A Eulogy for White Heat, the Clubnight That Changed my Life
In November the legendary Soho nightclub Madame JoJos was forced to close after violent altercation outside its doors. Fred Macpherson remembers its glory years.
When Tom Cruise walks into Madame Jojo’s (made up as ‘Sonata Jazz’) in Eyes Wide Shut, it’s probably the most muted you’ll ever see it. This is a club that’s been round since the 50s, survived the rise and fall of Paul Raymond, been home to cabaret, jazz, drag, funk, Miley Cyrus private parties and for every Tuesday night of the last decade, London’s longest running (and last) indie night: White Heat.
In November, Madame Jojo's closure was announced, in the wake of an incident wherein a group of bouncers and passers by engaged in a street fight straight out of The Warriors, armed with broken bottles and baseball bats (read the official miserable report here). Rather than focussing on the actions of the individuals involved - Westminster council opted to revoke Madame Jojo’s license, thus bringing about the end of a local institution.
Another legendary nightspot shut down and another nail in W1’s coffin. Personally I was never one to romanticise Soho until I started to realise just how little of it’s left.
Every night of the week at Madame Jojo’s tells a different story but it’s Tuesdays that I’ll always associate it with. White Heat was the first club I was ever allowed into (before the advent of American style ID checks at every club in London), often staying until closing then going home for a couple of hours of sleep before school. They’d book amazing American bands who no one else could get. They’d book my band and my friends' bands when no one else would. It’s a cliché, but the amount of people I know who just didn’t fit in the places they were from and then, once a week could come and find solace in dancing, drinking and laughing at White Heat is just amazing. Most of my best friends either met there or got to know each other there. People fell in love on that dance floor on a weekly basis. The toilet attendants were more revered than the DJs. There were £2.50 drinks and £1 shots, in central London, to this day. God knows someone had to be watering down the vodka.
Watch Spector's Soho-themed episode of Lost and Found
So many shows I saw there stick in my mind (Liars, These New Puritans, Acid Mothers Temple, The Kills, Klaxons, Horrors, Semifinalists, Health, The xx, Comanechi, Sky Ferreira, Xerox Teens, Video Nasties), let alone the ones I didn’t (Grimes, Lorde, Adele!), but there’s one in particular that I think perfectly sums up the ethos of the night.
It was the day before the release of Lightspeed Champion’s first album (Falling Off The Lavender Bridge) and Dev and I were sitting in our friend’s flat on a Monday night talking about what a shame it was that he didn’t have an album launch planned (he wasn’t the most organised guy in the world). We were obsessed with classic early to mid-naughties MTV2 classics at the time (stuff like Ben Kweller’s "Wasted and Ready") and laughed about the idea of getting a group of friends together to play covers at White Heat the next evening. Matty (Hall - White Heat’s longterm promoter and bona fide Legend of Indie) didn’t take all that much persuading, giving us a slot at the end of the bill without asking who was in the band, what we’d be playing or whether we were any good.
Less than 24 hours later, with zero rehearsal or equipment, the Pun Lovin’ Criminals were shuffling on stage.
We played a set that included "The Rat", "Get Free", "Slow Hands", "C’mon C’mon" and an earthshaking rendition of "Reptilia" with none other than Alex Turner on vocals and guitar.
The closure of Madame Jojo’s is sad for so many reasons, not just the end of a chapter of mine and my friend’s youth, but another step towards London becoming that little bit less unique. I guess every generation in every city has a mythical coming of age club night, (and indeed White Heat promises to open somewhere new in 2015), but I do wonder what will become of Soho and central London in general - somewhere that was once so synonymous with vibrant, sleazy, technicolour night life. Since the beginning of Crossrail’s construction we’ve lost at least five or six great venues (not including Jojo’s and its neighbouring Escape, a gay bar also closed in the same upheaval) and gained little more than two gargantuan Primarks and another two pounds on every drink price in the locale. I don’t know what Westminster Council’s vision for Soho is and I don’t think I want to know.
I spoke to White Heat’s promoters Matty and Marcus to get their take on the whole thing.
What are your favourite memories from White Heat at Madame Jojo’s?
Marcus: White Heat properly informed my musical taste and knowledge - so basically the last ten years has been one long drunken happy memory. One of my favourite shows ever had to be Jamie T the last time he played. I crowd surfed twice that night and bear in mind that was when Jamie T just used to play with an acoustic guitar, genuinely one of the most raucous shows I've ever been to. I honestly couldn't tell you half of the stuff that we've seen and got up to in that venue. People used to leave their mind, morals and inhibitions at the door along with their coats.
Matty: I guess one of the best nights is one you're deeply involved in - The Pun Lovin' Criminals. Monday evening, about 7pm I took a call about having a Dev Hynes / Lightspeed Champion album launch the following day. Already had a full bill but you don't turn those sort of things down, do you? On the day you all turn up without an instrument to your names, beg and borrow from the other bands on the bill, and then proceed to bash out a greatest hits of 2003-2005 set with a backing band made up of all my favourite people. And they’re all still playing in other bands or making cartoons for Fox or weirdly creative stuff now.
Have you been able to speak directly to Westminster council since the closure? Have they been helpful?
Marcus: JoJo's went very very quiet after their hearing so Matty had to call the council, who actually passed on the news that the venue had its licence revoked permanently.
Having been promoting a night in Soho successfully for a decade, is violence and disorder something you’d say you’ve come across regularly?
Marcus: With any late night environment you're going to get a certain level of disorder, it comes with the territory. We've seen our fair share of scraps on the White Heat dance floor. It's all about how it's managed. There's no question that on this particular occasion the venue didn't handle it very well and they've paid dearly for that.
With Crossrail already having brought about the end of the Astoria, Mean Fiddler and Ghetto - and now Madame Jojo’s and Escape going too, what is the future of Soho night life? Is there any hope?
Marcus: I don't hold out much hope for Soho nightlife. I think the council's policy towards it is to make it a place for shopping and families. You go out for dinner, watch a play or go to the cinema, have a nightcap and fuck off home by midnight. It's savagely boring. There’s barely anywhere to go for a drink late at night now. On top of those places you listed as missing there also used to be The End, Metro, 12 Bar, Punk, Moonlighting. That's just to name a few off the top of my head. All were proper late night fun pits - they might not have been the best clubs in the world but when you put it all together something much bigger is missing.
Madame Jojo’s was a venue that celebrated diversity - what will its loss mean to the people involved in running it, and what will it mean to central London as a whole?
Marcus: For me, Madame Jojo's was the most important venue in that area. It is the archetypal Soho nightspot, there is nothing like it and there will be nothing like it again. I think if you look at all the nights on there from the trannies, to the soul and funk stuff, the cabaret and the burlesque and White Heat it doesn't obviously fit together. But actually, if you look at it as a whole, all of those nights share the same anarchic sentiment, a refusal to conform. It’s a place for people on the fringes, it’s a place for the freaks, which is what Soho used to be about and what drew me to the area over ten years ago. Jojo's was a massive bye bye to mediocrity and that's why I loved it so much, but that was definitely its downfall.
In the latest episode of Lost and Found, we take a stroll around London's Soho with Spector, to reminisce about the area's more vibrant times. Watch here.