I suppose everyone has slightly different experiences of Soho – I am reminded of the sign, no longer there, at 7 Meard Street, previously home to the artist and writer Sebastian Horsley (1962-2010) that read, “This is not a brothel. There are no prostitutes at this address.” Then there’s the Soho Theatre, which has one of those bars so loud I must shout myself hoarse to have any kind of meaningful conversation in there. Nice staff, though.
Barb Jungr and Mike Lindup have come up with songs about a Soho that is partly of a previous generation, and partly very much the Soho of contemporary times. It’s a curious combination in some ways, but it’s one that works, in the sense that it isn’t entirely nostalgic, and therefore appeals to a wider audience than just those old enough to recall the heady days of ‘dirty cinemas’, sex shops and strip and peep shows there.
The problem, if I can call it that, with a song cycle of this nature, even one still a work in progress, is there are going to be elements of Soho life and Soho history that aren’t covered. There was, for instance, a cholera outbreak in Soho in 1854. There are a number of religious groups based in Soho, and not all of them Christian churches – the Radha-Krishna Temple on Soho Street, part of the Hare Krishna movement, a branch of Hinduism, was part-funded by George Harrison. And I was once told on one of those open-top tourist buses with live commentary – not always the most reliable of sources, I know – that ‘Soho’ was a rallying hunting cry in the seventeenth century.
Anyway, these songs are a good collection, with a variety of musical styles deployed: there’s even a call and response number, and more often than not the lyrics raise a smile, if not outright laughter, and not always in a light-hearted way. True to the hardcore nature of the Soho ecosystem, a landlady sings about how she wouldn’t ask any of her staff to do what she wouldn’t do, before proceeding to tell her audience that she routinely clears up vomit, blood and broken glass, amongst other things.
There’s a song called ‘Nice Girls Shouldn’t Go To Soho’, which just about says it all – I recall walking through Soho to get a Tube home post-theatre one evening. It was, as the younger generations say, ‘standard’, at least for that time of the night. But a woman behind me loudly told her companion that she really didn’t like being pushed about. (It happens by default rather than deliberate acts, due to the sheer amount of pedestrian traffic.) Nice boys shouldn’t go to Soho either, and the same for non-binaries. Or maybe they should, and one experience should be enough to put them off for life.
This would be especially true if anybody, nice or otherwise, found themselves in an altercation with a burly bouncer – an early number, ‘Bouncer Man’, tells the story of – well, bouncer men, who may not have seen and heard it all, but have seen and heard a lot more than the rest of us. This tale of a formidable yet resilient part of central London is recognisable and relatable to those of us who know it, and an eye-opening revelation to those who don’t.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Featuring an ensemble cast of 4 fabulous singers: Lucinda Lawrence, Robbie Noonan, Nate Rogers, Manon Taris
With a trio of stunning musicians: Mark Edwards -piano, Arnie Somogyi – bass and Darren Beckett – drums
This song cycle, begun before the pandemic, now emerges in a first-ever‘ work in progress’ performance celebrating the wonders of, and darkness inside that legendary square mile of London, famous the world over. Soho.
A new Song Cycle
by Barb Jungr & Mike Lindup
20 June at 7.00pm
Live at Zedel
20 Sherwood Street
London W1F 7ED