Heaven and Hell: Star maker Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson has worked with Ed Sheeran, Let's Eat Grandma and Bessie Turner. Picture: Contributed

Ian Johnson has worked with Ed Sheeran, Let's Eat Grandma and Bessie Turner. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

Ian, of Access Creative College, has helped guide the early careers of musicians including Ed Sheeran.

Ian Johnson with his former student, Ed Sheeran. Picture: Contributed

Ian Johnson with his former student, Ed Sheeran. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

Ian Johnson is head of music industry partnerships/cetera artist development at Access Creative College and has been at the heart of developing the talent of young musicians for more than 20 years, including Ed Sheeran, Let’s Eat Grandma and Bessie Turner. He also manages the Grammy-nominated East Anglian producer Harry Edwards and is currently helping the Ed Sheeran Trust. Ian and Access Creative are proud supporters of the Ed Sheeran Made in Suffolk Legacy Auction.

What’s the impact of Covid-19 on your role and how are you adapting?

The main difference Covid-19 has had in my daily work life is all my meetings are online via Zoom or Hangout. I’m spending more time than is healthy in my own home. My commuting to London and working in my Norwich office has stopped for the time being. If I’ve noticed a difference, I think it’s that people are very keen to talk and for some, it’s just the comfort of being able to chat with people, to have that human contact and therefore feel less isolated. I try to make sure I’ve got time for everybody if they need me.

The Ed Sheeran signed guitar, which is being auctioned as part of the Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk Le

The Ed Sheeran signed guitar, which is being auctioned as part of the Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk Legacy Auction. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

What help and advice can you offer our readers during Covid-19 times?

To ensure that you stay connected with others, keep talking to people and give yourself some sort of daily task to focus on. Don’t beat yourself up either, there’s no tool kit for this situation, just do the best you can and watch out for other people.

What is your connection to East Anglia?

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My family moved from south east London to Heacham, north Norfolk when I was 13, later moving to Old Hunstanton and now my folks live in Burnham Market. When I was 19, I moved back to London to attempt a career in the music industry. I spent my twenties in London, moving to various places – Edinburgh, Birmingham and Plymouth, moving back to Norfolk in the mid-’90s. Coming back to Norfolk felt like I was finally coming home.

What is your East Anglian Heaven?

The coast, especially the Old Hunstanton, Holme and Thornham coastline. I ran amok there when I was a teenager and they hold very happy memories.

What is your East Anglian Hell?

Probably Greater Anglia Railways, I think they do us a disservice, it’s the one thing more often than not that spoils my daily commute and ruins my work diary.

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?

Pre-Covid-19 my work meant being in London regularly, so I would say it’s the patch of water just after Manningtree station. Once there, I know I’m heading home to Norwich. However, if I’m travelling back from meetings up north, its the vast flat fens and the giant skies near Ely.

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

One of the highlights of my working year is the Latitude Festival. I curate a stage there for Access Creative and have loved seeing our young talented students play on our stage early on in their career, then seeing them play on the larger stages years later. Ed Sheeran, Let’s Eat Grandma, Bessie Turner, Mullally and many others have all made that a very special experience for me.

What’s your specialist Mastermind subject?

Music generally but punk/post punk is probably where it all began for me. Forming bands, releasing records and playing gigs was how I spent the whole of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s.

What is always in your fridge?

Milk (I can’t operate without a cup of tea) and huge chunks of Parmesan thanks to my globe-trotting wife, Rosie.

What’s your simple philosophy of life?

Music makes things better.

What’s your favourite film?

Harvey with James Stewart, I saw it when I was very young and very ill with asthma, it left a lasting impression on me. The idea of somebody having an invisible 6ft white rabbit as a companion (a Pookah) seems very reassuring somehow.

What was your first job?

From the age of 16 until I was 19, I was lucky enough to have two jobs during every Easter and summer holiday. During the day I worked on the barrow outside the greengrocers in Hunstanton and in the evening and weekends, I worked on the House of Fun at Hunstanton Fair. Both jobs were a great education!

What is your most treasured possession?

Either my record collection or a stuffed toy my Mother made me when I was six, it’s a tartan donkey called Checkmate.

Who do you admire most?

My parents for working hard and looking after my sister and me, my wife Rosie for being brave and incredibly talented. Scott Walker for his dedication to his art.

What is your biggest indulgence?

Music, books and art toys (Kaws, Silas, Bearbrick) and comics are probably my biggest indulgence. I have a pretty large record and graphic novel collection that grows every week. It even has its own room in our house.

What do you like about yourself most?

I’m good at spotting and nurturing/encouraging talent. I enjoy introducing clever, talented people to each other and seeing what they make happen.

What’s your worst character trait?

I’m easily bored, I’m a bit gobby when it comes to music and the music industry. I don’t like reading instructions or manuals.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

Probably the Kent coast. I grew up in a large family from the East End, both my parents were born in the Old Kent Road and historically Kent seems to have been the natural holiday destination for denizens of the East End. Dymchurch also has very happy memories for me.

Best day of your life?

Meeting my wife Rosie. She transformed mine and my children’s lives as soon as we met, adding magic and excitement. Obviously the days both of my children were born and recently the day my first grandchild, Otto, was born.

What’s your favourite breakfast?

A hotel full English breakfast. I’m particularly fond of the one at the Finzels Reach Bristol Premier Inn and the one at the Radisson at Stansted Airport. I’ve eaten breakfast at both those hotels far too many times.

What’s your favourite tipple?

An Affogato is my favourite treat as a drink. A mug of Yorkshire Tea comes a close second.

What’s your hidden talent?

My best friend Lavar says it’s “dot joining” and he knows me better than most. As mentioned previously, I like to introduce talented people to other talented people (they’ve got to be nice people too).

What’s your earliest memory?

Nearly drowning in Saltdean Lido when I was three. I fell in and my Dad saved me, after that I had a fear of water (especially swimming pools) until my late teens, moving to the Norfolk coast forced me to fall in love with the sea.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

One song is not enough, I’m obsessed. I’d have a segue of four songs...Bailero by Marie-Joseph Cantaloube, Bitters End by Roxy Music, Peace Piece by Bill Evans and Breakaway by The Beach Boys.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?

I met David Bowie and his wife Angie when I was nine. I waited outside his house in Beckenham with my school friend Kevin and his two big sisters who were 15 and 16. When Bowie came to the door with his wife to talk to us and sign photos etc, I actually couldn’t tell them apart

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

“You’ve just told PJ Proby that he was dead”. In the early-mid 80’s I worked on the singles desk in HMV 363, Oxford Street. One day an older gentleman came up to the counter and said “Have you got PJ Proby’s latest single in stock” to which I replied, “I think you’ll find he died years ago”. The man just looked at me for a moment, then replied “Oh” and left the shop. Then my manager walked up slowly behind me and whispered in my ear “You’ve just told PJ Proby he was dead”. I was mortified.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else.

Big skies, remarkable trees and wide-open beaches.

What do you want to tell our readers about most ?

When I was in my teenage punk band in the late 70’s we invited John Peel to come to our gig at Snettisham Village Hall as we’d heard he lived “locally”. We didn’t get a reply but then not long after the doors opened in walks John Peel, he stayed for the show, posed for photos and then reviewed the gig in Sounds Magazine. The headline was “Snettisham Rock and Roll Capital of the World”, that single event changed my life.

Access Creative College (www.accesscreative.ac.uk) has proudly donated a signed Ed Sheeran Signature Edition Martin Guitar (Lot 170) to the Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk Legacy Auction, which launched on Thursday this week. I urge you to take a look, there are over 220 extraordinary lots, each one helping two great legacy projects. Please visit: www.edsheeranmadein suffolklegacyauction.com

If you are living in Suffolk or Norfolk and have an interesting story to tell please do email me at gina@hallfarmfornham.com or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram: ginageelong

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