A View From The Stage – Johny Brown (Band of Holy Joy)

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We love music, we love the people who love music and naturally we love the people that make music.

So what about those people that make music? What sort of people are they? They like music as well, right? What were they into as kids? Was it the same sort of music we were into? What are they listening to now? What songs did they wish they had written?

We wanted to discover the “music fan” inside these artists, so we decided to find out using a similar format to our Meet The Community feature. By firing a series of short questions at a selected indie artist we wanted to get a bit of an insight into what makes them tick musically.

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In this edition – Johny Brown

“Well, you know how your heroes always turn out to be wrong…” sang Johny Brown on The Band Of Holy Joy’s 1990 album Positively Spooked. This line that lurked menacingly in the back of my mind when I went to interview the singer for an Everything Indie Over 40 feature a couple of years ago. For once, in that particular song, Johny wasn’t speaking the whole truth; unnervingly for me his band’s previous album Manic, Magic, Majestic almost completely recounted a six month period of my life.

 

Johny’s band – for he is the only constant in a long list of musicians to have performed under the moniker – began life in a south London squat in the early 1980s, making albums on cassettes released in short-runs before they were picked up by the Flim Flam label. Two full-length vinyl albums emerged, More Tales From The City being the follow up to live album When Stars Come Out To Play. A curious amalgam of instruments with only the occasional appearance of the traditional guitar, combined with the flamboyant and drink-fuelled frontmanship that became Johny’s trademark, saw the Band of Holy Joy’s star climb increasingly into the ascent. 

 

Two albums were released by Rough Trade before the label spectacularly collapsed, leaving many a band pondering their future at best, and facing large debts at worst. The Band of Holy Joy shifted to Ecuador records, staffed by previous Rough Traders and released Tracksuit Vendetta before disappearing. They re-emerged at the start of the new decade on the reinvigorated Rough Trade with Love Never Fails before once more disappearing into the ether.

 

Never ones to follow convention, The Band of Holy Joy saw the traditional career-closing compilation album Leaves That Fall In Spring instead as the springboard for a second coming, and since 2007 have released eight further albums (plus a box set of the Flim Flam recordings), the most recent of which, Neon Primitives, found its way into our hearts in the summer of 2019.

 

It was on the back of that release that we asked Johny Brown to share his view from the stage.

 

Q1 Where did you grow up?

New York, in the village…

 

Q2 What posters did you have on your bedroom wall as a teenager?

Bolan…

 

Q3 What was the first record you bought?

T REX Ride A White Swan, MFP 72 pence purple and pink cover, a truly beautiful thing that I bought in the town of Nottingham when I was on holiday with parents. I lost it when I moved away from the North East, then found the very same copy with my signature on at a car boot fair in Tynemouth in 1989, then held on to it for a long time until I lost it again, and then, this is beautiful too, it was recently replaced for me by the extra cool Ant from Yeah Yeah No. I’m going to play it right now. Transport me away from a grey Friday autumn morning.

 

Q4 What moment made you want to become a singer/artist/musician?

Probably seeing Marc Bolan sing Jeepster. I definitely wanted a bit of that Elfin Bop Action.

 

Q5 How much did you get paid for your first gig?

An Adidas bag full of stolen champagne. At Preston Grange Youth Club. April 1977; I was 15 and striking out for the first time with the band Speed. Ricky was a bit older and had taken on the mantle of manager, he was an accomplished and prolific shoplifter, with extremely good taste and style. The band cleared the room out and the champagne tasted good. There would be no looking back.

 

Q6 Do you have a particularly memorable gig you performed at?

Preston Grange Youth Club, now it’s been mentioned. Terrorising the creeps in their denim waistcoats with their Wings and Quo albums under their arms. Making a great unholy noise, being 15, singing your own words, being absolutely hated and loving it.

 

Q7 Who would you most like to perform with on stage?

Pauline Murray and Helen McCookerybook.

 

Q8 What is the best venue you have played at?

Every stage I’ve ever been on has had something going for it. I like really bad venues most of all, real proper dumps.

 

Q9 What song would you most like to have written (not your own)?

Native New Yorker

 

Q10 If you weren’t a singer/artist/musician what would you have been?

A librarian is the best I could possibly hope to be though I’d probably just be in jail, or still selling deck chairs on Whitley Bay beach. I’d be very, very happy if by whatever route I took without music I ended up doing the job I do now, which is social inclusion for people with learning disabilities. I love it.

 

Q11 What are you listening to at the moment? Any recommendations?

I’ve actually put the T REX album on, I’m listening to that. Loads of stuff. Willie Nelson pays tribute to Ray Price. KOKOKO, Rothko new CD. Nejira. Nico’s Chelsea Girls being played a lot.

 

Q12 What are you up to at the moment?

I’m downloading the mixes we did last night for the next Band Of Holy Joy album, then I’m off to work, tonight I’ve got a load of varied guests coming on my Bad Punk radio show and tomorrow I interview the novelist John King about his new book Slaughterhouse Prayer at Vegfest. I’ve had a good haircut, I’m primed, let’s see what appertains.

 

Johny’s Bad Punk radio show continues to broadcast weird and wonderful stuff. Tune into Resonance 104.4FM every Friday at 10pm.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Hartley is the author of “Capturing The Wry”, an autobiographical tale of the unsigned side of the music industry and “The Great Leap Forward” available here, both published by i40Publishing. After spending the best part of twenty five years trying to write the perfect pop song he has also turned his attention to writing about those who have done a much better job at it. He tweets as @JohnyNocash and gives away his music, generally for free, at Broken Down Records.

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