Various – Soho Continental
Released 27th May 2016
Bob Stanley’s Croydon Municipal label offers a heady mix of pop, jazz and exotica centred around London’s lively Boho Soho in the post war years….Ian Canty pulls up a chair in a spaghetti house, orders a cappuccino and invokes Frankie Vaughan in a first for LTW!
While the rest of post-war Britain contended with rationing, national service and a monochrome vista that was an awful lot like today’s austerity, Soho had already welcomed the swinging 60s years early. Forever the place where things moved to a different, more cosmopolitan rhythm, this was where one could evade the cloying atmosphere of the rest of the country and indulge in activities frowned upon in polite society, if you had the money of course. Dissidents, poets, musicians, artists and gangsters clustered around the area and large amounts Italian and French immigrants were already well established locally and brought with them their culture, cuisine and music along with their own particular kind of cool. South America was represented with Mambo and Cha Cha becoming big dance crazes and Soho catered to all outsider pursuits, be it Beatniks “hanging out”, the Rockers clustering around the coffee bars or early Modernists taking in the cool jazz whilst necking espressos to give them that extra spurt of energy. There was also the well established sex trade with clip joints, strip clubs, pimps and hookers, but also the legit restaurants, bars and nightclubs, which combined to result in a thriving, thrusting and sometimes dangerous atmosphere, all of which “Soho Continental” captures effortlessly.
What we are provided with here is a look at those times, very much a forgotten piece of UK music history (we seem to only start from Cliff then straight on to the Beatles, no-one ever pondering much on what came before or those in-between years) that owed much to the rest of the world with Soho itself acting as the melting pot for all these disparate influences. Bob Stanley and Martin Green (and in effect Croydon Municipal) have constructed a marvellously evocative sound map of the area and the times. I know it might be asking a lot in the post-post punk, post-modern irony-laden 21st century, but if you can lose yourself to these intoxicating sounds, perhaps you can re-discover what excitement in music really is, instead of just turning guitars up loud and clouting the drums hard. It might be difficult to imagine but these tunes were the soundtrack to many a nefarious night up west in the capital, as this collection unbelievably has Frankie Vaughan (with the outrageous “Kookie Little Paradise” that could be about Soho itself) lining up with the Kessler Twins (the saucy German-language “Teenager Blues”) and Ted Heath (the band leader’s contribution “Capuccina” seems to be one step away from “Bring me Sunshine”!) for some racy West End thrills! Somehow it all works beautifully.
Johnnie Pate’s “Muskeeta” is a contemporary of “Tequilla” and Charles Blackwell’s “Taboo” weaves rock n roll and jazz influences into an excellent piece of widescreen exotica. Tommy Kinsman has an elegant keyboard-led rolling piece of bop in “Madison A Saint-Tropez” which conjures up a beach party world far away from the surrounding wet London streets. The Cha Cha influence was strong with Tony Scott, Les Scarlet and Edmundo Ros all invoking that sound with perhaps the best thing being Soho long-server Ros’ sublime “Harry Lime Cha Cha”, though the Modernes hold fast with “Mambo Inn” (this track has the Beatnik weapon of choice, the bongos, strongly featured). Spanish and Latin American dances clearly abounded at this time and though through “Strictly Come Dancing” etc this has all been subsumed into the mainstream, there’s no denying that these tunes still sound brassy, brazen, mad and wonderful to this day.
Simply put, “Soho Continental” offers a tantalising glimpse into the fullest flourish of Bohemian London, which is just as well as the Soho represented here has just about been wiped off the face of the earth by now and is about to have the finishing touches applied to its demise by Crossrail. That in a nutshell is exactly how Britain treats culture in the 21st century, culture that doesn’t quite fit with whatever Dave Cameron’s “British values” is meant to be, it’s there to be destroyed so someone can make a tidy profit. But this compilation is so full of joy de vivre, it shows that you might stamp on the buildings but you can’t kill off that mood, the spirit, the unique mixture that emerged when different people come together for different means. The thrill of a warm Soho night when everything seemed possible will never die!
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here