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Soho in the Fifties and Sixties
on 3 September 2014
Soho is a part of London which is still thought of as slightly bohemian, possibly also slightly seedy, and has always seemed to appeal more to people who live in the city than to tourists. This short book shows us that it was the same in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when Soho was full of clubs, bars, after hours drinking, artists, writers and musicians.
This book gives us brief portraits of the various people linked to Soho during this time and includes artists and writers from Dylan Thomas to Jeffrey Bernard and takes in George Melly, Ronnie Scott and Lucian Freud, amongst others, along the way. There are many key post war Soho figures, mostly connected to the art world, some writers, musicians and others who were simply just characters – artists models or club owners. I was a little disappointed that the author did not turn his eye to those involved in music outside jazz; after all, the British rock and roll scene was first recognised in Soho and could even be argued to be important to Merseybeat (Allan Williams, an early supporter of Liverpool bands, meeting the man who would lead him to send bands to Hamburg in the 2i’s coffee bar of all places – a location which also saw a desperate George Martin scurrying to look for talent to sign and that elusive chart success which would all but elude him until he signed the Beatles).
Some of those discussed saw their greatest links to Soho in earlier times than those in this book; Dylan Thomas for example, is one person discussed who left Soho for New York shortly before his death. So, often, you feel that those chosen are, obviously, linked to the place but not necessarily in the time frame chosen. Still, this is a nice introduction to the arty side of Soho and to the bohemian aspect of a part of London which is constantly reinventing itself.