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 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  

Saturday 16 June 2012

Knocked On Heaven's Door: Sebastian Horsley- 8 August 1962 – 17 June 2010

Sebastian Horsley-Part 1
8 August 1962 – 17 June 2010

SEBASTIAN HORSLEY, who died on 17th June 2010 aged 47, was an artist, dandy and author whose outrageous memoirs "Dandy in the Underworld" were dramatised at the Soho Theatre. 

He is perhaps most famous for submitting himself to a genuine crucifixion in the name of art, and being refused entry to America on grounds of "moral turpitude".

Sebastian and Babette at The Colony Room Club Image Carla Borel.
In what would sadly tum out to be one of his Iast interviews, Nigel Robinson caught up with him over a nice pot of tea at Maison Bertaux.

The publicity for the play describes you as "Thomas de Quincey mixed with Lord Rochester, a dash of Oscar Wilde and a twist of Quentin Crisp". Are they your heroes?

I do have people I admire but I was never a Wilde fan. I always felt that he was a believer and I think the best art has been given to us by non-believers who are the most interesting people. Wilde was also Litigious: how can you invoke the laws of a society you confess to despise? Ultimately he was a conformist. I was always much more of a Crisp fan.

What was it about Crisp you liked?
Crisp seemed to embody vitality and vulnerability.

He was a complex intersection: he had narcissism and negation, and grandiosity and humility. His book took you straight up to heaven without losing your breath and then it took you straight down to hell with the same passion and I loved that.

Your book's title is taken from a T-Rex album. Were you a fan of Marc Bolan?
Oh yes. Bolan was transcendent trash, a dandy with one foot in heaven and the other one in Woolworth's. I saw Bolan when I was ten- it's very difficult to
explain the impact that people like Bolan and Bowie had on a young boy living in Hull. They were like meteorites hitting the planet and I just loved their philosophy of turning themselves into works of art.

The thing about a shooting star is when it comes to earth it's just a stone: the key is to turn the stone into a shooting star on earth and they did that. They took what it was that made them interesting and manufactured it into something greater than themselves. I like people whose attempts to be something other than they are are epic. Of course they fail but all the great thing fail.

How would you define a dandy? 

Dandyism is a form of self-worship that dispense with the need to find happiness from others. It's a way of taking up a position of ironic detachment from the world and living it out in scrupulous detail.

It's a performance, a kind of a ghost dance in the face of defeat. Given that life is completely pointless and meaningless and absurd, then to mirror it with an absurdist dance is in many ways taking up a real position. Who cares if people think you're insane- they can't hear the music. Yes, it's a dance.

Are you born a dandy or can you become one?

You can no sooner make yourself a dandy than you could make your self a sheep. lt's a vocation. I started very young when I was about eight or nine, getting dressed up and the Bolan influence. 

Then there comes a time when you have to do deliberately what you used to do by accident. It's a protection against vulnerability but it's also a celebration of life. 

Of course, dandyism come from broken people most of our masterpieces come from things that are damaged. And where there's a lot of light there' a lot of shade - there's a deep melancholia to it, but there is to everything, isn't there?

You were refused entry to the USA for "moral turpitude". I there any place for a dandy in America?

I'm a dandy snob. Dandies have to be English and they have to be male too: I don't think Americans have the complexity. What was interesting about being thrown out of America was that it was essentially a very dandy thing. 

I took America by failing and them throwing me out. The public pay no interest in a work of art until they are told it's immoral.

They threw me out and in doing so I was on the front page of the New York Times three times, there was an editorial in the Washington Post and CNN led on it -all this from one man sitting in one room in Soho.

There's nothing worse than not being allowed into a county you wouldn't be seen dead in. When they threw me out I turned and said, "I am the only thing of value in your country and I'm removing it immediately."

When you were doing a series of works on crucifixion, you went to the Philippines and were filmed literally being nailed to a cross. Why did you do that?

Art is just a shadow and sometimes stage blood isn't enough. I was always interested in turning life into a line of poetry written with a splash of blood. And that's what really interested me- to do something dangerous with style is art. And it interested me as a dandy because, of course, Christ was a dandy. He came to this world and he was able to persuade people with the force of personality.

In many ways I would say that Christ was the first dandy, apart from those awful clothes he had to wear.

Of course, the tabloid press called you an "Art Freak"

It would have been better if it had just said "Freak". ! don't really want to be an artist. In an ideal world I would probably have been a musician. I did originally make records. They were so bad l can't understand why they weren't so successful.

Many thanks to Nigel Robinson for allowing reproduction of his interview from the Soho Clarion.



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. Join us on twitter for news and updates.

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