Campaigners who took part in the ‘funeral’ procession through Soho’s streets on Saturday. PICTURE: JULIET SHALAM
Published: 5 December, 2014
by CAROLINE MORTIMER and WILLIAM McLENNAN
HUNDREDS of protesters joined a “New Orleans-style” funeral procession on Saturday to mourn the closure of one of Soho’s most iconic nightclubs.
The vigil began at 12.30pm on Saturday afternoon, starting at Soho Square and ending outside Madame Jojo’s in Brewer Street.
The famous venue has been forced to close after door staff were allegedly caught on CCTV attacking a man with baseball bats at the end of October.
A City Hall committee revoked the venue’s licence, citing concerns over public safety towards the end of last month, despite promises to bring in a new security team.
Celebrities and members of the entertainment industry, including actor Benedict Cumberbatch, author and TV presenter Stephen Fry and comedian Ben Miller, have signed an open letter to Mayor of London Boris Johnson urging him to intervene.
Soho singer Tim Arnold, who organised the letter campaign, said: “If every Soho establishment that suffered an incident similar to this had their licence permanently revoked, countless establishments would close and the character and charm of the area that has attracted a global audience for more than half a century would soon disappear from the heart of our city.”
Mr Arnold, who performs at Soho Hobo, said Madame Jojo’s was one of a dwindling number of alternative venues where young artists could get their first big break.
He added: “Everyone from Adam Ant to Adele has performed [at Madame Jojo’s], not to mention the stars of tomorrow whose talent and craft have been nurtured in small venues like JoJo’s.
“If venues like this continue to be removed from our precious landscape, where will the British musical exports of tomorrow be able to showcase their talent and skill to the British music industry?”
In a statement for the campaign, Mr Fry said: “Soho is a contributor to the greatness of London. Its irreplaceable contribution is a unique raffishness, with a hint of sleaze and wickedness. Its Bohemian character, its identity as the gay and transgender centre of London, its association with live performance and late-night eccentricity and free expression — all these are a gift beyond price that Soho gives London and which gives London extra value.
“The current rush to smarten up, to maximise profits by kicking out the old, the endgame of gentrification would spell disaster, not just to the magical realm but to the whole metropolis. Let’s fight to keep Soho Soho.”
TV funnyman Mr Miller said: “For generations, comedians, actors, musicians and burlesque artists have begun their careers in basement clubs in Soho. Exquisite venues like Madame JoJo’s are as vital to the arts as, say, the King’s Head in Islington or the White Bear in Kensington.
“A closure like this does the whole capital a great injury and pleases no one but landlords, councillors, and the owners of coffee chains.”
Cllr Tim Mitchell, Westminster’s licensing boss, said: “On the 24th October, an organised assault with injury took place – involving staff from Madame JoJo’s and Escape Bar – raising serious questions about their management.
“Our licensing sub-committee has to consider the safety of the public and after considering evidence from a number of interested parties, including the police, it was concluded that the licences for both bars should be revoked.
“The fact that these events are the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation tells you how serious the assault was – and also means we are unable to say any more at the moment.”