My name is Timothy London and, together with Jacqui and Pauline Cuff we were the pop group Soho.
Twin sisters Jacqui and Pauline met me at an early Groovalax gig. Groovalax was a punky funky pop group featuring myself on guitar and vocals and brothers Bob & Henry Morris respectively on bass and drums and, for a while, John Milward as a kind of proto-Bez cheer-leader and chanter. The twins joined us on vocals & we set out to create some mayhem in 1982.
My musical roots were typically suburban working class for the era: my first 7” was Ride A White Swan/I inherited my two older sister’s records (from Jethro Tull to Roxy Music)/my favourite songs from my early teenage years were Summer Breeze by the Isley’s & The Poacher by Ronnie Lane. I would as happily listen to Homely Girl by the Chilites as nod along to Led Zeppelin. In 1976 the TV programme So It Goes woke me up to the Doors and, together with the teenage telepathic internet that still exists, punk rock. I was already playing bass in a group named after the T Rex LP, Electric Warrior, with Leeson O’Keefe on guitar and various drummers, a mash of fumbly electric blues and feedback and teenage heartache. Early Who and the MC5 were inspirations, but we also made some ham-fisted attempts at reggae. At 16 years old punk rock couldn’t have happened at a better time. I wore it out in around a year or so but it left a strong legacy of righteousness, politics, individualism and self-belief, as well as a serious introduction to reggae. Inevitably it was seeing the Clash on the White Riot tour with Leeson that really put things in place. Queuing up outside St. Albans City Hall there was the new smell for me of hair dye from the London punks and a sense of expectation in the air that had never been there whilst waiting in the queue for Van Der Graff Generator or Bad Company. After the gig the back of my thighs were pin-cushioned by the open safety pins of the girl pogoing behind me. And I took home and have kept since then the incendiary memory of the noise the Clash made and their stance and their passion.
For you curious people of a certain age, none of the above will be particularly surprising. Jacqui & Pauline, however, have a different story to tell of their teenage years, no less typical, in most ways, of the times. It’s the combination that’s slightly unusual; their story & mine. They were born to Jamaican parents in the midlands and as they grew up the house rocked to Elvis, Fats Domino, Johnny Ace and early reggae and ska. The twins glued their ears to BBC Radio 1 and Radio Luxemberg and swooned to the sounds of, amongst many others, David Bowie, Barry White, KC & The Sunshine Band and, later, the punk/new wave hits that finally broke through. When they left home to train as nurses it was the late 70s/early 80s and Jacqui & Pauline found themselves regulars at the New Penny, a Futurist club in Watford, and the newly opened Camden Palace in London, where they danced blisters on their feet to anything from Afrika Bambaataa to the B52s. Eventually, inevitably, J & P wound up on stage at St Albans Art College, singing a couple of Was Not Was songs. And this was where I met them.
Nowadays pop music has never been so interesting, but back when we started, there was pop, there was dance, there was rock, there was indie or alternative or goth, there was world and there was box after sodding box into which the music had to fit before it could be sold. It was actually easier to have a Velvet Underground fixation and play sets that were made up of feedback and tub-thumping than it was to introduce a drum machine playing go-go rhythms, singing with English accents pop songs with punk thrash guitar. Not that we didn’t win people over; ordinary people understood us, but the business didn’t. The big record companies couldn’t understand why we didn’t just stick J & P at the front of an anodyne production, with the interesting stuff blanded out. The smaller independent companies thought we were too ‘poppy’ and not enough like the Wedding Present on the white side or a ‘proper’ rap group on the black. The use of the Smiths sample on Hippychick came about after we used to trigger it at gigs to wind up the Smiths fans.
Groovalax split up. Which was a shame because we should have been huge. We were natural stars and any fool could have seen it! Unfortunately we didn’t attract the right kind of fool to our gigs. Our self produced 7”, The Possibilities Of Love/Private English Greens, was played on the radio a few times, we did a session for Kid Jensen and we generally got respect wherever we played (including supporting Curtis Mayfield and being on the same bill as an early incarnation of Pulp. We played in front of an upside down USA flag; they hung child-like drawings on pieces of cardboard from the stage ceiling). The single was unusual but we didn’t make the effort to get it into the shops – I think I thought it would just kind of float there on the wings of my wishes. Bob and Henry were an irresistible rhythm unit, Bob loved funk and reggae and Henry was in thrall to Melvin Parker and Clyde Stubblefield, James Brown’s drummers. Unlike a lot of drummers at that time who paid lip service to it, Henry could actually attain the funk. Bob’s bass style was slap bass via Captain Beefheart, although he wouldn’t have known the Captain’s music, instead accidentally getting his groove from adding a playful aggression to the wacking and pulling of strings that had become fashionable by the end of the 70s. At the death, Groovalax were experimenting with drum machines and synths and working with Nigel Lackey, a smart man from Cumbria fascinated by electronic pop.
We formed Soho with Nigel in 1986, initially going through a variety of names and personnel, including a couple of DJs (Liam Gillick, now a famous artist, and DJ Freeze) cutting and scratching live, eventually shortening Timothy London and the Soho Sisters to Soho. Nigel introduced me to artists like Just Ice and Suicide. He liked Sigue Sigue Sputnik and straight-ahead, linear punk rock like the Ramones. Nigel had a Roland TR707 drum machine and SH101 synth and a Portastudio. I had songs coming out of every orifice and J & P were enthusiastic. We started by combining Hi Energy and Electro with the guitar and pop songs. Later, Nigel bought a TR909, the classic house drum machine and a primitive sampler and we headed into new territory. Electronic music was the motor. But we also stole African rhythms and Washington Go Go. Recording at a ridiculously low volume every weekend in Nigel’s council flat for a year we had a huge store of songs to choose from. We took the songs out live, which is where we discovered that, what was to us pretty straight-forward pop music, to others was incomprehensible. We thought we were doing what all classic pop acts had done: combined the latest dance rhythms with the latest production techniques, with songs of love and wild times and crazy guitar with sweet vocals.
The division between those who danced and those who went to gigs (with the honourable exception of Troublefunk and other old-school funk bands) was now vast. After starting off so well at the end of the 70s with the ska revival and the post punk funk thing we were back to the days of prog and soul: concerts to nod, records to dance, unless you think moshing is dancing. So it was hard work but joyful when people loosened up enough to get down (though plenty people said at the time that they didn’t dance because there was too much to watch on stage. True enough, Jacqui and Pauline were/are irresistibly charismatic). To make things harder on ourselves, I insisted on bringing politics into our stance and our lyrics, generally with the support of the others, although I did have some raw arguments with Nigel about some of the more stupidly revolutionary things I believed in. The one thing we united on, however, was anti-fascism. We played at a lot of anti-nazi gigs, although we did a whole heap of benefits for all kinds of other causes too.
Finding a home of sorts at the Timebox and later, Hype, both clubs run by the infamous Jon ‘Fat’ Beast at Kentish Town’s Bull & Gate pub, we started bumping into various other groups who vaguely connected with us, especially The Two Lost Sons from Redcar in the north of England and Diskord Datkord from the Kingsmead Estate in Hackney where Nigel lived. The Two Lost Sons were two brothers, Pete and Phil Downing and Craig ‘Nez’ Naisbit, nursing a festering Clash obsession and a fascination with rap artists like LL Cool J and Run DMC. Replacing their drummer with a Roland 808 drum machine/a well used cassette of sampled rhythms and bites from people like the Big Bopper and Little Richard, they took most stages they arrived on with a pure rock’n’roll attitude and splayed legs stance. Diskord Datkord also featured siblings, Adam and Mark ‘Tinley’ Tinley and friend Johnny Slut. They used tapes and machines for rhythm and bass, with Tinley triggering live samples of Adam and Johnny’s vocals and inserting punk/metal guitar licks between the proto-electroclash grooves. Live Diskord Datkord could be outrageous, with Johnny and Adam disappearing into a little plastic wendyhouse on stage and then crawling out dressed in tiny g-strings with feather dusters stuck up their asses! They took pleasure in winding up traditional rock audiences to such an extent that I’m surprised they were never done serious damage. Adam later became Adamski, taking his live house music thing to raves and having a good amount of success, especially with the track Killer.
Appearing fairly frequently on the same bill, especially benefits and self-organised gigs, we became good friends with both groups and their friends and fans. We shared a love of the way electronic dance music always seemed so fresh and, mashing it up with noisy guitars and a bit of punk attitude, made something fairly original. Other groups around at the time, like Shoot, Giant and Kitsch didn’t share our musical style but connected with attitude and energy and members from these bands remain friends too, with Neil of Shoot now singing with Copenhagen, Jon of Giant running Lo Recordings and Simon of Kitsch performing with Body Of People. Adamski still releases music, as does Johnny Slut who is probably better known now as a DJ for the revolutionary electro club Nag Nag Nag and as a singer with Atomizer. Pete Downing and Nez went on to form Heavy Stereo with Gem Archer, previously with Oasis (and originally in another Hype band, Whirlpool) and Phil Downing still performs under different names (for a while I played bass in one incarnation). Phil and Pete also run a studio together in Stoke Newington, London.
1986/87 Soho played every available gig in London and nearby. We signed to an agency (Station) who put us on some bizarre bills, from supporting the Gipsy Kings at The Dominion on Tottenham Court Road for a couple of nights to supporting Sigue Sigue Sputnick at The Astoria (my favourite larger venue because of the hugely loud monitor PA). The latter gig introduced me to my first sighting of a mobile phone, the size of a small shoebox tied to Tony James’ waist with a large strap and used, loudly, during their soundcheck, to order more dry ice (‘…we look shit without it…’). We were popular with a lot of venues because we didn’t have a drum kit or back line. We could arrive with all our gear in a taxi and take up just six channels on the out-front mixing desk. Often we wouldn’t bother with a soundcheck, finding that turning up with our own soundman (Captain Mark Hornsby) just before we were due on stage would throw any plans to sabotage our sound (oh, it happened and still does, stupid as it is), plus a request for simple, unchanging white light on stage was more effective than the normal three flashing red and blue lights begrudgingly allowed from the headliner’s rig. Plugging straight into the PA meant we could be incredibly loud, too. Taking a tip from Kraftwerk, who blew up PAs all across the States on their first tour there, the only microphones we used were for the vocals. Listening to a 909 drum machine’s bass drum kicking out from the PA could be quite shocking. Nigel always insisted on using the machines live, never on tape, and to treat them as genuine instruments, although they generally sounded great with no EQ or effects, which was just as well as some old school rock sound geezers found it hard to take us seriously enough to soundcheck properly. My guitar was plugged into a Rockbox, an early Zoom-type pre-amp with three settings on it and I depended on the Captain to boost my out front volume during feedback breaks or intro’s. Effectively, the PA became my guitar stack, which, lemmetellya, is a wunnerful thing, baby, when it’s a ten K rig or more.
We began to be noticed and the proverbial buzz started to work for us. Our own gigs got busier and we were offered better deals. Our speciality was to turn up just before we were due to play, do a raucous half hour set and leave the stage humming, preferring to support and blow off the headliners rather than top the bill in front of a beered-out crowd. J & P made us accessible to all kinds of audiences. You didn’t need to know the difference between Hi-Energy and Electro to realise something exciting was going on when they hit the stage. We looked interesting, too, with J & P in Doctor Martens shoes or boots, ra ra skirts and tops from the then hip Soho shop, Boy, and with their hair in a shorter version of the Grace Jones flat top. Nigel wore a sober suit and tie, Clark Kent glasses and stood practically motion and emotionless behind his thin machine stands. I wore a tall Bowler hat with an ace of spades in the band, a big blonde quiff and a pink tonic suit from Demob (another shop in Soho), bottomed out with ‘skinhead going out shoes’ – winklepicker DMs with a leopard skin feature. Later I added a cane from the umbrella shop on New Oxford Street with a Greyhound handle.
London was an interesting place to go out in just then. Although the live scene was very dominated by goth, sub-Smiths and sub-Jesus And Mary Chain outfits, the club scene was an eclectic feast in the mid-to-late 80s. Warehouse parties featuring rare groove, jazz, electro and early house (although the differences between the electronic musics weren’t so defined back then, perhaps because there was just so much less to choose from), B Boys wearing torn off Chanel labels pinned on to MA1 flight jackets, strips of cloth sown on to the back of bleach-streaked Levis, red tag jackets with silk screened logos and art work, reggae and rocksteady mixing with African pop, DM shoes worn as much as sneakers, very sharp suits and a thread of living Mod snaking through Soho (the area). Cocaine was still expensive and E was very secret. Booze, spliff and speed fuelled the nights. We had a Circle Line party – a revival of something that had happened on and off since the 60s; agree to meet at a station, bring beer and a blaster and get on a carriage; party round the line until the Transport Police chuck you off. We managed one and a half times round and performed three songs with a cassette on the blaster for backing and me on acoustic guitar. I remember being pleased that someone else brought a better, bigger, louder machine than ours as we fought with the noise of the train through the tunnels. Passengers got on then off again when they realised what was happening. Some stayed on for a circuit. There was a general feeling of benevolence towards us. Even the police seemed to treat the whole affair as a kind of rag week student prank. Can you imagine that happening now? At Liverpool Street the party continued on a platform for a while before we got bored and ran out of Special Brew.
Always believing the punk ethic of do it yourself, do it right, I made Soho T shirts and patches, covering our flat with washing lines of drying silk-screened material. I had always designed and printed our own posters and flyers. Our logo at that time featured the Post Office Tower sticking out of an opened Red Stripe can (I still love the shape of the tower before the satellite dishes obscured its unique lines). We needed some badges so I contacted a badge maker called Lawrence Bouvier. He was a gruff, nice guy, who let me in to his shop to make the badges myself, charging only the cost of the materials. I invited him to a gig and he promised he’d knock up some more badges and bring them along. Later he came to the Greyhound in west London, another lager sodden venue on the pub rock circuit, although a bit bigger than most, notable for featuring Lemmy of Motorhead propping up the bar and an early 70s acid casualty called Jesus who danced to anything vaguely danceable whilst hammering a tambourine. We liked the gig, perversely, because it so wasn’t our kind of place. There was a kind of neutrality about a band like us playing there and we often had great nights. Lawrence liked what he heard and offered to help us out, as an unofficial manager. We liked him. He seemed straight forward and miles away from some of the biz wankers we had met over the years. He quickly became fiercely protective of our interests and his badge making business seemed to disappear as he started to find out what a manager does.
In all the years I’d been playing pop music I’d never had a manager, never looked for one, didn’t see the point. Lawrence arrived at just the point where I couldn’t represent the band anymore – it was too much, promoting, writing, recording, trying to make cash to spend on printing and phone calls. He set to work like a terrier, savaging the legs of the business, willing to joyfully march around Soho with a SOHO stencil, spraying pavements and walls and get arrested for his trouble. Lawrence knew people from the underbelly of the city and he could equally do business with shady geezers and genuine promoters and agencies. Although his manner could be quite aggressive I never saw him really lose it with anyone, although he did practically hang a guitarist from another band on a door hook in Dingwalls one night after a bit too much moaning about sharing the dressing room. There came a time later, when Lawrence had to deal with the much larger egos of the mainstream record biz, when his no-shit attitude didn’t do us any favours. I don’t blame him for barking at various A&R and heads of departments; they needed barking at. Trouble was, we were never hugely successful so they could agree to anything Lawrence demanded and after he had left the building forget about it.
Being half French Lawrence had French connections. One night before a gig at the Bull & Gate a mysterious hippy arrived, wearing a wide brimmed black hat and dressed Stones style, circa 1972, accompanied by a small entourage who all looked as if they had escaped from a French rock & roll movie. We had at that time a French fan. He couldn’t believe who had arrived, as he explained: Jacques Higelin, a huge French star, but one whom none of us had heard of. Jacques sat in the corner with his hat pulled low and we played our gig. Afterwards we were introduced and he told us we had made him ‘happy in my heart’ with our music. He invited us to play at his come back gig in France (Jacques had slipped away from the public gaze on a little junky boat). Lawrence decided he could build a French tour around the gig. We saw the tour as a kind of managerial test for him – if it came off we would make our relationship official.
Overall we stayed in France for three weeks, at the flea-bitten Hotel Angleterre at Les Halles in Paris. Lawrence had a few gigs booked then went out to hustle us some more. We had just enough to live on. We played all over Paris, at a festival in a psychiatric institution in the countryside and at Higelin’s come back gig at a huge chateau four hours drive outside Paris. A few thousand people turned up for the gig, even though it was miles from anywhere. We shared the stage with African artist More Kante and his band and then watched Jacques do his thing for almost four hours, which was mainly talking. He didn’t have a beautiful singing voice but when he talked his fans were in raptures. He finished the gig singing and shouting from the bedroom window of his suite in the chateau, accompanied by someone on mouth harp. His fans wouldn’t let him go.
On the flight back to London we agreed a new set of songs that Nigel had been programming into his new drum machine in his hotel room, and that I had mostly written in my room on an unplugged electric guitar. We literally rehearsed on the plane (something else you can’t imagine happening now), Jacqui and Pauline memorising the lyrics and tunes. The following night we played at a packed Camden Palace a set even we hadn’t heard yet, the danger of playing eight new tracks giving us an edge, constantly almost falling into chaos. This wasn’t unusual for Soho. The advantage of using drum machines was that whatever happened, at least the drummer would do a good gig (apart from during Italian power cuts!). It gave us a rocksteady base and encouraged the gigs to be performed as wild as we liked. I would normally take the stage drunk and have the time of my life. Teetotal J & P never needed any more stimulus than to be given a chance to show off and dance, dance, dance. Nigel sipped vodka and orange during the gigs, occasionally allowing a bead of sweat to pop out on his forehead, as if he was in control of even that bodily function. He had taken to playing tiny electronic pads that triggered samples, whereas before he was only concerned with pressing start, stop and mixing the machine sounds. Now Nigel found he had a fan club all his own, a group of people who stayed by his side of the stage chanting ‘Nigel, Nigel’. Although we all had our AKAs, his ‘Dukey D’ didn’t make it beyond record sleeves and he remained Nigel to everyone.
Things picked up and we started to be offered record deals. We had received offers before (from Sire, although that was probably more of a tentative rent boy deal, and from Food, who wanted to sign us for £2000 and change our name to London Electricity for some reason). Now we were meeting all the majors. We also met Trevor Horn and sat back on his huge black leather settee as he blatantly told us that he would play all the instruments, do all the production and Nigel and me could mime along in the video, much like Franky Goes To Hollywood, if we signed to his production company. He said we could keep our credibility and write and record our own songs and be poor or we could let him put J & P in front of one of his productions and ‘be as big as Madonna’.
Eventually, we were successfully wooed by HEDD Records, an offshoot of Virgin Records, mainly due to the head of A&R there, Billy Keane, who seemed genuine and knowledgeable. It was a brand new company, with heaps of cash and we were all, including Lawrence, convinced that they would get behind us.
It was 1987 and house and techno were just coming out to play. Billy Keane understood the dance scene, he was a soul boy and appreciated we were trying something new. The heads of HEDD Records, Alan Edwards and Ian Grant were veterans of the UK music biz and, although I don’t think they understood the music, had been around long enough to appreciate that at least we were one-offs. Virgin records, however, who would be ultimately responsible for marketing and finance, didn’t have a clue. The receptionist was unable to distinguish us from Soul To Soul, also signed to Virgin. Within a few months HEDD started to disintegrate. Near enough a million pounds was embezzled by someone in accounts (apparently), Ian Grant was having problems with his management deals and Billy Keane left in disgust. We dealt with a series of A&R and marketing people who didn’t understand us. And we made some fatal mistakes ourselves.
I was adamant that, between Nigel and myself and a good engineer we could produce ourselves. We went to work with Alan Scott as co-producer, on the basis that Alan had already recorded some great UK hip hop and electro, but was also a guitar-head and a nice guy as well. Our first single, Piece Of You, was classic house with classic punk rock guitar and some classic nonsense pop tune and lyrics, ironically declaiming love. We snuck into the middle reaches of the charts, suffered a bit from the jazz-funkers who had just discovered house (and wanted to keep it ‘pure’ or ‘boring’) and suffered a lot from the banal world British pop had mutated into. Formulaic production techniques made the charts one big glossy ice rink of hard edged fake slap bass and great crashing gated snare drums, where it sounded as if someone was being shot on the second beat of every bar. We loved Piece Of You and couldn’t understand what had happened. We made a nice spotty video and appeared on various kids TV shows. We played around and about and carried on recording. The next single was entirely self-produced, recorded at Rick Buckler (The Jam’s drummer)’s studio in Islington. Hold Me Down still sounds weird: a very fast hi-NRG track with vaguely sado-masochistic lyrics, energetic vocals, a nasty, sharp guitar, a sample of Dave Vanian of The Damned and featuring a feedback guitar break and a car crash. I think it made it to number 80 in the charts. The record company wouldn’t fund a video for this one.
Meanwhile, Lawrence wasn’t endearing himself to the cowboy boot clad record company staff. When HEDD folded and we were taken under Virgin’s wing directly I think he despaired. I built myself a reputation for being uncooperative and Nigel and myself began to argue about production. Still, I convinced him and Alan Edwards who remained in nominal control of the company that we should record our LP in a sixteen track studio owned by a friend, Kevi Kev.
The studio was in his bedroom at his mum and dad’s place in Barnet. We’d recorded there before and I was convinced that a cheaper experience would suit us better than the ridiculous expensive places that were generally the alternative. Using our own money, we made a great LP we called Noise, punky, original, danceable, British sounding. Virgin knocked the whole thing back and told us to re-record it with a producer. This time Nigel convinced me to accept and we chose between Steve Hillage, uber-hippy and Ian Ritchie from art rock group Deaf School. We went with Ritchie on the basis that at least he wasn’t a hippy. Wrong choice – Hillage had immersed himself in the new dance scene and went on to produce some great electronic sounds. Ian Ritchie, however, had to be shown how to programme a shuffle beat, had never heard of Washington Go Go music, knew of hardly any contemporary dance music, didn’t particularly like pop music and was almost certainly done in by the punks back in ’77 when his band was made instantly spare. We set to spend as much money as possible making our music bland and understandable to the record company. A day was spent on the sound of the hi-hats for one song. We recorded in Orinoko Studios, just south of the Thames, whose sharp edged, pebble dashed walls and concrete construction found it’s way on to the over-all sound of the LP via Ritchie wandering the place, tapping with a scaffolding pole and recording with a mic into a Fairlight sampler. My job was just guitarist and vocalist (which pained this control freak) Nigel’s was almost completely removed from him; gone went those funky, syncopating, living electronic grooves, replaced with intellectual rigidity, triggered from that expensive piece of uselessness, the Fairlight sampler. The vocals were all multi-tracked to fuck, with never one single lead voice, the same with the guitars. Cheap synth pads underpinned the whole thing. It was concrete and steel, an ugly, uncertain thing, shored up with gloss and overdubs, defeated before its release. I hated it and I hate it. Ian Ritchie apparently eventually admitted he didn’t get us, not until he came to see us live after the LP’s completion and he may be sorry. But I don’t blame him for the shitty production, I blame myself. Even though I was a bit knackered from the stressful relations with the record company I should have stood my ground. I would have preferred no release at all to that monstrosity coming out.
In the end, out it came. We went out on tour, supporting Boy George when he was a not so recovering junky, which I think summed up our situation well. We deserved to be supporting the once vibrant George in front of his once teenage fan base, we deserved to have the LP slagged: it was shit. The bottom line with any pop group is that they front their own work, it’s impossible to blame anyone else for taking something beautiful and ruining it when so much effort is made to ‘create a profile’. Record companies are ONLY ever interested in profit, although some individuals working in the biz do like pop music. They don’t care if the group take the blame when it goes wrong, they like it that way and we knew that, even as we struggled to get signed. But it’s always a bit of a shock to have your worst fears realised. We were dropped and we were grateful.
Nez, of our buddies the Two Lost Sons, had an Italian friend, from Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy, who had connections there with nightclub owners. An excursion was planned to spend a month in Italy, playing around various clubs, making money and having fun. The Sons and Soho piled into a borrowed transit minibus and headed off to Italy, with just enough money to get there. We stopped off in the Alps and slept under our backdrop, after drinking wine and brandy in the pure mountain air (no hangover!), eventually arriving in the south, despite me falling asleep at the wheel and veering off the road (no-one noticed!). We soon found out that language difficulties had resulted in a strange situation: the promoter (Elio) thought we were visiting on holiday and would sing a couple of songs at his club, for nothing. When he realised just what he’d let himself in for (a bedraggled bunch of pink and brown Brits with interesting hair expecting gigs and payment) he took us to see his boss, Mario, who seemed to insist it was a matter of honour for Elio to sort something out, which he did. Possibly seeing an opportunity to make some cash, Elio booked the two bands into a series of gigs at village festivals, hotels and clubs. Sometimes it seemed as if the venues were only putting us on as a favour of some kind to Elio. We were pretty naive about the underbelly of Italian life and didn’t really realise who we were dealing with… After a few weeks we had apparently made enough for petrol for the journey back home, and after a night of goodbyes and champagne, we set off for a non-stop journey back to the UK. 48 hours!
When we returned we discovered Lawrence had sorted us another record deal. Savage Records was owned by David Nimran, the Swiss son of a multi-millionaire with a fondness for poodle-metal. His friend, Bernard, a Swiss record shop owner was brought in to manage A&R and another label, Tam Tam, devoted to releasing music from the buzzing UK dance scene. Tam Tam had remarkable success for a little label, hitting number one with Silver Bullet and Homeboy, Hippy and A Funky Dread. We signed for a small advance on the basis of our press portfolio more than the demos we had been recording. Unfortunately, it was just J & P and myself who went on to record the LP Goddess. During our stay in Italy my relationship with Nigel had broken down completely and, on our return, the twins and myself agreed to sack him. I think some people can be a bit shocked by how nasty members of pop groups can be to each other, especially as groups often portray themselves as surrogate families for misfits. It’s a curious tension between too close proximity and financial survival that I’ve only ever seen in actor’s troupes, outside of the music biz, that incites these actions. In this case I couldn’t stand the geezer and I don’t think he could stand me. We probably just needed a break and some money, but neither was on offer.
Setting to work in Leigh Roy Gorman’s LRG studio, situated over his dad’s workshop in Shoreditch, having to stop takes when they were going mad on the large circular saw below, we recorded tracks we had written and demoed, some with Nigel. Including Hippychick, a blues I had written and then fitted over the sampled guitar from the Smith’s How Soon Is Now, married to the Soul To Soul beat. (How cool is that? To have a beat named after you! And one Jazzy B didn’t even invent, although he did patent its utility). Johnny Marr has a writing credit on the track, although Bo Diddley doesn’t, but, fair enough, Johnny played the guitar part, sampled himself to put it in time and then we sampled him. When the hardware linking our Atari computer to the sampler went haywire we recorded the resulting psychedelic mash and this became the first official remix. Later DJ Adam Dove added a couple more breaks and a simplified, irresistible bass line in the remix that was eventually a hit.
Our first release on Savage/Tam Tam, though, was Boy. Nigel and myself had patented a new sound, sampling stabs and phrases from feedback and fuzzed guitar noise which were sequenced in the same way keyboard sounds and James Brown going ‘oooowww!!’ were. Fed into funky house grooves or laid on top of driving techno, I wrote an LP’s worth of songs in this style. In the end, Boy was the only track used, although a couple more made it on to B sides. The technique wasn’t completely original, but the end result was, mainly due to the use of the Casio FZ1 sampler, which had a ‘furry’ quality to its processors, plus my own cheap guitar sound.
Boy was remixed by Youth, then remixed again with a bit more effort. (This was a golden time for anyone who knew how to get the Funky Drummer break in time with a 120BPM bass drum.) It was after meeting Youth for the first time that I was jumped in Highgate tube station by a couple of men who beat me round the head with a truncheon, possibly as a result of our anti-nazi activities (they seemed to know who I was and everybody loved me, apart from nazis). Boy struggled into the lower reaches of the dance charts then disappeared.
The mashed up, ‘midi-bollox’ mix of Hippychick, meanwhile was the sound of the Balearic summer, doing the rounds from Cyprus to Ibiza. The onset of acid house and spiraling ecstasy use was apparent on the Hackney Road, near LRG, which changed over a couple of months from a scary hooligan’s walk to a loved up road of dancing pubs. We started to hear our track at clubs and parties and it made it to the top of the dance charts. Someone at Savage sent ten copies to various DJs in the States. As we were finishing the LP we got our first call from Texas.
Jacqui, Pauline and myself were squatting at that time in the Woodberry Down estate near Finsbury Park. We had just sacked our manager Lawrence after he had started working directly for Savage Records causing a conflict of interest. So I was back to being the manager when Hippychick became a hit in Texas. America is big enough that success in one state is equivalent, sometimes, to success in France or Germany, so this was exciting. After one play on the biggest radio station in Texas there was enough listener response for them to eventually play-list the track and soon, other radio stations followed and we started to have a hit. A genuinely organic response from people who had never heard of the Smiths and for whom ecstasy was normally only ever achieved in church on a Sunday. Savage made a licensing deal with ATCO/Warners to release us around the world and, just before my 30th birthday I was on a plane to New York.
The Americans didn’t realise there was an LP, or an experienced touring group. They were only interested initially in making a quick buck on this quirky British pop song. I took the LP Goddess with me and they were pleasantly surprised. In my four days in New York, I acquired an American manager, Dr. Jerry Jaffe, who had an English partner, Chris Morrison. Between them, they also managed the Jesus and Mary Chain, Blur and others. Within a few days we had an American agency and Jacqui, Pauline and myself were soon in the States playing impromptu gigs at radio station sponsored clubs and playing live at the stations themselves.
What follows is classic British band in America stuff. Although it still feels like a big experience and personal defining moment it must be so familiar to most people that I’ll lay off the tour bus details. Back in the UK we asked Leigh Gorman, who was once the bass player in Bow Wow Wow, (and currently is, once more) to come and play with us. When he agreed I remember telling him it will probably all end in tears, us both being headstrong. During the recording of Goddess at Leigh’s studios we enjoyed the stories he told of his days in Bow Wow Wow, in the days of Malcolm Maclaren, even though they were often of people being complete cunts to each other. I was already aware of this kind of nasty undercurrent that went with the MacLaren camp, I think a lot of people sensed it, even whilst loving the music of the Pistols and Bow Wow Wow. Leigh brought that feeling to life and we listened to tales that sounded closer to those of cult survivors. MacLaren taught his young charges to accept the aggressive righteousness that came with a tight clique of wild kids, mainly from poorer backgrounds. It made for original pop, but it certainly didn’t do the poor sods any psychological favours. I knew that eventually Leigh’s background would rub up against my own suburban earnestness and we’d have problems.
Through the 2 Lost Son’s new drummer, Chess, we found a drummer for ourselves, his young brother, Eds. Ed’s later helped found and have lots of success with The Bluetones. At the time, he was a lovely if slightly green kid from a tiny town way up north who happened to be a great drummer. Using sequencers as well as live bass and drums we began to play live, soon starting on a tour with Jesus Jones, another group who had come up via the Timebox and who’s main man, Mike Edwards, had a similar interest in combining dance sounds with punk rock. Whilst touring the UK Hippychick was re-released in Europe and we had a hit, appearing on Top Of The Pops a couple of times.
The first Iraq war (or Gulf War) began just before our hit. We did TOTP with the twins wearing giant CND peace symbols on their dresses and a small ‘No war’ sticker on my guitar. After the rehearsal, just before broadcast, we were told to remove the sticker and change the dresses, otherwise our appearance would be cancelled. This was at a time when Radio 1 had a list of banned songs (including Boom Bang a Bang by Lulu) that were deemed to be, either provocative, anti-war or insensitive. Massive Attack were forced to change their name if they wanted to receive airplay. We were forced to choose ourselves – an appearance on TOTP was almost a guarantee of a hit back then. Our management and the record company rep didn’t think it was such a big deal, but we stuck to our guns and, just before show time, we were allowed to go on. Ironically, a sympathetic camera operator focussed in on the tiny sticker and for a few seconds the nation’s screens were filled with my little anti-war message. Strangely, we were asked on for the following week but only if we didn’t wear anything ‘controversial’. This time we agreed and Jacqui and Pauline wore huge Top Of The Pop ties with the word ‘censored’ and the guys in the group had the same word stencilled across our shirts. Did anyone notice? Probably not many, although there were a few complaints from viewers after the first appearance.
Later we were given the front cover of the then biggest selling pop weekly, Record Mirror, which featured a photo of us standing in front of the peace symbol with some reference to the war, and this was echoed by the interview and other photo’s inside. During the interview I slagged off Radio 1 for their censorship and subsequently got a secret warning from a Radio 1 DJ who told me if I carried on mouthing off then our next single, Love Generation, would receive no airplay. I know this all seems a bit silly and trivial now, but at the time this was a genuine problem for me. I had been shocked by the amount of apathy most successful musicians I met had when it came to politics. I had always assumed that the natural lefty bias of the musos I knew when we were struggling was universal. It turns out that rebel music is often played by very conservative people. It was bad enough having to compromise anti-capitalist ideals by signing to a record company but to tacitly support a war was too much.
As it happened, Love Generation was played a few times on Radio 1 but we didn’t have a follow up hit.
And there the story should end, as we are One Hit Wonders.
…Oh, go on then…
In the States we had toured successfully with the Jones’s and our American manager was keen for us to stay on and tour lots more, which we should have done, because, cliché though it is, it’s still practically the only way to be successful in that country. But we wanted to go home. Eventually, we went back to America months later for a short tour to promote our next album, Thug.
There is something about America that brings out the rock monster in people. Thug was a double album-length set, dominated by guitars. It had its moments but, over-all, the songs were infected with a dark-night-of-the-soul, whisky soaked death realisation stay in a miserable Brighton hotel room during which I started on the lyrics. There were pop songs, like Radio Soul Groove, but it was the lumpy dance-rock tracks like Into The Void, Deadbeat Party, Ride and Love that made the mood. Hamed And Jacques was a remake of Serge Gainsbourg’s Bonny And Clyde, which I had heard on our first trip to France in ’87 and loved. We changed the protagonists to two male lovers, one of them Algerian, in order to make a statement about the rise of the fascist Front National who were, at that time, getting a huge percentage of the French vote. We had to ask for permission to mess with the arrangement from Charlotte Gainsbourg, Serge’s daughter, who granted it enthusiastically. Also on the album was a song, Hawk, criticising and detailing the weird and fascistic beliefs of the Nation Of Islam who were really making inroads amongst the new crop of black American rappers, particularly Public Enemy (who in all other respects, I loved).
Track ten on the newly cropped version of Thug that’s currently available is Claire’s Kitchen. Shortly after John Major became Prime Minister of the UK I was given some information about him from a trusted source. Apparently this married champion of back-to-basics, warm beer and family, family, family was shagging the official caterer for number 10 who’s company name became the title of the song. It was a blatant attempt on our part to undermine a right wing sod who took over from Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Tory party. Unfortunately, no-one noticed, not until over a year later, when various newspapers started publishing allusions to the affair to which Major responded with threats to sue. We were interviewed by The Independent and others and our studio phone was tapped (probably by a newspaper) and the whole thing blew over and Major was, astonishingly, re-elected, proving that middle-Britain will always elect a used car salesman if he bats well at cricket.
Thug was never released in the UK. Our record company, Savage, never told us why, but shortly after the US release they left London for good, closed the office and Nimran sacked the workforce. One of the younger employees described the flat above the company offices in Clerkenwell as ‘brown with white stains’… Savage opened up briefly in New York, signing David Bowie for one album (a deal that ended in a long running court case to recover money) before eventually disappearing completely. The last I heard of David Nimran was that he was selling a very expensive yacht for a lot of cash.
Chris Morrison, our UK manager, had a classic rock-desk behind which he swiveled and smoked cigars, in true comic style. To be honest, I don’t think the geezer ever liked me and the only in depth conversation we ever really had turned on politics during which it was obvious the political distance between us was as vast as his shiny desk. We had stayed in touch with HEDD/Virgin A&R guy, Billy Keane and we asked him to take over as manager. The first thing we did was visit Savage together in America where it became obvious that delusions of grandeur had set in. They had rented an entire floor of the Carnegie Building and the black leather sofa’d reception boasted an enormous logo shield hanging behind the receptionist. This was a company who had only ever had one hit in the states – Hippychick! But they were set up like a small major label.
Billy arranged a legal escape from our deal with Savage while Jacqui, Pauline, Eds and myself got busy in the studio recording more material, some of which became the album Baby Baby Baby Baby, which remained unreleased until 2009.
Feeling my age (32) I felt we needed something less frenetic and started to knock out tracks with reggae B lines and slower beats. Lyrically I was celebrating our lovely Hackney, the Stoke Newington and Dalston that have since been transformed by an influx of moneyed media folk and City workers in recent years but which, at that time, was our downbeat haven and inner city home. In 1993 Jacqui found she was pregnant and the impending arrival of our daughter Charlie was also an influence on the new sounds and words. The album Yard and its accompanying collection of re-versioned tracks, Dubwise, were pretty much finished when Billy took them to play to the new head of Magnet/Warner records, Mark Dean, who loved what he heard and signed us up under our new moniker, Oosh.
For the best part of a year we grappled with the weird and wacky world of Mark Dean, the man famous for discovering Wham!. It started off well as we signed the new deal and changed Charlie’s nappy on the same big table in the company conference room. Mark would invite me into his office where he would play newly mastered tracks at levels that consistently bust his speakers. He told me he kept a new set of speakers in his office especially for each of these visits. The man loved bass! And because I had been taught the art of bass by a Jamaican dubhead engineer years before, I gave it to him (‘you just do this’: my temporary guru explained as he simply turned the bass frequency to max and balanced everything else around it). Unfortunately, Mark seemed to be seriously sidelined in the Warners set up and the albums began to grow dust as they sat on the proverbial shelf, waiting for a release date. Meanwhile, Portishead had managed to create a new gold standard with their Dummy LP (not that we were that similar, beyond our more head-nodding pace) and drum and bass was starting to rattle around the concrete of the inner cities. The world moved on and we were sick of the music biz. When Magnet/Warners asked for a contract extension we declined and left them to it.
Eds, meanwhile, had hooked up with the young Stone Roses fans who became The Bluetones and left us for some fun and excitement of his own.
Each experience we had with the music business seemed to bring so much disappointment. With Magnet/Warners we cast around for and made a point of hiring black or Asian or female (or all three!) ‘creatives’ to design sleeves, make videos and style us, in a slightly misguided attempt at positive discrimination. Over the years, we seldom bumped into anyone in the business who was black and held a position above receptionist. In the offices of the American branch of Warners called ATCO, we found the one exception, Sylvia Rhone, who headed the company, although she was as bemused by us as any of her cowboy booted, white skinned male staff. At one point she personally wanted to approve the dresses that J & P were aiming on wearing for a video. They sent her polaroids of themselves in dressing gowns and curlers for her cheek… Buried in a cramped windowless room in the bowels of ATCO was the newly christened Urban department, as separate from the main record company as the black American population was from the white. In the early 90s hip hop and R&B weren’t the financial successes they are today, still a marginalised ‘race’ music, played on specialised radio stations to a mainly black audience.
Finishing with Magnet/Warners was our last experience with a major label. We were left without a deal and I decided to go to college and get qualified in order to enter the ‘straight’ world and find a job. However, we carried on playing live and recording. I managed three weeks at college before deciding to somehow carry on with pop music. Jacqui and Pauline spent a lot of time with Charlie and we all got more involved with the ordinary aspects of our manor, like schools and neighbours, which is what happens when you have a kid.
An American acquaintance called up one day to ask if we’d be prepared to cover a dodgy Icicle Works song for use in a new film called Scream. We were skint, so I said yes. Our first version was a stormer, with an intro stolen from an obscure Elvis concert. The record company handling the soundtrack freaked at the prospect of clearing an Elvis sample so we re-recorded the version that eventually made its way on to the film’s end credits. Amazingly (to me, at least), Wes Craven’s Scream is now considered some kind of classic and we get kudos from overlapping, younger generations for our musical presence.
From 1995 to 1999 Soho recorded three more albums, Soho Soho, Another London and Family BC, only one of which (Another London) had a limited release in Germany. We played live a few times, for a while with Barry Smith who later went on to help found ‘Avant Hard’ electronic rockers Add N To X, whose early releases I produced. I toyed with the various sounds that filtered their way up from the underground and embarked on a solo project called Yossarian, signing to Satellite Records and releasing some well-received psych and dubby lofi pop. J&P sung for a while in a group called Copenhagen, fronted by our old friend Neil Shoot, which also featured Kirsa who played keys in my live Yossarian set up, together with Fabio from Washington Rays on drums.
After reading City Of Quartz (by Mike Davis) I wrote the Family BC album in ‘99, the first on which we deliberately sung with American accents and the first where Jacqui and Pauline begrudgingly allowed me to smoke spliffs while we recorded our vocals together, sat on stools like Crosby Stills and Nash, around a single mic. Normally our vocal sessions were completed separately. The album is a look at Los Angeles and surf culture from the grey side of the Atlantic and mixed spaghetti western guitar, UK garage beats and hippy harmonies. This was the last complete album we recorded.
We performed some songs from Family BC in Cornwall on the night of the eclipse in 2000 and occasionally since, but essentially Soho haven’t played a proper live gig for years. We have continued recording, although this got more difficult after Jacqui and myself moved to Edinburgh in Scotland in 2002, leaving Pauline in London. After 7 years, Pauline has joined us and we’re aiming on being more active, if we can find a way to perform that isn’t embarrassing. The twins still have heavenly voices, it’s a shame to waste them. And, amazingly, we’re still together!
I pretty much gave up on pop music again in 2001 to write and make films, but a couple of years ago found myself producing and co-writing with psych hip hop group Young Fathers and I realised I was enjoying myself. Since then I’ve been actively looking to work with various young artists as a producer and a ‘consultant’ (a wanky name for it, I know) and very much enjoying the sense of panic emanating from the official music industry at the prospect of artists taking control of the production and distribution of their own music via the internet.
And, finally, thanks to the internet, all our albums bar one, Dubwise, are available to buy, one way or another, and we’re finding there are more people interested in these one hit wonders than we realised (well, anyone interested at this stage is a nice surprise!).
Tim London 2010
Surprised to find ourselves still making music - no, shocked actually - in 2019. We have moved again, down south (no, not to Margate) after our extended stay in Scotland, during which time I ended up managing Young Fathers (with Jacqui’s help) as well as co-producing and co-writing five albums and helping them to a Mercury Award win (and two Scottish Albums of the Year award) and establishing themselves as one of the most exciting live acts in the world. I have also been working with Law Holt, an incredible singer originally from the Midlands and J&P have been singing, sometimes with Law, as the Leith Congregational Choir, backing Young Fathers and another original artist, Callum Easter, recorded and live and, most recently on his session for Marc Riley on BBC6 Music earlier this week. Look: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00040zz
We have a new project, IKLAN, with recordings ready for release and the prospect of more live shows. Fuck knows who would come and see us - I suppose we’ll find out.