❉ We review the Save Soho champion’s Roundhouse gig, and chat 1-2-1.
“It was the closure of Madame Jojos that brought the Soho community together. Save Soho is.. a grass roots movement of people from all over the world who have genuine affection for Soho and everything that it stands for. Predominantly, inclusivity and diversity.”
If you snapped Tim Arnold in two he’d have London running right through him. He is London, personified. Enough urban chic to be über cool, enough cheek to be adorable, and enough compassion and understanding of humanity to be instantly loveable. And his musical talent is nothing short of astounding.
Over the last twenty years he’s recorded sixteen albums including his latest one I Am For You in a variety of genres, each one revealing a small facet of his infectious personality. All of this was showcased at the Roundhouse where he recently held a retrospective of his career (and life) to date.
Interviewed in-depth by A&R man and long time friend Sean Devine, where Tim revealed with a searing honesty, what nearly killed him and subsequently what saved him, which was nothing short of miraculous. A guru in a Thai temple, where Tim retreated to for several weeks to straighten his life out and get back on track, taught Tim both a new and intriguing way to compose music and also prophesied an event that would have a deep impact on the part of his family that were strangers to him.
The event covered the whole of Tim’s career but equally you felt he could’ve talked all night through. He’s seemingly a man after my own heart, who believes the only limits of possibility are the boundaries we set for ourselves. This bravado compelled him in 2007 to contact a plethora of famous Shakespearian actors to answer one question: what themes in Shakespeare, best describe the human condition. Their answers, which were plentiful, lead on for him to write the album Sonnet 155 (the bard himself wrote the first 154 sonnets) and later perform the songs in 2010 at the Almeida Theatre. This short film best explains the process and how the astonishing array of actors including Derek Jacobi, Benedict Cumberbatch and Richard Briers among others responded to that key question.
Tim’s passion for London and its music venues obviously runs deeply; it’s truly in his veins. He is the founder of Save Soho, a coalition of performers including Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch, residents and politicians that came together out of concern for the future of Soho’s historic role as a national platform for the performing arts.
He is wholly conscious and humbled that he’s walking in the footsteps of many musical legends on Soho’s pavements and at the Roundhouse retrospective he cleverly called Soho a “musical incubator”. Whilst scoring the movie Blood Orange last year, the lead actor Iggy Pop likened Tim to Miles Davis, as well as David Bowie who is also known for his Soho career beginnings.
Iggy said, “They sent along a demo which Tim had done in a home studio. It had a noir, detective movie guitar riff that comes and goes, but mainly four notes of a very plaintive, simple saxophone theme, just four forlorn notes. It could have been an outtake from ‘Kind of Blue’ by Miles Davis, or maybe side-b of ‘Low’ by Bowie and [Brian] Eno. I liked it and they redid it with real musicians, which roughened it up. It reminded me a little of some things that Chet Baker did. I thought it was a real nice theme, effective for the film.”
Looking back at his beginnings, Tim told of how he is from a showbiz family. His maternal grandparents performed alongside Max Miller during the war years, and his mother, the actress Polly Perkins, was a Windmill girl. He started exploring his passion for music from a young age and has even learned to play the harp!
Tim first achieved success as the singer and songwriter of Britpop band Jocasta in the mid-1990s formed with best friend Jack Reynolds whilst they were both teenagers. Jocasta had chart hits with Go and Change Me in 1997. The band’s only album, No Coincidence was released in June 1997, but they disbanded soon after its release.
After the band split, Tim was at his lowest ebb and he spent time at the Thai retreat, after which he reluctantly returned to London, but with a fresh pair of eyes and a new confidence. He worked a number of jobs around the city including Master of Music at the Globe theatre, which later in his career lead into undertaking his Sonnet 155 project.
He also worked in the infamous Colony Room and cheekily requested to record his next album there. Subsequently he spent three days and nights camped out in the small private members club under famous works of art which resided there, including those by Francis Bacon, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, to record and produce his album. His tenacity and dedication to his art is incredible.
The event ended with four tracks, accompanied by the London International Choir, which added an interesting depth to Tim’s songs and ensured the proceedings ended on a high. I could have listened to Tim talk and perform all night, but sadly the evening came to an end. After the event, We Are Cult caught up with Tim to ask him some questions of our own.
You’re the founder of the Save Soho campaign. How did that come about and how is the campaign going?
I lived in Soho for 20 years, I made most of my albums there, and my mother and my grandfather both lived and worked there too so it’s in the blood. As soon as those of us in the performing arts community felt that our venues were being destroyed or replaced, it was natural for all of to make a stand. It was the closure of Madame Jojos that brought that community together. I never do anything by halves so I led a movement. And that’s what Save Soho is. It’s a grass roots movement of people from all over the world who have genuine affection for Soho and everything that it stands for. Predominantly, inclusivity and diversity.
Save Soho is an ongoing project. Are there any more music events planned?
We began our pop-up music venue The Reservation as an emergency response to the lack of small venues and we continue to put on artists in small spaces as much as possible. It was only intended to fill in the regeneration period until venues start to reopen. Thankfully we saved Madame Jojos and that will reopen soon. But Save Soho will always continue. It will always be under the threat of cavalier landowners or unsympathetic councillors. It’s down to Save Soho and it’s supporters that the cavalier attitude has, for the time being, been corrected.
You were interviewed on stage at the Roundhouse this week. It was an incredible event which showcased your musical talent over the past twenty years. Have you ever considered writing an autobiography of these life experiences?
I have been asked many times by fans and friends to write an autobiography, but no publishers have asked yet! Still, I think when the time is right, I will have to. There are so many stories and secrets that I have collected during my time in Soho, and my childhood would be useful to recount for the benefit of children with same sex parents. Writing it would be a big job but I might do it. One day.
You’ve travelled a lot with your music. Where is the most memorable place you’ve visited, and why?
I think Thailand is probably the most memorable place that I have travelled to because my music was given a new start and a second chance. It was a true blessing. More recently, Toronto has been a revelation to me, and the community I have met there have been so generous and embracing of me and my work.
Your last album is Sounds To Pictures, Volume One: Conversations – can you tell us how this came about and what are the themes of this album?
My long term collaborator and friend Jonathan Hill has played violin on twelve of my albums and he was recently loaned violins belonging to the most expensive private collection of musical instruments in the world. It was his idea to record an album of the pieces of mine that he loved playing the most. It’s an on-going project, we have already recorded volumes two and three and we may do more. It’s lovely for me because I get to hear the melodies I usually sing re-interpreted by another instrument.
You’re a great champion of showcasing young musical talent at the Reservation nights at The Union. How did this come about?
Championing young artists is just a way of giving back. I was never saving Soho for myself. I had Soho. And I believe for a musician, I had the best years of Soho. I value the inspiration one gets from being young and connecting to Soho’s musical heritage can give you confidence. The Reservation nights have always tried to do that for young artists.
Which musicians have influenced you the most?
Mike Oldfield, Billy Corgan, Kurt Cobain and Michael Nyman. Mike Oldfield is my favourite.
Your current single What Love Would Want championed love in all its varying forms. Your video includes many couples. How did you find them all?
The couples in the video for What Love Would Want are all so different. Many of them are friends, some came through a casting service, two couples I randomly approached in Soho on the day. After working with Stephen (Fry) on Save Soho for the last few years, he was the first person I shared the song with because I think I would trust him more than anyone to give an honest opinion about any writing I do. The song is all about the lyrics. It was incredibly generous of him and his husband to be in the video.
What’s next artistically, in the life of Tim Arnold?
I’ve written and demoed the follow up album to I Am For You, so I am thinking a lot about that at the moment. But for the time being, What Love Would Want has a will to keep reaching people and taking me with it. It inspires a lot of people and opens hearts and minds so I think I have to follow it’s lead for a while.
Thanks Tim, for chatting to We Are Cult and generously sharing your time with us.
❉ For further information, go to http://timarnold.co.uk/
❉ I Am For You album released on 4th August, available to pre-order from http://timarnold.co.uk/albums/
❉ Ange Chan is a poet and novelist. Her fourth poetry collection “Fame; What’s Your Name?” and her second novel “Baby, Can You Hear Me?” were both published in paperback and Kindle in 2016. Her third novel will be published in 2017.