Monday, 29 June 2015

My Soho.

Sunday - we went up to town again! We were going up to catch some music but because I couldn't face the tube and as it was a Sunday I drove up.

It worked out well, I found somewhere to park in Fitzrovia;

 And we were there far too early, so I forced Robyn to let me take her for a walk round Soho and Chinatown, some of my old haunts.
Who can resist Ronnies?

Well, these days I can. Ronnie Scott is long gone as is his business partner who sold up a few years ago. It was never cheap but it had integrity and great sounds.

Now it's a little too expensive and a little too showbiz for me.

They redecorated for goodness sake!

May be I'll pop in again if I can ever get tickets to something good.

We walked by Soho square and up and down the three streets of Soho. It's a very respectable place now - gone is that definite hint of menace the old place had.

I tried to work out where 'The Marquee' had been on Wardour Street. That was where I saw 'The Jam' and a host of Punk bands and where, if it was a good night, the sweat condensed on the ceiling and dripped back down on the audience.

It was always a good night with 'The Jam'.

Gone too are the Soho characters - not that they were all that nice, most of them.

Here's 'The Coach and Horses', lovingly called 'Norman's' by the new owners.

Nobody ever loved 'Norman' who was the landlord for many years and was titled 'The Rudest Landlord in London' by the satirical magazine 'Private Eye', which is written just a little further along Greek Street.

The pub was for many years the spiritual home of Jeffrey Bernard who was a journalist rather prone to drinking too much and who adopted as the name of his column the apology that had so often taken the place of his usual articles; 'Jeffrey Bernard is unwell'.

That was never my scene although next door is though. That's my kind of place, what you could call 'history on a plate';

'Maison Bertaux' is a family owned French Patisserie and tea rooms and rather proudly states that it was established in 1871.

Soho was always the home of refugees and revolutionaries - Karl Marx lived here after he escaped from persecution in his native Germany.

As the French were defeated in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the workers of Paris refused to surrender, even after the French Army and government had ran away.

They defended Paris against the Germans in a long siege, during which time they set up a primitive socialist system in the city.

This alarmed the German government as much as the French and they co-operated to put down the rising.

Over 30,000 Communards were brutally murdered or transported to penal colonies for the cheek of wanting democracy.

Over 70,000 came to Britain as refugees, many settling in Soho. They are responsible for its slightly riskeé, slightly bohemian atmosphere.

The Coach and Horses which was built in 1850, was never known as 'Norman's' but always as 'The French', because like many Soho businesses it had had a French landlord for many years.

'Maison Berteaux' is now the last remaining link to the escaping Communards.

We were there the day after 'Pride', the Gay festival and carnival, which had a special meaning this year after the U.S. Supreme court upheld the right to have 'same sex' marriages anywhere in America.

It's a huge victory and a really big deal because other countries will follow on as well.

There must have been some big, big celebrations the night before.

The flags were still out;

And rainbow banners and balloons everywhere.

These days Pride is huge and it has respectable sponsors.

Everyone wants to be associated with it - banks, shops, even brands.

It wasn't always like that - in the 1970's Pride wasn't a carnival - it was a protest march and it took real courage to come out and take part.

Sometimes the march would be attacked, it always faced hostility from the authorities and the police.

I attended three times from 1978 to 1980 - appeals had gone out for people to join the march and face off attackers and I was happy to do that.

Now I am really proud that I did, not because Gay people ever really needed any physical protection, they were always able to look after themselves but in the 1970's they needed a bit of moral support.

As I said, they were making a very courageous stand back then and I share their pride in what they achieved; they changed the world just a little.

It hasn't been an easy road, this is 'The Admiral Duncan' pub.

In the 1980's, as a prominent Gay pub, it was part of a long struggle with conservative Westminster council who declared that the rainbow flag was 'advertising' and required planning permission before it could be flown.

Legal battles and demonstrations followed and with the backing of Ken Livingstone's radical Labour Greater London Council, the Tories of Westminster council eventually had to give in.

So strange to see Tory politicians like Boris Johnson falling over themselves to court the pink vote these days.

'The Admiral Duncan' is even more important to Soho - in 1999 a crazed right wing nutter (it's official - he's in Broadmoor hospital with the criminally insane now) launched a bombing campaign in London, targeting Black, Asian and Gay targets.

The Admiral Duncan was blown up killing three people and injuring 70.

They've won the right to fly their flag many times over.

Following that atrocity, the Metropolitan Police who had persecuted the gay community for many years, set up a mobile incident room outside the pub to take witness statements and staffed only by gay and lesbian officers.

Change comes!

And so today you see little signs like this one outside the Firestation;

Which just goes to show how you can change the world....if you want to.
Music review tomorrow!
Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

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