In 1980, Jona Lewie hit the chart with the humorous song You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties, but it wasn’t his first chart appearance. Jona had been in the business some 17 years by then, so how hardly anyone noticed?
Jona was born John Lewis in Southampton in March 1947. As a kid he learned to play the piano and in 1963, whilst still at school, joined his first band the Johnston City Jazz Band. The following year he joined another band, “That band were The Corsairs,” Jona recalled. “We were all just kids and it was just an R ‘n’ B band which was all the rage at that time in 1964 but we did get to back U.S singer Gene Vincent when he came over to England that year which was a special moment.”
In 1968 he embarked on a solo career, but the following year he was invited to join the already popular Brett Martin and the Thunderbolts. Unusual choice so soon after launching a solo career, John explained the reason, “When Graham, the leader, invited me to join the band in September 1969, I was still doing solo gigs as John Lewis as a blues singer but it was a good time in my life to join a band again because I was in my third year at college studying for a Degree and the solo gigs I was doing were becoming demanding because of my studies, whereas playing in a band was almost by definition not demanding on one’s nerves at all and actually enjoyable. Funnily enough for the first year with the Bretts I was the pianist only, mainly because of my studies, and I didn’t become one of the lead vocalists until about a year after I had joined. On the day I left college in June 1970 the band officially became professional where all the members of the band were agreed on doing more gigs.
In an interview with Exclusive magazine, Jona explained about the name change, “My mother would sometimes call me ‘Jona’ as a nickname and friends at school would often call me ‘Lewie’. When I was thinking of developing a solo career I thought I would combine the two nicknames to make my stage name ‘Jona Lewie’ as opposed to ‘John Lewis’ as it seemed to be a bit more snazzy sounding. I wasn’t conscious of not wanting my name to be the same as the name of the shop in Oxford Street. At one point I was thrilled at having the same name as the John Lewis who was in the Modern Jazz Quartet except that I didn’t really play Modern Jazz.”
Jona was always fascinated by American Roots and Cajun music, the latter of which was generally played on an accordion. “One day I wandered into a junk shop near my college and saw an accordion that I bought on impulse,” Jona revealed. “When I got it home I taught myself how to play it, which was quite easy really because I was already a piano player. I ended up writing a few songs on the accordion, one of which I decided I wanted to present to the band for their usage and felt great that they had accepted it, though a little disappointed that, when the record company, Jonathan King’s UK label, decided to release it as a single, the band changed its name from Brett Marvin to Terry Dactyl. The track was called Seaside Shuffle and it went to number two.” They followed it up in January of 1973 with On A Saturday Night which missed the top 40 altogether. “I left the band in early 1973 and went back to the solo career, now as Jona Lewie in 1974.”
He signed to Sonet records and released a string of singles that all flopped, then in 1977 he signed to Stiff records and joined the package tours. He released four singles, The Baby, She’s On the Street and Hallelujah Europa in 1978 and God Bless Whoever Made You in 1979, all of which failed to excite the public. Then in 1980, he scored his first solo hit.
You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties or, on some copies just Kitchen at Parties, but they carried different writing credits. The full title credited J. Lewie and the shortened version said J. Lewie / K. Trussell. Jona explained how the song came about, “It was one of those good luck stories, Keith Trussell was a member of the Brett band and came to see me a couple of times. At that point I had not seen him or any of the other guys in the band for some years and it was nice to renew acquaintances. The second time he came round I noticed he’d left a lyric book behind and I thought I’d flick through it casually thinking at the back of my mind ‘just in case’ and, as luck would have it, it happened i.e. I did fall upon what I thought was a brilliant line and would make a brilliant title as well. So I rang him to ask if he would mind if I write a melody around the idea and to add a few lyrics to his, firstly, to turn it into a story and secondly, to give it a happy ending and he agreed. Another lucky twist of fate was that Keith’s band themselves could have picked up on the lyric idea but apparently had not done so at a band practice hence it was available.”
When Jona appeared on Top of the Pops the first time, one of the two backing singers was Kirsty MacColl which led to everyone saying that she had recorded the backing vocals. This ‘fact’ even appeared in The One and Only – a biography of Kirsty MacColl written by Karen O’Brien, but it’s not true as Jona clarified, “I was at all of the recording sessions and I can confirm that Kirsty did not sing on the chorus and it is true to say that it was the wives of the producer Bob Andrews and the label owner, Dave Robinson who were singing the chorus. I’m afraid Karen O’Brien’s biography is incorrect on this particular point but it’s true that Kirsty did mime with me on a couple of TV shows.”
After Kitchen peaked at number 16, he followed it up with the Christmas ditty Stop the Cavalry which became his biggest hit reaching number three. In the download-era, most of the big Christmas songs re-appear every year for about three weeks and then disappear again, Stop the Cavalry has only appeared once in 2007 when he skidded to a halt at number 48.
In 2009, Lewie appeared at the London Ukulele Festival where he performed a couple of songs and the following year toured with both the Glitter Band and Captain Sensible.
In 2010, IKEA used the track to advertise their kitchen range. The video for the TV ad featured Johnny Langer and Peter Duffy, known as Man Like Me, at a party and wandering around a house that was made up of only kitchens singing a version of the song which had been remixed by Arthur Baker. If you look at the ad carefully you’ll notice that the party’s host was none other than Jona himself.