THERE WAS A TIME WHEN I USED TO DANCE
I'm not sure the first time I went to Madame Jojo's.
The first time I didn't go to Madame Jojo's was on my birthday. Myself and a few chums had been turned away from Trash Palace for spurious reasons and the remaining three of us were wandering Soho.
A leaflet for Keb Darge's Deep Funk night proclaimed musical excellence and a rollcall of guest DJs that included Cut Chemist. I was quite keen, but my friends balked at the £8 entry.
Sometime not too long after that, I somehow came to learn of the Sunday night club night. Lost & Found. DJ Andy Smith and that Keb Darge fella again, playing Northern Soul, R'n'B and ska.
I'd fancied one of Andy's Northern Soul nights for a while, but never made one. But here was this, at Jojo's (round the corner from my first London job), and for only £5 or £3 (it might even have been free before 11.)
To be honest, I don't recall my first visit. But over time I recall getting there early; too early, and awkwardly sitting alone, waiting for it to fill. Gradually, I got into a pattern of heading there for 12.
I doubt I danced the first time I went. But somehow, somewhen, I started to join in.
YOU'RE GONNA MAKE ME LOVE YOU
Back then, the dancefloor was a small pit before the stage upon which the DJs DJed. It only took a few people for it to be reassuringly busy. Little crannies allowed the meek – including myself – to dance to ourselves in corners. A little alcove by the stairs was good for this, or the dark back corner.
I could already skank – who can't? – and do that sort of rudimentary breaking footwork that people do to Rage Against The Machine at midweek 'alternative' student discos. But by leaning forward a bit, skanking easily becomes a decent rock'n'roll dance; the breaking nonsense can feed into both that and a bit of Northern.
That was my in. But I learned to dance in Jojo's.
To Northern – trying to emulate mainly one of two men who would occasionally appear, friends of Keb or Andy, who would dance on the short platform that led to the stage.
To R'n'B ("proper R'n'B, not that shit off the radio"), rockabilly and jump blues – trying to emulate Keb.
To everything – watching without hope of emulation the amazing woman whose name I never learned. Black, unassumingly dressed, and astonishingly good, this woman would appear regularly and leave early. She danced on the stage, alone, in front of the DJ table, and was jawdroppingly great.
She stopped appearing several years ago. I don't know what happened to her, but that was the first great loss of my Jojo's.
NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK
The second great loss was Keb himself. Keb was brilliant. A baldy Scotsman, I would come to learn was a renowned record collector, funk and soul expert, and original Northern Soul dancer. His approach to DJing was one of aggression.
Where most DJs want to fill the dancefloor, Keb seemed to want only people worthy of it. And he would put them to the test. He'd move from fairly recognisable R'n'B to some hard hillbilly – scratchy, high-tempo mayhem. The dancefloor would dissipate slightly, but rather than playing a well-known or reliable classic to win them back, he'd play another hillbilly, harder, weirder. "Come on, you fuckers."
I regret that I only went to his Deep Funk night once or twice.
It was great, but by that time Keb was getting disinterested. Lost & Found had moved to Saturdays, ditched the ska, and Keb and Andy were moving further back into the 50s and earlier. On the final Deep Funk night, Keb played some jump blues – because he wanted to, because he felt the audience should hear it, and because that was where he was heading.
"For every great funk record, there's ten great soul records. For every great soul record, there's a hundred great blues records."
DO I LOVE YOU (INDEED I DO)
Lost & Found had got bigger on Saturdays. Jojo's remodelled, extending the pit to include a seating area and a much larger, more open dancefloor. Crowds packed in (except, curiously, on bank holidays, where numbers reliably diminished to Sunday levels.)
This was great to see, but I did miss the space of Sundays. I started going later, staying to the 3am close by which time the dancefloor would finally empty. As time went on, Keb and Andy started playing sections of stuff I wasn't so keen on – tittyshakers and surf music – and Northern started being squeezed out. But then Keb's wife started doing occasional sets, and she could be relied upon to chuck on a chunk of Northern stompers to finish the night off.
It's Jojo's that taught me Northern. There I learned the names Kim Weston and Gene Chandler. There I found out that the cool bit from the Sugababes' Red Dress was actually just swiped from Tony Clarke's Landslide.
Andy would occasionally get down on the dancefloor for a polite Northern Soul shuffle. Keb was more ostentatious, and would take over the dancefloor, blowing away people half his age with drops and spins.
And he would dance fast and hard to jump blues. I was never going to go near the more complicated breakdancing Northern moves – I'm not touching that floor, for starters – but the blues is easier, so I tried to keep up.
I'M GONNA ROCK IT UP
A proud moment was when – sweat dripping, after both dancing to several rockers in succession that Andy was playing – Keb shook my hand. At some other point, he played a record and dedicated to "the baldy fella", as I was the only one dancing hard at the time.
One night, I got a tap on the shoulder from the amazing dancing woman whose name I never knew and she handed me a double-gatefold vinyl of Keb and Little Edith's first compilation. She shouted it was from Keb, and pointed me to him DJing; he nodded. She beckoned me up, but as I'm a shy idiot with nothing to say, I just carried on dancing. Realising the impracticality of dancing for the rest of the night with a record in my hand, I jumped up to say a quick thanks and ask Keb if I could park it on stage until I left – and in standing, I smashed by head painfully into the overhanging turntable support. Coolness swiftly undercut.
I never got to know Keb or Andy. Once or twice I said thanks to them for putting on an amazing night. I don't know how to get speaking to DJs, and although I envied the selection of friends who would sit with them and dance by the stage, I was content as a regular.
Earlier this year, Andy saw me sitting down and came over for a chat. He gave me a CD of a recent night's set, and I got the chance to thank him for years of an amazing club. He said, "you've been coming for a while, haven't you?" and I said yeah, from when it was on Sundays. He was surprised: reckoned that was nine years, which to me too seemed insane. But thinking on it, it had probably been a good eight.
WALK RIGHT IN
I said to him what I'll say to you now: Madame Jojo's was my home.
It may be famed for cabaret and burlesque, but what I deeply loved Jojo's for was its weekend club nights.
I've never had a regular dancing crew in London. Mostly, I have to go out dancing alone, or just not go dancing. I'd look for new nights here and there. Some would be good, some not. Small bars or clubs I'd usually avoid, for fear of feeling like a conspicuous solo weirdo. I'd be lucky enough to go to the odd event with others on occasion.
But Jojo's was my home.
Whenever tired of looking elsewhere, whenever I needed to be somewhere I felt comfortable, whenever I wanted just a good, hard dance: Jojo's was there.
Lost & Found brought me in, and Jojo's became warm and familiar surroundings.
(There was a song they'd regularly play at Lost & Found which could've been ideal to headline this bit, but I can't remember enough of it to do a search. I've spent a couple hours going through the scant few mixes, recordings and compilations I can find online to no avail. It's a rocker, and the lyrics are about going to a place late at night to dance. Do write in...)
When Keb left Lost & Found – moving to the Phillipines with his wife – Andy continued with a new partner. I missed Keb's overt antagonism, (and even smugly resented whenever they'd play something too well-known – which is all the more feeble a reaction considering that many of the Northern songs Lost & Found introduced me to are actually pretty famous,) but it was still the place to go to hear some great music and have a dance.
I'd also go to the new Sunday nights.
After Lost & Found had moved to Saturday, a night called Groove Sanctury took over Sundays (later becoming Free Your Soul.) Having become comfortable through Lost & Found, I went to these nights whenever I could too (having become regularly employed, this meant only when I had days off or on Bank Holidays.)
Completely different in music, these were largely house-based (but good house, not house house,) and instead of the occasional bequiffed men in suits and girls in polkadot dresses, here the distinctive crowd wore vests and trackie bottoms. Professional-looking street dancers.
I danced less at these nights as the dancefloor often formed a circle around a few people having dance off, in between full-on showcases. But it was still an absolute joy of a place to be, watching amazing dancers working out moves with each other and freestyling routines. I was planning to go on a week off just recently, not realising that the club had its licence suspended.
NOTHING BUT A HEARTACHE
I hadn't been to Jojo's for months before it closed – not since having that chat with Andy – due to my heel playing up, and having to take time off from jumping on it. This just adds to my sadness over what has happened.
Hearing the news of the club's closure was genuinely heartbreaking.
I still don't quite believe it.
I was never part of the gang at Jojo's. Pretty much my entire interactions with Keb and Andy are detailed above. I'd never go and sit by the DJ booth. I didn't know the staff. I'd just pay my money, sit around for a bit, and dance.
And it wasn't all roses. Some nights I didn't enjoy. For every instance of some auld fella giving me a fraternal nod or handshake, there an instance of some herbert acting the macho dickhead. Every ace dancer was matched by a crowd of drunks. Some of the staff friendly, some less so. Years in, the chap on the door almost turned me away for having the audacity to want to pay with coins. The doormen's welcome commonly ranged from suspicion to active dissuasion.
What I'm saying is: this wasn't a magical land, it wasn't a quaint fairytale family. Not for me. It was just a club.
It just happened to be the best club.
JUST A LITTLE MISUNDERSTANDING
Jojo's is a fixture of Soho. For me, it's its heart. All things change, but Jojo's seemed perennial; old and new at the same time, dark and weird yet safe and comforting.
I love it, and I'm deeply sad that it looks like I'll have to start saying that in the past tense.
I hope this lot can do some good: http://savesoho.com