I was at The Social only last month. So news of its potential demise comes as a bit of shock. I have to admit that I hadn’t been there in a while. But then I emigrated to Japan over a decade ago, so I guess I have an excuse.
As I made my way from my sister`s, where I was staying, on The Underground, which I also hadn’t ridden in years, I felt myself crowded by the ghosts of Saturday night. Traveling up escalators full of folks overflowing with evening’s expectations, dressed as best as I can muster these days, it was impossible to ignore all the other journeys I`d made to this particular destination.
Such moments used to upset me. Like any other crazy survivor, I carry a number of regrets. But on this occasion, I felt comforted by the spectres` presence. Glad of their memory. Blessed by their company. Probably, because, finally, I have a grip on “crazy”. I can control it. One day at a time.
Up, out, through Oxford Circus. Then on foot to Little Portland Street. I was meeting an old mate. His divorce finalized on the Thursday. He`d chosen the venue. I`d promised others I`d be in Bermondsey by midnight. Then Hackney Wick. But to be honest, from my mountain retreat, I`d always wanted to sneak a peak at Dean Thatcher’s Soul 45 party.
Rocking up, outside, the venue was unchanged. As I waited on the opposite curb for my friend to arrive, habit had me trying to avoid the bouncer`s eye. I remembered romantic trysts in the neighboring shop and office doorways. Smiled at the echo of their silhouette.
We`d walked in at nine, and the joint was already jumping. Jammed with enthusiasts dancing. Young and old alike. Most of my reunions, this trip back to the UK, had taken place in The Groucho, and various Soho Houses, and I was noting the contrast. No one was hammered. No one obviously nosed-up. A few ales had been sunk, and were being sunk, but everyone was there primarily, if not solely, for the music.
My friend and me, we played “Beat The Intro” with the titles we knew. My mate Shazam-ed those we didn`t. The 7”s being spun made an emotional evening all the more so. But we spent the night laughing, not crying. Fucking grateful to have made it this far. On the dance floor, someone complimented me on my jacket (a Yesterday`s Tomorrow velvet team blouson). In the loos, Eddie Pilar and I compared ages, and prostate issues. I even bumped into some familiar faces. Who recognized me once they got past the grey hair.
Like many people in love with music who`ve worked in London’s West End, The Social at one point was my “local”. My first Post-Doctoral job was round the corner, at the now demolished Middlesex Hospital. It was a five minute walk to The Social from Riding House Street. I could go on my own after work, and always be sure of meeting someone I knew. A fellow “reformed” nutter from the height of Acid House`s abandon.
While The Middlesex was without doubt the worst job I’ve ever had (and I`m including all the temp shit I did while on the dole, before, and between college and Uni), its location provided some fantastic distractions. I`d set up an experiment – antibody staining, DNA sequencing, Western, or Northern blotting – and while it was running, pop out to exhibitions at The Hayward, the small galleries on Cork Street, or a screening at The ICA. Go shopping at Mr Bongo, Reckless, Sister Ray, and Soul Jazz. So, at The Social I`d often be weighed down with at least one record bag. Whose contents would be emptied, and discussed, over a pint, while squeezed into a concrete pew. `Cos music was and is The Social’s focus. What continues to make it, and its patrons, stand apart.
The Social was also the default choice for a first date. Since the people were always cool, and the sounds likewise. Any night of the week you could catch a famous DJ playing tunes they normally wouldn’t get a chance to. Or a band you’d never heard of, who were minutes away from being huge. Only once did this backfire. When an Ex spied me with somebody new. Ran the length of the upstairs bar, and stuck one on my chin. Firm, square, and true.
Heavenly, the label behind The Social, have steadfastly supported those who keep the art of the song alive. The venue, a brave haven for those who view music not simply as entertainment, but as a force for good. One that can unite. That can bring about change.
We stayed til the end, my friend and me. Joked that I should fly back every month, especially.
The fact that The Social is still there, un-compromised, after twenty years, is a miracle. They should be putting a blue plaque on its wall. Not closing it down.
The Social, finding itself suddenly threatened with closure, is looking to raise 95K in the space of two weeks. While this might sound like like a tall order, if 2000 people gave 50 quid, it`d be all done and dusted. You can do your bit here.
A few tunes here that I can remember from that Soul 45 party…..
Suivica – Ain`t No Sunshine
Sergio Mendes – Mas Que Nada
Earl Grant – Fever
Etta James – Seven Day Fool
Jesse Powell – Walking Blues
Martha Reeves – Heatwave
Lonnie Liston Smith – Expansions
Mel Torme – Coming Home Baby
Charles Sheffield – It`s Your Voodoo Working
Smoky Robinson – Mickey`s Monkey
Billy Stewart – Summertime
Chris Montez – Call Me
Hi-Tension – Hi Tension
James Mason – Sweet Power Your Embrace
The Elgins – Heaven Must Have Sent You
Johnny Bristol – Hang On In There Baby
Mighty Riders – Evil Vibrations
Stevie Wonder – All I Do
Ray Charles – Hit The Road Jack
The Originals – Suspicion