…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.
From afterhours wanderings…
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.
I recently perused one of the 1965 biographical films of Jean Harlow – the one with future cult and sometime John Waters favourite Carroll Baker as Ms Harlow (there were two released on the same day, with the same name back when).
I suspect(!) it plays a little fast and loose with the facts of the story but it’s a fine piece of techicolor blonde bombshell-ness and eyecandy nonetheless
Although made in the 1965s, it feels more like 1950s, Marilyn Monroe era glamour – putting me in mind of our own hurricane in mink, Diana Dors.
Ms Baker looks almost more Harlow-esque than Jean Harlow herself, something of a personification of back in the day swish and silk glamour and the film seems almost like a hyper-real simulacra that had tumbled forward in time rather than something that was created in the Swinging Sixties.
I first heard Marc Almonds album Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters a fair few years ago now when it first was sent out (escaped?) into the world.
I would have loved to have seen the faces of the record company executives when this chap they had signed who had hit the pop chart topspots with previous records presented a dramatic, diva-filled, late night, Spanish themed album named after the art of onanism; an album with a Jean Genet inspired pop-but-disturbing transgressive video for its “hit” single (directed by Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson of Coil and Throbbing Gristle), all accompanied by homo-erotic Cocteau-esque illustrations of sailors.
And I suspect Afterhours may well have a fair few roots in this album and indeed the work of Marc Almond back when; for a while hisself and his work felt like Soho and heart of town neon alleyway shennanigans encapsulated and this album in particular sums up the sense and spirit of a certain late night dissoluteness which I can trace forwards to today and my own work.
Mother Fist connects to his kohl-eyed bedsit-land Soft Cell era music but it’s wandered off somewhere more… mature, sophisticated, elegant but still a body of work that plays with the theatre (and actuality?) of sleaze.
I’m not knocking Soft Cell here, that would be fighting talk around these parts, as they’re one of those times when pop allows in something not quite normal or it has one of it’s Mutant Moments I suppose but Mother Fist was an evolution of a world and cultural view from somebody who was out to explore rather than retread.
Marc Almond’s site is here.
That pop-but-unsettling video to Ruby Red can be viewed here.
Peruse the album in its various forms here.
From afterhours wanderings…
Well I could use the phrase femme fatale to describe the gals that inhabit her paintings and world but… I don’t think it would quite suffice. It wouldn’t capture their utter hardboiled, tough talking, (killer) high-heeled attitude.