Every week, we pick out one must-visit spot from a different city around the world with photos and a little bit of history. Think of it as a kind of 1000 places to see before you die but for record shops.
The death knell might be ringing for London’s club scene but its record store culture, from secret digs to big boys Rough Trade and Phonica, is alive and kicking.
It might occupy a small, unassuming spot on Portobello Road, but long-running shop and label Honest Jon’s is one of most influential and best loved music institutions in the city.
Go for: Jazz, reggae, outernational, dance, blues, folk, soul & funk – and community vibes
What’s the story? Honest Jon’s has been serving west London’s most vibrant community, in more ways than one, since 1974. Sociology lecturer John Clare was researching gang membership in Paddington at the time, but he leapt at the opportunity to start trading jazz records when an old butcher’s became available on Golbourne Road.
“It never completely lost its identity as a butchers shop,” Clare says. Meat hooks adorned the back room, walls were ensanguined and Clare traded records over a giant solid marble slab. “For two years a young customer who drove a meat lorry called in twice a week and paid for his entire record collection with raw meat; mainly beef.”
In the ’80s the shop moved to its current Portobello home, where Clare also launched the Boplicity label with a mission to reissue jazz greats. As it expanded, it increasingly became an informal university for music lovers; the shop counts Roger Beaujolais, Neil Barnes of Leftfield, The Wire founder Anthony Wood, Gilles Peterson and James Lavelle within its alumni. As Clare explained to us, the shop also began to perform the role of de facto community asylum, when Margaret Thatcher’s policy of Community Care hit Britain in 1983.
In 1992, Clare passed the shop on to employees Mark Ainley and Alan Scholefield, who expanded the selection to encompass music from around the world. In creative partnership with Notting Hill local Damon Albarn, they also launched the Honest Jon’s label, which has released an incredibly diverse and adventurous range of music over the past fifteen years.
Notting Hill might today be a playground for bankers and gawking movie tourists, but Honest Jon’s remains a crucial bridge to the area’s counter-culture roots. From dub heads to stray locals, the cast rolling through Honest Jon’s never fails to entertain; rarely will you find a place with such a strong sense of community.