Save Madame Jojo’s!

Nestled in the heart of Soho in central London sits a small, unimpressive looking venue. Push your way through the double doors beneath a seedy flashing neon sign, however, and you encounter a plush world of opulence, red velvet curtains and art deco mirrors.

Until recently, the crowd filling the dance floor was as likely to be clad in baseball caps and chains as burlesque basques and feathers, but Madame Jojo’s – home to some of London’s most diverse nightlife for more than half a century – has now shut down for good.

News that Westminster council had revoked its license this week following an incident outside the club has been greeted with disbelief, both by those who have hosted nights at the venue for years and the many loyal punters who flocked there every week in search of the quirkier side of London’s club scene.

Supporters of Madame Jojo’s say that the closure is part of the council’s drive to gentrify Soho, which is robbing the area of its unqiue atmosphere and heritage in the process.

The venue, known to many as the home of burlesque and cabaret in Soho, hosted some of the earliest gigs played by bands such as The xx and Anna Calvi, and Lorde played her first UK show there. It was also the focal point of Michael Winterbottom’s 2013 film The Look Of Love, in which Steve Coogan plays Paul Raymond, the Soho porn baron who owned and ran Madame Jojo’s in the 1960s.

Well, yes, but back in the day it was a drag palace. With a very diverse clientele actually, including me.

For they had a very enlightened door policy. Unlike some clubs that, when catering to a particular market discriminated against elsewhere, they didn’t discriminate against those who were not part of that particular market.

More specifically, back then, pubs closed at 11. And as a waiter in the West End you’d be unlikely to get out of work by then. A couple of pints was therefore not really on the cards before making for the last Tube home. Pisser really. Except at Jojo’s. Low entry fee, reasonable price for beer. So, the crowd could often be remarkably mixed. On the one side of the place a reasonably typical drag bar, gay meeting place, what have you. Including all the usual enjoyable sights: I particularly remember one regular performer, built like an international second row, 6 ft 5 before the Dolly Parton wig and heels, who would sing out the usual songs in a nice falsetto while being accompanied on the piano.

Round the corner would be a little kaffeeklatch of waiters and waitresses, just finished work, downing a few before that last Tube (with a certain amount of that matching off to equal what was going on in other parts of the club).

It also wasn’t “two crowds”, although it was in one manner. Obviously everyone pretty quickly worked out who was interested in what but interesting people to talk to are interesting people to talk to so there was indeed mixing.

Perhaps the most important thing was that, back then, Jojo’s was what all too many aren’t these days. Tolerant. Sure it was a gay club but you didn’t have to be gay to go there. No one ever asked or even implied that if you weren’t you shouldn’t. It was a boozer really, one with a certain slant, Their gaff their rules (Jojo himself, at least that’s what I recall he was referred to often being around) but those rules were, as I say, not just tolerant of the incrowd but tolerant of all who didn’t actively oppose that incrowd.

Which is pretty much how I think it all should be and for that reason, if that reason only (and I agree, I’m talking through the fog of 30 years of history here) Madame Jojo’s should be saved.

Not that it has much to do with me nor that my support or otherwise is going to change anything but so what? My gaff and I can say what the hell I like, right?

13 thoughts on “Save Madame Jojo’s!”

  1. Oh dear Tim, didn’t you know that nowadays tolerance simply isn’t on? Now one is required to express support for ‘alternative’ lifestyles; anything less and you’re a hate fuelled bigot.

  2. this article is quite interesting on their *ahem* “licensing issues”

    http://www.nme.com/news/various-artists/81302

    “As seen on CCTV, bouncers pulled baseball bats hidden in black bin liners to take on assailants throwing glass bottles at them,” the report says. It claims that an employee of the club can be seen holding an individual against a wall so a colleague could punch him “numerous times”. The report continues to allege that “members of the public were caught in the crossfire with several hurt by the flying bottles; one received a one-inch cut to the rear of his head.”

  3. ‘an employee of the club can be seen holding an individual against a wall so a colleague could punch him “numerous times”. ‘ No doubt he asked for it, in one sense or another.

  4. council’s drive to gentrify Soho

    Ooh, it could be just like East Dulwich or Crouch End, but with a tube station.

  5. Had this been a pub on some council estate, I doubt the Guardian would have been shedding too many tears over the closure. Hypocritical c*nts.

  6. bloke (not) in spain

    The “last train home” used to be around midnight. Not much good for the people who were knocking off at 11:30 & fancied a bit of socialising before hitting the sheets.
    Back in the days when Jojo’s & a few other places were in their prime (anyone else remember the Candybox) the people help made Soho tick, both patrons & staff lived within hiking if not shouting distance. It had a village feel.
    Nowadays no-one who’d be worth knowing could afford to. Plus few of the workers either speak any English or are remotely connected with the culture that was Soho.
    Back in the day we called it the arrival of the 7:37 from Croydon mob. Soho as an evening out. Now they own it.

    Footnote.
    Sorry to see in the paper Acker Bilk had handed in his food pail. Few years back, spent a great evening at the 100Club. Not really a jazzer myself but was dragged along by an old (in both senses) mate who actively still is & spent an evening quaffing & rocking with Mr B & a collection of other names from days past. Thoroughly decent bunch of blokes. Real privilege to be included. Part of what was Soho. Now you pay to gig places, rather than earn your supper.

  7. It does not seem to be a particularly bad fight for club in the centre of any UK city these days. Is there some kind of council agenda at work?.

  8. bloke (not) in spain

    And nothing for Soho in its hayday Mr Ecks. Shootings & gang wars were more the norm. But then, Soho’s now been theme-parked into an imitation of itself. Safe for kiddies. Has all the authenticity of Disney World.

  9. I too often frequented MJJs in the mid 80s with a couple of gay friends – great fun place. Apart from some trips to The Colony Rooms on infrequent returns to the UK, I missed the demise of Soho. I went up there a few weeks ago and it seemed, as mentioned above, a dismal theme park full of yobs.

    However, 30 years ago, I thought then I had missed the best of Soho. Maybe I hadn’t as it still had a lot of character which I sadly missed. The French still had atmosphere though.

  10. Ha!, Yes, took an American friend into the French a few months back. Not what it was. I also remember being in the Coach (back when) and being shouted at for reading the Economist.

    Raedwald is, among the blogs I read, the one who seems to have known it best back when, Soho that is

  11. Pink Punters in Bletchley has a similarly inclusive door policy and diverse clientele. I have been surprised by the tolerance this promotes in even the rufty tuftiest of geezers who go to laugh at the weirdos in the rubber dresses, and quickly realise that when you are the only ones in chinos and shirt, you ARE the weirdos. And then they realise nobody is looking for a fight or competing over women or trying to out-pint you, and actually the atmosphere is pretty good, and these poofters are actually quite a good laugh. A splendid night out for all the family, in fact.

  12. Bloke in Germany in Hong Kong

    So it’s better when lowly-paid waiters can afford a pint or three in the areas they work in? I thought we were supposed to let the market keep trendy Soho joints for the rich, and the waiters can commute 26 miles each way to their three-to-a-room digs.

    Mind you, even nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

  13. anyone else remember the Candybox

    Yes, used to be welcome there, but at some point they stopped letting men in after the ‘Croydon mob’ used to visit only to gawp at the lesbians – not sure about the door policy nowadays.

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