'Cos the street is shakin' from the tapping of toes
You can hear that music play anytime on any day
Every rhythm, every way
The Kinks - Denmark St - 1970 (Ref 1, see below)
When I was a teenager in the 90's my friends and I used to go to Club X 'London's Biggest Alternative Indie All Nighter' in London Astoria 2 (LA2) on Tottenham Court Road most Saturday nights. (ref 2)
Club X played a blend of Indie and Dance that typified the 90's UK music scene and provided a soundtrack to my teenage life. A song on the radio by Suede, Blur, Pulp, Elastica, Sleeper, Placebo or the other Britpop bands will always take me back to those nights and that time.
To this day Denmark Street is a natural home for London musicians, providing affordable rehearsal and recording studios as well as an excellent collection of music shops and experts and in 12 Bar Club, a place to perform. The 12 Bar Club had been showing live music on Denmark St since the 90's, offering a small, intimate, affordable night out for people passionate about music and giving a platform to (among others) Adele, KT Tunstall, Seasick Steve, The Libertines and Jamie T on their way to fame.
On Friday 23rd the Bohemians 4 Soho opened the doors of 12 Bar and kept the music playing.
In the first two weeks of the occupation the Bohemians 4 Soho were busy, they hosted live music, lost a court case, resisted an eviction, gave multiple interviews and put out a rallying cry to save the music in Soho. Last Monday (Feb 2) I went back to visit them to ask them about the occupation:
"We think that the Consolidated Development company want to demolish the whole of Tin Pan Alley and build some big new development. The people of Soho deserve to find a company that works with them, to help them. Not just kick everyone out."
"We are worried that if we aren't here to look after the 12 Bar it will be 'allowed to fall into disrepair'. There is a serious problem in the planning process. If we weren't here, this whole place would have been flooded by now, or suffered some other 'accidental harm'. Everything is an accident."
"We [the British] are culturally lacking the will to fight. We have to fight for our relationships. Our relationship with our heritage and our relationships with each other."
"We are inspired by the bohemians of Soho, in this neighbourhood they were all together, the poor bohemians, the rich bohemians. This is a sacred space. This was a space that did allow for that experience of connectivity. The musicians performing in a big stadium are at work, after finishing the job they go out to local bars and clubs for musicians and artists. Maybe these spaces aren't so profitable for someone, but they are more profitable for everyone."
"We can use this building as a space for people to come together. 27,000 people have signed the petition now. They come and they realise that they can do something. And this is the goal with this occupation."
Andy, from Angel Music, speaking to musicians Tara Rez and Segs Jennings (Ref 6)
I wish I could show you the St Giles development video promising us "a new dawn for meaningful brand engagement" and declaring that Outernet technology will allow shoppers to interact with the brands they love in exciting new ways, but for some reason it seems to have been taken down.
On the other hand some creative soul did manage to put together a remix, using most of the original footage, which is still available on YouTube (Ref 7):
The anger expressed by campaigners could be seen as coming from a conservative refusal to change; a nostalgic clinging on to the way things used to be; and an inability to accept that London is a dynamic, constantly evolving city. I'm sure that's how Consolidated Group views the writers, activists, squatters, musicians and of course Russell Brand who have added their voices to the protest.
But the problem is not change itself, but where the change comes from and what form it takes. Neighbourhoods need to be allowed to evolve, the people who live, work and play in them, should have a say in what happens to them. London has been evolving for 2,000 years and I can't imagine a force that could stop her, but the city is currently littered with maga-projects that start out with a white sheet of paper in an architects office instead of coming from an existing community, and once these gargantuan monstrosities are constructed the long haired freaky people who were there before no longer fit the aesthetic or the price tags and are moved on.
On the other side of Tottenham Court Road, Soho is facing a similar existential crisis.
unravel and destroy decades of what has been,
wave goodbye to the whole damn scene,
bye bye bye, my gin soaked dreams.
Oh no! What's happened to Soho?
Oh no! Where will all the reprobates go?
The Correspondents - What's Happened To Soho? - 2011 (Ref 8)
Today the area is positively thriving, with sought-after restaurants, bars and clubs, luxury hotels, loft apartments, contemporary offices and modern retail units instead of the back street sex shops, dodgy clubs and dingy junkie hang-outs of old. Consolidated is behind many of these new schemes. From relatively humble beginnings, the company has steadily increased its property holdings without over-extending itself and now owns an ever expanding property portfolio." (Ref 3)
A place where dreamers could dream and counter cultures could develop.
And of course, a place for the music.
Save Soho‘s aim is to protect and nurture iconic music and performing arts venues in Soho that are disappearing at a terrifying rate. These closures are an attack on Soho’s vibrant creative history and enduring character.
The British music industry is one of our largest exports. Some of the biggest acts in the world began their careers by performing in small venues in Soho. The Who, The Kinks, Spandau Ballet, The Animals, The Sex Pistols and Oasis to name but a few. If venues like this continue to be removed from our precious landscape, where will the British musical exports of tomorrow be able to showcase their talent and skill to the British music industry? An industry that is largely based in central London." (Ref 9)
For guitars and drums and desperate poetry.
And I still believe that everyone,
Can find a song for every time they've lost and every time they've won.
So just remember folks we not just saving lives, we're saving souls,
And we're having fun.
And I still believe.
Now who'd have thought that after all,
Something as simple as rock 'n' roll would save us all
Frank Turner - I Still Believe - 2010 (Ref 10)
Standing on a table in the centre of the tiny room, Frank Turner was singing 'I Still Believe'. In a crashing joyous wave of sound his voice was joined by those of almost everyone in the room, but you could hear him still, above the rest but connected to them. In between the words the sound of his acoustic guitar rang out clear. The room resonating to hundreds of united voices, a powerful human energy greater than the sum of its parts, singing about hope and the spirit of rock and roll.
Less than a week later the Bohemians 4 Soho were evicted and this historic venue fell silent again.
I applaud the efforts of everyone who is trying to protect the living, breathing, messy, beating heart of London from a sterilized corporate future of steel and glass where the only creative freedom available is the freedom to switch brands.
If you want to help the fight to save Denmark Street, watch and share this campaign video & sign the petition (Ref 11).
So where do the reprobates go from here?
I received the answer in an email from one of the Bohemians just after their eviction.
They have promised to fight on, and suggest we do the same.
Ref 1 - The Kinks, Denmark Street - http://youtu.be/d-gjVt6k16s
Ref 2 - Club X - http://www.wolfshead.co.uk/club%20x%20archive.html
Ref 3 - Consolidated Group - http://www.26sohosq.com/
Ref 4 - ORMS architecture vision - http://vimeo.com/62355101
Ref 5 - Dan Hancox on 'Regeneration Videos' - http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/london-regeneration-videos-dan-honcox-374
Ref 6 - Andy, from Angel Music, speaking to musicians Tara Rez and Segs Jennings (quote found 2 minutes in) - http://youtu.be/rhb56ikgsY4
Ref 7 - St Giles Development remix video - http://youtu.be/QCLO8qWBUbo
Ref 8 - The Correspondents, What's Happened To Soho? - http://youtu.be/MZukiRrYROA
Ref 9 - Save Soho Campaign - http://savesoho.com/about/
Ref 10 - Frank Turner - I Still Believe - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZ-D4jmkUiQ
Ref 11 - Save Denmark Street Campaign Video - http://youtu.be/jqAQgxYHFzE
Ref 11 - Save Denmark Street Petition - https://www.change.org/p/alex-bushell-don-t-bin-tin-pan-alley