The King of Soho

A seedy era came to an end on Sunday with the death of porn king Paul Raymond. The owner of the famous Soho strip club The Revuebar and publisher of a host of soft-core nudie mags like Mayfair, Men Only and Razzle, Raymond made a considerable fortune with an empire built on tits and bums (and savvy property deals).

The Revuebar opened in the 1950s and at the time was the only venue in England to have actual naked ladies on stage moving their arms and legs (featuring such memorably-named acts as Bonnie Bell the Ding-Dong Girl and Melody Bubbles) and more than anyone Raymond was responsible for turning Soho into London’s Red Light district. It was always the centre of London’s “underground” culture with houses of ill-repute, but by the 1970s the area had turned into a rather dodgy place full of seedy peep shows and tawdry sex shops frequented by shabby old men in raincoats. The only time I ever got approached by a prostitute in Soho was one afternoon in the early 1980s when I was walking down the small street that runs alongside the Revuebar, she was a right ugly old bag too so no wonder the area had fallen on hard times if that was the quality of hooker on offer. That Soho doesn’t exist anymore — though you can see it in the film “Mona Lisa” when Bob Hoskins makes his way through London’s sordid underbelly — the area was cleaned up by the Tories who closed down the sex trade, making the way for the trendy restaurants, bars and boutiques that fill the streets now.

Raymond was probably the closest England had to a Hugh Hefner, but while Hefner promoted the image of a sophisticated man-about-town with taste, all swank bachelor pads, jazz, cocktails, and Amazonian fantasy women the likes of which you never saw in England, Raymond was more like a louche spiv with his fake tan, blow-dried hair and gold Rolls-Royce — not to mention magnificently tacky fur coats — and his magazines were far more low-rent and well, English, in their presentation. With it’s cut-price production values and Reader’s Wives, Raymond’s world of glamour was more bedsit and suburban living room than uptown penthouse, with the women generally looking like some tarty dolly bird who worked in a pub or the blushing missus of some lorry driver, a parade of cheesy grins, mottled skin and bad lighting.

But in the days before FHM and Maxim it was Raymond’s magazines that your English schoolboy looked to on the top shelf of his local newsagent’s, desperately trying to summon up the nerve to buy a copy, if only that old woman buying a copy of Woman’s Own would get a move on the coast would be clear and you could take that Mayfair or Razzle up to the counter, hoping the bloke behind the counter doesn’t ask you how old you are. Or you could always try and steal it…

Download: Razzle In My Pocket – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (mp3)

Goodtime George

One of the Greatest Living Englishmen is sadly living no more: George Melly died last week. Jazz singer, author, critic, art expert and, above all, larger than life character of the sort they just don’t make any more. I only saw him live the once at one of his traditional Ronnie Scott’s Xmas shows and he was wonderful.

“Old Codger” is a bawdy number he recorded with The Stranglers that came on a free EP included with their 1978 “Black and White” album. It may seem an odd pairing but George was a punk long before there was such a thing as “punk” — and he was a smutty old bugger too.

Download: Old Codger – George Melly & The Stranglers (mp3)
Read: “Owning Up” (book)
Read (if you can find a copy): “Revolt Into Style” (book)

No one likes us and we don’t care

The Stranglers were probably the least respected band to come out of punk. Not just because they had a drummer in his 40s and a bass player with a silly martial arts fetish, but their songs were laced with sexism and violent misogyny (“Sometimes I’m gonna smack your face” was the opening line of their debut album) which didn’t quite fit in with the revolutionary, empowering spirit of punk. They probably thought they were being provocative when they just came across like dirty old men. Still, I liked them quite a bit (though the friends I had who really liked them were also into Heavy Metal – ’nuff said), listening to their early records gave you the same kick you got from “Derek and Clive (Live)” or the sick jokes that used to go around school the minute someone famous died (“What was Marc Bolan’s last hit?” “A tree”) — they were nasty bastards but made some great records, and at that age you thought dirty words were funny.

By their standards their third album “Black and White” (1978) was quite an artistic and mature affair. It’s their most inventive musically and the first one where the “humour” didn’t involve ugly women and prostitutes. Not coincidentally I think it’s their best album. The opening song “Tank” is a classic parody of the rock and roll car song, instead of the freedom of a Little Deuce Coupe it’s about the thrill of driving a tank and shooting people. Quite a change for The Stranglers to be taking the piss out of military machismo, how very liberal of them. “Hey! (Rise of The Robots)” is a funny song about robots taking over the world (“They’re gonna want a union soon/Oil break that’s dead on noon”) driven along by some great skronky sax playing by Laura Logic. Silly stuff, but a vast improvement on what they used to find amusing. The way these two motor along shows what a seriously good group they could be aside from all the macho shithead stupidity.

Despite the departure of lead singer Hugh Cornwell in 1990 they’re still around today, gigging and making new records. Some belligerent old bastards just refuse to go away.

Download: Tank – The Stranglers (mp3)
Download: Hey! (Rise of The Robots) – The Stranglers (mp3)
Buy: “Black and White” (album)

Funny story: My Gran used to buy me and my sister an LP each every Christmas and in 1977 my sister asked for a copy of The Stranglers'”No More Heroes” album. On Christmas Day the whole family — aunties and uncles, cousins and grandparents — is gathered together and my sister decides to play her new record. If you know the album you can probably guess the rest of this story. Halfway through side one there’s this track on it called “Bring On The Nubiles” and the chorus…um, goes “Let me, let me, fuck ya, fuck ya, let me lick your little puss.” As you can imagine there were red faces all around, apart from us kids who thought it was hysterical. I still have a wry smile whenever I think of my Gran going into her local Woolworth’s and buying the album in the first place.

The School of Hard Knocks

There’s a lot of water under the bridge between these two photos of Marianne Faithfull. The top one was taken in 1964 (at the beautiful Salisbury pub on St. Martin’s Lane) and the one below it in 1979.

In those 15 years she’d had a handful of light folk-pop hits, given birth to a son, been Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, become hooked on cocaine, had a miscarriage, taken her kit off and romped with Alain Delon in the erotic psychedelic biker movie “Girl On A Motorcycle,” written The Stones’ “Sister Morphine,” been in a drug-induced coma, split up with Jagger, lost custody of her son, become a heroin addict, spent two years living rough on the streets of Soho, suffered from anorexia, lived in a squat, and married The Vibrators’ bassist Ben Brierly.

If that’s all there was to the story Marianne would have been remembered mostly as a kind of English Edie Sedgwick, a beautiful party girl destroyed by drugs, more famous for who she was shagging than any actual accomplishments of her own. But she managed to drag herself out of the shit in 1979 and recorded the brilliant “Broken English” album which, given what she’d been through, was something of a human triumph as well as an artistic one. If I’d been through half the things she had I’d barely have the will to stick my head in a gas oven, let alone make such a vital, alive record. The album had a stark, edgy post-punk sound and in Marianne’s voice you could hear the life she’d lived, with her previously wispy and delicate tones replaced by a snarling, throaty croak ravaged by booze, drugs and fags – it was like Vashti Bunyan turning into Tom Waits.

The punky-reggae track “Why D’Ya Do It?” really put the cat amongst the pigeons with it’s explicit, x-rated lyrics written by the poet and playwright Heathcote Williams (who apparently wanted Tina Turner to sing it originally, the mind boggles at the thought.) It’s a vicious kiss-off to an unfaithful lover full of language that would shock your Granny – hell, it makes me blush. This is a very grown-up song with an emotional anger that makes some punk band saying “fuck” on a record sound a bit juvenile in comparison. I’d hate to be the bloke she’s thinking about when she sings this.

Download: Why D’Ya Do It? – Marianne Faithfull (mp3)
Buy: “Broken English” (album)

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com





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