Honest Jon's

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Digging the Scene

 

The boom in vinyl records has been a boon to traditional record shops, so many of which are, by their very nature, truly independent undertakings driven by a passionate commitment to their cause. Honest Jon’s is a case in point. Since starting life in 1974 – just a few years before London’s punk scene began to take off – it has been a much-loved (and hugely influential) fixture on the capital’s music scene.

 

While never a purveyor of punk itself, the brand was a magnet to many of those who were. It was launched in west London’s Portobello, then home or hangout to some of the movement’s leading names – the likes of Johnny Rotten, Malcolm McLaren, Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer and DJ Weasel, who helped introduce the punk scene to reggae.

 

Since then, Honest Jon’s has been a leading light in London’s musical subcultures from rare groove, funk, soul, club jazz and – after a young James Lavelle started working behind the counter, peddling a new form of jazz-influenced hip hop that led to his own label, Mo Wax –trip hop.

 

Another well-known local, Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz and the rest) is part of the creative partnership behind the brand’s eponymous record label with owners Mark Ainley and Alan Scholefield (who took over from one of the original owners, ‘Honest’ Jon Clare) in 2002. To say the brand has a knack for operating ahead of the curve is a bit of an understatement.

honest jons coal drops yard
honest jons coal drops yard
honest jons coal drops yard

Which made Honest Jon’s decision to open a second shop in Coal Drops Yard something of a no-brainer – not least because the brand’s independent spirit is a perfect fit within Coal Drops’ wonderfully eclectic roll call of the same. But also because the area itself is such a febrile mix of people and interests, from art students to tech behemoths and everything between. ‘It is,’ Scholefield has noted, ‘quite a fertile cross-current.’

 

And that’s not the only thing about the location that reaps rewards. ‘On Record Store Day, I arrived to find guys from the Netherlands waiting outside,’ says Andreas, one of Honest Jon’s regular staff members and music curators, ‘and there are people who come from Brussels – it also helps us being near the Eurostar.’

 

A considerable section of the Coal Drops Yard shop is dedicated to second-hand vinyl, which also stocks super-hard-to-find records, books and specialist magazines. One of the rather lovely ironies of the resurgence of the popularity of physical record shops is that such an uptick has, in no small part, come as a result of the huge surge in buying and selling online.

 

Online ordering is a very big part of the business now,’ Andreas confirms. And while the physical shop may be closed for now, Honest Jon’s is still very much open for business.

 

Browse the collections at honestjons.com

 

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of King’s Cross Quarterly magazine. Words Ben Osbourne.

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