I got an email from Paul Daniel asking to subscribe. He then sent me his story and pictures. A wonderful tale from the Soho of yesteryear.
I lived in Soho in 1957-58 and have written up an essay of my time there.
It could be of interest to some of your members as I was on the music scene (in a small way!).
Hope you're keeping away from the virus...
Cheers Paul Daniel...
FIRST EXPERIENCES OF SOHO IN THE LATE 50s
Leaving the Army (National Service, of course) in 1957 I came to London to live with my dad in Forest Hill. Soon I was contacted by an old school chum suggesting I join his skiffle group - yes please! I was to play washboard (WHAT!). The player had walked out (tantrums already?) taking his thimbles with him but thinking on my feet I picked up someone's hairbrush, which made a much more subtle sound than rattley old thimbles (they kept falling off my fingers, anyway).
Our first excursion to Soho was on Thursday 17 October when we visited the Skiffle Cellar at 49 Greek Street (right next door to a singer I later got to know called Glen Stuart who lived at 51). We saw The Blue Jeans and Dickie Bishop - my very first experience of SOHO! Another evening we saw the City Ramblers and Zom at the same venue.
Rehearsals with the Shadows, as the group was called, were virtually non existent and our first performance was at a rough Teddyish youth club and when it looked like a fight would break out (we didn't go down too well) we scarpered through the back door (tough West Enders that we were, we didn't want our guitar digits broken.). I was already brushing up my own guitar skills as my school-chum, Jake, told me I'd be soon be needed with the group.
The very next day we played our first real gig - and where was it, you might ask? Would you believe me if I said the famous 2I's Coffee Bar cellar? No, of course you wouldn't. But it was... We followed The Worried Men (Terry Nelhams became quite a chum) and went down OK.
After this exhilarating gig we went up to try to get another in a coffee bar in Hanway Street but they already had a group, so we found our way to the Nucleus in Monmouth Street. My diary quotes "... Full of queers but they seemed quite pleased to help us..." so we played some more and I got to sing for the first time!
Next, with all the experience we'd so far picked up, we managed to snag a ‘residency' at the Troubadour in Earls Court - on Saturday nights. We couldn't understand why when they had the more famous (MORE famous?) Vipers with Wally Whyton playing there on Wednesdays. A hit record group, mid-week, and we, a group with three performances to our unknown name, got the prestigious Saturday night gig. It was a dream! (Nevertheless it didn't come true and lead to a lucrative record contract!) The next day we were back playing at the 2Is.
After an ‘audition' at the Condor, who didn't want skiffle (I wonder why?!) we "...ended up in a brothel called The Golden Swallow..." in Gerard Street, which became one of our regular gigs for a couple of months, though why they put up with noisy skiffle music in a clip-joint I can't imagine...
Anyhow having now at least a few gigs under our belts we ventured back to the place in Hanway Street called Chiquito's and I had no idea how important this place would become in my personal life. The coffee bar was run by a fiery dragon called Mrs Fischer and we were allowed to have use of the basement, but were paid no money, merely passing a mug, a hat, or jug around every so often. However as we began playing there regularly we built up something of a fan base, mainly nurses from the ENT hospital in Gray's Inn Road.
We tried to get more salubrious space up on the main floor but were confined to the cold and dirty basement known as the Crypt. Anyhow Mrs Fischer had other performers upstairs and I remember their names were Bruce Welch and Hank Marvin. There was also a young black guy with immense charm who later had a No 1 hit record with "What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For" - Emile Ford. We had a serious young guy often sitting in with us called Dick Shane, an excellent guitarist and Country & Western freak. He also went on to make a record, just the one, "When You Heart is Only 17 Years Old" - written by Sammy Samwell, but, no, this wasn't a hit!
After some eight hours of playing we'd hi-tail down to the Nucleus or along to the Freight Train on Wardour Street, the coffee bar set up by Chas McDevitt after his huge hit of the same name. It was here on one Sunday afternoon we happened to catch an Elvis imitator who had him off to a tee with his wiggling hips, shaking legs and smirking, curled snarl, performing with a couple of other guys. It was a great afternoon and we enjoyed the first performance of this guy, whose name was Harry Webb, with his group The Drifters. At this time he hadn't yet changed his name to Cliff Richard, or the group to The Shadows (we still possessed that name at Chiquito's!). One has to wonder whether our group name had influenced Bruce and Hank when they played at Chic's...
As time went on, Christmas passed and as my Dad was angry that I was staying out so much I left and found a room near the other group members in Victoria. This didn't last long and, Vince (lead guitar & vocals) and I decided to room together and got a place in Windham Street. After two weeks we fled and I found a room in SOHO. We'd both wanted to live nearer our ‘work' (ha! ha!) and here was a top-floor room for £4/10/- at No 48 Frith Street. Not to be believed! Though Vince very soon ‘ran home to mother' and I was left with getting a motley selection of people to halve the rent with me.
I was always broke and gradually it was myself playing alone at Chiquito's with a strange guy called ‘Bongo Mike' who was completely deadpan but played good guitar on what was known as his ‘plank'. His straight-faced "Great Balls of Fire" regularly brought the house down!
On what I could scrounge from the now depleting group of nurses and from various relations, I managed to scrape by. I had daily visits for cheap tea and a bun or paklava at the French at No 5 Old Compton Street, a continental news and coffee place where strange and glamourous characters such as Iron-Foot Jack hung out, and I was entranced by a very droll lady who was always dressed in black and mauve who, I think, was an artist, or perhaps a poet. I never mixed in with them but remained strictly part of the background.
Occasionally I managed a meal at the Star restaurant opposite, or the Pollo Bar close by, and often saw Quentin Crisp sashaying down Old Compton Street collecting wolf-whistles from the workers and stares of disbelieving horror from the public in general for his vivid blue hair, swishing hip movements and tightest of trousers, and one day I was taken to a caff in St Giles High Street (spag bol, bread & butter + a cuppa - just two shillings and sixpence!) and was actually ‘presented' to him! He had immense courage for the time.
In the early days of 1958 I got quite well known at the 2Is and grew friendly with many of the guys who gathered there hoping to be discovered and some who already were discovered. On one day I had a visit from my young sister and brother who I photographed outside the 2Is much to their delight and introduced them to Nora Bristow who ran the coffee bar on the ground floor - a lovely woman who I bonded well with and who often lent me the 6d it cost to play Connie Francis' "Who's Sorry Now" on the jukebox. (I later wrote a song for her, sent it, and received back a charming letter just three weeks later in her own very distinctive hand- writing. She didn't record it.)
Somehow I became ‘attached' to another bunch of guys hanging around the 2I's who belonged to Rory Blackwell's band and I went on a couple of Sunday night gigs with them, the first built around wonder-star-of-the-moment, Jackie "La De Da" Dennis, and the second with the talented Colin Hicks at Colchester where I managed to catch quite a few photos of him on stage - with Brian Gregg in the background on stand-up bass.
After Vince had deserted me at 48 Frith Street, for some unexplained reason I was asked to vacate my room. In almost despair, I searched for further accommodation which I was lucky enough to find above a barber shop at 100 Berwick Street. Sparse is a good word to describe a bare room with just a narrow bed, chest of drawers, cupboard and wash-basin and I was, if not happy, at least secure there - I thought. But scratching a living was hard.
One of our most regular ‘fans' at Chic's had been a girl called Audrey Leader who wrote a calypso called "Chiquito's Farewell" which she sang with us whenever she came down. A very prophetic title as by June it certainly was farewell Chiquito's - tight-fisted Mrs Fischer no longer wanted me in the basement at Chiquito's. I played there no more.
After six weeks above the barber shop I was asked to leave there as well. This time there was a legit reason: the buildings were being pulled down to erect a high-rise block of flats - it's still there. I was lucky to get back the ten quid deposit that had been demanded when I moved in and as that was my entire wealth and as it wasn't enough to rent yet another hovel, I began to do what was known at the time as ‘skippers'. In my mind I remember this period lasting about two weeks, when I'd be high on Preludin at the Freight Train in the late evening before trundling down to the Nucleus for the rest of the night and sleeping it off in St James Park during the day, but in reality I think it was only about four or five days before I was reduced to one pound ten shillings.
And being a practical sort of bloke, I realised that if I didn't use that for my fare back to Oxford, I'd probably become genuinely homeless. So with much regret I followed Vince's example and ‘ran home to mother'.
This was the end of my first encounter with SOHO. But I was to come back a few years later to find a flat on Shaftesbury Avenue in which I still live. So: no stardom, no fame, no wealth - but much happiness living in the now disappearing fast bohemianish SOHO.
Colin Hicks again - 27 April 1958
Freight Train Groups 1
Freight Train Groups 2
Neville - no info - someone might remember him - great guitarist
Nora of the 2I's - April 1958
Terry Nelhams photographed by Daniel Farson
The Cliff Richard Show - programme run-down
The Cliff Richard show - 16 November 1958 at the Trocadero