Vote and Rate Jamie Clubb's articles and reviews

Friday 28 November 2014

So Long Soho?

Soho (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Colorfully painted shop windows in a ...
English: Colorfully painted shop windows in a typical Soho backstreet in London. Deutsch: Farbenfroh bemalte Schaufenster in einer für den Stadtteil Soho typischen Strasse in London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change -”

Today The Guardian newspaper reflected on the apparent death knell of the old Soho. The revocation of Madame Jojo's licence after playing host to audiences for 50 years seems to establish the end of an era.  The 20th century has seen the place be a hotbed of nefarious showbusiness activities, strip clubs and alternative entertainment. The alternative comedians that entertained me in my teens have Soho to thank for a lot their early employment. Similarly many of the truly diverse, influential and daring musical movements cut their teeth in this district. I do have some vague connections with this symbol of romantic sleeze in
Britain. One of the dancers for my Dead Souls act worked outside one of the numerous strip joints that promise a full show for just a tiny entrance fee, at the time it was as little as £5. Here naive voyeurs would find themselves sat at the table, below ground, in an often empty bar whereby they would face a list of extortionately priced drinks. Still thinking they were onto a good deal with a guaranteed dance, the voyeurs would order the cheapest beverages possible. They would then find themselves being charged with another much larger bill on top of the drinks as a type of service charge. Said dancer told me of the way many clients tried to make a dash for it, one individual was clearly so shook up by the whole situation that he used the sea cucumber technique and voided his bowels!

Soho's members-only Groucho Club, of course, takes its name from one of my favourite comedians and entertainers, the great Julius "Groucho" Marx of the Marx Brothers. His quote, which is verified in his autobiography, "Groucho and Me", goes along the lines of "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member" and was what inspired the owners to take his name. Started in 1984 The Groucho Club became the nightclub equivalent of the Bohemian Cafes of the turn of the 20th century, the concept being an alternative to stuffy gentlemen and political clubs that were situated nearby. The place paid host to a mixture of media types. As "Hello, I Must Be Going" shows, Groucho loved to host parties with fellow showbusiness types up until his death. I mention him and the club that bears his name mainly because it is an excuse to mention Groucho, but also to make another tenuous link to my culture. Groucho, after all, became a success through Vaudeville and closely associated with circus culture.

 The British love their traditions and institutions. We love it so much that we often applaud and romanticize the tacky, the kitsch, the tasteless and the downright fraudulent if they last long enough to make an impression. Soho, a haunt of prostitutes at times and therefore serial killers, takes on a charm that is comparable with the criminal culture of the East End of London. Soho is the place that Paul Raymond, that real estate developer and publisher of soft-core pornographic magazines, built his empire with his famous "review bars". Being a good friend of Billy Smart Jnr and employer of several circus artistes at his clubs, Paul Raymond tenuously links my personal showbusiness culture to a world that was anything but family entertainment.

Raymond's influence over the district is undeniable. He had a huge flair for publicity stunts, starting with one involving Dennis Rosaire's lions, presented by Nicoli. The review featured topless girls, but it was an episode where Nicoli received a scratch off one of the lions that made the papers and inspired his penchant for creating publicity stunts.   

I finish this post with a link to my review of "The Look of Love", the under-rated biopic of Paul Raymond, which starred Steve Coogan and also featured my father playing the "Nicoli" character.  

Don't forget to check out Jamie Clubb's main blog