Keeping Rock And Roll Alive
The shortlist of clients enjoying the familiar vibe and lots of space includes The Rolling Stones, Grace Jones, One Direction, Coldplay, Bryan Adams, and Tom Jones. Stacked to the ceiling and spread across 45,000 square feet, one finds virtually everything an artist’s heart could possibly desire in terms of backline: from vintage Hammond organs to the latest Korg and Yamaha digital piano flagships. High hats, kick drums, brass instruments, amps and monitors, you name it.
John Henry’s will also supply the local school’s recital with music stands if need be. Most of the time the company has bigger fish to fry: The Brit Awards, Capital Summertime Ball and London Jazz Festival rely on John Henry’s backline department.
The same is true for acts like Lionel Richie, Earth, Wind & Fire, Art Garfunkel, Cee Lo Green or Iggy Pop, to name a few. Its audio department equips the Later Show with Jools Holland, the Jonathan Ross Show, BBC Radio 1 Rock Day, as well as acts like Mary J. Blige, Usher and The Weeknd.
Among its staging clients are Reading & Leeds Festivals, V Festival, Latitude Festival, British Summertime at Hyde Park, and Proms In The Park. Like most veterans of the game, Henry claims to have been at the right place at the right time – 1976 to be specific. Besides a portable stage riser, he built mains distribution systems that could be taken on tour.
Henry’s JHL 230v to 115volt transformer is still widely used today.
“Back then bands started to look for storage space, a carpenter, a joiner, a welder. I provided all of that,” he said. In 1982, the company’s old place on Market Road was already too small to accommodate all of that. So it moved a couple of meters to a street running parallel, Brewery Road, where John Henry’s is still located today. Around 50 people work at John Henry’s fulltime. Two of them are the founder’s sons, Johnny and Jamie.
His daughter Jolene also uses the company’s premises as a photographer.
“Most people [at the company] worked their way up,” said Johnny Henry, who went through all the departments himself. “My first job was sweeping the warehouse floor,” he remembers. “I was 15 then. From there I went on to prep the drums, prep the entire backline and drive the vans.”
Nine years ago, he entered the administrative part of the business, working out of the office alongside his father.
The company has taken up the cause of providing any band touring Europe with the right equipment needed on stage. When the late Prince toured the UK in 2014, he spontaneously showed up at venues, announcing the gigs last-minute, hence the name Hit and Run tour.
Johnny Henry looked after that tour.
“We got a call a couple of hours before the show’s start, drove over and set up the whole stage,” he recalls. Needless to say that the growing importance of live as an income stream for artists plays into the hands of a live entertainment supplier. It even offsets the decline in recording studios using John Henry’s services.
“Our business grows every day,” he says. “We’ve just had our 40th anniversary, and it’s been our busiest year ever.”
The only thing he might add in the future is trucking, thereby expanding the company’s transport offering, and opening up rehearsal facilities aimed at production. Anything to keep rock ’n’ roll alive.