Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Piccadilly Bongo reviewed by Humphrey Fordham

Praised by Pete Doherty as ‘a legend’, veteran writer Jeremy Reed’s collection of character-driven poems vividly depict the trademark sleaze of modern-day Soho and its immediate environs - now fast disappearing in a torrid chainstore al fresco haze.

The poems, which complement each other, function like Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ insofar that they portray a cross-section of London society from the penniless to the extravagantly well-heeled.

Using a notorious mid-70s public information film, ‘Johnny Go Home’ as a benchmark, they have a fluttering but lucid quality.

We sympathise with but do not empathise with the drug-starved teenage rent boy in ‘Polari’. ‘Dorian Gray’ reveals the deflated egotism of an ageing sugar-daddy with “blond streaks mussed into his eyes”. Shakespeare is imagined as a 21st Century Bon viveur but also a diminutive deviant in ‘Billy Shakespeare In Soho’, with “one eye on rising house-prices, the other on a gay poetry anthology”.

Reed also effectively uses less glamorous London locations to depict his characters’ fall from grace, as with the addict in ‘Born To Lose’: 

"Saw him once under the river in the Blackwall foot tunnel handcuffed to a carrier of needles at Centre Point as a hygiene freebie

Such imagery epitomises the timeless masochistic tendencies of London’s seedy underbelly, as alluded to in Folk Singer Al Stewart’s portentous 1967 song ‘Pretty Golden Hair’ where glittering promise predictably concludes in wanton self-destructiveness.

This theme is prevalent in the other treats of the collection. Reed’s innate obsession with rock ‘n’ roll lineage is shown in ‘Tearjerker’ where the respective recordings of Billy Fury and Billie Holiday simultaneously duet in a rundown hotel room. Both from different eras, but who died at a similar young age. Poignant to the core. 

A whole part of the collection, ‘A Bigger Bang’ is wryly devoted to depicting The Rolling Stones’ money-spinning mid-00s tour. The Stones, fast approaching senior-citizen status, are now caricatures in size 30 jeans and fuelled by Evian-endorsed wholesomeness in contrast to their days of yore. This brings everything full-circle, as like the Soho characters, The Stones are vainly struggling to grow old disgracefully but with their past credentials intact. They have the money. ‘Nuff said.

Also included with the collection is a CD containing a selection of ‘Torch Songs’ by ex-Soft Cell singer Marc Almond. They embody a bittersweet relationship with Soho, stemming from Almond’s late 70s youth. 

The collection begins with the acappella ‘Eros And Eye’ hinting that that the Piccadilly statue is a signpost to total hedonism. The rest of the songs are played to minimal backing, chiefly acoustic guitar. 

The chilling ‘Fun City’ is all about the loss of provincial innocence - a theme continued in ‘Seedy Films’ and ‘Sleaze’. Such unsubtle themes are seeped with subtle instrumentation reminiscent of Donovan’s ‘Young Girl Blues’. The urgent wail of a train-like blues harmonica giving a sense of regretful imprisonment.

The vintage and the violent rock.

Text by Humphrey Fordham 2018

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