The news that Eddi passed came to me via my friend Steve Furst, who also told me the news last year that Bernie Katz had passed. I’m staying at a friend’s apartment in the east end of Toronto, looking out the window at the unwelcome cocktail of hail, ice and snow falling from the sky as I absorb the news. I feel further and further away from the Soho I love. And that is not a distance that may be measured in miles. I am further away from the Soho that I carry inside me at all times. The Soho that, like a royal crown, has just decreased in value with the loss of one of it’s most valuable jewels: Eddi McPherson.
It’s the people that makes the place.
It’s something I always say whenever asked about the geography, the architecture, the atmosphere and the history of Soho. It isn’t just your Karl Marx, John Logie Baird, Sara Bernhardt or any other denizen of Soho’s blue plaque brigade. It is also the butchers, the bakers and the candlestick makers. Or in my case, during the course of the 20 years living in Soho, it was about the smiles you crossed a street for, just to lose an hour of day or night, so you could continue your journey with more blood pumping through your heart than you had before you crossed that street.
Eddi was a proprietor of one of those smiles. Leaving my flat on Frith Street, or making my way to it, the path up or down Dean St was more often than not punctuated by a stare from Eddi (usually sitting next to Lesley from The French). Like most Soho busy bodies, I’d always look busy (whether I was or not) and Eddi would give me a look as if to say “It would be very rude if you didn’t stop to say hello Tim.” Naturally, no such look was necessary because I always loved to stop and chatter away with her. Similar to her extraordinary son Graham (aka Suggs), I also grew up with a mother who had sung in Soho nightclubs when I was just a young boy (coincidentally, in the Madness film Take It Or Leave It, my mother had played Mark’s mother). These images of entertainer mums stay with you as you grow up. So, although strangers in Soho may have spotted Eddi in recent years and mistaken her for an elderly lady of no particular provenance, I knew she was a ruling Soho matriarch who had studied her craft and experienced the wonders, hardships and rewards of a life surrounded by music, performing arts and London’s finest. I have a great respect and admiration for her, not least because of her work for charity, the Soho community, but also for the studious attention she paid to music, her environment and her ability to articulate whatever she chose to talk about. I will always respect her irreplaceable character.
Although I did not know her well, we united over a local battle to reinstate the local music venue Madame Jojo‘s as a performance space (it had been earmarked to become a 200 seat restaurant by the landlords in 2014). It was a battle that Eddi and I chuckled about at our last meeting. We were both amused how much the media had rejoiced in covering the venue’s closure but were not, however, interested in covering the good news that between the pressure of Save Soho and the local community, we actually won the battle in the end. We also bonded over the experience of many people telling us we should both write books about Soho, agreeing that unless someone was going to pay us, we were too busy living Soho to find time to write about it. I remember our moments laughing together with great fondness. But of all my Soho memories, I shall never forget her beaming up at me supportively and ever proudly at her son Suggs as we sang on stage in the middle of Frith Street at Bar Italia’s 65th Anniversary. It is particularly poignant now to watch this video where at 1 minute 20 seconds, Suggs acknowledges his mum from the stage.
On those few occasions she invited me round for tea at her little flat around the corner, she would talk about jazz. Passionately. And I would listen. Greedily. Never having had my mum nearby to talk to since she moved to Spain, it was lovely to be able to spend some time popping round to Eddi’s and hearing her share memories of singing the clubs when she was younger. An era I can never hear enough about. The last time we had tea, she gave me a CD of her singing which I have listened to ever since. I wish I had digitised it because I don’t have it to hand to listen to on this sad day. I will be listening as soon as I return to London.
When faces that create the view you see each day start to disappear, it can make you wonder where to turn next. Because you know that eventually, the view will change completely.
Eddi was a face I came to depend on just to orientate myself when I lived in Soho. She was not the only person I looked to for this, but she was one of the smiles I always crossed the street for. Of course, it’s only when those smiles have gone, that we realise just how important they were to us at the time. Important for ourselves, but also for our community, wherever or whatever that may be.
Like Bernie Katz and any bona fide Soho stalwart, Eddi did not suffer fools and told it how it was, but with her own unique brand of lovable cheek. If heaven has a night club, the sky will be raining jazz tonight. Quiet please, there’s a lady on stage.
Tim Arnold, 14th April 2018
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