YOU DO SEE LIFE IN SOHO

The two young men stared out of the open window, down onto the street below. They were on the first floor of a three-storey building in Gerard Street, Soho. The building had a basement. The basement had been converted to a quality recording studio, complete with luxurious carpets and a gleaming Steinway grand piano. On the ground floor was a private dentist. The floor above the young men was occupied by a Chinese cleaning company who had converted it into a laundry.

“I bet he goes in,” Michael said to his mate.

“No, he’s just looking at the books in the window.”

They were watching a dubious-looking character in a raincoat gazing into the window of an adult bookshop. His hands were in his pockets. He was balding on top.

Allan turned to Michael and smiled. The man was looking left and right, glancing shiftily up and down the street. He took his hands out of his pocket and slyly entered the shop. It was July, 1974.

The street was busy as usual, with many people shopping or just passing through. Some were entering Chinese restaurants. London never stood still, least of all Soho. There was always something going on somewhere and Gerard Street was no exception. Cars moved slowly here. Cars moved slowly everywhere in London. Suddenly a young hippie-type woman with long hair and flared trousers stepped into the road. She held her arms up high and appeared to be chasing something.

“What the hell is she doing?” Michael said.

“Come to me pretty butterfly,” the woman cried, her voice soft and sweet. “Pretty butterfly, come here,” — wandering blindly down the road, oblivious of her surroundings. A car screeched to a halt as she stepped in front of it.

“She’s out of her head,” Allen replied.

“Probably on LSD,” Michael commented matter-of-factly.

He flicked his head, shifting long, dark hair away from his eyes. Nothing unusual for Gerard Street. You do see life in Soho — life in all its elegance and seediness.

The two young men turned from the window and continued with their work, Michael fitting a new pickup to a black Les Paul Custom and Allan soldering a resistor into the electronic circuitry of a Marshall amplifier. They worked in a guitar repair workshop with ‘The Boss’, a master repairer called Sam Li. He was half Chinese with a slight American accent. Sam turned their way and chuckled. “The bookshop again?” He’d been here a lot longer than the two young men and had seen it all. The three of them laughed. It was just another day in 19 Gerard Street. Nothing’s ever ordinary here.