I spent an afternoon with the “missing” member from the 80s punk band Fashiön, Salvatore Mulligan, to discuss religion, love and his transition into a painter and a designer.
The gloomy background of a rainy Camden Passage fits John Joe Salvatore Martinez Marion Mulligan like a glove. His three piece dove grey suit. His heavy double breasted navy coat. His 1940s Homburg hat. His twisted, Salvador Dali-like moustache. His very long name. It is almost as if Salvatore Mulligan does not belong in this reality, but inside the roll of a classic movie. One with gangsters and painters. He’s not a gangster, but he is a painter. And a designer. And a musician. And a music producer, too. Once upon a time he was simply known as "Mulligan", or "that dreadlocked guy from Fashiön".
By the time we are led to our table at Frederick’s, the only trouble is which one of these lives should we discuss first.
"I have brought some photos I'd like to show you," he says, dirty martinis on their way. "Some are from this new website I am making, and this is a photo of me wearing one of the suits I designed… oh! And here's one of me with Milli Vanilli." From the way he laughs as he looks at himself in the photos, one would think he’s looking into somebody else’s memories.
It is not that Salvatore Mulligan doesn't like to talk about himself, it is only that he'd rather be talking about anything else. His current projects, his best friend of many years, the one time he went to Italy and fell in love with the unique Italian sun. "I just think it's so dreadful to talk about the past," he says, while trying to fish an olive from his martini. "When you said you wanted to meet for an interview, I was scared you'd want to talk about Fashiön." He smiles his shy smile and finally eats his olive. Somehow it feels less shy after that.
Salvatore was born in Birmingham and raised by Catholic parents. He attended art school and in 1978 he founded the band Fashiön along with Dick Davis and Alan James, who would later be known as Luke Skyscraper. The latter launched a MySpace site devoted to the band in 2007, where he stated that from the original members of the band, two were dead, and one was missing. He was talking about Salvatore. "I never went missing," he says, amused. "I simply wanted to do other things." Other things here meant producing music with other artists, including Milli Vanilli and Bananarama.
When Salvatore decided to put the synthesiser down, he picked up his old sketchbook and began designing again. “I remember from our first gigs as Fashiön, the people commented so much on our clothes, on the posters and banners we used to advertise our concerts, that we began selling them. We ended up making more money from those than from the actual gigs. Can you believe that?”
We decide we are bored of Frederick’s and decide to walk to a nearby spot for dinner. Before we leave, Mulligan asks me to inspect his hat. “It’s an American hat.” He informs me. “You wouldn’t find one like that in London.” Salvatore’s predilection for a very unique and personal style comes from his childhood in Birmingham, from a military older cousin who taught young Mulligan the importance to always look one’s best. “He was also named John Joe, it’s a family name.”
As we step out of the bar, it is hard not to picture a Victorian walking cane in Mulligan’s hand, with the way he carries himself. The thought of his cousin John Joe and the ghost of Catholic religion follow us all the way to the restaurant. Maybe it’s the cold, but I dare to wonder out loud whether we Catholics try to look our best, not for anybody in particular, but for God. Mulligan stops right in his tracks. “Know what? I think that’s exactly what it is.” He smiles, no longer shy, and winks.