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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Life and death and Jojo's

Things die and other things are born and stuff evolves and that's the way of things. And, to be honest, usually I'm one of those people who kind shrugs and takes the stance that if one is going to like new things, then sometimes old things are going to disappear because that's just how life is. But sometimes there's a little more at play that natural evolution, and when it comes to city planning, there almost always is a lot more at play, and it's far from natural. I was part of the movement that successfully saved Gabys Diner from being swept aside to make way for a chain restaurant, but that kind of protest rarely succeeds. My treasured New Piccadilly Cafe is no more, victim of redevelopment, and now, a similar fate has befallen the wonderful Madame Jojos.

Much has been written about how a violent incident involving doorstaff was what closed it down, which is technically true, but you don't have to listen to hard to pick up the whispers of possible dodginess. Well, I've never been much for whispering, so I'll say it out loud. It stinks. Some of the key door staff in the incident didn't even work for Jojo's, they came from neighboring businesses. Jojo's were told to change the management and take on a whole new, council approved, door team - which they did. And yet, even after complying with all demands, their license was still revoked, swiftly and without debate. Put this together with the fact that public records clearly show a plan to demolish Jojo's and replace it with new, lucrative retail units that was drawn up long before the incident ever happened, and it doesn't take Woodward and Bernstein to figure out that this whole affair looks exactly as crooked and cynical as you'd expect. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's just my cynical paranoid mind at work. Or maybe a Tory council and real estate developers just ain't the most ethical of motherfuckers.

Either way, it's done. Nail hit. Coffin door secured a little more firmly.

A spokesbot from Westminister council is quoted thus: “Westminster is rightly proud that Soho is now a safer area for people to live, work and play. It is not something we will apologise for.”. Well, I don't doubt their reticence to apologise for anything, at all, ever, but I think this says, perhaps, more than was intended. Here's the thing, cities should have areas that are a little..rough. It's part of the fabric of a city. There should be places that aren't ideal for kids. There should be a couple of streets that are mainly for grown ups - that offer grownup pleasures, grownup thrills, and sometimes grownup dangers. It's cultural texture. If you make a whole city family friendly, then you become like a parent who smears anti-bacterial gel all over their kid, every time they touch anything that fell on the floor. You think you're doing the right thing, but as soon as that kid catches a cold, they're going to drop dead. Allow the exaggeration, to make my point, won't you?

On top of that, I adore the fantasy that chain stores and high end dining = safer. Like nobody's ever been mugged outside a Wahaca, that shit only happens near McDonalds. Such low-grade misdirection that the council hopes will take our attention away from the gorgeous new linings of their pockets.

Oh well. It's tragic, and boring, and shite, but the shows will go on, have no fear about that. Just like always, the travelling circus will just find a new place in which to pitch its tent. Crowds will follow, and the shows will thrive. We're flexible, like Bruce Lee's water, and that makes us strong.

For me, I played Jojo's pretty regularly, usually as part of the excellent Magic Night, but also, over the years, with the lovely Folly Mixtures, or in Bete Noire, or with the mighty Chutzpah and Hagen, and I never had a bad gig there. I'd bounce on stage, get my first laugh by noticing the low ceiling, and we'd be off and running. It was such a strange shape room, you could play the people in the pit right by the stage off against the folks way back by the bar, to the amusement of the people sitting down in between. The crowds were always lovely, but just on the cusp of considering the possibility of being lary, which meant you couldn't sleepwalk through your set, you had to deliver. I do love that in a venue. I knew I'd done good if I could stare through my own reflection in Andy's sound booth to see him cackling away. That was a nice feeling.


We had a..well..there were differing labels attached to it..was it a protest? A procession? A vigil? A funeral? Whatever it was, it was good, and a couple of hundred retro and reprobates, dressed in their finest, paraded a coffin through soho. I figured many passers by might have thought it was a genuine funeral of a soho character, at least until the coffin was upended and dumped in Jojo's doorway, where, hilariously, the lone security guard inside started freaking out that he might be trapped inside. Lols were had.

Then there was drinking and chips and chatting in a pub nearby and the sense of family that often exists in this little community was felt. And I didn't get a chance to tell Abigail O'Neil what a great job she'd done organising it all, so I'm doing it now.

And then, as if to re-enforce the fact that the show must, indeed, go on, I jumped on the tube and got myself over to Acton to perform at The Aeronaut. Packed house, cool acts, lovely (and quite new) venue, and snakes! One venue dies, another thrives. So there is, at least, that.

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