Skip to the last 5/10 mins for Mr Tobias and his extraordinary proboscis!
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Archive for the ‘Lots Road Triangle’ Category
Skip to the last 5/10 mins for Mr Tobias and his extraordinary proboscis!
You will notice a new header. As our course progresses, relevant SATORI designs or influences will regularly punctuate the stories. The relevance of this one will become apparent when we move to one of the most enjoyable jobs Michael and I ever did.
To start with, SATORI had its fingers in lots of pies, unsure of which direction to take. We did graphics for a couple of cool fashion labels, painted a Californian mural on a massive wall at a restaurant called Pacific Plaza in the West End, worked with Christopher again at a club called Madisons in Camden Lock and on various projects which were fun and challenging.
A highlight of that period – and a labour of love – was designing and painting the shopfront for our local newsagent. ‘Mr Tobias’s Sweet Shop’ is an intrinsic part of World’s End’s colourful history and Tony Tobias was its technicolor proprieter. Outside the shop on Kings Road (a little down the road from Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Seditionaries’) was a sign which read ‘UNDER JEW MANAGEMENT’. Inside the shop was an insane Community Centre for schoolchildren, misfits and waywards, animals, locals in general, and the elderly sometimes ‘resting’ with a cup of tea. It was almost impossible to leave Tony’s without a smile on your face.
Inside the door were half a dozen crisp boxes. If you were local you avoided one of them at all costs. If you weren’t and decided to fish out a packet of Salt and Vinegar from its box you were in for a surprise. Inside it lived The Biggest And Grumpiest Cat On Earth (I can’t remember his name – are you out there Tony?). He didn’t like being disturbed and if you didn’t get bitten you’d almost certainly receive a hefty swipe from a paw the size of a dinner plate.
The Tony Tobias Fan Club ranged from 9 to 90, had immensely different life styles and philosophies and probably, in our ludicrously litigious and protective Nanny State, be regarded as an evil gathering which would inevitably cause long-term, irreparable, psychological damage to all involved. Exactly the opposite was true of course. Children had respect for different generations, potential social problems were often solved by discussion and humour and many practical problems (particularly for the elderly) were solved by the pool of skills the Community Circus provided. Broken bicycles were repaired in exchange for fixing a broken window, legal advice was given in return for painting and decorating, baby-sitters were easily found in emergencies and if someone was ill Tony was probably the first to know and care would be organised. It was not uncommon then (it still happens) to see someone taking dinner across the road to a neighbour who was bedridden. *
One day I learnt the true meaning of the phrase ‘Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover’. It was early in the morning and the Sweet Shop was heaving – kids on their way to school, builders buying newspapers, the odd scream erupting from Salt and Vinegar and a woman (probably in her eighties) at the front of the queue was fishing for change in her purse. Tony reached below the counter and held up, for all to see, the centre-fold of a gay magazine, making hilarious comments on it. The photo was about as explicit as a photo of a muscular naked man could be and Communal Embarrassment for the old lady rippled around the shop. People coughed, turned away, and tried vainly to become invisible. A few expressed outrage and others left the shop unable to cope. If they’d waited a moment or two however, they would have seen the old lady look up from her purse, aware of the uncomfortable silence and stare at the centre-fold. ‘Blimey,’ she said, ‘I wouldn’t mind that between two slices of bread!’
The structure of the double shopfront was essentially Victorian – an excess of moldings, decorative cornices, pilasters and protruding blocks of wood surrounding the shop name facia. It was an ideal canvas on which to paint an extravagance of colour. It was a Sweet Shop after all so Michael and I took a box of Liquorice All-sorts from Tony and headed off to our local DIY paint-mixing store. We got back, laid out the tins in a row, opened the lids and nearly threw up. Shocking Pink, Lime Green, Lemon Yellow, Electric Blue, Tangerine and Chocolate Brown is not your average architectural colour combination but they perfectly reflected the larger-than-life character of the shop. The project took weeks longer than it should have done – extended tea-breaks in and outside the shop were essential and, unable to resist the opportunity, with Tony’s help, work often turned into Laurel and Hardy street theatre where ladders, planks, ropes and paint-tins took centre-stage in scenarios devised to play practical jokes on innocent passers-by. Of all the jobs I’ve ever done it was undoubtedly one of the funniest and if work can be as enjoyable as life outside work – what can be better?
*Joy of joys … I didn’t expect to find it (I’ve looked before) but there it was – recently posted! There was a documentary about the 31 bus and at the southern end of the route (World’s End) was TONY TOBIAS’S SWEET SHOP. Tony features heavily in the last 10 minutes of PART 2 and watching it you will see exactly why he deserves his reputation …
One more mention of Country Cousin. One of the staff there became a life-long friend and a local neighbour twice. It was Tim who introduced me to Tom Robinson and the chance to design an album sleeve for his new band – SECTOR 27. It took several years after arriving from India to get to SECTOR 27 so, although it’s taken a while to get here, the characters on the way have all contributed to the journey.
Next … DEFINITELY(!) SECTOR 27 as well as PETE BURNS and the THOMPSON TWINS.
I’ll get to Ms Woodlawn shortly but I remembered another story (there are so many) about Christopher Hunter relevant to our guide. It re-introduces those local gangsters.
The club’s success was phenomenal and Christopher knew that sooner or later the success would come to the attention of a few who could well offer ‘protection’ in exchange for a percentage of profits. Chris, of course, was spending far more money than the thousands he was taking every night and it was inconceivable to him that he would give in to threats and extortion and part with hard-earned cash. The threats never came and neither did the gangsters. Christopher quite simply out-manoeuvred them.
Twice a year the club closed and starting with a magnificent lunch and ending with one of his many show-biz friends performing a private cabaret, a group of specially invited guests were seduced by Christopher’s charms and his unrivalled talent to deliver extravagance on a level rarely experienced. Chefs and somelliers were imported for the day and they produced a banquet fit for royalty. A team of a dozen of the prettiest boys and girls who worked at CC were invited for a special training session in the morning. They were told which guests to pay particular attention to, which to be careful of, which end of the ballroom they danced at, how to flirt outrageously without giving offence and how they could ensure, should serious sexual advances be made, they remained totally in control of the situation. (There were, it has to be said, times when the occasional dalliance took place but strict rules were applied, condoms provided and total privacy was guaranteed in Christopher’s luxurious loft apartment above the stage.) He really did think of everything. ‘In potentially embarrassing situations, my dears, always imagine what could go wrong. It usually does – so prepare for that eventuality.’
Where was I – oh yes, the gangsters. The reason Christopher was never confronted by any of them was because, for those two days a year he was the supremely stylish host to a highly influential group of law-abiding citizens – the police!
The concept of a supper-club was a revelation to London. CC’s reputation(!) spread like a forest fire. Twice a night there was dinner and an extraordinary cabaret – performances by the very best artists from the outrageous New York underground club-circuit. I was now involved – every two or three weeks – designing and building sets for the acts. I spent a whole week, under the supreme guidance of Christian Tooms (I know!), Christopher’s partner, working on a set for someone I couldn’t wait to meet.
Doo, doo, doo, doo-doo-doo,
Doo, doo, doo, doo-doo-doo,
Doo, doo, doo, doo-doo-doo,
Doo, doo, doo, doo-doo-doo,
(Know who Holly Woodlawn is yet?)
Two days before the show opened I was painting the set when I was approached by a very attractive Puerto Rican boy wearing a baggy t-shirt and frayed jeans. ‘I’m Holly’ he said. ‘I’ve come to rehearse for my show.” The song began immediately to play in my head – ‘Doo, doo, doo, doo-doo-doo, (Ok – enough!).
‘Holly came from Miami FLA
Hitch-hiked her way across the USA
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.’
Holly Woodlawn was one the inner circle – along with Joe Dallesandro, Ultra-Violet, Billy Name, Edie Sedgwick, Candy Darling and Paul Morrisey amongst many others – of the Warhol ‘Factory’ in New York, and often appeared in his films. Warhol has always been a hero of mine and I was envious of those who witnessed a revolution in modern art. I have a quote from AW by my computer. It’s a constant reminder – ‘ No Matter How Hard You Hit It, A Banana Will Never Sound Like A Drum.’
Holly and I hit it off immediately. The Holly I met that first day was soft, sensitive, fragile – beautiful in so many ways. When I met Holly Woodlawn the stage Diva two days later I was in shock for hours! Unrecognisable as the good-looking Puerto-Rican boy, Holly Woodlawn was a devastatingly attractive woman, a fiery seductress dressed to kill and who could slice anyone in half with one lash of her tongue. This was not a drag-queen or a female impersonator – this was gender transformation. (The drummer of the session musicians hired to back Holly didn’t know until the last show that Holly was a man!)
At some point during that first week of Holly’s residence at CC, I was summoned to her dressing room. Believe me there was absolutely no choice but to accept. She Who Was A He fluttered her eyelashes, pouted trembling lips and draped her arms seductively around my neck. ‘Honey’ she said in a voice which insisted knees collapse, ‘We’re going OUT, to show this little town how to have fun.” How could I refuse? Exactly. That song played and replayed over and over in my head and resonated for the whole of Holly’s stay in London as we went out on numerous occasions. Each time was a joy – outrageous, hilarious, touching and always sublimely honest.
One evening, during visits to a variety of gay clubs and bars (remember when there used to be VARIETY?) I was drinking Chardonnay with Holly (Darling Andie – I should be the Queen of Chardonnay.’) when we were approached by a leather queen. He asked Holly for a dance. He wore the full uniform – leather jacket, leather trousers and chaps, leather hat (probably leather hair!) and biker boots as well as sporting a preciously trimmed moustache, piercings, key-rings and severely cropped hair. (This WAS the late-70’s.) Holly stood up, straightened her red satin shoulderless evening gown and pulled long and hard on the cigarette which hovered over a foot away from her mouth in a movie-star type cigarette-holder. ‘Honey,’ she said, placing one bejewelled hand on his shoulder and slowly eyeing up and down this cliched vision in black leather, ‘I love to dance, I just don’t want to DIE right now.’ and sat down again.
Wicked perhaps – but as I said, always sublimely honest.
We’re moving on from Country Cousin to another club I worked at which completely changed the London music scene. We’ll meet Holly again later – different places and very different times. Can you imagine how Holly Woodlawn and Metallica are linked?
Dream on ….
Actually, perhaps designing my first album sleeve may be a little premature in terms of how my design experience developed into an extreme sport. We need to go a little further back …
After living in the Himalayas for 2 years (that’s a whole other story) I arrived in London in the glorious summer of 1976 with two dozen paintings I’d carried back overland from India. Seriously culture-shocked and barefoot still, I moved in with friends who lived on the borders of Chelsea and Fulham. It was, and still is, a community I love.
Then it was full of drug dealers and gangsters, terraced houses, children playing in the streets and a crew of local characters with more stories to tell than the Ancient Greeks. It’s still pretty much the same though it’s probably the kids in the street selling drugs, some of the terraced houses are inhabited by a more sophisticated breed of gangster and the characters are even more extreme, though often too ‘out of it’ to tell their stories.
I noticed a couple of weeks after I’d moved into the Lots Road area and made friends with the gangsters (obviously, you would wouldn’t you?) that a new club was opening inside what is still The Furniture Cave on Kings road. (The club is now the appallingly suburban Crazy Larry’s.)
There was a sign outside the entrance to the club which said ‘COUNTRY COUSIN, Supper Club, Restaurant and Gallery’. I nipped home to collect a few paintings. ‘Give it a go’ I thought. I met the owner – a wonderful and (I realised later) very well-connected restauranteur called Christopher Hunter. He’s probably the only true anarchist I’ve ever met. He did whatever he liked (you really don’t want to know) and his friends who filled the club were the likes of Danny La Rue, Freddie Mercury and Shirley Bassey. ‘Darling’ he said ‘I love your paintings. I need an exhibition when we open. The walls are yours’.
To give you an idea of why I loved Christopher so much is easily explained through one incident. I arrived at the club one morning and Christopher was sitting alone in an ocean of empty tables, his head buried in his hands. ‘Why Chris, what on Earth’s the matter?’ I said. ‘Dear boy,’ he said, taking both my hands in his, ‘some awful awful news. My bank account’s in credit. I’m spending my own money!’ I looked at him and he was genuinely devastated. ‘Come on,’ he said ‘we’re going out to buy a red convertible Mercedes sports car.’ And we did.
What is this to do with design you might well ask. As the stories keep coming, you’ll see, you’ll see.
Being the place it was, Country Cousin needed staff who could deal with the arrogant rich, could flatter the famous, humour the terminally drunk and, at all times, be themselves. They were an amazingly flamboyant and intelligent bunch – confident, beautiful and irrepressibly energetic. They enjoyed themselves hugely and their good humour was infectious. That was Christopher’s skill. No matter how potentially successful his ventures might be, he knew he needed to oil the machine with talented individuals as important as his personal vision of The Great Life.
I practically lived at CC for nearly two years and quite early on Chris asked me if I would join the Country Cousin Family as it’s resident designer. ‘Chris,’ I said, ‘I have no experience at all in design. I wouldn’t know how to start’. He laughed at me. ‘Darling, darling,’ he said, ‘If you really want to do it, there are people out there who will show you how. Learn, dear boy, learn.’
Where next? Probably meeting the astonishing diva – Holly Woodlawn…
5th September 2009. Serendipity.
As I sat writing this blog at a Fulham riverside pub, a white-haired older gentleman approached me. He wore a wide-lapelled very smart pin-striped suit, a pink silk tie and the same colour handkerchief blossoming out of his top pocket. ‘What are you writing?’ he said. ‘About Chelsea and Fulham in the 70’s’ I said. He sat down and told me about his past, living in the Fulham area. He was 78. ‘My friends used to call me Al Capone’ he said with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Now because of the alcohol I consume – they call me Alka Seltzer’.