Guest Post by Mel Wright – January 2010
“It’s progress isn’t it?” the massive Nigerian security guard said, hovering over me in a kindly way on the corner of Dean Street and Diadem Court, Soho.
“But my history is at stake,” I protested, pointing to the boarded up building behind him.
Crossrail, the multi billion pound transport project are constructing a new high-capacity, high frequency London railway – east to west. But it comes with another cost – the demolition of some old Soho buildings including music venues. Already gone, The Astoria in Charing Cross Road and a block in north Soho will also soon vanish to make way for the shiny new Tottenham Court Road Station. The casualties will include number 93 Dean Street which in the Sixties housed a basement club called Les Enfants Terribles, a French student hang out- all Pepsi Cola and Johnny Hallyday. In 1967 I drummed there with Shakey Vick’s Big City Blues Band two nights a week. The French invented Disco and this club was buzzing with dancers chasing all the new stylish Mod moves to Green Onions, Mr Pitiful and The Midnight Hour. We would haul our equipment through the back door in Diadem Court and down into the basement dive to play the blues of Little Walter, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson et al. They loved it – things were changing – it was ’67 and a more free floating vibe was around – blues was back in. Alexis Korner and John Mayall were hip.
“Shakey” they’d cry out above our raw down home sounds. But Shakey was more concerned about when we could nip out to the nearby Intrepid Fox for a pint! (the pub is also about to be demolished). At Les Enfants’ we all learnt to speak a bit of French. Our guitarist Rod Price even more so as he got very chatty with some au pairs who became regulars to our little weekly caper. Rather uncharacteristically Shakey saw this West End gig as an opportunity for the band to become more professional. He proclaimed that we smarten up and not sit on our speakers when we were playing. For a while we all took things rather seriously, after all he was the boss. But it didn’t last, thank goodness. Les Enfants’ did lead us to getting a residency at The Marquee in Wardour Street. So we felt that we were on our way, of sorts.
Leaning back now against the wall in Diadem Court eyeing the doomed building these hazy memories came flooding back.
“Any chance of me popping down in the club before it goes, just to take a few photos?” I asked my friendly security guard.
“Oh no, can’t do that, there’s cameras see. It’s all locked up. They’ve got squatters in the pub next door.” I looked up and sure enough above the boards I saw signs of life at the window. People grittily hanging on to accommodation in central London. I wondered about phoning Shakey to see if he fancied joining me in a squat at the old club but I reckoned he’d say that he’d prefer joining them at the pub .