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I was recently at Notting Comic Convention chatting to Rachael Ball about her comics and she showed me an anthology that I had previously not seen. This was a book entitled Ye Olde Axe. She pointed out that it contained a story with the characters she used in one of my favourite books of the last year 'The Inflatable Woman' So I picked it up on an impulse.
It's actually a pretty darn good anthology. Rachael's work is always great and alongside hers you get a strip from Tim Hassan 'Royal Blue Finish' that looks and reads like a Charles Burns story and another favourite of mine for this volume is 'Feeding Time' written by Elena Jessup and art by David Hi Cooper that has a married couple pole dancing for a gaggle of strange aliens.
Getting home I realised that it was an anthology that heavily featured the pub of the title. This is a pub with a rich yet slightly grubby history. Situated at 69 Hackney Road in East London it is a Grade 2 listed building. The introduction to this anthology also tells me that in 1979 workmen discovered dead bodies buried underneath the basement.
It is situated in the Shoreditch area. You might know this is as the centre of the hipster world in London. An area of ironic hats, overly crafted beards, deluded artists and musicians spending mum and dad's inheritance and all the connected nonsense. (Just Google 'Rise of the Idiots' from the still brilliant TV series Nathan Barley and you will get a full dose of what I mean.) The pub is now a combination of gig venue, hipster hang-out and pound in the pot stripper bar for needy city gents.
When I visited this area in the early nineties it was an altogether different deal. Shoreditch in 91/92 was a crap-hole. There's no getting round it. I was living in inner city South London at the time and used to Brixton, Camberwell and Peckham but this East End flea-pit had an altogether different vibe. As you wandered the one-way system you saw all the junkies and prostitutes that you used to expect of the East End. But they were more in your face than anywhere else. I was there working with a colleague a couple of days a week and got to know the area pretty well.
Part of our day would take us to Ye Olde Axe and I got to know the manager and some of the staff quite well. For those that aren't acquainted with the etiquette of a London stripper pub here are a few pointers.
1. Act like it is a normal pub. Sit and drink and chat with your pals.
2. Take plenty of pound coins.
3. Don't stare. There will be weirdos aplenty in there that have that locked down.
4. A lady (normally) will strip in front of you, on the pool table, on the bar, or if you are in a more 'classy' establishment, on a stage with a pole.
5. One of the strippers will walk around with a pint glass and you put a pound in it. Even if you just walked in or 'wasn't watching' or 'in the loo' or 'about to leave' you still have to put money in the pot.
6. Never cross a stripper. They will cut you!
Back in the early 1990s this was a rough as fuck venue. I was quite fresh faced and in my best Marks and Sparks suit. I was prey. Strippers would play on my flushed face. My colleagues would chuckle at my naivety and slam me on the back and insist I buy the next round. I remember that there was one stripper, a slightly older lady who would be announced by whichever member of bar staff who could be bothered as 'The girl who was mean't to be here is late so the cleaning woman is gonna do a turn.' This stripper used the stage name 'Jo King' and would then strip whilst singing a Hilda Ogden inspired song. No doubt hilariously encouraged by my colleagues I got home one night much the worst for wear with a note in my pocket that read 'As long as you have a face, I'll want to sit on it x Jo King.' Different times I suppose.
One time a particularly tall and robust stripper asked to go to a swingers night with me. She said it was in a bar at the back of the High Street and that with me looking younger than most of the other men who go there I'd be sure to 'pull a good-looking bird.' Thankfully I declined and then some months later saw the aforementioned bar the centre of a News of the World scandal (with some eye-opening photos).
This pub was a strange combination of hardcore drinkers who were there mainly for the beer and some jaded strippers. It was a strange sight for me to see a lady literally putting it all on show to someone at a bar or at a table and the punter to be kind of not really bothered. At the time it seemed that these punters weren't looking away from some kind of embarrassment but rather through just having been there and seen 'that' most days of the week. I remember thinking 'Come on guys! She's really trying to dance. At least watch!'
I saw a fair share of fights in there, bottling and people being given a kicking for being too 'handsy'. The staff seemed in a strange way quite evenly handed. The strippers were offered protection, people crossed the line and felt the end of a boot because of it. Thankfully this wasn't my scene.
It was actually a surprise to see that the pub is still operating and seeing the anthology brought back some interesting memories. The world has moved on. Improved in some ways and driven itself to a sea of shite in others but some. Ye Olde Axe will go eventually. It represented a strange part of my life.
Not sure you can still get a copy of this comic. It seemed to have been edited by Tim Hassan (I'm only guessing here). But if you ask him at www.inkstainstudios.co.uk you might be able to source a copy.
Many thanks for reading.