Saturday Night in Soho

Bar Italia

I had a few beers with a good mate of mine in Soho yesterday. But first there was a coffee in the ever-wonderful Bar Italia. Sat outside watching smoke fill the sky as a restaurant in Chinatown – across the way – burned. Meanwhile outside of Ronnie’s the band that was doing the ever-wonderful Sunday afternoon/lunch sessions were posing for photographs. I’ve always liked Soho but now I’m more a Sunday afternoon Soho habitué. Back in the early eighties it was all about the evening and nights. Here is a small extract from my book Faded Lois Dreams that I’m happy to say is still steadily selling. So thanks to all that have bought it and if you haven’t and like what you’ve seen and heard then just click here:


It’s chaos on the tube as there’s been some hassle at Arsenal and United – so a normal Saturday then. I jump off at Euston and cut through the backs down to Soho.
There’s a chill in the air as I pass the university: All the fresh-faced girls and boys embarking on a life in academia. With their college scarves, nondescript clothes and their clipped accents. We occasionally crash the bar at the ULU simply because they sell Stella Artois at ridiculously low prices but it isn’t for us. Not that the kids I hang around with aren’t clever and to be fair Guzzling has a degree but it just isn’t the type of place where we’d go. Strange really. I wish them well but it never appealed I just wanted to work. To earn some money to enable me to go out on Saturday nights and to buy new clothes. That old working-class way of dressing up to go out on a Friday and Saturday night. Been going on for years; Friday, Saturday and Sunday best. Fifty hours in a factory, the docks or down a mine and then all scrubbed up and down to the pub or club. Big bands, trad jazz, modern jazz, R & B, beat, pop and soul. The chain continues. Looking smart and looking crisp. Sure the fashions change but the chain is unbroken.
Tonight is a dressed-up night. Burberry mac, button down shirt, lambswool sweater, slacks and tassel loafers by Church. I’m meeting Claudette, away from work and just the two of us. Meal at Bianchi’s: Spaghetti Vongole and glasses of Valpolicella, followed by coffee, cigarettes and jazz at Ronnie Scott’s. We love Bianchi’s and Nic one of our gang from work, his dad Roberto works there. Lovely blokes, both Nic and his dad, from the south of Italy. Not sure what his dad does there but he always makes us feel welcome and it’s a great place. Photos of film stars and jazz musicians on the wall which is right up Claudette’s street. We keep it quiet and he looks after his son’s friends.
Claudette is always on time – which for a black girl is saying something – so I rush down Berwick Street over the discarded rotting fruit and this time only glancing into the record shop windows rather than go in as I normally do; where I while away too many an hour. Ignoring the whores and the rowdy tourists before I hear a shout from behind.

‘Rich, alright?’
‘Wha’ppen Claude?
‘I’ve got there before you, ha ha.’
‘No chance I’ve been around the block and been propositioned four times while waiting for ya.’
‘You’ve certainly been around the block.’
‘Piss off, Rich and less of the wha’ppens mate.
‘Just because you listen to Culture and all that reggae shit don’t mean you have to try and talk like us.’
‘Okay jazz kid.
‘For tonight and tonight only I’ll leave it out.
‘Anyhow who’s on at Ronnie’s tonight?’
‘Not sure but it’ll be better than that Augustus Pablo and Burning Spear stuff you normally listen to.’
‘I like a bit of funk with my jazz but tonight and tonight only I’ll get on your Coltrane tip.’

Strange how this kid whose parents hail from Kingston, Jamaica doesn’t dig the reggae beat. The bass, drums and guitar just moves me. It always has and, I’m sure, it always will. From Desmond Dekker to Dillinger it always makes me sway and bangs a great big nail in my big bloody heart. At home in the bedsit I crank the turntables right up high and let The Wailers, The Mighty Diamonds or Culture take me away. But for Claudette it is Monk, Coltrane, Miles and Chet and it’s a real proper cool Claudette that is with me tonight. In her Levi’s, loafers and pea coat. A cool Claudette for a cool Soho.
A cool Soho that has been the home to pimps, pushers and puffs for a very long time. A cool Soho that during the day is home to Bar Italia – where us cool fucking boys drink cappuccinos and espressos and eat pastries while we watch the world go by. A cool Soho where we used to dance the afternoon away at Crackers and where we dig through the racks at Groove and Daddy Kool. European cool, black boy chic, reggae vibes, people at work and living their lives above the streets and a million, trillion other things. Then when night falls the place changes. The clientele may not change but the atmosphere and the place buzzes with criminality, art, sleaze, sex and drugs and rock and roll. And of course jazz. This jazz village. The reason why we are here tonight. Why Claudette loves the place: The history, the vibe, the beauty of it all. The beauty of jazz. The ultimate cool or so she’ll tell me over and over again. But I listen to her and love her for it and when I’m around at hers and it’s all a kind of blue I can see what it’s about. What it must have been like in the olden days in this den of iniquity that is Soho. Shopping at Austin’s on Shaftesbury Avenue for the latest American shirts, smoking Gauloises cigarettes in private clubs listening to modern jazz. The place where all the London kids would whack school and pop down to, to have a laugh and learn the real lessons in life. Italy, Maltese gangsters, Budgie and Charlie Endell, food, art, music, crime, love, class, the dive bars, sex, race and every other thing that really matters can be found in the little village of Soho.
Tonight is lovely and even the jazz in Ronnie’s has some funk in it as we dance the night away. Right a fucking way…


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