Monday, November 13, 2017

Venturing into the Slipstream - Interview with Mark Refoy - From Spacemen 3 to Spiritualized...


On 20th July 1989, a talented young musician from Northhampton, England was on the eve of making his debut as guitarist for the avant-garde neo-psych trio Spacemen 3.  Jason Pierce, Pete Kember and Natty Brooker were quickly amassing a cult following for their hypnotic droning sound and stage antics, including the 11-minute, deafening trace-like 'Suicide,' and the cleverly titled 1990 release, 'Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To.'


Mark Refoy was about to join the roster that throughout its 9-year history, was loosely comprised of an equal number of alternating members, including Will Carruthers (Brian Jonestown Massacre), the late Natty Brooker, and Jonny Mattock (Massive Attack, The Breeders), to mention a few, but most notably, and to paraphrase Mark, Spacemen 3 will probably always be remembered as the brainchild of its two most predominant and founding members, Jason (J Spaceman) Pierce and Pete (Sonic Boom) Kember, both ironically born 19th November 1965, in Rugby.


Having already fronted his own band, Tell Tale Hearts, Mark's whirlwind tenure with Spacemen 3 included gigs at London's Town & Country Club, Subterranea, in West London, and the Reading Festival in August '89, where the band joined headliners, New Order; but it wasn't long thereafter, during the making of their fourth, and what would become their final album, 'Recurring,' that the Pierce/Kember artistic relationship was beginning to dismantle.  Taking great pains booking separate recording schedules in order to avoid contact with each another, the pair's prophetically irreparable estrangement signaled the beginning of a split so well documented in the media, that to this day, it rivals RKID - Oasis's battling brothers - in its acrimony.  

Not surprisingly, the band's remaining members, namely Carruthers, Refoy and Mattock had begun to feel creatively stifled, and were growing disillusioned with the increasingly laconic atmosphere surrounding their fellow Spacemen.  

By January of 1990, Kember had already sewn the seeds of a solo project, Spectrum and Pierce, anxious to get back on tour, had invited the band's remaining members to join his fledgling side project, Spiritualized which enjoyed critical acclaim most notably for Mark's titled, 'Lazer Guided Melodies,' and 1997's, 'Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.'  Spiritualized additionally had the distinction of being the last band to play at Manchester's iconic,  'Hacienda.'


For those who don't know, the band name was inspired by the back label of a bottle of Pernod, presumably 'spiritueux,' which if you've ever experienced the end of a bottle of absinthe, I suppose spiritualized is more than a remote possibility.

                                         Jason Pierce - (photo - Steve Gullick), of course.

'Recurring,' released in 1991, two years after the band's official breakup, is a beautifully fractured departure, the 2-part juxtaposition leaving no doubt as to Kember's rhythmic, innovative genius, nor Pierce's ability to produce entrancingly atmospheric sounds, independent of one another.

                                     Artwork - Laser Guided Melodies - Natty Brooker




                                                            Mark Refoy (Spiritualized)

For Mark Refoy, his time spent in Spacemen 3 and co-founding Spiritualized was well served; but following on the heels of his restless band mates, he was eager to branch out and intent on regaining creative control.  The exodus would prove to be a wise move, as over the years Refoy has consistently proven himself to be a skillful musician in his own right, enjoying success as the creator of the Britpop, electronic band, Slipstream, releasing two initial albums, Slipstream and Be Groovy or Leave, followed by Transcendental in 2003, and in 2008, 'Mantra,' produced by Pete Gleadall (Pet Shop Boys, David Bowie, George Michael, Tina Turner, U2) in 2008, and Stereo Brain / Mono Heart, in 2013.




In 2005, Mark was recruited by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, The Pet Shop Boys, to join their World Tour, including headlining the Live 8 Concert in Moscow.   



These days, Slipstream has streamlined itself to mainly Mark and Mattock, each veteran Spacemen, and both Northhampton lads with a love for rock n' roll, if not more than a few tales to tell...

                                                                 Jonny Mattock & Mark Refoy

                                              Out of the Blue - Cover art Anthony Ausgang

In October of this year, Slipstream released a brand new album, 'Out of the Blue,' which presented the perfect excuse for me to catch up with Mark, something I've been meaning to do for a while now.


GH:  So you grew up in Northampton.  What music were you listening to as a kid, and did you and Jonny (Mattock) know each other before Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized?

MR:  As a kid my parents would play a lot of music at home. My dad loved opera and classical music, so did my mum, but she also liked country, jazz and early rock n roll. I think that filtered through to my subconscious in some way. My mum used to sing us Red River Valley at night. After the age of about 9 or 10 I was heavily into pop music. 

Apparently when I was about 5 I was transfixed by The Beatles on TV, but I have no recollection of that. My parents didn’t like the pop music of the time and they actively encouraged us to turn the TV off whenever pop music came on. I don’t blame them at all, I’d do exactly the same right now given the current state of pop music! I loved Slade and TRex until I was about 12 and my uncle bought me the Beatles 62-66 red compilation and after that I was hooked, still am.



I was aware of Jonny Mattock before, because he and I are both from Northampton and we’d go to local gigs and play at local venues in our respective bands; Jonny played drums for The Apple Creation and I was in Tell Tale Hearts. We also worked in the same local mental hospital, St Crispins, he was a cleaner and I was a nursing assistant. We’d see each other about there.

GH:  Would you say the success you've achieved is luck and being in the right place at the right time, or is 'I know my craft and I've earned it' a better description?

MR:  It’s a combination of both, you won’t be successful without one complementing the other. Although whether I’ve ever been a ‘success’ is debatable. My main notion of success is when you’re playing an idea and it turns into a song you’re happy with and you get that feeling of ‘this is good!’

GH:  Was there any one defining moment in the formation of Slipstream, when you said to yourself, 'I've outgrown Spiritualized and I need to be doing my own thing?'

MR:  I never wanted to leave Spiritualized, but it was engineered in such a way that I couldn’t remain in the band any longer. I think Jason was doing me a favour at the time but I didn’t see it until years later. 

Slipstream came about purely by accident. I was doing songs and demos of my own while I was in Spiritualized. I sent some tapes out under my own name and Che Records managed to get hold of one, I didn’t actually send a copy to them, they heard the songs and said they wanted to do a single so they put Sundown out. I didn’t have a band, it was just me and Jonny Mattock so when Che said ‘you need a band name’ I rifled through my record collection for inspiration and two Van Morrison songs came to mind, ‘Queen Of The Slipstream’ and ‘Astral Weeks’ where he sings ‘If I ventured in the slipstream….’ So I thought, I’ll call this band Slipstream.


GH:  How would you describe your artistic process?  Do you and Jonny collaborate on music and lyrics?

MR:  My artistic process is when I casually strum and noodle away on whatever guitar is at hand and when it starts to sound good I’ll boot up Logic and try and get a song going. Or I might start with Logic first and do it that way. The music comes first and then I’ll try, without thinking too much, to do the words.


We collaborate on music but not lyrics. Jonny has started writing songs on his own. ’Like No Other’ is his which is on our latest single and album. We will work on our own material together, usually at my place and then send it to Pete Gleadall who mixes it at his studio in London, which is another whole creative artistic process in itself because he is a bona fide production/mixing genius.

GH:  Not that this is ever likely to happen, but if Spacemen 3 were to reunite, would you want to be a part of it again?

MR:  For me Spacemen 3 was always Jason and Pete. The two of them could go out on their own and it would be Spacemen 3, or if they hired a whole backing band with a choir and orchestra it would still be Spacemen 3. That’s how I see it anyway. 

I don’t have any real desire to be a part of it again, but you never know how you’ll feel about these things until they actually happen and in this case, it ain’t happening baby!


GH:  How did touring with Pet Shop Boys come about and did you know Neil and Chris previously?

MR:  I didn’t know Neil and Chris before playing with them but obviously I was very aware of them. I knew Vanessa Best, the bassist from Ultrasound and she was friends with Bic Hayes who was in Levitation and Dark Star. Bic got the job playing live guitar with Pet Shop Boys, they wanted another guitarist so they asked him if he knew anyone who could do it so Bic asked Vanessa if I was up for it and that’s how it came about.  I think they really wanted Johnny Marr because he’d played on the Release album they were about to tour but he wasn’t available. It was a great experience, I learnt a lot and they’re great people to work for. I met Pete Gleadall through the Pet Shop Boys, he’s been their musical right hand man for decades.

GH:  When you look back at your career with Spacemen 3, Spiritualized and Slipstream, what would you say is your fondest memory, and what, if anything, would you just as soon forget?

MR:  One thing that I remember with Spacemen 3 is playing the Reading Festival in 1989. It was a massive gig and I think we blew pretty much everyone off stage even though we went on stupidly early in the afternoon. Someone threw a boot and it just missed me. Can’t please everyone!


I have great memories of being on tour in Spiritualized, especially the early days. We were generally having a laugh most of the time and enjoying ourselves, which was contrary to how we were perceived by the fans and music press etc. Jason has a great sense of humour.

I have a memory of being in America with Slipstream, and I was daydreaming in a cab going over a bridge in New York and I thought, ‘the only reason I’m here at this point in time is due to me obsessively playing my beat up old nylon string guitar in my bedroom when I was a kid along to the first Clash album from beginning to end.’


GH:  How do you feel about the future of music in Britain, and are there any new bands you're excited about right now?

MR:  I don’t really feel anything about the future of music in Britain, I’m only concerned with the here and now. Where I work, the channel of choice on TV is 4 Music, which plays all the latest chart stuff. 99% of it I can’t relate to but the one song sticks in your head every now and then, I can’t remember what the last one was though!

I recently bought an album by Bicep called Bicep and an album by Forest Swords called Compassion. I don’t know if they’re bands in the accepted sense of the word but it’s music that I’m excited about right now. 



GH:  So Logic Pro is banned and you can take only one guitar to the desert island...what's it going to be?

MR:  Either one of two: a Gretsch Jim Dandy acoustic or a beat up old three quarter size classical nylon string acoustic. Either one will do me.

GH:  Who are your heroes?

MR:  My heroes, chronologically, would be Noddy Holder, John Lennon, Joe Strummer, Lou Reed, Johnny Thunders, Bernard Sumner, Kraftwerk and a whole host of others. But you think differently about ‘heroes’ the older you get. I still admire my heroes from younger days but they don’t figure in my life as much as they used to. But hell, if I watch some old electrifying Clash footage or hear Rock n Roll music by The Beatles, woah, I’m down with them! 

GH:  Thanks, Mark, it's always a pleasure!



Coming soon - Interviews with author Stewart Home, artist Matt Mahurin, and more on my album collaboration with Australia's Paper Kites.  Until then, check out the new American-Noir originals at El Paseo's A Gallery, Friday 1st December, 2017.

                       

                          

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

REFLECTIONS ON LIFE IN LAUREL CANYON

                                                     'Just Married' - New Work In Progress.

I grew up in Los Angeles, in a house just off Mulholland Drive, where daily I'd travel down Ventura Boulevard and up through the sinuous hills of Laurel Canyon, passing streets with names like Lookout Mountain, Mount Olympus and Wonderland Avenue.  I knew every twist and turn by heart, and never a day went by when I didn't feel fortunate, happy to call it home; but it wasn't until many years later that I became aware of the pivotal role this relatively short stretch of highway played in the cultural landscape of my city.   

                    Jim Morrison's 'Love Street House' shrouded in bougainvillea

Winding through the canyon I'd pass such 60's landmarks as Frank Zappa's notorious 'Log Cabin' and The Canyon Country Store, which to me always felt better suited to San Francisco than Los Angeles.  Adjacent to each sat The Cat & Fiddle Pub, a once favourite Brit hangout of the 80's that served a wicked apple cider.  Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson's coined 'Love Street House,' was nestled behind the two, just down the road from the estate of magician, Harry Houdini, with its hidden tunnels and sprawling gardens; although the exact location of the original mansion is fabled in ambiguity, having fallen victim to fire in 1959, thus rendering the property's true history as mysterious as its owner.

                                                             The Canyon Country Store

Laurel Canyon in the late 60's and early 70's was home to a commune of artists largely responsible for the birth of California's burgeoning folk and country rock scene.  Joni Mitchell lived in the canyon, as did the Byrds' Jim (Roger) McGuinn and prolific songwriter, Gene Clark, CSNY's David Crosby and ex-Hollies' Graham Nash.

                                    Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - (photo Henry Diltz)

                                     Joni Mitchell & Graham Nash (photo Henry Diltz)

                                  The Byrds - Laurel Canyon (photo Michael Ochs)

John and Michelle Phillips called the canyon home, as did Linda Ronstadt, Carol King, James Taylor and the Monkees' Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz.  Canadian Neil Young made the trek all the way from Toronto to join Texan Stephen Stills and Ohioan Richie Furay in creating Buffalo Springfield. 


                                                          Chris Hillman & Gram Parsons


In 1968, Chris Hillman hooked up with Floridian, Ingram Cecil Connor III (Gram Parsons), who steered the Byrds toward his passion for real country music, before fleeing the coop to form The Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons and The Fallen Angels, making his mark as the founder of 'Cosmic American Music,' - a fusion of country, soul, rock and rhythm and blues. 


Each of these iconic musicians, as well as the talented behind-the-scenes groups of studio musicians, such as 'The Wrecking Crew,' left their musical footprints on this small patch of the hills of LA, forming, regrouping and following the creative muse wherever she took them. 



As with music, it sometimes happens that artistic inspiration will form much like a tapestry of multiple layers of influences seeking a cohesive vehicle for expression... 

                                                                    'Just Married' - underpainting

A coveted print of Dorothea Lange's migrant father holding his child sits on my wall, as I contemplate the desperate lyrics of Merle Haggard's 'California Cottonfields',  noticing how ironically they mimic this haunting vision, the combination making me reflect on our everlasting pursuit of the land of milk and honey. 

                                                                  Photo - Dorothea Lange

I'm listening to the pedal steel guitars of 'The Bakersfield Sound,' Buck Owens, Jean Shepard, and Merle Haggard singing...

 'I've been from coast to coast a hundred times or more, and I ain't found one single place I haven't been before.'  - White Line Fever -


                                                          Buck Owens & The Buckaroos

                                                       'Trouts' - Bakersfield, CA

I'm thinking about nomadic truckers snaking their way through California's Grapevine, toothpick eyes, fueled on amphetamines and cheap diner fare.  I'm thinking it's not like me to listen to country music, so what is it that keeps my attention?  I consider that at the heart of any good music of any genre, there lies one common thread - authenticity.  It's keeping me...because it feels real.





My composition 'Just Married' was inspired by all of the above.  It could be set in 1956.  The backdrop is old Las Vegas.  On the radio, the Everly Brothers are singing 'Bad Boy, Sad Girl,' or perhaps it was Elvis - the larger than life idol of so many who followed, including Gram Parsons and Tom Petty (RIP).  It could describe an impetuous elopement, a moment of contrition, or just as easily, a precious life savings squandered in a flash of invincibility at the Golden Nugget.  Anticipation or regret ? It doesn't really matter. 





We are always on the move somewhere, driving, forever searching for something - the characters in our lives falling in and out of view, blurred with time like the night-blooming jasmine that leaves its scent through the winding hills of Laurel Canyon.  We remember the faces, but the memories change.  They say it's not the destination but the journey that matters…

So the next time I am asked, 'what inspires you?', the only conceivable reply shall always remain, 'What doesn't?'


My musical inspiration for this painting:

Blue Eyes - Uncle Tupelo
Break My Mind - The Flying Burrito Brothers
Buckaroo - Buck Owens
California Cotton Fields - Gram Parsons
Folsom Prison Blues - Merle Haggard and the Strangers
Hearts On Fire - Gram Parsons
Here Without You - Gene Clark
Hickory Wind - Emmylou Harris
I Still Miss Someone - The International Submarine Band
I still Miss Someone - Johnny Cash
Kansas City Southern - Gene Clark and Gram Parsons
Love Hurts - Emmy Lou Harris - Gram Parsons
Luxury Liner - The International Submarine Band
Making Believe - Emmylou Harris
Sing Me Back Home - Merle Haggard
Six Days On The Road - Earl Green
Sleepless Nights - Emmy Lou Harris - Gram Parsons
So You Say You've Lost Your Baby - Gene Clark
Sweetheart of the Pines - Emmylou Harris
The World Turns All Around Her - The Byrds
Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down - The Flying Burrito Brothers
Tried So Hard - Gosdin Brothers
Tried So Hard - The Flying Burrito Brothers
White Line Fever - Merle Haggard
Your Tender Loving Care - Susan Raye and Buck Owens

                                                                 Tom Petty (1950-2017)

In the upcoming weeks I'll be back exploring more of the seamier side of 60's Soho in an interview with Stewart Home about his friendship with infamous 60's beat author Terry Taylor - Baron's Court, All Change.  


And on that note...I am asking all of my readers to please pitch in, in the effort to prevent Taylor Wimpey's further gentrification of London.  It's easy to help…

Click this link:  http://www.fieldsintrust.org/bestpark/london and cast your vote for  FORTUNE STREET PARK.  

An interview is coming soon with Mary Refoy of Spacemen 3, Spiritualized and Slipstream, who've just released a new album.

Artist/film director Matt Mahurin's long awaited interview is happening in the next couple months...

There is a possible cover collaboration brewing with Melbourne's 'The Paper Kites'...

And lastly,  Artwalk Season is just getting underway in the City of Palm Desert.  New American Noir originals are coming soon to El Paseo's 
A Gallery










Sunday, October 08, 2017

Spectres of Modernism: Art Against Overdevelopment



Have you ever seen a 'ghost home' and would you want to live near one?

Following on from my last blog regarding Soho, London, and strategically if not ironically timed to coincide with this year's Frieze Art Fair, I believe the following will be of interest to many of my readers.

Fellow artist and friend, Stewart Home, along with a stellar ensemble, including Iain Sinclair, Jeremy Deller, Fiona Banner, Gavin Turk and many other leading British artists and writers associated with 'Artists Against Overdevelopment,' is participating in the multi-staged exhibit/cultural demonstration, 'Spectres of Modernism: Art Against Overdevelopment,' now taking place in East Central London.  


Curated by Fraser Muggeridge Studio, the group has created and assembled a display of brightly coloured protest banners displayed along the balconies of Bowater House and designed to call attention to the appalling and regrettably ongoing gentrification of London. 

According to the group, at issue here, if not a global problem, is the very real concern that housing developers continue to gobble up neighbourhood city real estate to build luxury apartments designed to cater to buy-to-leave investors - a familiar scenario to those of us in California since the 80's, where the divide between displaced locals and interlopers has never been more glaringly apparent than in the area known as Silicon Valley, where residents sharing their communities with uninhabited ghost homes purchased solely for investment value continue to blight the city landscape.  


At the heart of the group's current focus in London, however, is one of Britain's largest home builders, Taylor Wimpey, who among others, they claim are designing complexes solely for inflated sale to foreign investors, often enticed by fraudulent or trumped up descriptions of the locations of these proposed complexes, resulting in the creation of more non-resident owned ghost homes.  

The larger problem, however, seems to be that not only are these neighbourhoods not development-friendly, high-end, urban real estate surrounded by 'luxury retail shops,' but rather historic and working class communities where many of the aforementioned artists and their families continue to live, work and attend school, as they have done for several generations. 



The group is seeking support and public awareness of this issue.  If you would like to learn more about the exhibit, which runs through 10 December, or how you can help their current efforts to quell Taylor Wimpey's 'The Denizen' Golden Lane Ghost Home, rather…'Luxury Apartment Complex,' please check out:


https://www.change.org/p/save-golden-lane-estate-and-build-decent-homes.

https://denizenec1.wordpress.com/



It doesn't take but a cursory understanding of these issues

 to realise that gentrification is not just a benign sign of 

urban renewal, but rather a polarising and 

disenfranchising form

 of segregation.


                                                Billboard - Canary Wharf (Banksy)






Saturday, August 12, 2017

London Noir - My Love Affair with 60's Soho

                                                            'Absolute Beginners' Acrylic on Canvas - Higgins

                                                                               'The Profumo Affair'
In the early 1960's, Soho, London was often described as seamy, sordid and decadent, a polestar for sex shops and clip joints, a stone's throw from the gritty hub of London's most notorious underworld mobsters, notably East Enders, Reggie & Ronnie, the infamous Kray Twins, and South London's chilling Richardson Gang.  


                                                                                         Soho 1965 - Photo by Henry Grant

Soho was also a part of the city where Francis Bacon's godless, sardonic, 'sensation of the moment,' propensity spawned a scandalously bohemian subculture, where pubs ignored clocks, and burgeoning jazz and blues clubs sparked the careers of such iconic acts as the Yardbirds, Led Zepplin, The Who, and Davy 'Bowie' Jones; but these things were hardly unusual for a part of the city always known as a haven for nomads, intellectuals and those cut from a slightly different cloth.  Indeed Marx and Engels composed their Communist Manifesto in a room above Soho's Red Lion Pub.


                                                                             'Tainted Love' - Acrylic on Canvas - Higgins

                                                                                           
Occupying part of London's West End, approximately a square mile in size, Soho loosely encompasses Charing Cross Rd. to the east, Regent to the west, Leicester Square to the south and Oxford Street to the north.  With a few exceptions, such as the market traders on Berwick Street, the Soho of today is a homogenised hodgepodge of luxury hotels, posh apartments, high-end bistros and tapas bars, a byproduct of gentrification's sticky fingers pushing the locals farther east and stripping the city of its charm; but I'm not overly interested in the Soho of today.  

My 'Summer of Love' sensibilities are firmly rooted in the 60's of both sides of the Atlantic; so it was not surprising I decided to accept a challenge from my UK collector, Pat, who earlier this year asked if I'd ever considered painting vintage 'London Noir,' which he described to me as 'similar to American Noir, only seedier and very, very noir.'  Intrigued by the creative possibilities, I knew it was essential I endeavour to restrict my research to a particular time period, so casting aside my aversion to limitations and psychedelic fascinations, I opted to venture farther back into the 60's, to the 'very, very noir' Soho that existed between the years 1959-1966, with Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, my starting point.

                                                                                                        Ronnie Scott

Working at a distance, with an arsenal of family and friends supplying me with photographs and tantalising tales of the infamous luminaries of the time, in addition to offering a few first-hand confessions of what it was like to live in Soho in the early 1960's, I embarked upon a truly eye-opening, if not riveting journey back in time, devouring the books of Colin MacInnes, Joe Orton's subversively hilarious plays, most notably, 'What The Butler Saw,' listening to music that rocked and jived and shook this former 'valley girl' to the core, and lapping up the designs of Ossie Clark and Mary Quant, as worn by Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Peggy Moffit and Veruschka, the images and styles that made such an impression on my work as a fashion illustrator.  


Leslie Hornby 'Twiggy'


                                                     Ossie Clark with Chrissie Shrimpton - Photo by David Bailey

                                                                                           Carnaby Street - 1966

                                                                     Playwright John Kingsley 'Joe' Orton

The first two paintings of my LONDON NOIR series, 'Absolute Beginners,' and 'Tainted Love,' are the results of these adventures.  'Absolute Beginners' was not inspired by The Jam.  Love IS in our hearts, but this painting is actually a nod to Colin MacInnes's coming-of-age novel of the same name, which is my favourite of his London Trilogy.  Set against a backdrop of Mod culture, during the summer of the Notting Hill race riots, reminiscent of Salinger's, 'Catcher in the Rye,' the book is a sensitive portrayal of a self-conscious adolescent coming to terms with the societal changes and resultant racism that blighted parts of London in the late 1950's.  I have taken artistic liberty in this piece, melding Carnaby and Wardour Streets.

                                                                                        Work in Progress - 'Absolute Beginners'





                                                                               The Jam - 'Absolute Beginners' (1981)

Departing from the idealism of youth, and venturing farther into the seamier side of 60's Soho is 'Tainted Love.' The composition was inspired by The Who's, 'Man With The Money,' with title homage a combination of Gloria Jones's '64 hit and author, Stewart Home's gripping exploration into 60's London counterculture…'Swinging London' being the predominant theme of both paintings.  

                                                            Work in Progress - 'Tainted Love' - July 2017

                                                                     'The Who' - Man With The Money

                                                                                      'Tainted Love' - Stewart Home

                                                                                   Gloria Jones and Marc Bolan

Soho in the late 50's and early 60's was the backdrop for an explosion of artistic expression. Edmond T. Greville's film, 'Beat Girl' (1959) starring Gillian Hills (Blowup & Clockwork Orange) and set in Soho, is perhaps one of the best examples of cinematic adolescent angst.  With its subplots of jealousy, emotional blackmail, debaucherous behaviour and general juvenile delinquency, it rivals 'Reefer Madness' in its melodramatic moral caution.  Also filmed against the setting of 60's Soho were 'Passport to Shame,' 'Expresso Bongo,' and the suspenseful crime noir, 'The Small World of Sammy Lee' - The haunting jazz-soaked soundtrack alone will transport you back in time. 

                                                                                              'Beat Girl ' (1959)

                                                                     'The Small World of Sammy Lee'

The art world of 60's Soho arguably centred around two of London's most controversial characters and their volatile friendship - Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, two figurative painters, bonded if not obsessed by their admiration of each other's twisted talent, as well as a shared penchant for booze, gambling and pugnacity that spiralled their mutual respect into mockery and caustic contempt.  The culmination and subsequent deterioration of their dysfunctional relationship came as a result of Bacon's unwelcome triptych of Freud, which it seems posthumously gave Bacon the upper hand, when the works later sold for $142 million in 2013.   Many of their dramas were played out against the backdrop of Soho's Gargoyle Club, later infamously known as 'The Colony Room.' 
                                                                 Bacon & Freud - Photo by Harry Diamond

                                                                                       Freud's Portrait of Bacon (1952)



                                                                           'Three Studies of Lucian Freud' by Francis Bacon

                                                                               John Deakin, Bruce Bernard, Jeffrey Bernard


                                                                                         Muriel Belcher

Located on Dean Street, this private drinking club, with its garishly green walls and extended hours of operation, was owned by the temperamental Muriel Belcher, although Bacon shares founding member status. Muriel had a knack for profanity and cooking, in addition to cooking up controversy with her coterie of colourful creatures of the night including the aforementioned Bacon and Freud, alcoholic ex-Vogue and war photographer John Deakin, and doomed Welch poet, Dylan Thomas, each exploiting and reveling in their atmosphere of excess, intrigue and decadence.  The Colony Room served its final drink in 2008, but remained popular with artistic types until the end, with certain members of the YBA (Young British Artists) loosely comprised of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucus, sharing a particular fondness for the iconic watering hole. 

                                               Damian Hirst and Sarah Lucas at The Colony Room - photo - The Guardian

                                                                              Francis Bacon at The Colony Room



On the lighter side, if not a more female-friendly representation of 60's Soho's rich history, were the many coffee bars popular amongst British youth, including the uniquely decorated, Le Macabre, complete with its horror-themed ambiance and coffin shaped tables. Moka, which officially opened in the early 50's by Italian actress, Gina Lollabrigida, has the distinction of being singled out by acerbic American beat poet, William Burroughs for its 'outrageous and unprovoked discourtesy and poisonous cheesecake'. 2i's on Old Compton Street is where musician Marc Bolan (T-Rex) once worked as a waiter and was also featured in the movie, 'Expresso Bongo.' 

                                                                                   'Le Macabre Coffee House' 
                           


                                                                            Marc Bolan - John's Children


Equally unique to Soho were its many 'hostess clubs,' with their champagne and showgirls veneer more often disguising the dark and sordid landscape of organised crime that flourished throughout the West End during that time period.  For those interested, one of the best and most authentic descriptions of life within these establishments and London subculture in general, can be found amongst the writings of South London's, Stewart Home.


                                             Christine Keeler - 1963 - Photo (Lewis Morley)

Perhaps one of the most infamous showgirls of that time period was Christine Keeler, the 19-year-old hostess/model whose brief ill-fated affair with a married government minister, John Profumo, and alleged simultaneous liaison with a Soviet naval attache caused a political scandal that not only resulted in the defeat of the Conservative Party, but Profumo's subsequent suicide by overdose, the details of which have since been dubbed, 'The Profumo Affair.'  Author Richard Davenport-Hines's 'An English Affair:  Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo,' is an enthralling account of the scandal and the sordid events leading up to it. 

Most people in the UK, and I'm guessing many in the US, are at least familiar with the name, Kray Twins, the two brothers who ruled London's criminal underworld through protection rackets and organised violence during the 50's and 60's.  Their stomping ground was mostly the East End with pubs like 'The Blind Beggar.'  Perhaps lesser known, but enjoying the distinction as the one man both brothers truly respected, was Billy Howard, a dominant figure on the club and gambling scenes, exercising his reign in a less publically flamboyant but equally terrifying manner. Peter Rachman was another shadowy Soho figure of the time, the Kensington landlord operating his West London empire that included large areas of Notting Hill and several nightclubs, overcharging and exploiting a good majority of the city's impoverished new West Indies population, and thereby overachieving his slumlord status. 

                                                                                   'Ronnie & Reggie' - The Kray twins

But lest you think 60's Soho's only claims to fame were crime and cravings, one of the truly historical gifts imparted by this era of bohemian intemperance came in the form of its music scene.  The soundtrack of this period is as remarkable for its diversity as it is permanently etched in our brains.  

                                                                 The Rolling Stones - Denmark Street (1964)

East of Soho Square, on the edge of London's West End, sits Denmark Street, now sadly losing its rough about the edges authenticity to gentrification; but in the early 60's, this area was a thriving music mecca known as London's Tin Pan Alley - it's name patterned after New York's music district.  Home to Melody Maker and NME, as well as Regent Sound Studios, Tin Pan Alley in the 1960's became the centre of London's music scene, its recording studios alternately housing such bands as The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and members of Led Zepplin.  

                                                                      Marc Bolan - John's Children

Mod subculture is another Soho phenomenon with roots in the Soho jazz clubs of the late 50's, but the smartly tailored suits and winklepicker boots, the Vespa's, the amphetamines and the music - ska, and rhythm and blues at clubs like The Marquee, where the Rolling Stones played their first live gig in 1962, The Flamingo and La Discotheque, both unwitting participants in the scandalous Profumo Affair, the Bag O'Nails where Hendrix played his first gig, and rumored to have been where Paul McCartney met Linda Eastman, may now be just a chapter in London's past, like the art, the crime, the scandals and the grime, but the fabric of that particular time that exemplified Soho has already left a lasting impression on modern culture...

one that continues to astonish, enthrall and inspire, and one which will undoubtedly always remain...

a hard act to follow.  


                                                                                      East London's 'Small Faces'

                                                                    West London's Pete Townshend (1964)


Soho Today:


With the support of several of its most vocal members, including actors Rupert Everett, Benedict Cumberbatch and musician Pete Townshend, "Save Soho" was created by musician Tim Arnold and writer/comedian, Stephen Fry, in response to the December 2014 forced closure of a beloved Soho landmark, Madam Jojo's. Advocating inclusion rather than exclusion, the group seeks to protect the areas' small entertainment venues, shops and bars from gentrification. The purpose of their petition, signed by more than 9000 people, was to protest the city's decision favouring 'identikit high-end boutiques' over 'once proud centres of subculture.'  The group and its supporters are still thriving, and rumours are a 'bigger and better' Jojo's may soon reopen in the same location and under the same name.


                                                                                      'Madam Jojo's'
To learn more, check out: Save Soho 


A special thank you to my collector, Pat and to Lucy Johnson & Sean Hocking (without whom I would have been musically all the poorer) for their 'boots on the ground' enthusiasm, anecdotes and introductions to such figures as Colin MacInnes, Joe Orton, Paul Gilroy, Pauline Boty, Sebastian Horsley, et al.  I am in artistic collaboration with Lucy on the cover of her next noir novel and awaiting news about an enticing new musical based on the life of our mutual connection, Stewart Home.  Other than that, London Noir is still a work in progress, with more to follow. -Gina, 12th August 2017


                                                                Prince Buster - One Step Beyond (1965)

My project soundtrack:

Alex Harvey - I Ain't Worried Baby
Alexis Korner Blues Inc. - Little Baby
Bert Jansch - Soho
Brian Auger Trinity - Kiko
Brooker T and MG's - Green Onions
Cilla Black - Anyone Who Had A Heart
Cyril Davies - Chicago Calling
David Bowie - Can't Help Thinking About Me
David Bowie - Do Anything You Say
Davy Jones (David Bowie) - You've Got a Habit of Leaving
Donnie Elbert - Little Piece of Leather
Donovan - Belated Forgiveness Plea
Donovan - Isle of Sadness
Don Rendell and Ian Carr Quintet - Shades of Blue
Dusty Springfield - I Only Want To Be With you
Eddie Floyd - Things Get Better
Eric Burden - I'm Crying
Fontella Bass - Rescue Me
Gloria Jones - Tainted Love
Graham Bond Quartet - Untitled Abbey Road Blues
Homer Banks - A Lot Of Love
Ian Whitcomb - You Really Turn Me On
Jeff Curtis and the Flames - Route 66
Jimmy James and the Vagabonds - Two For One
John's Children - Smashed Blocked
Junoir Walker - Shotgun
Kinks - Till The End Of The Day
Lulu - I'll Come Running
Marianne Faithful - Come and Stay With Me
Mark Leeman 5 - Going To Bluesville
Mickie Most - Heartbeat
Pink Floyd - Lucy Leave
Pretty Things - Rosalyn
Prince Buster - One Step Beyond
Robert Plant - Laughin' Cryin' Laughin'
Row Boat  - Me and My Baby
Skatalites - Guns of Navarone
Small Faces - All or Nothing
Spencer Davis Group - Somebody Help Me
Syd's Crowd - Road Runner
Syd's Crowd -  Things are good babe
Syd Barrett - I'm A King Bee
The Anglos  - Incense
The Animals - Bright Lights Big City
The Animals - It's My Life
The Beatles - It's Only Love
The Beat Merchants - Pretty Face
The Count Five - Psychotic Reaction
The Hollies - I'm alive
The Kinks - The World Keeps Going Round
Them - Mystic Eyes
The Maytals - Treat Me Bad
The Nashville Teens - Tobacco Road
The Paramounts - You've Got What I Want
The Rolling Stones - Empty Heart
The Rolling Stones - Tell Me
The Searchers - Needles and Pins
The Who  - Man with the money
The Yardbirds - Evil Hearted You
The Zombies - Don't Go Away
Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders - Road Runner


                                                              'She Said She'd Always Been A Dancer'


 'Now, you can think what you like about the art of jazz – quite frankly, I don’t really care what you think, because jazz is a thing so wonderful that if anybody doesn’t rave about it, all you can feel for them is pity: not that I’m making out I really understand it all – I mean, certain LPs leave me speechless.' 

Top