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Lewis Leathers, milk bottle shoulders and Uncle Meat: The things you remember.

Manchester 1976. Following a brief stint in an especially grimy house, with fellow art student and close friend Liddy Papageorgiou, the two housemates ended up moving above a wet fish shop on the Wilmslow Road, Rusholme (God alone knows how this could have been an upgrade).

Already living at the property upon John and Liddy’s arrival, was fellow poly student (and soon to be highly successful and acclaimed graphic designer) Malcolm Garrett, who was quickly captivated by John’s personality and sense of style. “John had this ‘Lewis Leathers’ jacket. It was never off his back! It’s all I ever recall him wearing. Certainly, until he joined Magazine - at which point his inner sartorial self kind of emerged in his stage clothes. We began to see more tartan trousers and more brothel creepers! It really was about the ‘Lewis Leathers’ though. I had never heard of that brand. The way of the jacket was the way of John. He would tell me that a leather jacket was a personal thing which moulds itself to you. When I first earned a bit of money, which I got from designing ‘Orgasm Addict’ for Buzzcocks, I wanted to get a Lewis Leathers jacket! I couldn’t get a black one, as that was John’s look, so I got a red one”. To this day Malcolm pines for it. Having seen the prices these items now command on online auction sites, I’m not surprised!

Photograph by Dave Formula, taken whilst on tour in the Magazine days. John wearing his Lewis Leathers.

It wasn’t only Malcolm who admired John’s jacket. So coveted was it that John loaned it to a friend for a couple of weeks, and subsequently had it returned in better condition than it had left in! “John let a friend of ours, Sparky, borrow the jacket. He took great care of and returned it and he’d polished it! John was a bit bemused at the time “what are you doing fucking polishing it?! You know, leather jackets are supposed to gently degrade”.

For music fans, John had a cool on-stage presence which was perfectly personified by his clothes. The classic ‘never trying too hard’ vibe which was maintained throughout his days with Magazine and the Banshees. As Malcolm says, “if you look at his style with Public Image, he’d certainly picked up the John Lydon feel. All the way through Magazine and the Banshees, he was a rocker. In Magazine, Howard was fairly sartorial, in that he had a look, and I think John balanced that. It seemed to me that in the Banshees he definitely settled more into the leather jacketed look again, which for me totally suited that whole Juju era Banshees thing. It just looked and felt right, it had grittiness.”

Two of John’s physical characteristics are made mention of as Malcolm says, “John wasn’t the tallest person on the planet, but I don’t know that he was self-conscious about it, certainly not at that point. I don’t know whether it was he himself that referred to it like this, it may have been, but he had milk bottle shoulders. They weren’t square, they were sloping. As far as his height goes he certainly never let it get in the way of defending himself. To borrow cockney parlance, John was tasty!” John most definitely walked the walk and perhaps wearing a biker’s jacket had more connotations of roughness then than it does in the present. John was by no means a thug - quite the opposite, but for all his artistic and cultural know-how he was somebody you messed with at your peril.

Going back to the poly days, Malcolm attempted to use John’s clout to tackle the shirking of washing up duties in student land. “I came home one day about 5pm and nobody had washed up or they’d only washed the inside of this pan and the outside was coated in student food shit and I then washed it. So, I drew a picture of John on a piece of paper and wrote John McGeoch says… always wash the outside of pans too! My thinking was that anyone else living in the flat would do what John said. The problem was John read it as if I was having a go at him! He took it to mean I was blaming him for not washing the pan. What I was trying to do was lay down a threat to the grubby sod who’d left the pan like that ‘if you don’t fucking wash the pans, John will fucking kill you’!”

As you will discover in the book, it was Malcolm who introduced John to punk via Spiral Scratch and John enjoyed his friend’s collection of records. “I always felt that I was more into music than John was, only because he didn’t really have records. I collected them and loved them, John not so much – at least not back then. I do remember he came home one day and he’d bought a present for me, second hand, Frank Zappa’s double album Uncle Meat. Even then it wasn’t the easiest record to come by. He knew I loved Frank Zappa and I’d never heard this album and he bought it for me. I can picture him holding it now and listening to it reminds me of John, I still have the album. I always remember John particularly loved the spoken word bits on the album Lumpy Gravy and especially the part ‘Umm, my lips are getting heavy,’ that really made him laugh”.

Malcolm would go on to find significant success courtesy of (amongst other things) his album sleeve designs for the likes of Buzzcocks, Magazine, Simple Minds and Duran Duran. The two friends enjoyed a really tight bond until John left the house share and moved down the road to live with then girlfriend, Janet. Thereafter meet ups became less frequent and eventually the two went their separate ways, reconnecting briefly when they were both settled in London in the early 1980s.

Malcolm Garett in his Lewis Leathers jacket. Photography by Joe Barry, a very close friend of John's.

John’s leather jacket is an iconic reminder of the exuberance and passion of youth. A small but not insignificant jigsaw piece of the man and the different tracks he travelled along. Something which captures him approaching and nailing the peak of his brilliance.

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