Having lived in Soho for most of my adult life, I have witnessed the comings and goings of numerous businesses, characters, trades and fashions over the years. In all that time and beyond, there is one trade that continues to thrive here today.
In an era when 'everyone's an expert', we live in a curious time for Soho, because it has traditionally been a square mile full of bona fide experts. Well, there is still one trade that you can not master without a training, without experience and character, and it is the last true expert trade on our golden mile: the trade of the tailor.
And not just the tailor, but the bespoke tailor. I remember the first penny-collar shirt I purchased from Mark Powell and how I have never been able to wear anything but a silk knitted tie ever since, and how my leather belt by Sir Tom Baker has accompanied me to the stage on most of my live shows.
Sure, these cats are hardcore stylists too, but their roots are, like all the best tailors, in Savile Row. The difference is that they've all become rock stars by moving their trade to Soho. And it's right that Soho is the place where they have made their mark, because Soho is the world that encourages 'preservation of the individual'. If you have character, Soho will enhance it, frame it, and underline it. If you really do well, they'll even put a blue plaque around it (hello Mozart, William Blake and John Logie Baird!).
Mark Powell, Tim Arnold and Phil Daniels
Photo by Andy Fallon
As way of an homage to these tailors, I wrote and recorded a song called 'Ain't Made To Measure' for my next album which is all about Soho. I built the chord sequences to the song on two motifs from Mozart's 25th symphony in G minor which I have used before (fitting in so much as old Wolfgang used to live in the building next door to where I live on Frith Street). The lyrics were almost entirely written on a brisk walk from Mark Powell's shop on Marshall Street back to my place on Frith. It was Mark's character that inspired the attitude with which I wrote the track. It ended up as a cross between Fagin, Lionel Bart and Ian Dury and I found myself singing in two characters.
One character was a narrator, presenting this world to the listener, and the other character was the insider. The part of the narrator was something I based on the witty repartee that someone like Phil Daniels might have given to the track. Several months later, and a few phone calls, I asked Phil if he would like to perform on the song, and in sealing my creative dream, he said 'yes'.
So, it is now a duet between Phil and myself. Considering his impact on fans of Quadrophenia and young men who like to dress smartly, it's perfect casting that he should return to the subject of 'caring about how we look'. I'm very lucky to have him on the track and it really is a dream come true for me that he agreed to lend his voice to my attempt at giving a voice to the remarkable characters in the tailoring trade in Soho.
I'm equally lucky that so many talented people got together to make this video for the track and I take my hat off to you all.
Accentuating each detail of a personality is a religious practice in this parish of style, and our tailors are the priests in that parish. Devote yourselves to them and you will see the light.
One live show of Phil and Tim performing the song at Soho Theatre 30th July
With thanks to: