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Wednesday 15 December 2021

In Conversation with Some Kind'a Soho...

"Some Kind'a Soho" available now!

Soho, a place I've been lucky enough to frequent since I was in my teens. A place of wonder, secrets and a taste of real London. From Bar Italia to Little Italy to Sounds of the Universe this place screams old London, London before the corporate takeover and the tourist invasion. Soho is a place that if willing, leads you down new paths to new places to new discoveries... It's part of London's furniture and its cultural identity. A world without Soho, would be a world without soul. 

It was an absolute pleasure to catch up with Darren Russel and David Saunders recently to talk all things Soho and their new book, "Some Kinda Soho - The Voices of disappearing Soho" which is available now from here!

MOU: How did the idea come about for the book? 

Darren: I was taking photographs for the tailoring company, the Disguisery, ran by Giles Plumpton. David, my coauthor, had had a suit made by them and we were taking some publicity photos of him for them. After we had finished we all went for lunch and David was telling us all these stories about all these colourful characters in Soho. David has lived in the area for over 40 years, this gave me an idea for a photographic book, so the next week me and David met at a great cafe/bar called “ My Place” on Berwick street in Soho and this and “Bar Italia” is were we conducted most of our interviews. It also turned out we were both big fans of the Robert Elms show on Radio London and his Monday feature “The Listed Londoner”. So we borrowed the idea and, combined with Davids contacts and my photography, “Some Kind’a Soho" was born.     

David: Darren, the co author was photographing me because I had just had a "be spoke" suit made and it was for the Taylors web site and as we chatted while "I posed" Darren said "You know so much about Soho you should write a book!" to which I obviously said, "We have missed it by 20 to 30 years", but a few weeks later we met in a boozer and discussed the idea. We thought we should ask questions but structure them around 10 to 12 answers. Also Darren would take a photograph of them anywhere they liked in Soho and we also asked the person if they could bring in a photograph of themselves "back in the day".

MOU: Soho is a magical place, with secrets around every corner, was it an easy choice to base the book here? 

Darren: Very easy, I'd been coming into the West end and Soho since I was 16 as Im a Londoner and David has been a fixture there since he moved down from the north of England in the 80’s. Soho has history, character and energy.   

David: I have lived in Soho most of my life so it was very easy for me to write a book about the Manor, although it could be said that Soho chose me.

MOU: How did you go about choosing the people you were going to speak to for the book? 

Darren: Was there a set criteria? The only criteria was they had to have a connection with Soho, be it they lived there, worked there or played there and they had to be interesting. 

David: Most people, who spend a lot of time in Soho, are characters and we new they would have lots of cracking story's about the "naughty square mile" and between us we knew enough people for three books.

MOU: Was there any stories that surprised/shocked you?

Darren: I was surprised at how open and enthusiastic people were to the project. The first person we interviewed was Mark Powell, the tailor. This man has been in some of the biggest magazines in the world, he’s done TV, has a list of celebrity clients as long as your arm but was still prepared to come and meet us. But I think that was down to David, these people had known him for years and, in London vernacular, knew he was ‘proper’.  They trusted him which was the linch pin to this whole book.

David: No story's surprised or shocked me but some of the answers where truly fantastic!

MOU: Was it an enjoyable experience collating all the stories and interviews? 

Darren: Yes, I've met some wonderful people and a lot of them have become my friends. Some people in the book have passed away since we started the book and I feel grateful that I got to meet them and spend a little time with them - such as Eddi McPherson, she had come down from Manchester in the early 60’s. She had dreams of becoming a top jazz singer and she did have some success but unfortunately jazz fell out of favour and was replaced by pop. But what an afternoon we spent with her, we went from bar to bar. She had a very no nonsense approach to life and was a lovely lady. 

David: It was an enjoyable experience collating all the story's and interviews. The first interview was with Mark Powell the Tailor and after him we knew we where on to a winner, and from there every other interview was also funny, interesting and no none let us down.

MOU: Do you feel that Soho has changed dramatically over the years? 

Darren: Yes it has changed, but Soho always changes, people in the 60’s said it was better in the 50’s and they said in the 70’s it was better in the 60’s and so it gos on... 

David: Soho has changed dramatically over the years and I feel not for the better. After Paul Raymond died, all the big corporate company's moved in so the small independent company's were forced out. Crossrail didn't help the small businesses either. 

MOU: Which places still retain that classic Soho essence? 

Darren: Bar Italia, great staff and always a buzz, pubs like the Blue Posts on Berwick street, again great staff, a pub with character where interesting people of all walks of life hang out and Bar Bruno, one of the last working men cafes left in Soho 

David: A lot of places in Soho retain the classic essence but it is shrinking alarmingly. Buy the book to find most of the ones that are still here and the ones that have unfortunately gone. 

MOU: Sum up Soho in one sentence? 

Darren: Come to Soho, become who you want to be.

David: You can be whoever you want to be in Soho but remember it is not Disneyland so mind your manners. 


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In loving memory of Denise Pottinger