one afternoon in tijuana

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in 1990, i was just at the end of a summer long stay at the riot house hotel on sunset strip. my favourite place to hang at the time was a leather bar on santa monica boulevard called the spike.. i’d got to know vincent the owner real well…a fierce new yorker who’d came out to los angeles as a young man with only his street smarts and a roll of dollars in his pocket. he’d been a good friend to freddie mercury … freddie wanted him to sell up his bar and travel the world with him while he sang, but vincent isn’t a man who could be hijacked so easily..still.. it only made freddie and his close knit circle like him even more. when my daily recording sessions ended, i’d make a beeline for this bar to hang with him and all his bar tenders after closing time.. they’d talk and do shots of tequila while counting out jars of tips from an evenings work, which in reality paid rent more than any wage.

in those days it was legal to ride motorbikes round california without a helmet on, and one night, when he’d locked up, vincent decided to take me a run out on his harley at four in the morning on the wide empty hollywood freeway. my hair had grown all the way down my back, and it was a good feeling as we revved along with the warm california night blowing hard in my curly locks… when i returned for recording sessions the next day, enthusiastically recounting the thrill of this scenario, the producer and musicians went quiet…they were a talented and worldly bunch of men who worried for my safety, but because no harm came to me, i’m forever grateful for the experience. wild to think it was actually legal to ride around california with no crash helmet on though.

the barmen in the spike were rollicking company. in the summer they all worked their night shifts with shirts off in tight denim or leather jeans, and cause of that, many were serious gym-rats. a few of them took muscle steroids which isn’t a great idea, cause one of the side effects can a be temper if the dosage is high…there was one big blonde waspy chap called baron who got pulled to the side of the road on his way from work by a cop for bad driving. he got stroppy with the officer,and earned the nik-name ‘zsa zsa’, after zsa zsa gabor, who’d recently been arrested for slapping a policeman across the face in a queeny fit of rage…..there was the quiet older barman in a leather waistcoat called chopper. while barmen got hired and fired, chopper had been a constant in the place for years, but then one day he didn’t turn up for work anymore…it turned out A.I.D.S was on his horizon, so rather than fight the arduous battle that it surely was in those days, he quietly left the bar with a bottle of jack daniels, went back to his apartment and shot himself.Colorful-Colonia-300dpi
there’s more … it’s the end of the summer, and i’ve got a week or so before heading back to northern ireland. i don’t have much money,so two of the barmen from the spike called larry and joe invite me on a drive down to tijuana…right on the border of california / mexico… joe was a young butch looking new york italian, but slightly camp when he talked. he had a big heart..he made authentic lasagne for vincent who ran the leather bar…then there’s larry.. a very horny looking chap who knows it..shaved head.. does anything he can to not appear camp. he’s what they call in gay-speak, ‘straight acting’. larry’s the reason we’re heading to tijuana, cause they sell muscle steroids over the counter in chemists. he’s done this trip many times before.  avenida-revolucion

when we get to tijuana, i’m struck by the charming colourful shambolic nature of the place, but there’s drama right at the border…helicopters overhead and cops on the ground, keeping an eye out for poor mexicans trying to smuggle their way over, for a new life in california…there was a street market, selling these gorgeous massive hand carved chess sets..the pieces sat about ten inches high off the board, and they were only a hundred dollars….to this day i deeply regret not buying one of them handsome chess sets, but i was worried about running out of money far away from home.

while larry went off and got his steroids, me and joe sat outside a ramshackle street bar drinking the most delicious strawberry margaritas. when larry returns he has all these tiny bottle type things in boxes…he’s wearing baggy trousers with deep pockets for a reason, and he asks me and joe if we’d carry some through the border control for him…joe obliges,but gets firm with larry when he says“gregory carries nothing,he’s still got a life”…this dear reader, is the main part of this anecdote….what sweet joe was referring to was how they,he and larry, were both h.i.v positive,and felt that they’d no future, but that i had…this is a powerful heartbreaking moment. i will never forget it. a sweet guy being mindful of my life,while at the same time feeling the game was up for himself…so many of their friends were dying you see.. it knocked me off my feet.. i never did find out what happened to larry, but when i got back to northern ireland i’d send postcards to joe, and within the next eighteen months he’d died…he wasn’t even thirty. y’know he trimmed my long hair of the dry dead ends once on the bedroom balcony of the riot house hotel and uncovered my first pure grey hair….i’m now completely grey..funny the little things you remember so well. i smile when i think of joe driving around hollywood with his disco cassette playing loud with the window down..it was that donna summer record produced by those english chaps, stock aitken and waterman… ‘this time i know it’s for real’

west hollywood and santa monica boulevard has all been cleaned up now … gone are all the hustlers.. there’s only one real leather bar left in the whole of los angeles..out on silverlake…a fun friendly place called the eagle.

vincent the fierce new yorker who owned the spike, moved away from hollywood, and is now happy living in new mexico where he makes jewelry in stones and metals. i met the cherokee indian who mentored him in the craft …his name was danny, a giant of a man with long black flaxen hair…he’d travel up to los angeles and sell his produce to buyers in high end stores around beverly hills…he died of dementia cause he slowly poisoned his blood by filing the metals in running water without wearing safety gloves…  before i left northern ireland, vincent would occasionally visit me there. one of my funniest memories of that is walking him to my grocery store out in the countryside…the only shop for six miles. here’s the thing…he was brought up to call any older lady ‘ma’am’ ….. so we go into this store ran by what you might call church goers….and in their innocence,they laid out the most disparate of products side by side…so on a shelf there were clothes pegs displayed right beside these big nylon ladies underpants…big ole pants ..right there by clothes pegs near the bars of soap …well.. vincent the big hairy swaggering yankee that he is, just lifted these big nylon bloomers up hollering..”oh i’m sorry ma’am,but this is just too funny”.    i was quaking in my boots dragging him out of there as fast as i could. what a character.

i kick myself for not taking more photographs in those days ….. even had one of those easy canon sure-shots, but was lazy in using it…i remember these folk so well though…               it feels good writing it down.

all my loving… mary of the wilderness.

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making music videos with an iPhone

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i’ve just shot a music video on my bloody iPhone, so i figured i might try and write something around all of that….. so here goes, dollies.

in olden days when i was young enough to get signed to record labels, they’d occasionally commission promotional videos for singles or albums…these three minute clips would hover around a cost of forty thousand pounds..in 1985 … it was madness on many levels.

francisbacon3the first mad thing is my only calling card was as a singer/songwriter…stick a camera in front of that,and it’s like rabbits frozen in the headlights…quite funny really…. it amazes me how no one at those record labels ever came up with the bright idea of arming their artists with cheap portable video cameras beforehand, so they could just shoot and shoot and shoot themselves for a season .. that way so many of us might have been better prepared for those sudden afternoons of expensive video production…twenty years later when i got my first little video-cam, it was such a revelation.. only then did i begin to get a sense of my own essence, and how to put it over…….but by that time i was an old banger, so it was all a bit late…..hahaha

another mad issue was how money could spiral out of control….if you had a hit, record labels would be instantly keen to spend even more money on video, but it’s the artist who had to pay all that back if any dosh ever rolled in..so say if you made three videos for three hit singles off one album,there’s a fair chance the video costs would be somewhere around one hundred and twenty thousand pounds…this happened all the time. the cost of videos could easily exceed the cost of recording actual music.

Francis Bacon's triptych Three Studies For A Self-Portraita truly perverse joke was how a load of lolly could be spent making a video that no one could be sure would even get broadcast… i remember even when michael jackson delivered billie jean to MTV, they refused to play it…that classic performance only got initial play because a man called walter yetnikof from the record label raged into the MTV offices and told them if they didn’t play that michael jackson video,he’d pull the bruce springsteen ones off the air. a very ballsy man… prior to that, MTV wouldn’t play black videos…it was all white stuff, but that scenario opened the door for prince’s ‘little red corvette’…so at least the video era brought about some fair play for black artists.

628x471if you were in a band, it was easier making video..you’d somehow be visually supported by each other..you’d have gang charisma … but when i gave up playing in bands to go solo, i had no idea what making videos were about to tell me about myself..like..hello fucker…you have absolutely no style. i’d stand there alone..exposed…..just me and the fake scenery, waving my sodding arms around like a total minge. hahaha.. i laugh about it now, but i didn’t at the time.

that’s when you learn why david bowie’s a star.he knows how to engage with a camera lens … style gives a player wheels and wings to enjoy the ride through those situations … bowie, and many other last names may have had their own rocky road towards self discovery, but if you don’t find your own essential style before twenty four years of age, yer buggered…     i say twenty four,cause that’s the age james dean died… a perfect rock n roll deadline ….hahahahahahahaha…actually i’m suddenly thinking of a newly born 45 year old star called john grant, so he blows my daft theory right out of the water..maybe.

BaconSID48917_770x314pxtalking of style,i can’t round this off without mentioning the stylists. when you’d make those puffed out videos in the eighties,they’d often send a so called future star off down the kings road or south molten street with a stylist,who was usually just some uppish airhead….some london scenester on the hustle … you’d be given daft amounts of money to buy designer clothes that just didn’t become you…but hey…it’s expensive, so it must look ace..but when the chips came down on screen, you looked lost…you have to find yourself first,and then the clothes somehow just take care of themselves…..the ramones are a perfect example.

bacon2i suppose style is born out of whatever you’ve got passion for..it’s reflected in the way you talk..the shape of your day..and sooner or later in the clothes you wear. the trouble with dolls who hanker to
be rock stars, is they often have no other interests…guitars players talk about guitars and amplifiers…drummers talk about drums…singers talk to the mirror….that’s why iggy pop and lou reed stood out….they’d read a load of books..they had other interests to give them some building bricks for a personality…i just read john lydon’s autobiography…at sixteen he was working on building sites to pay for himself to continue in education which had always been rotten to him anyway.malcolm mclaren did not create him.he created himself.

three-studies-of-herietta-moraes-1so here am i at 55 making videos for my dear little songs…how pointlessly hilarious is this? many would say there’s no point at all.  no one cares a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut if i do or i don’t.. but i’m as happy as a pig in shit anyway. i still love all the palaver of carving out a lyric around a melody … such a luxury just as it stands. hit records or no hit records,at least i’m invested in my interests.

i still take this far too seriously,but now it’s all about the joy.if in 1975 anyone said we’d all be shooting little movies on gadgets the size of our palms, i would have laddered my tights.

anyway dolls..here’s my latest video offering.visually it’s a love letter to francis bacon, as it gradually morphs into something of his mindbendy portrait triptychs that are peppered throughout this post………………….all my loving…mary of the wilderness.

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the viv albertine book

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one summer around five years ago, i arrived in san francisco on a warm balmy evening.
with suitcase tossed into and around a hotel room, i then ran out into the city night,       like a rat up a drainpipe.
down round folsom way i ventured into a fabby shabby dive of a gay bar,where on entry,    the disc jockey was spinning the one and only slits record i know.
it was their version of ‘i heard it through the grapevine’                                                           this minor classic, aired on a perfect night out, made me love those girls forever,            even though i hardly knew anything else of their music.

dear book reader..if yer a young girl starting out with a guitar, or if yer one of them there old beatniks,who grew up round the 1960’s or 70’s, you’ll be licking the print off the pages. you’ll race through it .. especially if you know swingin london. it starts out round highgate .. then art college.. and before lunchtime, she’s there, right at the very first hours of punk rock..

a close friend of sid vicious .. all of those bleeders.. well before any of them rag dolls had crystalised into groups or pop stars,
but there’s two hearty things that lift this book above many other music autobiographies.
the first is how she gives a compelling account of a comedown when her band breaks up,
but the main appeal of her storytelling is how she doesn’t just tell the truth about others, she lets rip equally on herself…
now there’s a few ways of dishing out truth about oneself ..
you can do it in a cute way .. a disingenuous stroke where you’d merely manipulate the reader into sympathising from your position,
or you can take fearless inventory on your own flaws .. this alone makes her book rise.

if you want to know what it was like for a girl with a guitar, who had her feet firmly on the dirty streets of 1970’s london town, then i highly recommend this easy to read book.
she writes in straight talking language… a london girl of true grit … great fun too.
best music book i’ve read all year.

love you love you love you viv albertine

i’m leaving one of my own songs at the end here in a vague hope that viv might find this. i’m hoping that she might like the lyric….a far cry…but there y’go… 

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allen jones and clockwork orange

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that photograph above is mary in the mens toilets at the royal academy of arts.
the lighting in this wonderfully well considered interior is so dramatic,it felt wrong not to take a picture of her in there for sharing with you.

we were having soup with sandwich over the road in a converted wolseley car showroom,
and while surveying tables, i saw peter blake sitting ten yards away.
yep,the very one..that chappy who did the artwork for sgt peppers lonely hearts club band.
this got my feet wondering if he’d just been to the allen jones exhibition at the academy.

do you know who allen jones is?
well he’s of the same english generation of pop artists as peter blake,and caused a right hoo haa when he unveiled new sculptures to an easily shockable public in 1960’s britain.
the feminists were furious..their beef was how allen’s provocative pieces of art objectify woman. i personally have no problem with objects objectifying…these are forays into art. they’re not living breathing humans.
from what i can tell, anything beautiful runs risk of becoming objectified anyway … moreover, it’s pretty much a form of flattery.
a thing i really like about those sculptures is how they raise a sparky conversation which rapidly gets round to the power of women, the power of men..and just who’s serving who?
the power the female form has over most men is hardwired into their nature, and of course vice versa …
in the fullness of time, we’re now witnessing woman objectify men in return.
it’s still a fascinating area for artists to explore.
allen recently did some female sculptures using kate moss.
i do love kate moss in this white stripes music video where she pole dances.
ye gods, that bright fun lovin working class girl sure knows how to rake in her cash.

you’ll probably know that great scene from clockwork orange in the milk bar with those female sculptures as drink dispensers and tables. they were very much determined by allen jones. what happened was stanley kubrick called allen on the phone and told him he’d seen his work, then asked if he’d create the sculptures for the milk bar. allen was yeah cool…   but then after coming up with strong ideas on paper, the topic of money came around. stanley kubrick said…“oooh but i’m a famous film director..it’ll be so great for your career. do it for free. allen replied “it takes months..i can’t work for free..i’m no prop designer… but take the ideas anyway…yawn…whatever”…and kubrick bloody well did.

here’s the scene from the milk bar in clockwork orange. allen didn’t make those particular sculptures,but they’re his ideas..and ideas are everything.the rest is hammers and chisels.    toodle pip sweet reader..can’t believe January’s nearly nearly nearly tick tock tick tock xxx

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georgie fame at ronnie scotts

bw417i know it’s an awfully strident thing to say,but this was maybe my most enjoyable night of live music ever… excuse me dear reader for indulging,but i’m typing away here in an effort to fully communicate the feelgood i felt on that evening around a week ago.

it starts standing outside in a line, frozen in soho evening atmosphere, which only served to heighten the warm feeling as we stroll through the lobby into the blood red velvet room. ronnie’s got a good interior. you’re hugged by endless black and white framed photographs of players on every wall. you’re cushioned in nice chairs. cocktails come quick and strong. all is loose yet civil .. everything tastes nice.

Georgie-Fame-Rhythm-And-Blues-449501a chap beside us brought along an old vinyl album for georgie to sign,which i consider cute as buttons..it’s a live L.P at the soho flamingo in the early 60’s.i’m loving all of this as the rum in my mojito begins to hit all five spark plugs.we’ve got good seats..three feet away from georgie himself,right at the very front,so before he comes on,i’m gawping at his hammond covered with stickers. it looks comically road worn…many of the stickers are of air force and army bases…one for rothmans cigarettes. little things that trigger curiosity … silly really.

when georgie ambles on stage, there’s this one table of philistines behind us that shouldn’t be there…phuck nose why they came,but they continued to talk loudly while georgie greets the crowd to set the tone..it gets interesting though… one daft bleeder shouts up that she wants him to smile.. he gives her a super spiky reply in the light of her irritating demands …turns out georgie’s got pneumonia. as awful as it must be for him,it only adds healthy tension…he plays and sings like life depends on it, and hook or by crook he’s there to give his very best, so no messin around…he’d already done one show earlier,along with doing two shows a night for three nights in a row…with pneumonia. something like that would render most singers below par ,but his vocals are sublime. he’s not going through the motions either. grumpy yes, but that just makes him even more likeable. i mean…here’s a man somewhere around seventy years old with pneumonia, singing two shows a night,three nights in a row, with ear melting tone..holy lung butter, batman !@£$%^&*

then there’s his band.. the son of cleo laine and the late johnny dankworth is playing double bass.. drums and guitar are georgie’s own sons. the trumpet player’s guy barker… guy barker is like theeeeee english trumpet player..he’s played on everything from classic wham singles to freeform jazz.. he’s got a flippin OBE  for trumpet playing. there was even a top banana sax and a vibes player. i love a vibraphone..it’s so……swish

y’know one of the neat things about good players is how they don’t blind you with volume…they don’t leave you deaf..the moment they lay hands on their instruments it’s just sweet on you….bugger me,but how i love that. it’s groove that gives welly,not volume.

georgie likes to fill you in between numbers..he talked briefly of being managed by that poofter,meaning larry parnes in the 1960’s … parnes thing was to change all his artists names … so he had marty wilde (reg patterson) … billy fury (ron wycherley),                        and joe brown … but joe refused to change his name ..                                                            y’see parnes wanted to call joe brown…wait for it…..ELMER TWITCH!!..hahaha.

never underestimate the contribution of our early 1960’s music business gaylords though. imagine a world without brian epstein styling the beatles, or joe meek’s trailblazing record production..robert stigwood mid wifing the bee gees..larry parnes…these gaylords laid a gold frame around our earliest pop aesthetic..sounds pretentious, but i don’t care ducky.georgie fame (clive powell) was first clocked by lionel bart(yet another massive gaylord) who wrote the musical ‘oliver’,and he tipped larry parnes off,who then placed him in billy fury’s backing band…he fired georgie for whatever reason,and the rest is history. georgie sure is one excellent storyteller though,and he informs us how it was eddie cochrane on his visits to england who single handedly spread the word of ray charles on these shores. this sort of thing is fun education for a pansy such as i…there’s unspoken sadness too.. georgie’s wife took her own life in the early nineties by jumping off a bridge,and the two sons are up there with georgie playing guitar and drums brilliantly…it’s hard to not think about that sort of thing while hearing them groove together so well .. getting on with life ..  i imagine they’re a close gnarly bunch..blessed by each other.

the evening wouldn’t have been complete without a little trip across the road to bar italia for frothy cappuccinos. bar italia and ronnies go together like fork and spoon. they say it’s ran by london mafia..as much as i love the romance of that, it’s maybe more of a myth. hadn’t drank coffee in years cause it blows me like a rocket into hyperspace, but i had two as a night cap..was gibbering like a speadfreak in the car going home…long live bar italia.

here’s photos of that very evening… hats off to you dear reader……mary cigarettes. IMG_0640 - Version 3IMG_0651 - Version 4 IMG_0670 - Version 2 IMG_0657 - Version 3 IMG_0659 - Version 3 IMG_0698 - Version 2 IMG_0717 IMG_0733 - Version 2IMG_0737 - Version 2 IMG_0748 - Version 3 IMG_0638 - Version 2

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the ace cafe in north london

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last week i fell in love with a roadside cafe..it’s funny how many with music in their veins, fall head over heal for houses like these,and here’s maybe why..back in the 1950’s,the only places to hear records loudly were on cafe jukeboxes or at fairgrounds. it’s hard to imagine it now, but outside of america, national radio was slow in embracing the rhythm and blues, so places like the ace, are the earliest churches of rock n roll culture in england.

cafes with character are very photogenic. i got my first new iPhone in five years last month, and what i’m enjoying most is the camera. i love how they’re less of a deal than lugging around a more exacting affair…they slide in and out of your pocket with such ease,         and that alone encourages the kid within to keep all eyes peeled for poetry in motion.

so here’s some photographs of the ace, and below that i’ll give you some history.

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Ace Building Archive 1938 x 1Athe ace was born in 1938,and being located by a roadside of one of the first motorways in and out of london, attracted bikers as well as the haulage lorries, but then during wartime it got bombed in an air raid. once the dust settled, it was rebuilt into what’s still there acebombednow… i’m so in love with this place, i’ve dragged thomas back there three times in the one week…we’ve taken friends there for fry ups and mugs of tea…the staff and bikers themselves have cool bad ass style…naturally it’s mostly a hetero joint, but what’s interesting is they play host to weddings and civil partnerships…i guess acepicthe gay bikers,of which there are indeed many, would gravitate there like any other gang who’s out on their wheels for the weekend.maybe one or two met and fell in love there..i dunno..but i saw all nationalities and skin tones hang comfortably under that roof..the food’s great..ten times better than those bog awful mainstream service stations..it’s got proper style and scrubbed integrity.IMG_0616 - Version 2

in the nightshot just above where i’m now writing to you,the actual owner is standing at the counter in terrific 50’s clothes and hair… i think he’s a rare and inspired businessman. the youtube i’ve embedded below is of an early english cult movie that features the ace cafe right in the opening scene…i was grinning watching this…even the tables are arranged in exactly the same way as they are today…it’s an important film because it’s one of the first in england to hint at ‘the love that dare not speak its name’..if you know what i mean….  it’s called *the leather boys* IMG_0367 - Version 6IMG_0341 - Version 4
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baby’s broken neon crown.

IMG_0274 - Version 4 there’s a certain melancholy about neon…something beyond it’s own surface joy. it could be her history of broken promises,or her flock of deluded dreamers searching for a better life on the rain soaked pink blue pavement. i see death there as well .. damaged livers,exploded hearts,and charred lungs from the drugs, drink and smoke sucked into fragile bodies, giving glow and a moments mercy for when living becomes painfully dull … there’s violence too, where things go ugly and the cops get called.

yet for all of that, there’s a kind of enlightenment under those neon signs that no village bible will readily offer up….it’s a gravity defying alternative to standing in some green field breathing in the clean sanctimonious air around real people, listening to real music, while drinking real ale.

soho’s more like a mirror.it gives you just enough rope to hang yourself with. you find out what you’re all about in her company.there’s an orgy of lies and illusion tumbling through those neon tubes leading toward a more fair minded understanding of our human ways.. in soho you don’t cross your legs and read a book…you get peeled open and become one.

am i being too pretentious or wayward for you? would you prefer something more sensible?..a little less creative perhaps….only that would be inappropriate, cause soho’s very much about creativity…i’m thinking of elton john working as a tea boy in a publishing house on denmark street, or serving customers in a record shop on berwick street on saturday lunch times…i’m thinking of long john baldry on wardour street pleading with elton to not marry that girl in his song ‘someone saved my life tonight’ …. i’m thinking of david bowie’s rites of passage there…i can see marc bolan doing bar work and punters on old compton st for new clothes..i’m thinking of marianne faithful homeless, sleeping outside trident recording studios on saint annes court, leading to artistic rebirth on her record ‘broken english’. i’m thinking of a manager i had doing the footwork that got me my first solo record deal at CBS on soho square… i understand now that i didn’t receive those breaks purely on the merit of my talent,but also on the back of a managers connections to other connected animals who partied so hard together under her broken neon crown ….. he died this year … we’re all gonna die.

dear reader..next week(if i’m still alive) i’m off to see georgie fame and the blue flames play in ronnie scotts. the young georgie would walk home from soho to earls courts late at night after playing the flamingo club in the early 1960’s. funny how musicians get their exercise.

a few days ago i stumbled on a strange pop up shop on brewer street (sewer st to those who love her). this pop up shop was selling old neon at a rather high price..turns out it’s the original signs made by a boy called chris bracey..he learned his trade by making electric signs for prostitute dens and stripper clubs in the area,and because of that, went on to make neon for movies like bladerunner….oh yes…he also made the fairy lights for that brill movie starring bob hoskyns called ‘mona lisa’..through soho he found his artistic voice,but he died early and recently of cancer. the present neon skin around the west end is dying too… it’s all up for sale…it’s almost as if soho is vomiting up on it’s own neon.

everyone who cares is rightly worried that plundering corporations will kill the red lights, but i have deep faith in the filth of our human spirit..thing is,even if they sell it all out to beancounters and breadheads, those cocks will still need to get their rocks off  … and beancounters are often terribly boring people… therefor, they themselves will usher the whores and artists right back in again to blow some nocturnal magic into their barren designer underpants …… so unless the new corporate generation suddenly finds itself praying to some celibate god,i don’t see soho going anywhere anytime soon.

over the years i’ve done my own little cluster of movie clips around the hallowed ground … i do them to invigorate my interest in music..it always helps..here’s one for a song i wrote about the very thing i’ve been talking about here..it’s called ‘smell the urine..isn’t it divine’

dear reader, i really love your hair.. and your figure hugging underwear.. mary fairy liquid.IMG_0279 - Version 3

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