I’ve loved this photo by Steve Gullick of Gallon Drunk from 1991 (?) for a long time.
It seems to sum up the band, their world and early aesthetic in some way that I can’t quite put my finger on…
James Johnston’s youthful bequiffed brooding menace is part of it as is a sense of them being, as Cathi Unsworth put it ”the last gang in town”, despite them relaxing in deckchairs on the prom.
Although not a direct transfer, it also tends to put me in mind of Scarface as some kind of source for their style.
If you should not know the work of Gallon Drunk, their album From The Heart Of Town is a fine starting point and if I’m talking about summing up their world and aesthetic then this could well also do that; all West End/Camden swagger, suave and dissolution.
Gallon Drunk and an ode to a certain gent around these parts at Day #17/365a.
Ah, well, it has been something of a journey indeed…
The Afterhours Sleaze and Dignity book is out now, as they say and can be previewed below and ordered at Blurb.
15 x 23cm / 9 x 6 inches.
“Around twenty years ago I stumbled upon a semi-hidden world which only truly came alive well after midnight and which existed in the heart of London, in red light-drenched basements behind unmarked Soho doors.
“It was a place and time inhabited by characters who could have tumbled from films of their own making, a sideways glance at a reimagined indefinable past; a world of modern day spivs, foot-high quiffs, lizard skin-lined cars, tooting saxophones, unlicensed speakeasies and sharp suits.
“More than a decade later I began to revisit my old haunts and companions.
“Afterhours Sleaze and Dignity was the result, a tribute to a world where I spent some of my youth and a visualisation of the imaginary film it inspired and which has played behind my eyes ever since – an expression of my own particular Soho of the mind and also an elegy to the spirit of Soho as it once was.”
Images from the book can also be viewed in the Gallery.
More information and background on the book can be found on the About page.
I have something of a soft-spot for the 1995 film adaptation of Walter Mosley’s Devil In A Blue Dress gumshoe (almost) origin story – it’s a beautiful stepping into another time and place (Los Angeles in the 1948 to be precise), a pixel perfect recreation of another time…
…it was via the film that I came across the work of Archibald Motley Jr, who is considered to be a part of the Harlem Renaissance movement, which is a phrase used to describe a blooming of black cultural and related social activity from the end of the First World War until around the mid-1930s.
Archibald Motley Jr’s Bronzeville At Night painting (see top of the page) is used as the backdrop to the opening titles/sequence of Devil In A Blue Dress and it along with some of his other work captures a sense of the spirit of black nightlife and shennanigans – a kind of culturally specific, vivid and vivaciousness counterpart to the quiet and still of Edward Hopper’s work.
If the street life, bars and activity in Motley’s paintings aren’t speakeasies they sure as heck feel like they should be – something that is reflected in the film where one of the main nightlife dens is run as an unlicensed establishment by a former prohibition era bar owner who just found that he liked the speakeasy way of doing things after repealment and just kept on working like that…
…and a different time and place but also representing/capturing of such things in both Motley’s paintings and Devil In A Blue Dress is something that although it may be geographically more than a hop, skip and a jump from similar places and times in say Soho back in the day and maybe more overtly expressive but in spirit they are but on the next street corner…
…as time passes by I think that increasingly the spirit of Soho in my mind has less and less space in the actual streets of that square mile or so of London… the machinery and money of progress are making it so…
Along which lines, I recently I came across the piece of writing below by Ms Vicky Butterfly. It seemed to capture that change and its associated ending, to contain a very evocative wistfulness and maybe even sadness…
“Recent walks through Soho left me feeling homesick for another time and place that I recognise has vanished forever… My father was a Soho landlord in the 60s and his and my mother’s world before me had seemed so exciting and mysterious – a glistening world of dark shadows and neon….
Sometimes at night I could get my father to walk us back through Soho. I loved the signs, lights glistening of tarmac, the promise lurking in the windows, the girls, the clubs, the smoke. I longed for the day when I could explore this adult world I only overheard in the conversations between my parents and friends.
As I began to tread those roads for myself, I never realised I was seeing the end of an era: the lights went out in the windows, the neon signs were switched off for the last time, the sex shops were replaced with boutique juice bars, whole swathes (containing some of my favourite dens of iniquity) were demolished for Crossrail and many of the faces that had drawn me there vanished.”
So, here’s a tip of the hat to the melting away of streets, rogues, beloved rascals and indeed the heart of town.
There is a sense of layering, exploration and research that underpins her work and which you could well follow a line from back to the stories, spirit of and souls from those disappearing Soho streets.
Visit her in the ether here.
The above text is from her article When The Rain Falls… The Night Flowers Bloom, which can be found here.
“His face is like an old glove that doesn’t quite fit and has had to be taken in here and there…”
Which is from the back of an old VHS copy of the 1971 film Villain which apparently was based on “East End fact”.
It’s always stuck in my mind this here film has, it’s something of a classic semi-lost piece of truly British cinema and I could write and post about it all day and a week or two long.
There are classic genre-ish lines and themes in it (the main robbery goes wrong and one of them says “it’s all gone rotten Vic” and his reply is just the practical and snarled “get your head down it’s covered in claret”) but this isn’t a flash’n'dash glamourised take on such things – it’s a somewhat grittier tale and representation of and not always an easy watch.
“A lovely cup of teas ma…”
It’s the story of gangster Vic Dakin – who loves his mum – played by Richard Burton, who in the film looks gone to seed, past his prime and he has a seedy and decayed feel to him, a corrupt swagger but he still carries with a him a a barely contained tangible menace.
Particularly when he is presented with his “close” friend Wolfe’s (Ian McShane) female lover Venetia (Fiona Lewis), a scene in which his performance still makes me almost step back and hold my breath in worry when I watch it.
“She’s just some posh bash…”
In fact, the whole film has a seedy and decayed feel to it and there’s a sense that it reflects Britain’s early 1970s problems and decay in general, the optimism and affluence of post-war values falling into disrepair, bobbies on the take down Soho, corrupted leaders of the realm and a seam of almost giving up running right through the country… like later Carry On films, Sid’s laugh having changed from a life cheering innocent skullduggery to something a bit darker and more worrying.
I chap I used to know who would’ve been about seventeen when this came out said that he always thought of the world as being in black and white until a particular year.
This film’s reminds me of those times in dear old England; a world both close and yet far away, almost like a foreign country to now, with those strangely shaped old vans tottering away in the background and the police – in a way that seems both ridiculous and endearing – drive Morris Minors.
Well worth a look-see. In fact, writing about it makes me want to wander of and revisit the film…
Places to wander: Ian McShane discussing Villain, Mr Richard Burton and breakfast libations here.
Peruse the film here.
A fair while ago now I came across the London Is The Place For Me compilation album – part of a series that documents the music of young black London in the 1950s and a new wave of those who had emigrated to this fair isle – all Calypso cheer in the face of adversity and Picadilly high life.
At a quick glance/listen it/they seem like the put-a-brave-face-on-things, quite polite and inoffensive take on the Windrush generation’s experience (especially in contrast to say Sam Selvon’s Lonely Londoners book – which is a considerably more overtly realist, unsettling reminder of lack of social welcome and cohesion back when).
However, when you actually separate the lyrics of something like Lord Kitchener’s My Landlady and its refrain of “Every Monday: Mister give me my rent” from its, well, sunkissed music and sit down and read them, they are actually quite bleak and put one in mind of a world nearer to say a pre-British New Wave film-esque utilitarian way of living:
My landlady’s too rude, In my affair she likes to intrude… Five o’clock in the morning, the landlady is peepin’.
And on the wall she stick up a notice “No lady friends – not even a princess” and if you disagree, out you go immediately…
No chair, no table, the convenience is terrible and on the other part no hot water to take a bath…
And believe you sleep like a rabbit, a dirty sheet with half of a blanket and she has the audacity to tell me I’m living in luxury…”
Visit The London Is The Place For Me series at the old Discogs here.
Background on the albums and their home at Honest Jon’s here.
Peruse them elsewhere here.
After I had recently read Peter Doyle’s Get Rich Quick (see Day #64/365a) and its tales of goings on during and around the Australian tour when Little Richard renounced rock’n'roll and turned to another form of transcendence via religion, I found myself searching, researching and wandering through the life and work of that particular “War Hawk”, Mr Richard Wayne Penniman.
One of the things that’s fascinating looking back at the be-pomped Little Richard in the 1950s is just how transgressive and beyond the norm he seems even today.
At a time when society could still be shocked to its core by a hairstyle and mode of dress, its hard to imagine how much this particular gent must have worried the “squareheads” (to quote Peter Doyle / Australian slang of the time).
How times have changed.
To quote a certain co-wrecker of civilisation and post-Penniman worrier of society Mr Genesis P. Orridge:
“I think something very smart happened a few years ago. There’s no need to make anything the enemy anymore.
If you don’t make anything the enemy then you can accept it back as activity that can feed into your powerstructure – you co-opt everything and everyone.
Not only do you not have to waste time controlling people, but you also defuse the problem and make more money. Everything could be subverted by commerce and fashion and logos.”
But really, I think I should leave the final word or two to Mr Penniman:
If you should not know, Earls of Suave were a suave, escapee Elvis, garage-esque-a-billy band that graced stages and vinyl in the early 1990s.
Amongst their ranks they variously included a number of former and future members of Gallon Drunk, The Flaming Stars, The Stingrays, Thee Headcoats and Thee Headcoatees and could almost be considered a prototype gathering for a combo yet to arrive.
There’s something more than a little iconic about these covers – particularly A Cheat – and they may well have shared a pre-burlesque-shimmy-and-shake-revival, tumbling forward in time with the gals that grace the sleeves of the Las Vegas Grind albums (see Day #38/365a).
Have a goggle at some relatively rare flickerings and screaming here.