Some Kind’a Soho (The voices of disappearing Soho) is a book lovingly put together by David Saunders and Darren Russell that celebrates a highly cosmopolitan area of our great city steeped in history and with a reputation of an underbelly that will never be shaken !
Soho has always been a hub for fashion , music , film, creativity and entertainment which all slotted in alongside some of the “darker aspects” of London life . Merc clothing itself was born here on Carnaby Street in 1967.
It has always attracted people from all walks of life , and became known as a place where it was a lot easier to be what or who you wanted to be !
With this in mind , David Saunders and Darren Russell have sourced the opinions of a host of characters who while all highly different , all have a deep routed love for the area.Darren Russell & David Saunders - West End Boys ! (photo by Leonardo Di Lorenzo)
From publicans to DJs, Actors to barbers , musicians to film makers and socialites what reinforces this continuity is the inspired decision to give each individual the same 10 questions , the bones of an interview that they can each stamp their own individuality and personality on .
And what a selection of personalities !
After a foreword from Radio London’s Robert Elms (author of “The Way We Wore”) we get to meet a host of people , all with something to say.
Each story is different and gives the reader a wide ranging insight into what makes this a neighbourhood with a difference . Where independent coffee shops such as Bar Italia can compete against high street chains and thrive , pubs such as the French House can see characters from all walks of life mingle and where a club like Ronnie Scotts can still provide a venue for live Jazz - music loved by the original Modernists and for many years been part of “soho’s soundtrack “
Gentrification, the decline of the sex industry , soaring rents & rates and the cross rail development has changed the very face of London W1. The sex shops , bars , clubs and coffee shops that originally forged the exciting , seedy, sometimes dangerous but always alluring atmosphere may be far less noticeable, but it’s an area with a huge sense of identity and scratch beneath the surface and the creative force still runs deep.
This is very noticeable when flicking though the pages of Some Kind’a Soho, everyone has pure love and affection for the “manor” . Coupled with some stunning photography and presentation this book really is a beautiful piece of work that is essentially a collection of love letters to a part of London where it’s reputation and character are interwoven into the very fabric of the west end, the city and beyond.
On the subject of “West End Fabric “ it’s no surprise that this book has been greatly received and enjoyed here at Merc Clothing. From our humble beginnings in 1967 on a barrow on Carnaby Street with our founder Javid Alavi, Merc has seen the area change, develop and move in different directions , and this book serves as a superb insight into an area we will always call home.
Merc were delighted to spend some time talking to one of the authors , Darren Russell , a professional photographer , Mod and creative , who also kindly agreed to answer some of the questions he used when compiling his book alongside providing an insight into the journey of the publication !
Where did the idea for “A kind’a Soho” first come up ?
I met David Saunders my co-author while taking his photo for a tailor’s web site, he had just had a new suit made by the tailor, while we were having lunch he was telling us all about these interesting Soho people and I said why don’t we do a book and try and get it published.
What does Soho mean to you ?
Not the norm, a place to go if your not part of the heard, a place to reinvent your self and no one gives a toss, you are who you are.
The book features a host of “Soho Faces” talking about their love and memories of London W1 , how did you go about selecting these interviewees ?
We never really selected people, David knew a lot of them already, we would interview them and then they would say how about this person or that person. I remember we interviewed Eddi McPherson and she brought Minty the bar maid from the French House pub along and then later on Eddi and Minty got Lesley Lewis to meet us at Little Italy and we interviewed her and that was typical really.
Was their anyone you wish you could have included ?
There are loads and loads of people that we wanted to but we had to stop at 32 people otherwise Some Kind’a Soho would be an encyclopaedia rather than a book.
A very novel approach to ask everyone the same 10 questions , giving them a level playing field to stamp their personality on the answers , was that always the plan or did it evolve ?
We were both big fans of Robert Elms radio show, part of his show on a Monday was to have a listed Londoner, were he asked them a set of questions, so we borrowed the idea came up with 10 questions and decided we would take a portrait of the person answering the questions in a place in Soho that was part of there story, so id like to say we were being clever but really, we just nicked the idea.
The “Voices of disappearing Soho” are very reflective, and with the Crossrail development destroying large parts of the area, where do you see SoHo’s future ?
A lot of people say it has no future, that its all gone, I don’t believe that, there are new things starting up like the Blue Posts Pub on Brewer Street has a new guvnor and he has some cracking new ideas for the pub as well as getting involved with the local community.
Finally - since you put these questions to everyone , lets see Darren Russells answers ??
Introduction to Soho - coming here as a young mod to Carnaby Street. Then working in the photographic industry as a photographic printer then a photographer.
Favourite pub - the Blue Posts on Brewer street, a proper no nonsense pub.
Favourite restaurant - was the New Piccadilly, now long gone, it was like stepping back into the 1960’s, the waiters in white Nero neck uniforms and ton’s and ton’s of colourful Formica. Now I go to Bruno’s on Wardour street or a special treat Little Italy.
Favourite tune - Ridin' On The L&N - 9 Below Zero live at the Marquee.
Favourite club - was the 79 club on the Soho side of Oxford Street, it was a Mod club run by a friend of mine Ian Punter, it ran on a Wednesday and a Sunday night. It had a great atmosphere.
Typical day - arrive about 11ish go to Brunos for breakfast, then walk round to Bar Italia for a chat with who ever is there, maybe have a meeting with a client in the afternoon which could be any were in London, then back into Soho to the Blue Post pub have a few beers with mate’s then home.
What I miss - all the little record shops.
Words by Richie Kyle
Pictures by Darren Russell