Le Beat Route, Soho 1982.

Thursday, 15 December 2011


Last Friday I went to the launch party for the Graham Smith and Chris Sullivan book 'We Can Be Heroes.'  It was held at a nightclub in London's Soho that used to be called 'Le Beat Route,' which was well known, for a while in the early '80s, as being one of the premier haunts of Boy George and the youth sub-cult that eventually became known as the New Romantics.

In the years between 1981 and 1983 I’d taken a lot of photos there.  It was a great club for a while because it came along after the initial glare of publicity that surrounded the New Romantics had passed on.  They didn't seem to run a strict door policy, like Steve Strange had done at the Blitz, and it was a lot darker and more subterranean than the Camden Palace and so much less attractive to all the poseurs and tourists.  And the beer was cheaper.  So all the old crowd from Billy's and Blitz could have a night off, let their hair down and relax a little.

But what took place at Le Beat Route still resonated.  A few people (and it was only a few) started wearing incredibly shabby and distressed denim down there.  At that point, I hadn't seen that look anywhere else in London.  Robert Elms wrote a cover story for The Face about it, dubbing it "hard times chic".  Within what seemed like weeks, hard times chic went global and you could buy heavily distressed denim in the high street.

In the intervening years not much has changed at Le Beat Route.  The old sticky carpet has been replaced by a new sticky carpet.  There is no longer an old fashioned pay phone at the bottom of the stairs.  There are more lights and a few more mirrors around the walls than there ever had been before but essentially the old place was exactly the same.

I'd spent so much time there it was almost like going home and it was great to see some of the old faces from that time.  Many of whom, like the club itself, don't seem to have changed all that much.

Some of them, like milliner Stephen Jones OBE, went on to achieve worldwide fame.  Others like Martin Degville of Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Carole Caplan, Cherie Blair's one time confidant (neither of whom, I saw on the night) managed only a little more than their requisite fifteen minutes of fame.

Although I chatted to a few of the old crowd, it was clear that many of them either didn’t remember me or, perhaps, had ever known who I was in the first place.  It takes a lot to bruise my ego and  I suppose time has been less kind to me than it has to some of them.  Of course, I usually had a camera in front of my face.  That’s my excuse.

As Christos Tolera (Blue Rondo A La Turk) told me at another book launch on Monday, very few of that crowd were in a fit state, back in the day, to remember much of anything.

My photograph of the couple kissing under the table (detail above) sums up the place nicely.  They’re totally oblivious to the  people and the detritus all around them, totally lost in the moment.  In my opinion, almost a perfect place to be.