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Marc Almond

Marc Almond


Interview Marc Wardel

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“Soho was this mythical place I’d seen in movies and read about in books, and I thought it was really the heart of London…”

A constellation of spotlights bounces and reflects off steel, mirror and glass, casting soft-focus infinity images of Dietrich and Bowie-beautiful across the room… It’s a suitably decadent backdrop for a conversation with a star, someone who can truly be called an icon of music and pop culture – the unique Marc Almond.

We are in the Light Lounge, Soho, and Marc is looking splendidly sepulchral in a beautifully tailored jet-black suit and matching Hugo Boss shirt, open at the neck to afford a glimpse of his trademark custom-made gold skull-and-crossbones nestling against the palest of pale skin. He’s balancing on a pair of black high-heeled ‘Beatle’ boots by YSL and drifting in the air of this Soho afternoon is his delicious fragrance (‘Une Amourette’ by Roland Mouret/Etat Libre d’Orange, if you’re curious). Once the photo-shoot is over he slips into an original Iggy Pop Paradise Garage ‘leopard’ T-shirt by John and Molly Dove and settles down onto a long leather banquette for a chat.

Mark Wardel: Marc, last time we spoke we discovered that we both came from similar Northern seaside towns where, as teenagers in the early Seventies, we had summer holiday jobs in the fairgrounds and arcades. I wondered whether, like me, you felt that the bright lights, transient population and seaside landladies – who always looked like hookers with the heavy make-up and beehive hair dos – had in some way primed you early on for life in Soho?

Marc Almond, Well, I came from Southport, where I had holiday jobs in the fairground on the ‘hook-a-duck’ stall (laughs) and the bingo… and that seaside ambience is very important to me in that they are strange, melancholic places where there’s always a seedy kind of ‘showbiz’ vibe and a sort of trashiness that I love… as there is in Soho. Really, all my inspirations come from that kind of feeling. Actually, I met my first love in the Southport theatre where I also worked as a stagehand – I was underage and he was a pantomime giant!

MW: Was he big all over? (laughs)

MA: (laughs) Yes, actually, he was fantastic! He was an actor and he used to come to the theatre in fur coats and would tell me about Jean Genet, Our Lady Of The Flowers, and all that kind of thing. And so I first came down to London to stay with him – he really introduced me to London, although I had been down once before on a school trip, where instead of the museums I wanted to see the legendary Biba store. It was like the temple of glam rock, because of Bowie and Bolan and the others who shopped and performed there. Unfortunately, on the day I went it was closed, so I just stood outside looking in. I was devastated, but in a strange way looking in from outside was enough.

MW: So, you discovered Soho a bit later?

MA: Yes, I really found out about Soho at art school in Leeds around 1978/79, when I had an affair with a boy called Paul who I met at an underground gay club called ‘Charlies’, which was full of Leeds rent boys, heavy lesbians and a rough gay crowd. And this Paul was the one who said, “You must come to London,” as he knew all about Soho and was friendly with the rent boys and so on. Soho was this mythical place I’d seen in movies and read about in books, and I thought it was really the heart of London… which in a way it is. So, Paul took me down there, and I met some of his ‘friends’- i.e. clients. One was called Ginger John and someone else was called Mother Ratbag… (laughs) and there were all these old queens who paraded up Piccadilly. We actually got arrested one night outside Cecconi’s while Paul was calling one of his clients from a phone box.

MW: Did you give a false name?

MA: Yes, I was terrified it would get back to my parents, but nothing ever came of it. And then in the art college holidays I got a job in a Soho clip-joint taking money on the door from punters who, once inside, would be fleeced by the heavies for £300 bottles of Asti Spumante! It was all a bit criminal really, but it was fantastic and thrilling and I just became addicted to the idea of Soho. I knew it was where I really wanted to be.

MW: That comes through very much in your music, going right back to Soft Cell. There’s a continuity, I feel, right through to the new album, which sounds like it could almost have been played or performed in the Raymond Revue Bar during the Profumo era.

MA: Yes, I always try to keep that kind of flavour, that kind of thread, going through… and I have great memories of those times and of the late 70s and early 80s wearing a long black priest’s cassock and a black turban, out on the town with Molly Parkin, getting drunk and ending up in strange beds. (laughs)

MW: And we both had places on Brewer Street back then too. My art studio was above MCA records and you were…

MA, 1-3 Brewer Street! That was the first flat

I ever bought in London. It was literally opposite the Raymond Revue Bar and a caff called the coffee pot where every night through the windows you’d see this big, tall transvestite with an Alsatian dog, and there’d always be a row of boys sitting along the window doing transactions under the counter. But every morning at about 2 or 3am, a Black Maria would turn up and haul them all off to Bow Street! With all the hardcore porno cinemas, strip clubs and drunken violence, Soho was a hairy, scary place to live in

those days.

MW: It’s very different now. What are your thoughts on the changing face of Soho?

MA: In the past couple of years I got really upset about the way it was all changing – it was really stressing me and bothering me… but I think in a way it’s because you feel you are losing part of yourself.

MW: We’re mourning our youth.

MA: Exactly, but I feel I’m of an age where it doesn’t really matter to me now. We’ve lived through the most amazing periods and pop culture movements, and I’m optimistic that young people coming up will rebel against the conformity that’s happening worldwide. There’s a sense, like with vinyl for instance, of people going back to when things were real and beautiful – trashy but real. I can see it happening – a revolution and the resurrection of the old spirit of Soho.

MW: Yeah, places are always changing and of course young kids love it now… it’s their time and I guess people in the 1800s, 1920s or 1940s would also have been saying exactly the same things we are about Soho changing.

MA: You can still find pockets of the old Soho mixed in with the new. It still has character and will always be great and really, everyone has their own Soho, their own period. Wherever we are, we all carry that Soho with us in our hearts.

Marc’s new album Shadows and Reflections is out now on BMG records.

Eddi McPherson

Eddi McPherson


Words Cary Gee

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“Everyone was welcome, and being famous made no difference. I knew Francis and was more than friends with Lucien!”

Eddi McPherson arrived in Soho with a plan. “It was 1959 and I was going to the ‘Big City’ to become a famous singer, and live happily ever after.” Like many before her, and countless others since, Eddi soon discovered that Soho contains enough crooked alleys to confound even the most determined visitor.

“I had no real picture of how or what it would be, just this blind optimism that it was all going to be wonderful.” This sounds almost touchingly naïve coming from McPherson, a woman who, to many in Soho, epitomises the very character of the London village she came to live in. “Challenging”, “open-minded” and “tolerant” are just some of the carefully chosen epithets friends use to describe her. I put it to her that less cautious acquaintances might describe her as “exigent”, “unyielding” and “refractory”. It’s safe to say that despite an uncommonly fierce loyalty to her friends, Eddi Mcpherson has no time for those she regards as fools.

Eddi was just 18 when she interrupted a promising career singing in the jazz clubs of Manchester for a new life in London. How did friends and family react to her departure? “I didn’t tell them!” Headstrong is another often-used sobriquet to describe the woman in front of me. Remarkably, Eddi had never even visited London before. “I loved a musician; he lived in London, so I just thought I’d come to London myself and make sure everything was alright. I knocked on his door. He was absolutely shocked to see me!” I ask who the musician was but Eddi either can’t remember, or is maintaining an unusual degree of discretion. “I was still a virgin! Not a promiscuous lady!” she laughs, reaching for a glass of Prosecco, the only drink you’ll ever see her in her hand. “I wandered into Soho and just skippered for a while. It’s what they used to call sofa-surfing. Or I’d sit up in cafes all night. In those days, Soho was still filled with prostitutes, pimps, artists. Proper Bohemian society. It felt very welcoming, very safe. I had no enemies. I mean for a young girl wandering about on her own… nowadays it would be horrifying.”

Despite her ambition to pursue a singing career Eddi had no gigs lined up in London. Instead she worked at coffee bars or cafés, often working all night and sleeping on other peoples’ floors during the day. “When you’re young you have all the energy in the world.” Is it a life she would recommend to a girl in her position today? “God, no!” Eddi downs her fizz and looks aghast. “But in those days, it felt safe. There was a group of prostitutes who worked Dean Street. They clubbed together to raise the fare for me to return home to Manchester. They were so worried about me.” In the end, Eddi defied expectations – as she has resolutely continued to do – and opted to pursue her dream in London.

She soon managed to save enough money from gigging as a jazz singer, often performing in the same coffee bars she waited in, to find a place of her own. “It’s all so long ago, it’s a bit of a blur. But I didn’t drink. I didn’t do drugs, and was so innocent I wouldn’t have known if the people around me were.” After a year spent in Jersey – not somewhere she has any desire to re-visit – Eddi returned to London, where she met her future husband and promptly lost her innocence. “He was a heroin addict. I had no idea.” How did she find out? “I walked in on him in the bathroom one day. He was injecting into his hand! I flushed his gear down the toilet and smashed his hypodermic. It was a crazy thing to do, but he did come off heroin.”

Despite the New Musical Express having already bestowed upon her an award for Best New Jazz Singer, Eddi was no longer performing by this time. She and her husband moved to Hastings, where her son Graham was born. If the name McPherson sounds familiar, it’s likely because Graham grew up to become Suggs – Madness singer, renaissance man, and one of the most recognisable faces in Soho. Realising that her marriage was “a joke” – by now her husband had replaced heroin with alcohol – Eddi beat a retreat to Soho, where, after a few false starts, she was offered the flat where she still lives. “I just couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” she says. I ask if she had any concerns about raising a child in Soho. “No. Not at all.” She dismisses my question with a slightly imperious wave of her arm. “Graham was always a very sensible kid, alert to the potential dangers of city life.” Perhaps wishing to save her son from disappointment, Eddi hoped he would become a graphic designer. “But there was always music in our house.”

At what point did she stop telling Suggs to get a proper job? “I think it really hit home that he was famous the first time he appeared on Top of the Pops. I watched it with a neighbour, clutching a cushion. Graham was wearing a little plastic trumpet as a brooch. It fell out and all I wanted to do was pick it up and stick it back on.” Eddi admits to a vicarious prestige from being the mother of a ‘national treasure’ but takes no credit: “His success is entirely down to him.” The bars and clubs in Soho where Eddi continued to work, including the legendary Kismet on Wardour Street and the Mandrake on Meard Street, no longer exist. “Each year the old faces of Soho become fewer. I really do feel like a survivor.” Indeed, Eddi is now considered something of a celebrity herself, not that she sees herself as one. “It’s something other people tell me.”

I ask what makes Soho Soho? Eddi quickly changes the tense of my question. “It was the diversity. Everyone was welcome, and being famous made no difference. I knew Francis [Bacon] and was more than friends with Lucien [Freud]!” How long did the affair last? “About a week! He was a terrible gambler and the worst driver I knew. We once crashed into the back of a police car. He told me to scarper, so I did. I’d walk into the Colony and Lucien would wave his hand and shout, ‘Give the lady a bottle of Champagne’.”

Eddi has witnessed is the evolution of Soho’s ‘gay village’. “In the old day, nobody cared if you were gay or straight. Why have gay pubs and straight pubs? We just need pubs!” She blames the need for separate venues on decades of homophobia, and it makes her furious. That’s not to say that she doesn’t still enjoy a night on the town. A perfect day might entail “watching what’s left of my world go by” while lunching with her son at Bar Italia or Prix Fixe, a bottle of fizz on an overstuffed sofa at Quo Vadis or a nightcap at Gerry’s, which (like Eddi herself) has somehow survived. It would seem that after more than half a century of whipping up a storm in Soho, this particular force of nature is not ready to blow over yet.

Gosh! Comics

Gosh! Comics


Interview & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“We’ve benefited enormously from the custom of those working in the creative industry that keeps Soho buzzing”

With a 30-year track record in the industry and enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff, Gosh! is one of London’s must-visit stores for anyone who loves the medium of comics. Stocking everything from European bandes dessinées to superhero graphic novels, stylish children’s books to cutting-edge small press publications, Gosh! has something for everyone. Journal spoke to owner Josh Palmano about his comics emporium’s ongoing Soho success story…

Tell us a bit about the beginnings of GOSH! and your own background.

My first exposure to comics as a kid was through the Beano. I joined the Denis the Menace fan club and remember keeping my membership wallet, replete with furry Gnasher badge and other membership paraphernalia, in a crawl space in the cellar of my parents’ home – a space where no-one else in the family was small enough to go. I graduated to war comics, very popular in the UK in the 1970s, and then had a fleeting flirtation with the American superhero genre. But at that time the opposite sex came fully into focus, and comics fell by the wayside.

It was at a Specials gig in 1979 that I met a guy who worked at a comic shop called Forbidden Planet, which was then in Denmark street, on the edge of Soho. We gelled, and he told me there was a Saturday job going, if I was interested. So, it was the lure of cash that drew me back to comics; what I learned was that as well as being entertainment, they were also a business.

A little further down the line I was dealing in comics independently; and seven years later, with school finished, I opened Gosh! opposite the British Museum in Bloomsbury. I was 19, and though I had a reasonable amount of comics knowledge under my belt, I had very little life experience. The first years were quite a learning curve!

Tell us about the look of the new Shop in Soho.

In 2011, the building we were trading from was sold and my new landlord’s plans didn’t mesh with my own. Also, the area had changed markedly; the interesting book shops disappeared and were replaced by touristy trinket shops and cafés. In fact, we’d long outgrown the unit we were in anyway, so I started to look in earnest for a new site to relocate to.

I looked at 1 Berwick Street at the behest of a lettings agent. While the rent was in excess of what I’d budgeted for, the space and the location just felt right, and I was convinced I could make the figures work.

The unit was an empty shell, ready to be stamped with our new identity. I went online, looking for a designer who would be sympathetic to my sensibilities and found an article in which Callum Lumsden discussed the process he’d taken when designing the Tate Modern book shop. When I called him up, he was busy designing the retail spaces for Harry Potter World. I’m extremely grateful to Callum that he gave me his time, ear, expertise and I’m pretty sure, a keen price for my project. We ended up with a beautiful, spacious interior which was a big departure from the classic image of a comic shop. We were in a much better position to serve the industry in the way I’d envisaged. We have space to hold signings and book launches. We’ve hosted film screenings, talks, workshops, live music and more. We run a number of regular events, such as Drink & Draw, where anyone who is interested can get the chance to create with professionals, our monthly book club, Reads, and an occasional Feminism and Comics discussion group run by Let’s Talk Intersectionality.

Do you get a different mix of customers in Soho than you did in Bloomsbury?

We hung on to our regular customers when we moved, and oddly, we see as many overseas visitors now as we ever did. The British Museum holds the accolade of the UK’s most visited tourist attraction, but Soho sees its fair share of visitors. We’ve also benefited enormously from the custom of those working in the creative industry that keeps Soho buzzing. We thought that when we moved, that given Soho’s reputation, our small children’s book section might dwindle. It’s actually gone from strength to strength and we recently had to reorganise our ground floor to give it a little more space.

Any memorable anecdotes from the multitude of amazing signing events you’ve hosted?

The Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill events would sometimes run for seven or eight hours, with seriously long queues. I remember at one Saturday morning signing – for the release of a new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book – the madam from the brothel on the other side of Peter Street came down to complain that her customers were shying away! “We’ve usually broke even by this time on Saturday; my girls are up there twiddling their thumbs!”

You specialise in European, underground, indie comics/graphic novels as well as beautiful illustration books from publishers like Nobrow.  What are particular favourites of yours or big bestsellers at the moment?

A deserved bestseller is Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez. It’s aimed at the 7-10 age group, and tells the tale of a young girl overcoming loneliness with a vivid imagination. Baking with Kafka by Tom Gauld is doing extremely well – and his Moon Cop was our bestselling book of last year. Like me, customers are lapping up Tom’s gentle, thoughtful and touching look at life. Jillian Tamaki’s collection of short stories, Boundless, offers up more of her masterful blend of emotion and humour.

What are your favourite Soho haunts and shops?

I love my food, and I love to cook. Lina Stores have some great charcuterie and offer key ingredients to create a knockout risotto. Old Compton Street’s Algerian Coffee Store and Gerry’s provide most of my liquid refreshment and I often find myself dawdling in the aisles of Chinatown’s supermarkets looking for that rare ingredient for my next adventure in the kitchen. My most recent discovery is dried bracken fronds, which were rehydrated and added to my Dolsot Bibimbap. Favourite place to buy my morning coffee: Timber Yard – lovely staff and great coffee.

Any future plans for Gosh!?

Our focus over the next few years will be to continue to develop our own exclusive lines. We work with artists to produce exclusive prints, either digitally or as screen prints. We’ve commissioned art from Jamie Hernandez (Love & Rockets), Mike Allred (I-zombie), Charlie Adlard (Walking Dead), Kevin O’Neill and many more.

Last year we took an iconic Brian Bolland panel featuring Judge Dredd and Judge Death from a back issue of 2000AD and created a stunning A2 screen print limited to an edition of 200. We sold out pretty much immediately, with orders coming in from many countries around the world.

I currently have a couple of favourites in our range. ‘Amour de Soi’ by Alessandra Criseo is a repeat pattern piece depicting the artist herself. The depth of the screen-printed colours beautifully accentuates the artists simple style. And ‘Octopus Salad’ by Junko Misuno – my girlfriend’s a chef and this piece is Junko’s interpretation of a recipe she supplied. Each print comes with a copy of the recipe!

Tom Baker

Tom Baker


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Joseph Lynn


“Back home, there was a big punk scene with a lot of people customising their own clothes, so I think thats where the seed was planted…”

Tom Baker and I are talking music, clothes, Soho and everything in-between. We’re on D’Arblay Street, mid-afternoon, as he shows me around his studio space. He’s strikingly tall and cooler than cool, and his voice has a Northern twang that’s music to my ears. “You know, I’m quite philosophical,” he says, looking over my shoulder. “That fitting room behind you is like a barber’s chair. I’ve been called the mid-life crisis tailor who gets men back on the saddle. I guess you could say I provide a service. Clothing is half the job – the other half is purely psychological,” he laughs.Tom grew up as a young punk in a small Scottish town, developing a passion for music and clothing, which has helped him build his eponymous label. Today, he’s a familiar face in Soho, known for providing his own individual take on tailoring.

Each of the great Soho tailors has distinct stylistic differences. You might describe Tom as the gentleman-punk – as well as the tallest tailor in the neighbourhood. He specialises in both traditional and avant-garde bespoke tailoring. Tom began his training quite late, aged 25, spending five years at Hardy Amies, Savile Row in the early 90s. It was on Savile Row that he was taught to cut and fit in the classical English style. After completing his training, he started his own label, Sir Tom Baker, in Soho. His traditional skills combined with his own natural flair put him at the forefront of bespoke tailoring today. “I was completely self-taught until I began training on Savile Row. I didn’t really think I was going to make a career out it… aspiring to be a tailor wasn’t what people did in the Scottish town I grew up in. It was all rugby and that shite,” he says. “Back home, there was a big punk scene with a lot of people customising their own clothes, so I think that’s where the seed was planted and my influences were born.”

Tom’s relationship with Soho started when he moved to London in his early 20s, where he landed himself a job in the home section of famed department store Liberty of London. Soho quickly became his stomping ground, and it was here that he explored the changing music and fashion scenes while training as a tailor in his spare time. After qualifying as a tailor, Tom started working from a small studio on Berwick Street, just around the corner from his current D’Arblay Street studio and shop. “Training on Savile Row was a big chunk of my time… five years in total! I got to know a lot of the different tailors around. I knew if I was going to make a go of it, I had to get on with it as young as I could do, otherwise I always thought I’d just be seen as an apprentice,” he says. “I didn’t want to be seen as the guy with zero experience; I wanted to be taken seriously to the point where I was fully fledged. In tailoring, you don’t get to properly flex your muscles until you really start to do it yourself. You’ve gotta jump in, go out there and do it.”

Tom built his business up from scratch to the success it enjoys today on D’Arblay Street. “What tends to happen, when you’re not an established tailor, is that you decide to go it alone and end up poaching customers from existing tailors. That wasn’t the route I wanted to take,” says Tom. “I completely went it alone on Berwick Street. I literally stepped out with a set of keys, looked left and looked right, and thought: shit, I need to get out there and get some customers.” Tom’s ability to work closely with his customers helped him build a reputable client base and loyal following with time. He has worked with television personalities, musicians, actors, artists, industry professionals and politicians. Tom’s punk twist on tailoring has seen him dress gents from Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant to actor Rhys Ifans, from Noel Fielding and Jonathan Ross to the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock, to name a few.

In the beginning, Tom started socialising in Soho bars such as The Colony Room to meet new clients, all of whom wanted to add a distinctive rock ‘n’ roll edge to their wardrobe. “The building of a celebrity clientele was a cornerstone, yes, but for me its always been about providing the best service, and offering the best look to whoever walks through the door,” says Tom. “Everyone is first, and you’re never bigger than your customer. The most important thing is enjoying it and having pursued what I love and believe in.” Tom’s store opened in 2008, having outgrown his Berwick Street studio, giving the brand a visible presence on the Soho high street. Working strictly in the traditional British bespoke manner, Tom takes pride in all of his designs and the clientele which he has worked tirelessly to build up. All Tom’s pieces are cut, sewn and finished by hand on site, under his personal supervision. He is a man with an obsession for detail who strives for perfection… with a twist. He is as much as an innovator as he is a tailor, the punk tailor of Soho; or, if you will: Sir Tom Baker.

Sparks

Sparks


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“Jacques Tati wanted us to be characters in a movie”

On a warm September night, just minutes away from bustling Soho, the prestigious ICA is hosting a launch party for the release of Sparks’ latest album, Hippopotamus, which has just rocketed into the Top 10 in the UK. The room, dotted with palm trees, is bathed in a cool blue light that evokes the feel of a swimming pool and echoes the image on the new album’s cover. In one corner, two puppets representing band members Ron and Russell Mael stand under a gaslight in an old Paris street. It’s a set from their darkly haunting stop-motion video for “Edith Piaf (Said it Better Than Me)”, their next single.

Guests are piling in for tonight’s Q and A session – fans, music journalists and musical luminaries including Muff Winwood and Tony Visconti, both of whom produced classic albums for the band in the 1970s. All have come to celebrate a band whose sharp humour, skewed pop sensibilities and eclectic career have made them beloved popstars and honorary Brits, despite them hailing from Los Angeles.

Brothers Ron and Russell Mael started their musical career as Halfnelson in 1968. With disappointing sales, their label suggested a name change. Russel explains: “Albert Grossman [who ran the Bearsville label] was disappointed that the album didn’t have a wider commercial impact. He thought maybe the name Halfnelson was too obscure – that that was the only thing holding us back – it wasn’t the music.” Albert told Russel and Ron that they reminded him of the Marx Brothers. “So, he said: why don’t you be the Sparks Brothers? We thought that was a terrible name so we said we’d meet him half way, as he was an important person, and we took Sparks.”

In 1973, with commercial success still eluding them, the band moved to Island Records, who sent them off to the UK, believing that their brand of eccentricity might appeal to the Brits. It was a smart move. Sparks played The Old Grey Whistle Test and a run of gigs at Soho’s famous Marquee club, where one night, incredibly, one of rock’s soon-to-be legendary bands – Queen – opened for them. “They all lugged their gear wearing blue jeans, and then they went on stage in their white angel costumes.” The two bands never spoke, though rumours still circulate on the internet that Brian May was once offered the chance to join Sparks.

Their TV appearances and live appearances in the UK paid off handsomely, with their next album, Kimono My House, spawning their most famous and highest charting single “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us”, an operatic glam-pop oddity which nevertheless got to number two in the UK charts, as well as hitting the Top 20 across Europe. Sparks had finally found a home for their unique brand of crazy and Brits took hyperactive Russell and deadpan Ron to their hearts. Subsequent albums Propaganda and Indiscreet cemented their popularity. An album recorded with Giorgio Moroder in 1979 ushered a change of direction musically. Moroder’s distinctive electronic sound propelled them back into the Top 20, with “The Number One Song in Heaven”. “Prior to that, Giorgio had worked with solo singers like Donna Summer – so we were coming from a completely different mindset.”

Sparks’ success was in no small part due to a musical, lyrical and visual style, artful and ironic, that appealed to a British audience on the cusp of what would become New Wave. They brought a cinematic flair to their album covers, too, which perfectly reflected their counter-cultural leanings: Propaganda saw them bound and gagged in the back of a speed boat racing across a vast expanse of water, while Indiscreet had them surviving a plane crash with uncommon style. And on Hippopotamus, once again, the scene looks like a still from a lost Surrealist film: Ron And Russell, dressed in bathrobes, look on in bemusement as a hippo invades their swimming pool. “We’re always hesitant to name an album after a track because it tends to point too much attention to that particular track. But in this case, it just seemed an arresting word, and the cover is literally translating what this song is about in a visual context. We’re very happy about the renaissance of vinyl and the chance to have prominent artwork, aside from the audio aspect. An image really matters now, and we were also able to return to those early Island albums where there’s no typeface on the front.”

It’s no coincidence that Sparks’ visual flair seems to evoke the cinema, as their career has so many links to motion pictures. A little-known fact about the brothers is that early in their career someone at Island records put them in touch with legendary director Jacques Tati, who was planning his follow up to Playtime. “They hooked us up with him and we met in Paris. He wanted us to be characters in a movie for which he had written a rough screenplay.” The film in question, Confusion, a story of two American TV studio employees brought to a rural French TV company, never got made due to Tati’s declining health. But that didn’t end the Maels’ cinema career. When Kiss dropped out of 70s horror flick Rollercoaster, Sparks stepped in, featuring in the opening concert sequence playing two songs. More recently, Sparks have regained their cinematic mojo, working with cult director Guy Maddin, providing the music for one of his films and collaborating on a radio play/film proposal, The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman.

 

Sadly, it proved too expensive to produce, but the brothers are working on a new film project, with Adam Driver and Michelle Williams already attached and cult director Leos Carrax at the helm: Annette, a musical drama written by Sparks, could well prove to be the perfect merging of the brothers’ musical and cinematic ambitions. They met Carrax at the Cannes Film Festival, after he’d included one of their tracks in his previous feature, Holy Motors. “He’s a very interesting director,” explains Ron, “so when we returned to LA, Russell said why don’t we just send him this project which we’d finished recording, and see what he says. The intention wasn’t that it would be a film project but a live theatre thing. He apparently had been looking for a musical project, but wasn’t able to find anything, and he really responded to this thing strongly. We were shocked and happy.”

Annette is currently in pre-production, but in the meantime Sparks are busy touring Europe, Japan and the US to promote Hippopotamus. Even this sounds like a walk in the park compared to their ambitious 21-night London residency in 2008 when they played every album they ever recorded, live and in full. “We rehearsed for four months! People don’t have 21 albums normally… but to say you’re going to do all the songs!”

Centre Point

Centre Point


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Ross Becker


“…a celebration of everything that makes London a world-class city.”

Here, in the few square miles which make up the West End, there is little that rises above 10 storeys. The Post Office Tower and Senate House are among the most familiar beacons in this part of London, though there is perhaps one architectural fixture that’s even more instantly recognisable. Sitting on the borders of Fitzrovia and Soho, Centre Point has been for half a century quite literally at the centre of London life. Praised, damned and often disused throughout its existence, the story of Centre Point is the story of a brutalist icon and a national treasure.

Designed by architect George Marsh of R Seifert and Partners, on a site once occupied by a gallows, the building was constructed between 1963 and 1966 at the crossroads of Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street, New Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road. Sitting atop distinctive angular ‘dinosaur legs’, at 117m (385ft) high it was one of the first skyscrapers in London, comprising a 34-storey tower and a smaller, nine-floor building to the east linked by a first-floor footbridge. With the popularity of Brutalist architecture on the rise in 1960s London, Marsh had a vision of a concrete honeycomb-inspired exterior. This sort of repetition of modular elements, distinctly articulated and grouped together into a unified whole was a key characteristic of the brutalist movement. Centre Point’s precast honeycomb segments were produced on the Isle of Portland in Dorset out of fine concrete utilising crushed Portland Stone and then later driven to London by lorry. The building was the first of its kind in the city, capturing the spirit and inventiveness of 1960s London. The result is a now iconic building that remains raw and unpretentious, contrasting dramatically with the highly refined and ornamented buildings constructed in the Beaux-Arts style that surround it. Though it hasn’t always been seen as an asset to the area, Centre Point received Grade II listed status from English Heritage in 1995.

Centre Point was built as speculative office space by property tycoon Harry Hyams, and despite its position at the heart of the West End and its then impressive height, the building remained empty for almost a decade after its completion and was dubbed ‘London’s Empty Skyscraper’. This was the result of Hyams’s plan that the whole building be occupied by a single occupant. He waited (and waited) for someone to meet his asking price of £1,250,000. At this point, skyscrapers were almost unheard of in the city, and the prominence of such a huge, empty, and unrepentantly modern building inspired many opponents in London. Hyams kept a distinctly low-profile, and when often flying into London over his creation felt that something was missing – a name. At Hyams’s insistence, several years after its completion, Centre Point was branded with its famed neon logo, with the lettering on the logo directly derived from the Optima font. In 2004 artist Cerith Wyn Evans utilised the logo for an outdoor art piece called ‘Meanwhile… across town’, with the replacement LED logo having been unveiled to Londoners this summer. Cerith will be returning to Centre Point with a neon light installation, his work ‘Forms in Space… by Light (in Time)’ is the 2017 Tate Britain Commission.

After remaining largely empty for many years – and even being occupied by housing campaigners for a weekend in 1974 – Centre Point eventually became a functioning office building. From July 1980 to March 2014, it was the headquarters of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), making them, at nearly 34 years, the building’s longest-standing tenants. More recently, it has provided space for US talent agency William Morris and gaming company EA Games. In 2011, Centre Point was purchased and then resold to property investment and development company Almacantar, who have a policy of transforming new acquisitions into prime products with sustained value. Centre Point stands as perhaps their most ambitious project since the company’s launch in 2010.

By this point, Centre Point’s status was uncertain: iconic – if not universally loved – and listed it may have been, but it remained as underused and underexploited as ever. Almacantar’s goal to bring to life a building that, despite being on a prime site right in the centre of one of the world’s greatest cities, had never fulfilled its huge potential. Perhaps now, with the redevelopment of the site for commercial usage at the base and residential in the main tower, we’ll finally see this essential part of London’s skyline celebrated and brought back to deserved prominence. It has undergone an intensive restoration, with every inch of its structure carefully restored and over 50 years’ worth of wear and tear removed in order to secure its future.

This means that for the first time in its history the tower’s famed beehive windows are to become living space. Almacantar began collaborating with Conran & Partners and Rick Mather Architects to restore and repurpose the landmark structure, carefully taking into account the character, neighbouring area and unique position of Centre Point on our city’s skyline. With stunning views of London to the east and west, Centre Point presents an opportunity for an unmatched home environment in Central London. When you enter the building, the first thing to get your attention is the sense of quiet. In the setting of the Conran & Partners designed interiors, this is a welcome break from the bustling chaos of the West End below. Under your nose is Soho, Fitzrovia and Tottenham Court Road station. To the west you can make out Kensington Palace, and to the east St Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard and the Thames. Such an escape from the sprawling city spread out below is a rarity anywhere in London, and to find it in the heart of the West End is practically unheard of. At the base of the building, residents will benefit from numerous amenities, including a club, 24-hour concierge, a spa and pool overlooking the newly renovated station below, screening and meeting rooms and a gym. Above ground, a series of 1, 2, 3 & 5 bedroom apartments make up the main body of the building. Spread over the 33rd and 34th floors is the duplex apartment; a rare opportunity to peer out over the city through Centre Point’s glowing eponymous logo. “The apartments at Centre Point are a celebration of everything that makes London a world-class city,” says Tracy Hughes, Residential Sales Director. “It is unmatched in terms of design, location and specification, and will benefit from an uplift from Crossrail. When we open Centre Point this year it will be a rare and distinguished residential address in London’s exceptional West End.”

 

Back at ground level, the area around St Giles High Street has long been a dull and slightly grimy spot and sometimes a magnet for anti-social behaviour. Repurposing the tower for residential use has also meant redesigning the base of the building, creating a 15,000-square-foot public space for the 21st century city. Looking back at the unexecuted building designs from the early 1960s, it’s possible to see how the new ground-level layout revisits and fulfils Seifert’s original vision for a true ‘centre point’ in London’s West End. This new public space at the base of the tower is to be lined with a series of restaurants and contemporary cafés, with names such as Rhubarb already set to join when the site opens later this year. The first-floor footbridge is also undergoing a transformation to make way for a restaurant overlooking New Oxford Street. The new Centre Point has not only restored this icon for future generations but created a space for the general public that will finally do justice to Seifert’s original vision. And with the upcoming Elizabeth Line providing links to Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf, Centre Point will finally live up to its name: a national treasure at the very heart of London.

 

Mercedes Grower

Mercedes Grower


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Joseph Lynn


“You’re feeling stuff which is enormous – it’s like being hit with a double-edged sword…”

If you knew where it would end, would you ever begin? Breakups. They’re a pain in the ass, and have a habit of being weird, powerful and at times life-changing – sometimes all three. For Mercedes Grower, how we slam the brakes on in a relationship became the inspiration behind her first independent film project. The fiercely inventive North London-based actress and filmmaker tells me about her new London-based film Brakes (2016) and the dark twist it gives to the traditional romantic comedy.

Mercedes grew up in London – Soho was her stomping ground for many years – although these days you’re just as likely to find her in Ireland or New York. She has worked as an actor in film and television for more than a decade, appearing in everything from Guy Ritchie’s Revolver (2005) to Rob Brown’s Sixteen (2013). She’s a writer, too, and has been working on ideas for comedy shows for some time. On the back of an ongoing production, she began to develop the concept for what eventually became Brakes.

“I always thought Brakes would be a good idea for a film. When you’re breaking up with somebody, you always feel like that’s so unique to you and so universal,” she says. “You’re feeling stuff which is enormous – it’s like being hit with a double-edged sword; it’s so much at the same time. It can mean so much to one person, and so little to the other.”

Her idea was that the film would be both an experiment and an opportunity to explore the variety of different ways in which people fall in and out of love, lust and companionship. Filmed over a period of four years and premiering at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2016, where it won the special mention for the Michael Powell award, Brakes is a raw, dark comedy about endings and beginnings, brilliantly evoking the joys and regrets that relationships can bring. It does so by tracking the relationships of nine couples, but exploring their stories in reverse order. As we’re plunged directly into the break-ups of ‘Part 2’, we first witness the raw and brutal face of rejection, and all the pain, black humour and disappointment that goes with it; then, in the ‘Part 1’ that follows, we see a series of parallel episodes showing how these now dysfunctional couples first came together.

Produced on a micro-budget and limited permission (often none) to film throughout the capital, shooting had to proceed guerrilla-style. What Mercedes could rely on, though, was a fantastic ensemble cast of acting and comedy talent to portray her collection of dissolving couples, including Paul McGann, Julia Davis, Steve Oram, Kate Hardie and many more, all giving their time when and where they could. The results are often memorable, from Julian Barrett serenading a married man portrayed by Oliver Maltman, to Noel Fielding kicking a football around in a snowy Soho opposite Mercedes herself.

“If you’re lucky, we all fall in and out of love. The situations I created for the couples are comic and desperately sad at times,” says Mercedes. “They’re meant to resonate with real relationships, scenarios and our own experiences, and to warp reality in some ways.” With its punkish aesthetic and impressive improv chops, Brakes manages to be entertaining, funny, charming and dark-edged. The film’s mix of sometimes surreal comedy and raw emotion overcomes its financial limitations, and despite its low-budget origins, Brakes is now set for a well-deserved general release later this year, appearing on selected screens from November 24th in the UK. This may be Mercedes’ first film production, but I must stress that this is just the beginning of her transition into filmmaking – and she already has a new project in the pipeline.

Wild at Heart

Wild at Heart


Words & Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


With its fantasy Tudor architecture and majestic doors flanked by two Imperial Guardian lions crouched among baskets of geranium, sweet pea and red roses, Liberty’s entrance always makes me think of the set of some silent Hollywood epic. It’s somehow rendered even more cinematic by the stylish female figure tending the blooms of this grand store’s floral emporium, Wild at Heart.

You can’t miss Astrid Haynez, the store manager, and you certainly wouldn’t want to! I’ve come to photograph the flowers, but she’s just as beguiling as they are, a statuesque figure with a Louise Brooks bob and a very French air of quiet expertise that quickly convinces you that Wild at Heart has the answers to all your floral dilemmas.

Founded by famed florist and entrepreneur Nikki Tibbles in 1993, Wild at Heart is in perfect symbiosis with its parent store, offering a wonderfully scented introduction to Liberty’s courtly charms. This hugely successful business, with a wealth of A list clients to match its luxurious setting, is the product of Nikki’s intuition and talent – a talent she discovered 25 years ago when, unhappy with her job in advertising, she jumped at the chance to design flower arrangements for a friend’s wedding. Nikki’s muse had blossomed.

Astrid, whose childhood dream was to be a taxidermist, trained under Nikki and has been with Wild at Heart since 2007. Her wry sense of humour and taste for the extraordinary has brought her a legion of loyal admirers.

“I’ve worked for many other florists but Liberty is where I feel I belong! There is nowhere like it… the neighbourhood, the clients, the Soho community. And what a building! I pinch myself when I have to open those two iconic black doors! It’s one of a kind.”

And amidst the crowds and constant tumult of Soho, she feels there’s something therapeutic about working with flowers. “The beauty of flowers never ceases to amaze me. Handling them calms me, brings me so much joy. I really love what I do.”

And who wouldn’t love the challenges posed by Wild at heart’s clients when they include having to create arrangements for film sets, fashion shoots and advertising. For designer Solange Azagury Partridge, Wild at Heart created incredible wilted bouquets. “We kept the flowers for days on end in the shop. It looked great – there is something so romantic in wilted flowers. All the colours fade… the petals fall… like a Dutch painting. Beautiful!”. Creating bouquets based around paintings has proven a popular request, with the Dutch still life style being the most popular. “But I’ve had requests for flowers like in Douanier Rousseau’s works, with lush exotic foliage and Birds of Paradise, as well as more Gainsborough influenced arrangements, with meadow-like flowers.”

A recent commission veered more towards pop art than fine art when Wild at Heart had to make some bouquets for Lady Gaga, who was guesting on a well-known TV chat show. “We sprayed the flowers black, added some orange glitter and finished it off with dolls heads among the flowers – that was a little out there!”

What Astrid loves most is to pair her buyer with their perfect flowers: “I always engage with the customer. It can be a small token like a posy or an engagement bouquet – whatever the size or budget, I will choose the right flower, the right colour. I know so many secrets!” She laughs, and carrying a huge bouquet of Geraniums to the front desk reveals her dream arrangement. “I would like to recreate the Morticia Adams moment when she cuts all the heads of a large bouquet of Black Baccara roses… so red they appear black… all the roses heads cut with only the stems in the vase. That would be perfect to tell someone: I don’t love you anymore!” But for her spiritual home of Soho she has a far sweeter bouquet in mind. “I would create a nose-gay full of fresh herbs, mint, lavender and so on, tied with a big rainbow ribbon!”

Daniel Lismore

Daniel Lismore


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Joseph Lynn


“Soho became a playground to me. I’d walk around the area in awe…”

It is mid-afternoon in Dean Street’s Groucho Club when Daniel strides up to the first floor to meet me. Strikingly tall, with impossibly long wavy brown hair, he’s draped in a long grey coat and insists that, today, he is dressed down. I suspect, though, that no day is really a dress-down day for the inimitable Mr Lismore. It’s evident when you meet him that dressing well is second nature, and that clothes, with all their nuance and detail, are at the centre of his life. Every ring, broach and thread of his attire tells a story as rich and vibrant as Soho itself. Daniel Lismore could be from a different era, almost another world, but when it comes down to it, he’s a Sohoite at heart.

Daniel’s work as a fashion designer, stylist and creative director has received international recognition. Self-modelling his own outfits and creations, from Masai tribal masks to baubles and chain mail, he has established himself as Britain’s most flamboyant dresser and a well-known face on London’s club scene. He first visited the capital in 2003 to join the protest against the war in Iraq, and it was then that the city first captured his imagination. Born in Bournemouth, he was raised in the Midlands, close to Coventry. He studied photography and fashion, moving to London to work as a model aged just 17. “I was scouted, so I moved here. It lasted about five years, all in all. I was young, and at 17 my first job was with Vogue,” he says. “Soho became a playground to me. I’d walk around the area in awe. The drug dealers, transsexual prostitutes and street urchins; I was instantly fascinated. A lot of my work was here, and the nightlife too. There was this Eastern European lady I would always see who had knitted her entire outfit. Every time I’d see her, it’d get bigger and bigger. Like a great many faces, she disappeared one day.”

Daniel found himself immersed in London’s noughties party scene, spending his evenings moving between Mayfair and Soho. “I met Jodie Harsh somewhere in the ghetto… she was starting a night called Circus and asked me to host it with her. At this point, Mayfair and Soho were a big part of my life. Agents were sending me all over the place, and that’s how it all started,” he recalls. “When Jodie started her night with me, we had everybody joining, from Amy Winehouse to Steve McQueen – everybody would turn up. It was a monthly night, moving from Soho Revue Bar, to Café de Paris and Paramount, which used to be at the top of Centre Point. It was the place. The scene was big back then, but it was also dying. It was my job to go out, find people and bring them to the club. I would meet people in the street who I admired, and truly thought were amazing, and bring them along to the night. Still, today, I don’t see my life as work: it’s living!” he grins.

Hand-in-hand with his endeavours as a scenester, Daniel had developed a unique taste in clothing and an eccentric sense of style. “I met designer Levi Palmer (now one half of Palmer Harding) and he began to dress me up. This became my introduction to, and education in, subculture and style. He took me to the club night Kashpoint, and it was really the start of my interest in nightlife” says Daniel, “We shared a flat together, and at the time I was beginning to try to make it as a fashion photographer. He and I would spend a whole week getting ready to go out on the weekend… of course, at this point I was already working with Jodie at Circus.” Daniel would search the streets for almost anything that was wearable and create the most flamboyant of looks – as he still does to this this day.

Daniel wears his astonishing, intricately detailed armour-like creations day-in and day-out: fearlessly individual, he’s always dressed for war. Standing six feet four inches tall, he was never able to avoid the stares of passers-by, so he’s made a point of giving them something to really stare at.

Now Daniel’s work has been presented in the aptly entitled book Be Yourself; Everyone Else Is Already Taken. From cheeky self-portraits to an array of brilliant and outrageous characters all played by Daniel, the book documents his vision of elaborate and extravagant ensembles. Retro accessories, ethnic jewellery, chain mail and shells: it somehow all comes together in a burst of creative energy, every detail working as part of whole that’s greater than its parts. Many would describe his style as eccentric. My take: it’s positively indefinable. “I’ve been attacked and had abuse hailed at me for being who I am. Everybody has an opinion, and I walk into danger constantly. Everybody has a view, which is great. Whichever view they take is their own assumption, and I can’t change that,” says Lismore. “What is art really? I don’t know myself. I don’t think anything about what I do is art. I am me. Who knows? It’s just a concept isn’t it? I know what I do. I love to create, and my art is myself. I’m a critic just as much as anybody else is when it comes to myself.”

Daniel continues to be one of the most recognisable faces on London’s fashion and lifestyle circuits. His talents have led him from the streets of Soho to becoming the creative director of ultra-couture label Sorapol. Whether he really has dressed down today, as he continues to insist, there’s certainly a kind of modesty about him that I admire. His mask of eccentricity could easily be interpreted as vanity, when in fact it is simply self-expression: the man behind the mask is anything but vain. And behind the mask and the mane of long brown hair, beyond the extravagant, armoured appearance, he communicates a simple, bold message: be yourself, everyone else is already taken. For this particular Sohoite, life is too short to be anyone other than Daniel Lismore.

Teddy Ondo Ella

Teddy Ondo Ella


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan


“For me, it was about creating a beautiful label with the right clothes to help tell the story of my Gabonese culture…”

We first meet at Marylebone’s Ivy Cafe, going on to wander through the backstreets of the neighbourhood, crossing the border into Fitzrovia. We pass window after window, discussing London’s high streets, men’s and women’s fashion, Paris, New York and the eternal, magnetic pull of the metropolis. Teddy Ondo Ella is witty and smart, with an eye for design. He has a keen eye for Soho, too, as he makes his way around the neighbourhood on a visit from New York. His trip is the perfect mix of business and pleasure as he gets ready to launch his eponymous brand, Teddy Ondo Ella, while exploring the area’s rich and dynamic culture.

When we first meet, Teddy is dressed mostly in black: a bomber jacket, denim and sneakers. Less than 24 hours later, across town at the Rosewood Hotel off Chancery Lane, he looks fresh out of a Savile Row fitting, sporting a two-piece turquoise suit. Teddy grew up between continents, living in Gabon and France, and has developed a distinctive style of his own, mixing formalwear with streetwear in his day-to-day life. He draws inspiration from French fashion, but with a distinctively African sensibility. He remains passionate about his youth in Gabon and his original muse – his mother.

“More or less, the creativity in my work has come from the experience I’ve had in my life,” he says. “When I was younger, I never knew I was about to be in the fashion industry. The clothes came into my life, because my mother was running a clothing store. I was working with her in the store, which she named Teddy after me, and learning the ways of the business. I’ve lived in three different continents in my life. And when you only live in one place, you can only understand one side. You have to live on the other side to understand how the other half live, and learn from their culture. This is how my brand has come to be born; through the learnings of culture and people.”

Teddy Ondo Ella wants to create something that’s expressive of the wider world around us, a label that incorporates traditional Gabonese culture and the contemporary fashion world. Produced with only the finest fabrics available, TOE is a balance of luxury and craft, with each garment incorporating a subtle reference to Gabonese culture and Teddy’s own heritage. “These clothes are for the people. For me, it was about creating a beautiful label with the right clothes to help tell the story of my Gabonese culture. The signature piece of the brand will be the abacos, which means ‘against the suit’, Teddy explains. “It was created by Africans in the 1970s as a symbol of anti-colonialism. The Abacos is worn without a tie and with short sleeves. It was a peaceful way for them to show Europeans that they weren’t down with what they were doing. I revisited this piece by making it more modern and more fitted. Teddy Ondo Ella will have an urban line, and a ready-to-wear line. The urban line is called ‘Only Made in Gabon’. This is how I feel men should be dressing – mixing things up, and breaking the barriers of formality and informality,” he says.

Always looking to develop his brand and broaden his own cultural influences, Teddy recently visited Soho on a business trip. Meeting many of the creatives who work in the neighbourhood, he got a first-hand taste of Soho’s traditional flair for fashion. “I want to bring something to my brand and products, and English elegance has come to have an influence over this. Soho has an energy at every turn, which is just as rich during the night as it is during the day. It is magnetic, and the spirit of artists such as Bradley Theodore and Robi Walters, and Exposure PR Founder Raoul Shah, make up the bricks of this place. That energy, and their energy, is something which I want to be at the centre of my brand. Soho feels to me like home; after all, it’s an international village filled with eccentricity and creativity at every corner.”

Teddy is obviously drawn to Soho and feels that, if his business continues to expand, it would be a likely location for a new TOE store. After all, the new Teddy Ondo Ella line – simple, graphic and stylish – perfectly expresses the creative spirit of neighbourhoods like Soho, and the many villages which make up each metropolis Teddy has lived in. Teddy is already a true Sohoite in spirit.