Obituary: Christopher Johnson

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The Independent Online
Christopher Johnson, editor and musician, died on Easter Day. He came from Rushmere St Andrew near Ipswich. He never lost his marked accent and his slow speech pattern belied the quickness of his mind.

He graduated from Sussex University in 1966, with a degree in English. He is still remembered there as a brilliantly unconventional student and as guitarist with the university rock group. Even then, he was something of a polymath. He wrote poetry, prose, letters, journals. He drew. He wrote songs - mostly tunes with complicated three-part guitar accompaniments - and played music endlessly. He combined extreme personal and artistic fastidiousness with a dedicatedly Bohemian life style.

Johnson's working life was also Bohemian sometimes and bewilderingly conventional at others. He worked as a session guitarist in London in the late 1960s and as a busker in Paris in the mid-1970s. Early on he worked as a lift-operator at Liberty, in Regent Street, London, but later held down long-term jobs with the DHSS and with a housing trust.

It was only in middle age, working for Skoob Books, an independent London publishing house concentrating on occult and literary texts, that the two sides of Johnson's nature came together successfully. As a bookshop manager (at Skoob's shop off Southampton Row), occult book expert and editor, first of reprints and then of new books, he showed authority, precision and passion. He was particularly committed to the development of a literary list representing the power of imagination and the visionary moment. He kept in print the writing of the poets Kathleen Raine, David Gascoyne and Michael Hamburger, while he promoted the new work of Jeremy Reed and Peter Abbs.

The occult had been one of his lasting interests. At one point, in the early Seventies, he was heavily involved with the Druids. All forms of religion and magic seemed to fascinate him as strategies for developing the inner life and keeping back the reign of pragmatism.

At the end of his life, overworked and ill, he left Skoob and returned to the Anglican Church, where he had friends and for which he had been writing organ music. Last Christmas, just before his illness was diagnosed as cancer, he wrote and taped 12 songs which the session guitarist Mo Foster described as "a cross between Jacques Brel and Ray Davies". It was an extension of his guitar work in the Sixties.

It was a puzzle to his friends that Johnson, the gentlest of men and notably constant in his friendships, should have such a turbulent private life. He never really settled down. At the end he was living alone in a small book-filled flat in Bloomsbury. He is mourned by a wide circle of friends, many of whom - given that Chris Johnson always compartmentalised a complicated life - are just now starting to know of each other.

Glyn James

Christopher Reginald Johnson, editor and musician: born Ipswich 13 June 1944; died London 7 April 1996.