Suggs in Soho: When singer was ‘knee-high to a bar stool’
New film that tells Madness frontman's life story features his memories of Soho in the 1960s
12 January, 2018
Suggs’s story is told in a new film directed by Julien Temple
MADNESS frontman Suggs is a chronicler of London life.
His band sang about a recognisable city, and now, in a new documentary called My Life Story, directed by The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle creator Julien Temple, not only does he speak of the history of the smash hit ska band but also, with Temple’s help, gives us a chance to peek back in time to a Soho long gone.
The film has an interlude from the music world for Suggs to tell us all about Soho in the 1960s.
His mother had moved from Liverpool to London in search of work. She had been a singer in clubs and got a job at The Colony Room in Dean Street.
It was established by the legendary Muriel Belcher in 1948 and you would find Francis Bacon and George Melly, Peter O’Toole and Lucian Freud propping up the bar.
“What a place,” Suggs recalls. “I was probably only knee-high to a bar stool when I first went in. I remember mum singing with the house pianist in the emerald green bar. My head was just under the fug of tobacco as I made my way past a row of fishnet-clad knees – and that was just the fellas…
“Every now and then a giant hand would reach down through the smoke and ruffle my head or offer me a two-bob coin.
“The Colony Room was a magnet for all sorts of misfits, jazz musicians, painters writers, poets strippers, prostitutes, coppers and toffs, plain old deviants and transvestites.”
Less salubrious memories include trips to the Cartoon Cinema in Piccadilly to while away an afternoon, and stopping for a pee in public toilets where he thought it strange to see ink splattered up the white tiles, not realising it was dried blood, from the veins of people who had gone in there to shoot up heroin.
“I remember passing a long queue of skinny looking hippies on Shaftesbury Avenue,” he adds.
“It was outside a chemists, called John Bell, who were involved in a risky experiment of giving out free heroin to addicts…”
He also recalls pints in pubs, dancing the night away, gangs of mods, rockers, ska boys and skinheads.
And the thrill of a West End that was dirty, ungentrified, naughty, mean, dangerous and, as Suggs shows, very, very exciting.