Tag Archives: soho radio

Simone Butler

Simone Butler

Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Sandra Vijandi

“I sometimes used to bunk off school for the afternoon and come up here. I loved Soho. Back in the day it was dirtier and filthier and scuzzier. Being young it felt kind of risky being up here.”

Simone Butler smiles as she remembers this unholy pilgrimage to a place so many younger people travelled to hoping to escape their suburban lives. “When you’re allowed to go out on your own as a teenager, everything’s kind of an adventure. So coming up to Soho was amazing. I’d come up when it was getting dark and all the trannys would be outside Madame JoJo’s, it was like another world really.”

Simone is now a familiar face in these parts but she is most well known for landing one of the most coveted jobs in music as Primal Scream’s bassist. But how and where did the journey begin? A journey that has seen her tour the world, play the main stage at Glastonbury, sing live on stage with Jesus & Mary Chain at Austin Psychfest (as well as being the opening DJ at their London shows) and curate part of this year’s Secret Garden Party… “It was The Bass Cellar on Denmark Street where it began in many ways” she says,“I thought ‘Where can I work? Where I can play bass every day and learn about the instrument?’ I was already playing in bands but I wanted to meet as many musicians as possible and they totally took a chance on me. I blagged my way into it. There was one guy who kept trying to get me sacked because he didn’t like the fact that a girl was working there. He would say; ‘what’s she still doing here? I told you to sack her!’ I would set up a sale and then he would come in and go ‘I can deal with it from here’ and then take the sale and commission from me. It prepared me for the industry in the sense that if anyone has a problem with you being female you know how to deal with it.”

She stuck it out and found mutual musical respect and friendship with current Primal Scream guitarist Barrie Cadogan also of Little Barrie who worked at another instrument shop. She paid her dues and eventually when the call came from Bobby Gillespie inviting her to audition, without hesitation she accepted. Rumour has it that she was asked to learn 3 songs but she learned 25, in 4 days – could it be true? Simone smiles and then very seriously says “I did yeah.” When Bobby called I just thought ‘Wow! This is just a fucking incredible opportunity. In my opinion when you really want something you don’t learn just what they tell you, you go in with every bit of ammunition you’ve got, you own it and you make it happen. I put the phone down and thought I’m not going to learn the bare minimum. I’m going to be the bass player of that band. It sounds really arrogant but when you really want something you just go into battle mode.”

At the time, there was lots of press asking who was this unknown person who’d replaced Mani. How did she feel about that? She says “No one knew who the fuck I was”she laughs, “I didn’t want anyone knowing anything about me. I just wanted to get on with the job at hand and not get distracted. NME kept asking to do an article but I declined. I just sort of slipped in the side door. It’s been three years and I’ve only ever experienced love and support from Primal Scream fans.”

When her Scream commitments allow, she also fronts her regular lunchtime show on Soho Radio, The Naked Lunch. I’m interested to know how the title came about and what her approach is to the show. As she says, “It’s a total play on words but I felt like it fitted in to the whole ethos of Soho, an element which is missing, debauched & ravenous. The energy at night in Soho, that’s when it comes alive and I wanted something that hinted at that. I love doing my show. It’s totally organic and doesn’t adhere to a play list. I choose every track myself. The current music scene that’s being sold to the masses is really full of a lot of shit and not stuff that inspires or interests me. But don’t get me wrong, there’s some great bands around right now. I’ve always been interested in what’s going on in the underground scene. For me I feel really passionate about it. It’s really important because music changes & enhances people’s lives. Buying an album you absolutely love makes your week. It can be life changing. Plus, it’s a very sensual thing, the physicality of vinyl. I’m a weird person, I even smell old guitars!”

Having been a regular in Soho for some time, how does she feel about the ongoing modernisation of the area? She sighs and says “I’m all for modernisation and things moving on but not at the cost of the original identity of the area. Soho is such a hugely historical place in terms of music, art & performance. I really think you can preserve the integrity of that without ruining the whole ethos and identity of it. I don’t want to see our cultural history sacrificed for the sake of more multinational chains!”

As an admirer of Primal Scream, I’m also intrigued to know what it’s like play in one of the biggest bands around. “It’s a very special energy you get from playing with the Scream. I’ve never met people who are so immersed in music. It makes me want to be the best musician I can be. I feel really blessed to be able to do that with these people. It’s not really like any other band I’ve been with before. It’s not just about playing music you love it’s about playing music that actually touches you as well. Higher than the Sun is a really beautiful track. I get goose bumps every time I play it. It takes my breath away because it’s such an incredible song!”she says.

It’s refreshing to hear someone speak so honestly and passionately about her work and the area she has given so much of her time to. As she concludes “it’s where I come all the time, even if I’m not working round here I feel like it’s my point of contact for Central London. It’s where I meet people, it’s where I do my radio show, it’s where everything is changing at a really accelerated rate as well. I like the energy around Soho and I like the buzz.”

Soho Radio

Soho Radio

Words & Photography Kirk Truman

“It’s like a glue for the community where all the different parts of Soho meet on neutral ground…”

I wouldn’t say that I’m anything of an expert when it comes to music, though I do have my favourites: classical, jazz, classic rock and of course, hip hop. And until I became a regular listener of Soho Radio some months ago, I didn’t realise music could be at the centre of a community or how it might open my eyes and ears to a broader spectrum of styles.

Having turned a year old in May this year, Soho Radio serves its neighbourhood well, providing an eclectic mix of everything its world renowned creative hub is famed for. With its ingenious front-of-house coffee shop peering out onto Great Windmill Street and its live radio studio visible through panes of glass at the rear, this truly is a radio station like no other.

Operating from a tiny former mini-cab office, musicians and founders Adrian Meehan, Dan Gray and Finlay Morton began their endeavour out of their mutual love for music and the Soho community. The station’s vibrant and diverse content reflects the area’s culture and brings together musicians, artists, film makers, chefs, poets and the generally creative and curious. Inspired by the type of American community stations portrayed in films like “Do the right thing”, “Vanishing point” and the late East Village Radio in NYC, Soho Radio is broadcast online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, live and direct from Great Windmill Street.

Drummer and studio producer, Adrian Meehan has operated ToolShed Music underneath the shop front we know today as Soho Radio for some years. When the previous tenants in the shop space above ground were due to vacate the premises, Adrian and his co-founders saw the opportunity to create a radio station with a difference; Soho Radio was born in May 2014. “It’s like a glue for the community where all the different parts of Soho meet on neutral ground. We’ve had Public Enemy in at the same time as the local school next door. Stephen Fry of Save Soho was in one week, while John James of Soho Estates came in the next”says Adrian.

The station boasts a diverse weekly schedule that is reflective of the Soho community, its residents and the musical tastes of the neighbourhood. From Wednesday’s weekly morning The Soho Society Presents slot, to Primal Scream’s Simone Marie’s Naked Lunch and Scotsman Keb Darge’s Friday evening, this furiously independent station showcases its community and brand new talent daily. With the station fostering independent voices, up-and-coming underground acts as well as being a must-visit for big label stars, Soho Radio is the true voice of the Soho community. But it interests and influence extend beyond the confines of its area, with world class talents such as Boy George, Howard Marks and The Cuban Brothers also part of the mix.

In its first year, the station become well known throughout the neighbourhood as well as further afield. One only has to wonder where the station might be being played at any given time of the week; in offices, shops and homes throughout Soho or anywhere in the world for that matter! Just people looking to get a fix of the vibrancy of Soho. As Adrian would put it: “You can’t force people to listen to it. We’ve just got to be there taking part, that’s what counts.” And indeed, a focus for the station now has become growing the listenership. With over 120,000 listeners tuning in every month, the next steps include deciding on how the future of the station will look and how to grow the business. On founding the station, Meehan says “it was the fact that Soho needed and demanded it. Soho Radio is a great trademark, if it was called society radio or music radio, it wouldn’t work. I’m very grateful that people choose to tune in.”

A Soho based radio station produced by the people of Soho, for the people of Soho, is something that should be celebrated in itself. A personal favourite slot of mine happens to be The Soho Society Presents, hosted by Leslie Hardcastle MBE and Clare Lynch, where the neighbourhood’s current community topics are discussed, alongside an occasional guest. The station’s mix of community engagement and showcase of musical and creative talent is rarity in itself, as is its radio station/coffee shop concept. Embedded in the heart of the community, Soho Radio has found a novel way to be seen as well as heard.

Andy Lewis

Andy Lewis

Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Etienne Gilfillan

“The Mod thing for me has always been this sense of adventure, doing something no-one else was doing…”

He takes another sip of his cappuccino and regards the creatures of the Soho night walking past the brightly lit frontage of Bar Italia where we are sat. For a moment we are both staring at the present but thinking back to a past which still feels very close. As a young boy of 7 from the relative calm of Hertfordshire, Andy Lewis first came to Soho with his parents in 1977 and the memory of it seems to have had a lasting effect,“I remember coming to Carnaby Street when it had that big sign –Carnaby welcomes the world and all that. It was just after The Jam shot that ‘News of the World’cover down there. It was just an amazingly colourful and vibrant place.”

Flash forward another ten years and Lewis would be discovering and slowly making the place his own stomping ground buying records from the now sadly departed Cheapo Cheapo, splashing the cash on threads from stores like Merc on Carnaby Street, and attending the ubiquitous Northern Soul all nighters at the 100 Club. From here on music consumed his life. It was only a matter of time before Soho became the place to be for this well educated Mod from the suburbs. When the glorious Brit-pop years of the mid 90s were in full swing Lewis was to be found as a regular DJ at The Wag on Wardour Street with nights such as Blow Up and DJing on Blur’s Parklife tour. As he says of that heady time;“That was almost a second, possibly third heyday of Soho. A very exciting time for people to come here. I’m sure that if you’ve never been to London before and you come through Soho, it’s got this notable energy and history about it, but nowadays it’s more like an artificial theme parky kind of energy.”

Next up for the talented Lewis was a stint as a solo artist producing two critically acclaimed albums for Soho stalwart label Acid Jazz. On his debut release Billion Dollar Project he got the chance to work with Mod legend and former vocalist with The Action, Reg King. Lewis must’ve thought he’d hit the Mod jackpot but that was just the start! Whilst doing a spot as a roadie, he met the man he now plays bass for and calls his boss; Paul Weller. And though Lewis is a well turned out man with an impeccable taste in tailoring, I wanted to know what it was like working for the man who has his own clothing line and is constantly being labelled as a style icon;“One of the things I like about working with Paul is, it’s the only job that I’ve ever had where my boss has been better dressed than me. He shows you how to go as a man of a certain age. He still looks great. Not always does he look Mod, but he always looks great.”

Mods have been an ever present fixture on the streets of Soho ever since the days of The Small Faces back in the 1960s when Steve Marriott & Co. had their wages paid in clothes from shops such as His Clothes and the wonderfully named I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet. But is it still possible to be a Mod in the days of Brand Consumerism that we find ourselves living in now? Lewis seems to think it is. “The Mod thing for me was all about keeping an eye on the future as much as having an eye on the past. Nowadays it’s all about buying a brand identity. The Mod thing was never about who made it, it was about what it looked like on you. The Mod thing for me has always been this sense of adventure, doing something no-one else was doing.”

The Mods are still here but life is changing in the dark heart of Soho. The dirty, sleazy and ever so slightly seedy element that has defined Soho as a popular haunt for creatives like Andy Lewis has transformed in recent years. Andy says, ”The problem is when people start knowing the price of it all and the value of none of it. Soho was a place that creative industries moved into because it was cheap and then people wanted to move here because it was creative and that pushed the prices of everything up and now it’s trading on its past. So if you locate in Soho it’s as if you’re buying into this period of history which isn’t here any more. It’s got a past but not a future and that’s what worries me.”

So what now for Soho? Every day more high street brands & the same old coffee shops arrive. As a visitor to Soho for over 30 years this is something that has obviously played on his mind;“All these little coffee shops that are opening up are essentially the same thing. Bar Italia is Bar Italia but people don’t want to come here they want to go to Starbucks and places like that because they feel comfortable with the Starbucks brand. It’s great but it’s also terrible as well and I think if we’re not careful we risk losing the reason why people want to come here. We’ll lose the reason why people think London is special”.

The temperature drops a degree or two and as the door to Ronnie Scott’s swings open for a moment the sound of a jazz refrain catches the ear. Lewis orders another cup of coffee and says “I’ve always been a cappuccino drinker. I’ve always liked a nice & strong, Italian frothy coffee and you cannot beat it. First thing in the morning and even last thing at night when you’ve got a gig to go to. That’s why I keep coming to Bar Italia, it’s just around the corner from all the places that I come to. When I was going for a night out in Soho and even working I’d come here first, have a couple of espressos or a latte and then go to Madame Jo Jo’s and be fit for a night’s DJing!”