b. Manchester, England. Johnston began writing her first songs on the piano in her early teenage years. By the time she was an adult she could be found playing at a wealthy gentlemen’s club in her native Manchester: ‘Whilst the girls in their cages did their stuff, I was alone at the piano playing Joni Mitchell and Carole King songs, just occasionally dropping in some of my own material. I thought if I can cope with this, I can cope with anything.’ Eventually she teamed up with fellow Mancunian Tony Kirkham to play residencies at clubs such as the Bitter End in New York and the Orange in West London. There the duo managed to find a contract with Sony/ Columbia Records, scoring a minor UK hit (number 55) with ‘If This Is Love’, credited to the act’s then title, JJ. An album, Intro, followed in 1991 but their experience with Columbia proved to be not altogether a happy one, with the artist complaining of a lack of promotion and creative meddling. Putting this down to experience, she elected for a solo career and soon found herself with a new contract at A&M Records. The title of her debut album, Naked But For Lillies, was dreamed up on a balmy summer evening, and imposed Johnston’s maturing instinct for songwriting (still helped musically by Kirkham). The innocence and plaintive songwriting saw critics draw comparisons with Kate Bush and Carole King, but it failed to set the charts alive, despite strong reviews in magazines such as Q. The first single to be lifted from the collection, ‘Paris’, was a typically dreamy excerpt produced by Dave Bascombe.
Share this page