On Darren Coffield’s Tales from the Colony Room: Soho’s Lost Bohemia
Here then is Soho as was, or how some of us still remember;
Full of aniseed and excitement and the seminal spill from low rooms,
Not to mention the high, from which the great and the good
Became gruesome, through drink and indulgence and the freedoms
That Muriel belched to stall doom. In Darren Coffield’s verbatim accounts
We get to read and hear all the voices; Muriel Belcher herself, Francis Bacon,
Daniel Farson, too. Ian Hoard. Maid Marion, Colin MacInnes, Frank Norman,
Writers, declaimers, sad actors, pissed and piss-artists quitting their desks
And easels, for pigment and pose and floorboards – that this vital book
Now restores, as with a carpenter’s care Coffield captures those spectral
Postwar days now made special by the absence and change in the streets
That have seduced everyone from Dick Whittingtons all the way upto
And beyond Derek Jarman, as like bacon rind, Francis Bacon and the scent
Of that club fries mind meat. Muriel Belcher’s Colony Club is a ghost
That haunts today’s Soho. For all its crazed glamour and its rancour, too
Now reminds – how so much of the colour has drained, and so this book
Becomes pallet, and with each recollection the brush has been dipped
To paint time. Molly Parkin starts here, taking Muriel’s cue for strange glamour;
Her early days make the Colony a colonial stab at new rules. It was a place
Where the famed met the barely formed and the fading, be it the lost
Nina Hammett, or Royalty’s blowjobbist, the transgender Vicky De Lambray
Spitting spunked tales out of school. Here is George Melly’s prime and pomp.
Here is Lionel Bart and Tom Baker, here is a riotous heaven for heathens
Above and below common ground. The voices as chorus cascade; a wisened
Waterfall of invention, as John Minton sits wanking guardsman two at a time
For love’s sound – which is the orgasm one feels at that pumped point of glory,
Which is the impression now gifted as we rollick our way through this read.
For what Coffield curates is an active gallery of abandon, mounted in this
Small place made palace where Kings, Queens and Courtiers gathered
A new world grown from spent seed. The rocked and Soho Royalty rolled here.
Everyone stomped by on their travels. From the Vogue dumped Henrietta Moraies,
To the vituperative photographer John Deakin to Reggie and Ron, Daniel Craig.
Across sixty years, the club spread its local rule, to make countries where dreams
Could be actioned and where the room itself became county in which every cunt
Was displayed. We no longer have rooms like this. The Colony Club was in fact
A collection. As you read each framed ego, each portrait in print splits its frame
Which is how the page becomes art, through rememberance and confession,
And the drink flows and connects like drug culture consuming itself to test fame.
Everyone had fame who drank here, if only perhaps for that evening.
The Colony Club was an island through which the heat within microscoped
All of the germs in the game along with the worms in Tequila. As Gin an Tonic
Made sin supersonic, the stain on these stars telescoped. For the stories detailed
Rose and roused in that place from 1948 when it opened, right through to the 1990s
As the YBA and Britpop bubbles fizzed. From Coffied and co, to Will Self
And Sebastian Horsley, the Dandies in this Underworld stoked the embers
Beside the Businessmen’s lunchtime jizz. The Club was a howled Shangri-laugh
For sixty years of hell raising. With so much more growl than the Groucho,
Iit was a Ronnie Scott’s without jazz, Unless you count the riffs spliffed
And sipped from the real, as these ecstatic cavorters expounded, in soft
Afternoons and late evenings and the dawn spiked dreams madness has.
There is sin and tonic sourced here. Unbound books collects value.
As an independent enterprise their deep value vouchsafes this volume.
This book is a brick in the wall that is no longer there, and so in reading,
It lays foundation for the Colony’s reconstruction in which the prostitutes intertwine
With the provocateurs of their day who have not been replaced since or equalled.
Coffield as editor and chief mourner sits tasting again the sublime – which was sourced
Not in the sweet but in the all too cruel and the sour. As these gloried grotesques
Are not softened, in point of fact, they are raised to the same point on walls
Where gargoyles are placed to gaze at us. As here, with Muriel as Medusa,
Her tendrils are formed from her friends, who have now been tested by time
And were at that time also. To take your place in that country, your personal
Bohemic stance could not end. What Darren Coffield conveys is the world
We need, soaked in spirit. Taste it. Past sin and tonic still teaches just as
It soothes and stirs. Time suspends.
David Erdos 12/4/22