Still Breathing: The True Adventures of the Donnelly Brothers (Black and White Publishing)
Authors: Anthony Donnelly and Christopher Donnelly with Simon Spence
Due out 7th Nov
For Louder Than War Carl Stanley reviews a brilliant new book, Still Breathing, which tells the story of the guys behind fashion labels Gio Goi and Your Own. Says Carl “It’s a classic “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” memoir locked within the world of fashion – compulsive reading for any fan of music, acid house, fashion, youth culture, football culture, Manchester’s underworld and of course the city itself. And it’s the best book I’ve read this year, simples.
Manchester is a city full of energy, street smarts and artistic verve, stuff that has been pumping through the city for over forty years now. However, contrary to popular belief it hasn’t been generated by the clubs, the music or the drugs, but rather by the people themselves. And probably nowhere is it better epitomised than in the larger than life Donnelly brothers and their own very unique life stories.
Two unlikely working class heros born in and around Manchester’s underworld, they made their own moves by seizing the hedonistic times of acid house and the rave-era and went on to build the multi-million pound Manchester fashion label Gio Goi and then to turn it into an empire.
But it’s as much about how they did it as what they did.
From the books opening pages it’s made quite clear who you’re dealing with. An honest and rather moving opening foreword from Oliver Wilson is followed by ten pages of comments, memories and thoughts on the boys from a range of artists, music and fashion industry names and well-known friends who include Howard Marks, actor Max Beesley, Plan B, Noel Gallagher and even Curtis Warren.
It’s obvious there’s much admiration and fondness for The Donnelly’s, on many levels.
“I met the Donnelly’s at Glastonbury years ago when they were always hanging out with uncompromising madmen like Bez and Kieth Allen. Their story is fucking insane, but it just goes to show what you can do if you aim high and don’t compromise – with a heart of gold and balls of steel, coming from nothing doesn’t mean you can’t become something mega!.”
Plugged into Still Breathing is, from the off, an easy story to get into, and that’s coming from someone who’s been known to miss out the first few chapters here and there from the occasional biography. Those pages are normally devoted to intimate growing pains and school memoirs and most of the time they aren’t that much different than our own early years. But by page six, and with no sign of my lazy-arse reading antics kicking in, I found myself firmly hooked into the story of the Donnellys up-bringing, one which makes Shameless seem like Little House on the Prairie; rum lads indeed, but extremely funny and clever with it.
It’s a page to page, chapter to chapter adventure and without getting too lost in detail it kinda mirrors that of the fast-paced and edgy lives the brothers both led themselves – and there’s no need for any hype either. The book showcases a wicked sense of humor fused within a straight talking, honest narrative courtesy of writer Simon Spence, and it has you willing them on as they go on to build their clothing empire. It just keeps moving, from one scenario to the next.
So, born into the world of Manchester’s underworld via their father Arthur’s scrapyard and his links to the infamous Quality Street Gang, it provides the pair with a much valued and insightful apprenticeship for the moves they go on to make. Going on to form part of the cities burgeoning casual look, a look which they describe as ‘Terrace’, the boys would quickly find themselves with one foot in club culture another in football violence and a third in making money, which naturally leads to staging their own parties. Their first party, ‘Sweat it Out’ in October ’88 was attended by such people as New Order and a pre-Oasis Noel Gallagher also serves as Manchester’s very first illegal warehouse party – the brothers entrepreneur career was starting to kick in. Their first foray into the fashion world comes via flogging bootleg T-shirts on the European circuit as well as grafting on football away trips while relieving foreign boutiques of their finest lactose, it’s from these activities that the Donnelly Brothers fashion empire spawn. Soon they’d be producing their own group T-shirts which their friends would travel Europe selling at gig.
“We would always challenge other people. We’ve always had a ‘fuck-you’ attitude. It was our friends who were selling the T-shirts for other people so I knew I already had the workforce, all we needed was the product.”
“Anthony had the foresight, he said ‘why are we buying T-shirts to sell off to other people? Lets make our own. He ended up in this warehouse on Oldham Rd with all these Littlewood’s seconds he’d got off fellas our dad put him in touch with. Our pal, a designer, got this U2 T-shirt made and all the other concerts sellers paid to use his artwork. It was shit hot, just as good as the official T-shirt.”
Many moves, deals and much hard graft later and they came up with their very own fashion label, Gio-Goi, going on to become a celebrated label of British streetwear and casual clothing. Everything was paying off with some of the biggest names in music, sport and TV all donning Gio-Goi (including the late great Amy Winehouse, Calvin Harris, Plan B, Pete Doherty, Kate Moss, Arctic Monkeys, Robbie Williams, Rihanna + many more). The Donnelly Brothers had built a multi-million label and had lived life to the fullest, a life we can all only dream of. But it all changed the day police moved in on them both for alleged conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to supply drugs.
“Eight addresses and the Gio Goi warehouse done. There were eighty police raiding the warehouse with the Armed Response. One hundred and twenty officers it took, all told. They were on me, Chris and Dad, John Faulkner and anyone who was around us at the time. The front page in the paper said ‘Fashion Brothers Arrested in Drugs Raid’. Allegedly we were key players.”
Even though Chris’s charges were in the end dropped Anthony went on to be charged with supplying Diazepam which he received a nine month stretch in Strangeways for, and so Gio-Goi was put on the back burner. Eventually though the brothers re-united to take Gio-Goi to the next level, but it wasn’t exactly what they were expecting. An investment by the corporate Melville Capital saw the label moving towards a more commercial market which proved to be a real turn of for the Donnellys.
“Gio-Goi was now totally commercial. We were getting slagged off in the press, called a ‘chav’ brand. I read one thing that talked about ‘tribes of youths’ at Global gathering, Ibiza and Marbella all Gio-Goi’d up to their eyeballs. When the youths of Great Britain went on the rampage in the summer of 2011 there was a noticeable amount of Gio-Goi being worn – and not just in the Manchester riots. People were beginning to sneer at the label. It had become a load of corporate people trying to recreate what we did and doing it badly. They were putting shit like ‘Party hard’ on t-shirts, we wanted to die with embarrassment.”
Both Chris and Anthony are still involved in Gio-Goi, but for them it’s more about their new label Y.O. (Your own). Working on the ideal of ‘Your Own’ being more than just another clothing label, but a way of life, they’re back to what they seemingly do best with a plan to eventually make the label into a £1 billion company … and who’s to doubt them?
“Its been fun doing ‘Your Own’. I actually feel more alive working on the new projects because it has been such a chore with Gio-Goi for the past two years. Working with people you have no respect for is not cool. With YO we can do what we want and it is working – Yo is getting more and more attention. It’s being stocked in credible independent stores, cool stores such as Presidents in Shoreditch that’s run by our pals. It’s about the vibe, a lot of brands are faceless.”
I’ve reviewed some fantastic books this year for Louder Than War, like Simon Mason’s ‘Too High, Too Far, Too Soon’ and ‘Personal Situations with Oasis 92/96’ – and they’ve been some of my favorite reads of the year – but Still Breathing takes the biscuit. It’s a story as good as any biography on your favorite Manchester band (who are all more or less featured in the book at some point) and is a classic “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” memoir locked within the world of fashion – compulsive reading for any fan of music, acid house, fashion, youth culture, football culture, Manchester’s underworld and of course the city itself – best book I’ve read this year, simples.
Get a copy of ‘Still Breathing; The True Adventure Of The Donnelly Brothers’ HERE.
Your Own Clothing website is here.
All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by carl on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.