his return, with over 40 hours of music recorded in Mali, floated the idea of starting a label in association with the store to release the fruits of his journey. Honest Jon's Records was born.

Mali Music:

Mali Music was the first release on Honest Jon's and launched with a concert at the Barbican, London, was a huge success. When Ainley and Scholfield decided to continue with the label, the selection process was simple: the records would reflect the shop and all of its many and diverse styles. Next up was London Is The Place For Me, a highly acclaimed album of Trinidadian Calypso from London from the 1950s – a series that would eventually run to four double albums. Since then an important part of the labels activities has been documenting the music of the UK's immigrant communities from the last century.

EMI Archive:

Since then Honest Jon's have released a over 40 albums, covering an enormously varied range of styles and artists: they've worked with 60s soul legend Candi Staton, Terry Hall on his project to record music from the Middle East, Icelandic singer Einar Orn and released numerous archive recordings. They've recently gained access to EMI's massive archives – numerous, often unsorted, recordings from musicians all over the world from throughout the last century. They've began the mammoth task of sift through this vast collection, the first fruits of which are Living Is Hard – West African music from the 1920s.

Honest Jon's Associated Labels:

Honest Jon's isn't the first label to grow from the record shop. In the early 80s Ryner started a jazz re-issues label, Boplicity re-releasing the catalogue of labels like Riverside and Contemporary. James Lavelle started the Mo Wax label while working behind the counter and Stuart Baker and Geoff Travis were both regulars before they went on to set up Soul Jazz and Rough Trade respectively. The shop, and the label, continue releasing and selling some of the most eccentric and exciting music out there, and continue to inspire the next generation of musicians and music fans.

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