Tuesday 24 July 2012

Fond Memories Pt4

However, being young and carefree, we could be quite reckless at times.

On many trips to Soho during 1960, on our way from Tottenham Crt Rd Tube Stn to the Top Ten Club in Berwick St, we had to pass through Soho Sq. We passed many knocking shops in seedy (then) St Anne's Court which runs between Dean St and Wardour St. There would be signs pinned on the door of these establishments. 

Next to the door bells were the words " YOUNG MODEL" followed by "FRENCH LESSIONS GIVEN" or "BIG CHEST FOR SALE" another one was "STERN MISTRESS HAS NICE CANE CHAIR FOR SALE". If a client fancied an older woman, he could use one of the adverts, which the pros would often place in local shop windows example "ANTIQUE CHEST FOR SALE" or ANTIQUE FURNITURE FOR SALE IN GOOD CONDITION" another "OLD CHEST NEEDS FRENCH POLISHING" For us kids, it was part of the fun reading this stuff, and trying to work out what it all meant.

St Anne's Court
We soon worked it out though!. Once you understood one, then all the others fell into place. Not every door had a bell to ring for a service. Some just said MODEL UPSTAIRS- FIRST FLOOR. For a laugh, what we would do, was ring the bell if there was, one and hide in the alley or, a doorway close by, to see what would happen. Usually a window would opened, and one of the girls, would look up and down the court and go back in. We were hoping one would come down, so we could see what she looked like, as they always appeared a strange exotic species and bit mysterious. "RING THE BELL FOR JIGGY JIG" what's that all about we thought? Well we soon worked that one out! Some of the prostitutes we had seen in Old Compton St, looked very horny indeed, to three hormonal 16yr olds.
In retrospect some were probably not much older than we were! On one occasion we almost got caught by a pimp who just happened to be coming up the street. As we rang the bell he shouted out "What the fuck you kids doing" Seeing him, we bottled out, panicked and legged it. As he chased us, I lost one of my shoes, and had to hang around to try to retrieve it.
Berwick St
As usual, "Spud" our mate, was always been teased, with us taking the piss out of him. We always wound him up at every opportunity. So when he told us he knew a girl on the game who worked from her gaff, in Berwick Street market near the fish and chip shop. I said "Leave it out you must be fucking joking" He claimed, she had told him, if he was up West anytime to give her a ring. We thought he was looking for a bit of credibility, pretending to be "˜One of the boys" 
So we started to wind him up. "Okay" we said, we'll all go and say hello". Thinking he would bottle out, me and my other mate, gingerly, followed him along Broadwick St, turning left at the Blue Post Pub we passed the wine store to an open door, with the usual sign next to the bell, with the words "Young Model first floor" We said, "Go on then big boy, ring the bell" to our surprise! he rang it and stood there waiting! "COME ON!" we shouted! By now, me and my mate's bottle had gone. Leaving Spud, we legged it to the other side of the street, standing in the shadow of the old Post Office on the opposite corner of Berwick St and Broadwick St, shouting are you "FUCKING MAD RUN FOR IT!!".
Trenchard House
From past experience, we knew there were always lots of police nearby, as next door to the Post Office (now demolished) was Trenchard House a Police section house, where they would often take trouble makers, and drunks, before they got rolled for their spare cash. The coppers then wouldn't think twice of smacking you in the gob. I had been on the receiving end a few myself. There would often be, coppers in the fish shop buying their supper, when we had been in there on previous occasions. However Spud kept on shushing us. After a minute or so, this tasty bottle blond (peroxide) piece of crackling came down in a kinda negligee. He later told us she was about 25 yrs old. 

To our amazement, she started talking to him, we could just about make out what was being said. "˜Hello Billy, what you doing up West? ",  "going to the "˜Top Ten Club up the street, with me mates" he said. By now, feeling like a dog with two dicks, we both appeared out of the shadows and came over to greet him. Just then, after a brief chat, she went back upstairs. Our admiration for Spud was now sky high never mind "˜BIG CHEST FOR SALE".
By now, our hormones had kicked in, and our trousers started to get a bit tighter in a certain area. "˜I told you didn't I!"  he said. "You doggy little git" I replied, "what's your game"? 
Just then she came back down again, and gave him half a crown, ( I thought, you get change as well) and he aint done nothin.
She said, go next door, and get yourself and your mates some chips! 'awe lovely" I thought, as I was starving. I thought what the fuck's going on here then?. There should also be enough for 10 cigarettes as well! "˜Give my love to your Dad", she said, and "stay out of trouble", then trotted back upstairs. As we walked away, we were feeling a bit light headed, knowing that we too, also knew a brass just like Spud. 
 Comboco-- site of Sam Widges Coffee Hse and Top Ten Club in the late 1950's
By now, his credibility had been restored well above what it had been previously. We all felt like big shots, as we swaggered up Berwick St, stuffing ourselves with chips, and smoking our free fags. I said "How the fuck did you know that bird then"? He said, she used to work as a barmaid, in a pub, his step dad sang in, in the East End and ended up in Soho, on the game to earn extra dough, looking after her baby.
Still on the subject of brothels, there was an old girl and her husband that I used to have a drink with, who were neighbours of mine in Covent Garden. After a few pale ales, she would often reminisce about the old days, when she worked in Soho, in one of the brothels. She told me a bit about her time working as a prostitutes maid, which was what she did for pin money.
It was sometime, in the 1960s. "Weren't you scared" I said, "˜No!--dear! the girls always made sure I was well looked after. She must have been about late 40s or early fifties? at the time, she was now a grey haired old granny and wore those round John Lennon gold rimmed glasses. I said, "what did you have to do" ,"Well" she said, I use to do a few shifts in the afternoon in a place of Great Windmill St. I would answer the phone and put on my posh accent, change the towels and tidy up, and do a bit of shopping for the girls.
Her main job, was to let in the clients. When the bell rang she would open the door. Letting in the clients, she would try to cover up her strong cockney accent and try to speak in her best posh accent, "MADHUM is engaged at the MOE- MENT DEAH, (dear) with emphasis on the H, would you please sit down SERRH and MADHUM will be with you in just a MOE-MENT!" 
"Laughing as she told me, as she was saying it, she was KNITTING a pair of woolly socks for her latest grandchild!
I nearly fell off the chair laughing! The funny thing was, she looked like a sweet old granny, that butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. Every time I saw her in the pub she would laugh as I pointed to a chair and say --- "˜sit down sir, madam will be with you in just a moment".
A while later about 1966/68, I was working in an ad agency in Soho Sq in Knightway House, where I would take their ads to Fleet St for inclusion in the national dailies, and the bring back voucher copies for their clients to see. 
Cat Stevens
Being close to Tin Pan Alley we often received phone calls from the fans of Cat Stevens ( a big pop star at the time  -whose family had a restaurant in New Oxford Street) who had got our Soho Square phone number by mistake. These fans would phone our number and ask if Cat was in, and could he come out and sign their autograph books. I would tell them to wait outside, the Spanish cafe' the "˜Battista"on the corner of Goslet Yard facing Tin Pan Alley.
 It was in the Yard Freddie Mills the boxer had his club the "Nite Spot" and where he was found shot dead in his car in 1965. Today his death still remains a mystery. Anyhow I digress, what I would then do, was pretend to be Cats manager, and tell them to stay where they were, and Cat would come down to sign their autograph books. This had to be done during our lunch break between 1-2 O'clock. Being naughty, (right) me and my mate Rickie would then slip out, and casually walk to the cafe' where we saw, a handful of young girls all clutching their autograph books and waiting for their idol to turn up. We would then ask them,"˜are you waiting for Cat?" "Yes" they said, "do you know him"? "Oh yeah, we work with him, and he said he will be down in a minute or two to meet you, just hang on". 
Leaving then in a highly excitable state, we would then nip into the Battista and get a sandwich, and then slowly, walk back to the agency, giggling and pissing ourselves, with laughter. We would just leave them waiting there!
The Astoria
Falconberg Mews
Later in the year, we spent some of our time hanging out of the agency windows watching the crowds queuing up to see Andy Warhol controversial film "˜Flesh" which was being shown at the Astoria Cinema (left) at the rear of the agency in Falconberg Mews  now all demolished for Cross Rail, with crowds of mainly old men, (well they looked like old men to us youngsters,) queuing around Soho Square. We would shout out "Dirty old bastards". 
It was finally closed down by the police for indecency. It was bit like D.H Lawrence's novel "˜Lady Chatterley's Lover" all over again. Same street different time. We have today's version (2012) a best seller by E.L. James "Fifty Shades of Grey" nothing changes!
Lady Chatterly's Lover
However, much later in the 1990s I would be paid back, but in the meantime,(1967) was there gold of sorts, in Soho? 

One day there were about 100 fans, in Soho Sq who had come to greet and get Tony Blackburn autograph who had made a visit to agency to see a film being edited.
Knightway House
Anyhow, unbeknown to us, the Beatles were having their cartoon "The Yellow Submarine" made in a studio on the top floor of the agency in Knightway House, which is opposite MPL Paul McCartney's music publishing company in Soho Square. 
After I found out, I would often take the lift, to the top floor studio to see what was going on. There was always bags of rubbish outside the studio door, which contained lots of outtakes, most of it was rubbish waiting to be disposed of by the cleaners. 
One evening when I was riffling through one of these bags, I came across about dozen psychedelic 10x8 acetates of the Beatles, which had been either rejected or cut from the final film and thrown away. 

There were more but to damaged for me to bother with. Anyway, not being aware of their historical significance, why would I? I just thought they were interesting to look at the time, and to good to throw away so I took them home. However, to my amazement during the 1990s, on the TV news, some of these acetates had come up for auction a Sotheby's in a Beatles Memorabilia sale.
Six of these acetates were identical to the ones I had of John, Paul, Ringo and George, and were sold for about £15,000!! I nearly fell of the sofa!! 
I was shocked and excited at the same time. I immediately tried to find them, thinking I had £30,000 quid stashed away waiting to be rediscovered!! Panicking, I searched high and low, where were they? To my horror I was unable to located them. 
Yellow Submarine
I had forgotten about them. It must have been almost 20yrs since I had last seen them, and most probably thrown out with the rubbish, when I had decorated my flat. It seemed ironic that this had been the second time they had been thrown away, but could I have literally, thrown away gold dust? I will never know! What a pension! what a Wally!!

In retrospect

One day during 1960 the same period "Lady Chatterley's lover" had sold out at Foyle's Bookshop, I was pulled over on my Vespa scooter by a copper on his motor bike outside Foyle's in Manette St. 
I had a girl on the back at the time. Being surprised, I said what's up? All of a sudden he took out a tape measure from his top pocket, and then fell to his knees. I thought he was about to do three hail Mary's, or going to measure my inside leg for a new pair of strides! 
He then started to measure my exhaust pipe which he claimed was illegal. It should have had a fish tail on the end of the pipe, but it wasn't there. To us Mods it made the scooters sound to girly, with its purring PUT-PUT- sound which was not very macho.
You see, the first thing any self-respecting Modernist would have done after purchasing his scooter was to change the sound from a girly PUT-PUT to a roar, just as loud as a Rockers motor bike. In order to achieve this unique sound you would go and buy a 3 inch diameter Ford Consul chromium exhaust pipe, then take it to a mechanic with the right tools to do the job and have the modification wielded on while you waited. 
You can imagine the noise this created when 20 machines came roaring up the street. By now the cops had cottoned on, and loved it. They already had the hump, and were never, to keen on us Mods anyway, and started to nick any body with a modification or any other so called infringement.
 In a round about way, it spoilt, our image and put a big dent, into our macho egos as Mods, it took us down a peg or two which the cops loved. Anyway, he nicked me and my dented ego and I was fined at Bow Street Magistrates Court six quid. George Skeggs 2012 

Monday 23 July 2012

Fond Memories Of Soho Pt3


Soho memories part 3

In part one of this blog, I described how my mates and I had originally arrived in Soho, in 1957 and had found ourselves in an amusement arcade in Wardour Street. 
The arcade was to become our starting point whenever we visited Soho. However, after one visit in the summer 1960 we ended up in this particular arcade as usual, tied and skint, or to be more precise, enough dough to have a couple of goes on one of the fruit machines, and also a bit more wiser!

Just next door was a drinking den called the Log Cabin. The Cabin faced the Swiss Tavern, on the corner of Leicester Sq.
We later found out it was a well known hangout for Soho villains, or the (Faces) or the (Chaps), names they liked to call themselves, It was just down the road from Great Windmill St and a snooker club, which had been managed by Tommy scar face Smithson at no 41-44. It was also a boxing gym owned by promoter Jack Solomon, and jazz club rehearsal space. 
Great Windmill St
In 1953-4, I believe, Tommy had given the Kray twins refuge when they were on the trot from the army during their stint doing National Service, he would let them kip down on the snooker tables in the club overnight.
Tommy was finally gunned down by a Maltese villain in 1956 ( the word gangster is a fairly recent invention used to describe British villains and is an Americanism). According to news reports, Tommy, had been taking money from prostitutes in the Brewer St, and Berwick St area, who were being looked after by other gangs, of whom some, had moved into Soho, from the Brick Lane area, in the East End of London. Being born in Brick Lane, I new the Lane area very well.
It had a seedy reputation in the 1950s, and earlier, with lots of brothels and Spielers, like Soho had, and were being controlled, by local villains and, also the Maltese, who by then had started to make their homes in the area. They were either, referred to as Malts, or Maltesers, as a term of affection by local cockney and Jewish villains who were their main rivals.
Wardour St
I digress to set the scene, which as you will see, will not be quite so dramatic, but nerve racking for us young street urchins, up west for a night out in Soho. However, within a few moments of arriving in the Wardour St arcade, a rather dodgy looking blonde geezer came in, wearing what I would have called a DICK TRACY mackintosh with its collar up. 
Me and me mates, stood there striking up a pose, like something out of a Bogart film, but in reality look more like a bunch of marshmallows straight out of a sweet factory! 
After eye-balling the joint, and making himself heard above the general din. Dick (I'II call him Dick for now) sidled up to me and my two mates, "Like a fag boys"? (a cigarette ). As we had none, we eagerly accepted his offer. 
However, it now started to look a bit strange, (never take sweets from a stranger, mum always said, mums always right! aint she?) But we were dying for a woodbine (cigarette brand) these had come from a full pack of twenty, so he had plenty to spare. We weren't that naive, but street wise, and soon, started to wonder what the bottom line was going to be?
Piccadilly Arches
A school friend of mine had ended up on the "meat rack"Which was a well known pick up point for male prostitutes, runaways, and drug addicts, looking to make some cash. It was situated on the corner of Piccadilly Circus under the arches. 

I only found out when I meet him in Soho in 1980 in Berwick St. He'd just been to Oxford St buying clothes.
He claimed, he was on his way to visit a regular client who lived in Paris, someone he first meet, in Piccadilly Circus in 1969. I think it even had a reputation during times of Oscar Wilde.
At school, he was good at art like myself, and we got on very well. I was saddened to see him in such a precarious predicament, as he told me he was being beaten, and humiliated by his client. He said jokingly ( I think he meant it) "why don't you try it, you can earn lots of money", I said, "LEAVE IT OUT! YOU MUST BE JOKING!", maybe my sympathy towards him was misplaced?
After accepting, Dicks offer of a cigarettes, (could we end up in Morocco as white slaves?) I think Dick was about 24yrs old, he then asked, how old we were, and would we like to play for free, on any of the pinball machines including the jukebox in the arcade, which was opposite the Swiss Tavern. It was in the Tavern where, some of the performers at the 2 I's coffee bar would have a drink, in-between performing. "Okay" we said, as by now we had no dough left, just our fare back home.
He then started to wink at this goon who was wearing a white laboratory coat, like what a chemist wears. He appeared to be running the joint, dishing out change from a kiosk by the door to the punters playing on the machines. He then came over with a big bunch of keys, and proceeded to unlock the various machines, we were playing on, and by doing so he was able to give us as many free goes as we wanted.
By now Dick had gone to the entrance, and being nosey, I followed to see what he was up to? Just then a black car drew up outside of the building, which contained three heavy looking geezers. The nearside window was wound down, and Dick said something to the driver, and turning round, he clocked me behind him.
He said "where do you boys live", I replied "East London" , "That's where we're going, will give you a lift". "Hold on a second, I'II tells my mates" Its arrived PAY BACK TIME! What he'd just given us was a bung, for services to be redeemed later on. 
Now, my bottle went, I was smelling raticus crapitus big time, which reminds me to wear plus fours next time I'm up west, or a good pair, of bike clips!! After alerting my two mates, we proceeded to creep out of the side door, (and not dance the CREEP that had recently been a dance craze a couple years earlier) and creeping was something we were good at. Squeezing between the punters playing on the machines.
We legged it towards the neon lights of Leicester Sq, passing Dick, who was standing next to a hot dog stall, on the corner of Wardour St, stuffing his face with a hot dog. Spotting us, he shouted out "Where the fuck do you think your going" I was that close, I could even smell the fried onions on his breath. 
Leicester Sq
With Dick in tow, we sprinted towards the twinkling lights of the square, passing the Swiss Tavern, and then onto Charing Cross Rd, but he soon gave up to our relief! I guess he, and his investors, were trying to get something for their investment, but they would never get it now! 
Being out of breath, and laughing to ourselves, which was brought on by nervous tension, we speculated how we might have ended up in the north Africa, being traded in the casbar as white slaves. Indeed, reports in the press confirmed this kind of activity was taking place, but mainly with unsuspecting, young women and girls.
We found out later on, from people in the arcade, that Dick was part of a firm from east London, that had been in there that night when we were there, and warned us to be on our guard in future.
Much later we started to hear stories, about who they really were, but they were only stories. One way or the other our experience proved to us, Soho, could indeed be a dangerous place, if you weren't street wise as we were.
Naive kids, still runaway to Soho, looking for thrills and excitement, but soon become easy prey and are easily exploited, and fall straight into the honey trap. Our experience on the streets of the east end, came in very handy, being street wise, and knowing how to duck and dive, and spot bother, before it has a chance of getting out of hand!
PART 4 Coming soon...

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Second-Hand Rose

Can you remember 'Second-Hand Rose'?

by Ian Stewart

A recently catalogued Museum of Soho artefact comprises a cardboard-mounted black & white photograph and its envelope.

  The envelope has written on it: "'Second-Hand Rose' / A Soho character from the 60s / Funeral at R.C. Church Warwick St, c.1970. / (Donated by Peter Jewell)". Also written onto the back of the cardboard is "©1970 Gordon Sandle", with a Surrey address and phone number. 

The mounting has a pinhole at the top, suggesting the picture was at some time displayed.

Second Hand Rose. A Soho Character. Berwick St. Market. 1960's.

The photographer has captured a portly, middle-aged man, disarmingly sat in the sun on a market cart. He’s confidently at ease amidst untroubled market traders and what's probably British produce. ‘Rose’ is tootling a penny whistle, lifting his play slightly turned to the camera. He has a necklace of several strands of beads pinned to his cardigan, and what looks like a colourful cravat. A white headband could be a bandage: given the flourish of pearl-like beads, it could as likely be adornment. His receding hair is neatly combed.

The older gents are dressed in working class clothing typical to the first half of the last century. By the time this picture was taken such attire would already be deemed old fashioned -- witness the younger fellow in his polo shirt (hitched-up whilst he's munching an apple, toying with a nipple through his vest). With people in jackets and layers, the apple; perhaps it's early autumn?

The spontaneous and rapidly shifting everyday scene is charged with sound and gentle movement. It was certainly snapped with a deft eye, undoubtedly upon swift engagement. The good fortune of a painterly composition has saved this bygone instant, and miraculously preserved into the present day that passing, sunny moment. Until otherwise disproven, we have to assume that this scratchy print is the sole surviving copy.

A former Soho-born resident, straightaway naming "Rose" from the picture, said that he was a "notorious gay man," associated with Berwick Street Market, and subject of "a running battle" with that informant's mother, as "a foul-mouthed alcoholic." Such resonant childhood testimony brings sweeping insight to the image.

Being gay had only just been partly decriminalised in 1967. British police aggressively hunted-out homosexuals, who endured organised social hatred and brutal prison terms. (Our laws from the period still apply in former colonies like Malawi, where in May 2010 two young gay men were sentenced to 14 years with hard labour, solely for vowing their love for one another).
Did the bottle offer refuge? Trifling with gender? Berwick Street Market?
The pet name 'Secondhand Rose' featured in musical theatre. 1962 and 1965 Barbra Streisand recordings gained widespread radio play. The song’s female character, shamed by her worn goods and cast-offs, rallies her pride on the boisterous urban milieu she’s a part of.

In the rare spells when time frees from assisting researchers, Museum of Soho volunteers continue diligently to catalogue artefacts, documents and images related to our neighbourhood.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Fond Memories of Soho then & now 1957-2012 Pt2

Fond Memories Of Soho Part 2

George Skeggs

The Soho area contained a cross section of different groups from different social backgrounds, working class Teddy Boys and their hated foe, also working class, the trend setting Mods. 

On the other side of the street as it were, the beats or beatniks, middle class, the self-style intellectuals who’s counterculture was inspired by the works of Kerouac and Sartre of whom many were jazz freaks. 

There was also a liberal sprinkling of skid row down and outs, journalists, art students from St Martins art school in Charing Cross rd, hack writers and some on the borders of sanity, (example- Iron Foot Jack) and a liberal sprinkling of villains’ (Jack Spot self styled king of the underworld and rival Billy Hill who was born in Seven Dials. 

The intellectuals tended to congregate in the French (pub), or to give it’s proper moniker, The York Minister which is in Dean St, and still the main watering hole for artists and writers today or the old Colony Room, also in Dean St. which has since closed.
George as a Mod.

There were certain territorial tensions between these different groups be it real or imagined. This tension was picked up by Colin McInnes in his book ‘Absolute Beginners‘, and portrayed in the Julien Temple film of the same name. Temples film was slated by the critics of whom many came from Soho’s intellectual wing who, as I had been told, walked out of the the films preview claiming it was utter rubbish and made them all look like buffoons’ and promptly went off to Wheelers to sulk and get pissed. Having seen the film a few times, I thought it captured the feel and essence of Soho for me and my teenage friends on our first, and later visits, to Soho.

I thought McInnes book was a great read, and Julien Temple’s interpretation was spot on especially the racism at the time. By late 1959/60 I considered myself and my fellow cronies, Modernist’s and more into the new street style. Le Macabre coffee bar in Meard St was an interesting place to visit one guy I remember who held court there, was Bohemian Johnny, who had long blonde flowing hair and was dressed all in black with a black cape, held together with a silver pin, he look like something out of a Hammer Horror film. In the late 1970/80s my cousin owned Hammer Films whose address was Hammer house in Wardour St. However, as you descended into the semi darkness you were confronted by black walls, black tables, and black chairs.

 In fact the tables were made to look like coffins with lighted candles in plastic skulls on top with skeletons hanging from the walls giving a subterranean atmosphere. Other places around Soho used old Chianti bottles for candle holders to give their premises’ a more Mediterranean feel. We would often go along to the 100 club on Oxford St to see the Humphrey Lyttelton’s band. 

The place was always packed with beatnik’s and jazz fans it was a great place for dancing. Holding your partners hand you would do a kind of skip and shuffle to the beat. Some of the girls danced bare footed and some would wear long white granddad night shirts, all, of which was outrageous at the time On some weekends we would go by train from Victoria to Chislehurst Caves for the jazz and skiffle, which was in Kent to find it full of the Soho beats, who could also be seen at Ken Colyer’s studio 51 club in Grt Newport St. 

The caves had been used as air raid shelter’s, during world war two, but was a great venue for live music plus it was all in candle light and felt even more subversive than ever.

A little later the ‘Greasers’ discovered our little secret club in the caves and it became a rendezvous for them and their motorbikes, which finally droves us Beats out. It soon got too heavy with punch-ups and other stuff which ruined the atmosphere, as we soon discovered when we all went back there as ‘ Modernist’s on our scooters in 1961 all sporting college boy haircuts.

However, by now the ’Greasers’  to us ‘Mods’ excuse the pun were ‘cavemen, and by then the Caves were not hip anymore. Carnaby St in Soho and the Kings Road Chelsea were the new scene, for aspiring fashionista’s, and peacocks, places which weren’t natural  reservations for the greasers, who by then had been renamed ’Rockers.’ They found a new homes in north London on the A1 at the old transport ’Ace Café’ or the 59 club in east London which was originally both a mod and rockers club, of which I was one of the founder members.

It was officially opened by Cliff Richard who sang his hit record ‘Move it’, after which we all jived to ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ by Little Richard, which was a much better number to dance to, at the time, as I was a big fan of a Little Richard. As ‘Modernist’s’ we would spend as much time as possible cruising Soho on our scooters, and posing down the Kings Road in our new gear.

Using our own designs, some of our clothes, and shoes, were made to measure at the local cobbler, and tailor shop, this was just before Carnaby St had appeared on the fashion map late 1958/59. Fred Perry tennis shirts became a fashion item, which we bought from his new store in Carnaby St. I also wore green snakeskin shoes with Cuban heels to my own design.

These were worn with a bottle green double breasted Italian style box jacket with cloth buttons in the same fabric. This style was known a bum freezer due to its short length. Later on in the mid-60s we started to wear two tone mohair suits. We, as the first wave of Mods, also carried the old plastic Paka-Macs in the panniers of our scooters to kept our smart clothes dry and clean on wet excursions to Brighton. Some of the lads later, would wear Parkas, or ex army service Ponchos and karki desert hats, some preferred the pork pie hat as I did.

Fortunately, from a fashion point of view It was still not illegal to have to wear a crash helmet, which would have spoilt the cut of our clothing. The ’Mod revivalists’ of today tend to look a bit to nerdy, wearing crash helmets. We had a choice which we excised in a rebellious way; you just had to  look cool.
 An item of footwear which never seems to get mentioned, when talking about Mod Styling, was the ‘moccasin’, which were made of soft leather, and bought on mail order or from a departmental store called Gamages, now gone which was in High Holborn.

They came in kit form which you made yourself using the simple instructions supplied. Another favourite were Swede Desert Chukka boots, which had crepe soles. I bought these in Charing Cross Rd, close to Tin Pan Alley (Denmark St) where I had previously bought my first pair of teddy boy brothel creepers. In the wintertime I would ride around on my Vespa wearing a Price of Wales check overcoat bought from Lord John boutique in Carnaby St. We were also keen on French casual styling as well, which was all the rage.

To look really cool we would smoke either Gauloises, Gitanes cigarettes, when hanging out in the Old Wimpey Bars on Shaftesbury Avenue, or down the Kings Road Chelsea. To impress and look super cool to impress the girls we would also smoke Sobranie, Russian blacks with gold tips. We also watched French films, the titles, all of which have now eluded me.

My best mate often wore a black French beret, and the blue and white striped matelot shirt, a kind of hip uniform common  around the coffee bars of Soho. We both looked the business him on his Lambretta and me on my Paggio Vespa GS. We were in hipsville, cool cats that was the scene.

One character in the late 5Os and early 6Os Soho was Raye DuVal who billed himself as ‘Britain’s Ace Drummer’ and had the world record for playing the drums no stop, for so many days without a break, how many ? I can‘t remember now. He often appeared at  the Top Ten Club in Berwick St and also at Chislehurst Caves. 

On the corner of Berwick  St and D’arblay St was the Freight Train coffee bar, A folksy hangout which was opened by Chas McDevitt on the strength of his hit record called ‘Freight Train’ which featured, Scots lass Nancy Whiskey singing  vocals. Chas used to live on the corner of Old Compton St and Charing Cross Rd  opposite Molly Moggs. 

Part of the building was also being use for prostitution. Sam Widges Coffee bar in Berwick St was opposite the Freight Train and in the basement was the Top Ten Club which was run by Vince Taylor and the Playboys. 

In 1960 I meet, and later married a local Covent Garden girl who appeared to be half beatnik and half Mod, whom I had meet in the ‘Farm’ Coffee bar a beatnik hang out on Monmouth St, Seven Dials, which was run by Brian & Susan Robins. 

It reminded me of Le Macabre without the coffins. It was a arty place full of ethnic stuff. Opposite was the Nucleus Coffee Bar which had previously been run by Gary Winkler. Its clientele, Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch soon to be part of Cliff Richards backing group the Drifters, all 2is coffee bar protégés, and were amongst many others on the fringes of the music scene at that time.
Site of 2i's in Old Compton Street.

After Gary had left, it became a place which attracted all kinds of flotsam and jetsam, from prostitutes, drug dealers, and low life’s of all kinds, which also included artists and poets who would gyrate from the ‘Farm’ on the other side of the street for a change of atmosphere.

After a few visits we got friendly with a young prostitute, who was sporting a broken arm, in a sling, after she had been beat up by her pimp. We were planning to go to Brighton, and sleep under the pier for the weekend and asked her, to come with us for a break away from Soho, and to have a break away, from her pimp. Sadly, She declined, and that weekend ended up getting her throat cut, by one of her clients she had picked up on a Soho street. I found out after reading about her murder  which was a headline story in the News Of The World.

Next door to the ‘Nucleus’ was Manns the picture framers who were, and still are,  neighbours of mine. Their shop front was blasted by shotgun pellets after an altercation by drug dealers outside their premises from another group of dealers hanging out in the Nucleus. By now Beatle mania was sweeping the country, and a great place to buy made to measures shoes was Anello and David. Anello’s also had a shop on Oxford St and another in New Compton St, which was close to Gamba shoes on the corner of Old Compton St and Dean St.

Both shops provided ballet shoes to the theatrical trade in the West End. Anello’s being a big supplier to The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and its ballet schools.

By 1961/2 my wife to be was working for the Boss Mr Ricco in their workshop and store in Drury Lane opposite the old Winter Garden Theatre, (which was rebuilt as New London Theatre) Anello’s became the Mecca for rock stars searching out the now famous Beatle Boots, These boots were also known as Chelsea boots which had elasticated sides with Cuban heels which the Beatles had adopted as a fashion statement. 

She fitted out most of the big bands at the time including The Animals, Bob Dylan, Manfred Mann the Mersey Beats and many others. It was only after the Beatles had bought a pair they were christened ‘Beatle Boots’.
The Beatles in Soho

As Beatle mania was  sweeping the nation, the Drury Lane outlet was swamped out every weekend with kids from all over the country queuing all the way up Drury Lane in search of this, latest fashion item, to add to their wardrobes. Having lived in Covent Garden since 1963, Soho and the surrounding West End, became my manor. In the 60s new clubs were opining in Soho to cater for the teen boom. Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames appeared at the basement club The Flamingo ( also known a the Mingo). It was here in the 1960s that Christine Keelers boyfriend threatened to shoot her.

Later the Whiskey A Go Go opened on the floor above the Mingo. The club was situated at the south end of Wardour St, and faced Gerrard St, now  known as China town. The whiskey A Go Go used to be shoe shop, and is now part of the O’Neill chain of restaurants, and The Flamingo is now Ladbrokes the bookmakers.

Another place close by was the London Bullion Exchange which was next to the Log Cabin. The Cabin  had a reputation for being the haunt of  the (Faces) or (Chaps) of which the criminal fraternity like to call themselves I‘d been down there with a friend who had been meeting someone, it felt rather heavy, it was in the 1970s when it was still open. They also used the greasy spoon Harmony Café in Archer St next to the stage door of the Windmill Theatre,  and opposite the Musicians Union. 

Some of the shops and  clubs have long since gone but some still survive. Now gone the French bakers ‘The Boulangerie’ (wonderful smell)which was situated next to ‘L’Escargot’ Greek St opposite Peter Cooks ‘Establishment Club’ (closed) which was at no 18.

Also gone ‘Pugh’s’ Welsh dairy in Frith St. I would often pop in for bread and milk when returning home after visits to the Marshall St clinic with my two young daughters after their regular health checks and vaccinations. 
The Pugh Family leave Soho

Also  gone ‘Gamba Shoes’ in Old Compton St and ‘Anello and David’ ballet shoes over the road on the corner of New Compton St. However, I did have a choice though, living on the edge of Soho, in Covent Garden.

Also gone are the wet fish shops I used to use in the 1960s. It was either ‘Richards’ fish shop on the corner of Drury Lane and Macklin St, which had a brothel above the shop. Or their sister shop on Brewer St. The Brewer St shop, was  opposite ‘Lina Stores’ at no 18. Lina Stores are still in business today. Another Shop that needs a mention, is ‘The Algerian Coffee Store’, which gave Old Compton St then, and still does today, that wonderful prevailing aroma of fresh ground coffee. 

Today (2012) I still shop at Camisa’s in Old Compton St for cheese and Pama ham. Now retied, I still manage to chill out in Soho, drinking cappuccinos and having tea at Patisserie Valerie, watching the changing scene after shopping trips to Berwick St market.

When passing ’Bar Italia’ I reminisce when I see another generation of ‘Mods’ posing with their scooters, but looking a bit nerdy having to wear crash helmets, since the law was changed. It wasn’t against law when I was a teenager, so we could look more cool than the revivalists do today.

I remember a few years back, going into ‘Maison Bertaux’ and without thinking, asked Michele for a cappuccino? The polite reply I got was ‘This is a French establishment! Not Italian‘. 

Such is the ethnic mix of Soho, which is much the same as it has always been, which adds to it eccentric charm (although eccentricity seems to be on the decline, there’s not many left on the reservation these days) even so Soho’s reputation for being eclectic and different still remains, and long may it be so.

George with Jo Weir (OBE) at the Soho Festival 2011 (Winner of Best Dressed Man)
Thanks George. X mosoho 2012

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Fond Memories of Soho then & now 1957-2012

Fond Memories of Soho then & now 1957-2012

Artist George Skeggs remembers Soho in the Fifties PART 1

Arriving in Soho in 1957 for the first time was like walking through the old east end docks where I was born, with its wonderful smells from the exotic herbs and spices that came from the many bonded warehouses in the area, but that’s where the difference ended.
 Soho was another world of its own, bright lights, flashing neon signs, edgy, and full of colour and a bit dangerous.
This was in 1957, when I was an innocent (not quite so innocent) fourteen year old kid. It was the time when Skiffle, Trad Jazz, and Rock & Roll boom were sweeping the nation.
The previous year, a few friends and I, tried our luck at forming a Skiffle group. Why not? Anything seems possible when you’re young and full of youthful idealism. Tommy Steele had pulled it off, maybe we might too. However, we made a terrible din and soon packed it in, except for the clarinet player who really wanted to join a Trad Jazz Band and, had been having serious music lessons paid for by his keen parents.
Anyway, my future artistic abilities would lay elsewhere in painting (merlin two.com). Although Skiffle and the new rock & roll had a big influence on us as kids, the only place to get a real taste of it was in Soho and its coffee bars. We were all looking for excitement, away from the local caffs and amusement arcades in East London. Soho was the place to be, its where I would meet my future wife.

Before you arrived in Soho, you could follow its aroma of pungent food and fresh ground coffee, along the Charing Cross Rd, from Tottenham Court Rd tube station to the corner of Old Compton St. Indeed, it was at no 59 Old Compton St near the corner of Wardour St that would become the birthplace of the British Rock & Roll Scene. It was here, that I and a few friends, had arrived one summers evening, after hanging around in one of the amusement arcades in Wardour St wasting our money playing on the slot machines and listening to Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers on the juke box.

I thought I looked rather hip, in black Ray-Ban style sunglasses (at night what a poser!!) and a bright yellow black 3 inch check shirt with dogtooth patterned drainpipe jeans, these would be classed as skinny jeans today. My shoes were black with 2inch crepe soles commonly called brothel creepers and my hair style was a ’Tony Curtis’ with a ducks arse at the back. This was a style favoured by the Teddy Boys of which I considered myself to be in 1957.

We were a breath of fresh air, but appeared a bit subversive to the older generation who wanted us to conform and get our hair cut and have a boring military style, short back and sides like our fathers had during the 1940s. But we were rebelling, image wise and gyrating to the new music coming from America.

The most outrageous person, I saw around Old Compton St in the late 50s, was would be, rock star Wee Willie Harris, a man with stars in his eyes a singer, and - (above George in the Soho Brassiere 1980s Old Compton St) -piano player, who had a minor hit ’Rockin at the 2 I’s which was played on the 2 I’s jukebox by the door. He often wore a Zoot Suit a had his hair dyed bright orange (remember this was in 1957, and before the pink pound) his outfit was finished of with a giant spotted bow tie, all the girls loved him. Willie was also the resident piano player in the I’s. Anyhow, as we got closer to Camisa’s Deli, which is still in business today, we could hear the sound of music coming from the basement next door.  A sign above the entrance read 2 I’s-- between two symbols advertising Coke surrounded by musical notes with -- Coffee Bar--- beneath all picked out in neon lights. This sign I believe was changed for a more boring utility sign without the neon sometime in the 1960s.

The coffee bar had a plate glass window, in a chromium frame. Hanging on the door was a sign advertising 7up. Inside on the left was a Juke box, the place was buzzing with lots of people, and it felt very hot indeed, that was just upstairs! We ordered frothy coffee (plenty of froth and not much coffee which was a common complaint which, the press eagerly pounced upon, suggesting we were all being ripped of at the time) I think Sohoite Daniel Farson coined the expression in one of his documentaries for television, in a warts and all look, at life, in Soho in the late 1950s.

The machine used to create this new exotic beverage was called a Gaggia coffee machine which looked like something out of a science fiction film, and first used in the Moka coffee bar in Frith St in Soho in  1953. We drank its brew from one of those rather small Pyrex cup and saucers. I thought it was quite expensive. Being a new and exotic drink, having never tasted before, we simply had to try it. It was very nice indeed, and turned out to be a rather sophisticated tipple for us young East End urchins, who were more used to drinking large mugs of tea from the local caff for 3 pence. I think it cost 1 shilling and sixpence. 

You could’ve had a cheaper drink of squash out of the tank on the bar, which had one of those plastic oranges floating about in it, and would have been a lot cooler, like the coke and Pepsi which was also being sold, but no alcohol. A sign in the window with a photo read- Home of the Stars- TO-NITE Terry Dene-. Dene look like a Elvis clone, more so than stable mate  2 i’s  protégé, Tommy Steele did, but all the same not that convincing.

The best looking Elvis clone was a guy named Vince Taylor. Taylor and his band The Playboys, later opened their own place below Sam Widges Coffee Bar on Berwick St  called The Top Ten Club of which I and a few friends became a members, all soft drinks no booze this was either 1959/60 and well before al fresco eating had taken hold on Soho Streets. However, they never quite made it big in Britain as Vince didn’t have much of a voice, but he did look the business, mean, dressed all in black and looking subversive and edgy, for that time. Anyhow they did find fame in France, where they became more successful than in the UK. However, It was Dene’s voice we could hear coming from the cellar of the 2 I’s. 

As luck would have it ( by now we had no dough left to pay to go downstairs) the doors to the cellar, were being opened onto the street for ventilation, and the small stage could be seen if you craned your neck. So we spent the next 45 minutes outside in Old Compton St in the cool pungent night air, mesmerized, listing to the music coming from the basement. 

This was heady stuff, the aroma of exotic cooking everywhere and the sounds, we drank it all in we were young empty vessels. Not wanting to go home, but reluctantly we had to leave.

But we were hooked and would soon be back for more, and to see what other delights Soho had to offer. Hanging around Soho in those days was an experience just watching the street girls plying their trade, even after the law was changed to stop them working the streets in 1956. However, being inquisitive young males, we would often hang around and try to work out who were on the game and those that weren’t, or leer into suspect looking alleyways. Anyhow, you could still find a girl in most doorways in Old Compton St looking for trade and still flaunting the law. 

On later visits to Soho we soon found other places of interest, one such place was The Heaven & Hell coffee lounge which was next door to the 2i’s which we never went into. But more fascinating, was Le Macabre Coffee Bar in Meard St just around the corner of Wardour St. It appears, thinly disguised in Julien Temple 1986 film ‘Absolute Beginners’ based on a book of the same name, by Sohoite Colin McInnis. This was more of a beatnik joint, and  appealed a bit more to my gothic sensibilities. 

At first, it felt strange going in there dressed as a young Teddy boy with a Tony Curtis haircut and crepe soled brothel creepers, as most of the beats in there, seemed to  be dressed  in black, well at least the hip ones did. Some looked very unhip, indeed a bit old fogey and more like the cultural tourists that visit Brick Lane on Sunday mornings in order to mix with the local natives. 

The scene in Le Macabre was more folksy, than rock & roll, or to be precise, more Jean Paul Satre than Wee Willie Harris. Nothing like the 2i’s, but I still enjoyed it just as much, as it felt even more subversive. Anyway, the next year or so, I was wearing a black polo neck with matching drainpipe trousers and green handmade crocodile winkle pickers, and by 1960 was riding a Paggio 150 GS Vepsa scooter. 


Monday 18 June 2012

Knocked On Heaven's Door Part 2

Continuing Nigel Robinson's interview with Sebastian Horsley.

To me art is failed music: music takes the innermost part of you and puts it outside and succeeds in a way that all the other art forms fail.

But the dandy's enough for me. It's a success to be one and so difficult to do it properly. It's a kind of martyrdom-you have to give up all the things that other people have like careers and money and happiness and children and marriage, all the things that incidentally don't matter. 

You're known for having spent over £100,000 on prostitutes. What's the attraction?

I just love prostitutes and everything about them, and I've been seeing them since I was sixteen. The brothel is the home of spirituality because in order to enter the holy of the holies you have to take off your clothes and there you find that virtue and sin exist in everything.

Everything I know about love, everything I know about morality, everything I know about faith, I owe to prostitution. Consorting with prostitutes is a legitimate route to enlightenment and I'm here to tell you that it works.

Whores are the most open and honest people on God's earth, the flowers of the earth.

I regard any whore, however low, as superior to any lady however noble.

What's so good about living in Soho?

Living in Soho is like coming all the time. It shows society in the process of commit-ting suicide and I like that. lt's full of freaks and odd balls and misfits, men   impersonating women, women impersonating men, human beings impersonating human beings.

In many ways it's the loneliest part of the loneliest city and that excites me. For a dandy the only city he should ever live in is auda-city, and Soho comes close to that. I don't want to live in a posh flashy area. In a beautiful area I'd be superfluous, but in an ugly area I'm a narcotic.

Now that the Colony's closed Soho has completely lost its heart. The music has gone, the whores are being moved out, the drinking places are being moved out and the crack dealers and the smack dealers are being pushed off the street. Once you get rid of those types of people the place starts to lose its humanity.

On a good night here ten years ago you could get your throat cut. Now it's full of weave-your-own-yoghurt shops and hair-dressers. There's a gym at the end of that street -a gym in Soho is like having a brothel in a church. Soho's finished. I think that in ten years' time it will become like Covent Garden. I stay here because there's nowhere else to go.

Once you've lived in Soho where could you possibly go? You can't move out to the country. Satan made Soho and God made the country so of course I'm not interested in the country.

Your book has been variously described as "beautiful" and "perverted". Do you pay any attention to the critics?

Of course they hurt a little bit but you have to understand that, once you've announced yourself as a stylist, then really marked personalities cannot be universally liked. Individuality is feared by those that don't have it. You have to be who you are bravely and boldly. If you get the right people to hate you then the people who like you will then love you.

Milo Twomey is playing you in the theatrical adaptation of your book. Did you ever consider playing yourself on stage?

I'd be completely miscast. God knows how he's going do it; even I have problems being myself. Milo Twomey is very handsome and charismatic -he models himself on me. 

He came to my flat to do the photo shoot and it was strange. I had to give him my clothes and do his makeup and paint his nails. He had all my airs and graces. I knew my personality was a fraud but I was quite insulted that my personality could be taken and inhabited so quickly.

They say that to see your Doppelgänger is a premonition of your death and I got quite excited about that. I thought, "Oh, goody, I'll get my coat." So I felt both threatened and sexually excited by it. 

With the play I'm in this position where it's like being on a first-class luxury air-line. When it slams into the side of a mountain I can just point to the captain and say it's his fault. But if it lands safely then of course I shall claim all the credit.

I shall be the captain of my pain and my fame. In a way it's quite nice: the caterpillar does all the work and the butterfly gets all the publicity But l hate the theatre. I will drink and I will take drugs and in my weaker moments l will eat but one will never ever set foot in inside a theatre. 

Why would I go to the theatre to see rape, sodomy, drug addiction, and alcoholism? I might as well stay at home.

On one hand I'm very honoured that a play is being based on my life but there are other days when I just think this is too bizarre.


Artists: Sebastian Horsley
Location: The Outsiders London 8 Greek Street | Soho | London | W1D 4DG |
Dates: Thursday 8th of August 2013 to Saturday 14th of September 2013 IRRESISTIBLE
Dandy in the Underworld by Sebastian Horsley is published by Sceptre Books Sebastian Horsley 1962-2010  

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