Soho Stories • Clayton Littlewood on Soft Cell
Thursday 4th March
I’m outside the French House, drinking with Celine and her friend Dave.
I’ve just arrived and after a few pleasantries I ask them about the album they’re recording and they tell me it’s sounding good. Being mixed. And that it’s almost finished. It’s interesting to hear and they’re excited. Then Celine spots a guy in a long blonde wig and a black mini skirt and she goes off to speak to him, leaving Dave and I alone.
Dave was once in the band Soft Cell and although we’ve met a few times before, I’ve never thought to tell him how much his music meant to me when I was growing up. But a couple of things have happened recently that have made me change my mind.
The first is Gaga.
I’ve watched two Youtube interviews with Lady Gaga recently, one with Ellen and one with Oprah, and in each one she was heartwarmingly honest to them, telling them what incredible role models they’ve been and how much they’ve meant to her. It was really touching and it reminded me of a dinner party I was at last year when I was sat around a table with two big stars and I had an opportunity to do the same thing and, thinking it wouldn’t be cool, didn’t. I regret that now. So when I heard Dave was coming along tonight, I promised myself that I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
So we’re chatting away. Talking about art, literature, Soho history. He tells me where the early Soft Cell videos were filmed (around Walkers Court), about recording in Trident (which is just up the road on St Anne’s Court), a studio where Bowie and Bolan once recorded. And as he knows Soho well, and he’s read my book, I point to the building opposite and tell him that’s where Jorge and I lived and where I wrote it. He seems genuinely interested and I tell him that the shop was my muse and that I’ve found it difficult to write anything since. Then he gives me some advice. That art should be about constantly moving forward. Never repeating past successes. Which gives me an opening.
‘So Dave, when you look back on your past successes – your favourite concerts for instance – which one’s come to mind?’
He thinks for a few seconds. Head slightly bowed. ‘I suppose, the final Soft Cell concerts.’
‘At Hammersmith Palais?’
He looks a bit surprised that I’d know this, but continues. ‘Err, yes. Because there were people crying in the audience. They were really emotional concerts.’
He looks at me.
‘I was there.’
Now he looks surprised.
‘Look, I don’t mean to embarrass you,’ I add. ‘But I’ve met you a few times now and there’s something I should’ve told you.’ I pause. Ok. Now how should I phrase this? Oh well. Better just say it how it was. I clear my throat. ‘Dave, your music changed my life.’
His eyes widen.
‘It was the reason I moved to London. When I was a kid I thought, ‘If that’s where Soft Cell are – that’s where I have to be.’ And then as soon as I moved down here, you split up!’
Now he looks flummoxed, but I carry on anyway.
‘I was devastated. I was only 20. I was living in Weston-Super-Mare. Working in a sewing machine shop. But I left my family, my job, and moved down here. Just to be close to Soft Cell. And they go and split up! So. Yeah,’ I say, half-laughing. ‘I was one of those people crying. You meant that much to me.’
He shakes his head. ‘But, but that was Marc you were worshipping. Not me.’
‘No. It was you too!’ I say, adamantly. ‘It was both of you. You were a team. Without you it wouldn’t have been the same.’
His eyes twinkle and he smiles. ‘I, err…that’s really, err, nice to hear. Thank you. When you make music you have no idea how it affects people.’
‘Well, that’s why I had to tell you.’
‘No. I’m really glad you did.’ And he bows his head again.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. But you really did change my life. If it wasn’t for you I’d still be mending sewing machines!’
He laughs and looks up again. ‘Ok. Stop now. I can’t take anymore.’
I laugh too. ‘I won’t mention it again. I promise. I just wanted to let you know.’
And then Celine comes back. And we drink up. And we go to Café Emm for something to eat. And while we’re eating Dave tells me about the early Soft Cell days, living in a squat, the record company’s indifference, and then, when Tainted Love went to number one around the world, how they completely changed their attitude, how they sent limos to pick him up, how they sent him and Marc on tour to the US, how they visited the Factory where they met Warhol, and I lap it all up, firing questions at him. And as he talks about the songs, I’m placing exactly where I was and what I was doing when each came out.
And then later that night, walking back to the tube, I think, ‘I’m really glad I did that. I feel better now. And it’s all because of the power of Gaga.’