Tim ArnoldTim Arnold
Album: The Soho Hobo
Label: TA Music
Tracks: 16

It's more than 20 years since Tim Arnold's Jocasta caused a few ripples on the edge of the Britpop pond. Since then he's conquered demons and rehab in a Thai Buddhist monastery, shared no less than 12 (count 'em) solo albums with the world and co-founded the Save Soho coalition of artists and performers (including Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch) to preserve the area's historic role as a platform for the performing arts.

Which is where this glorious mish-mash of sounds, styles and flavours comes in. It's something in the vein of The Liberty of Norton Folgate, Madness' landmark 2009 album, an unashamedly romantic celebration of East London's history and diversity, warts and all. There's a touch of Parklife about it, a whiff of Strange Town, a distant echo of Waterloo Sunset, maybe even a hint of Downtown - to suburban ears these are the siren songs that instil in us a love of that gorgeous, grotty, lurid and luxurious area they call Soho.

Arnold's album stands as a slice of musical theatre in the mind, delivered with a showman's aplomb - his granddad was actor manager for Paul Raymond in the 1950s - he takes us by the hand and leads us through… well, you get the picture! As much Peter Ackroyd as Pete Townshend, he shows us things and takes us places those who are not in the know could never have conceived of. He also incorporates history and makes a very plain and undeniably compelling case for Soho's special place in the grand scheme of things that is seeing vast swathes of our capital's earthier cultural credentials gobbled up by corporate appetites for more more more.

And he's assembled quite a cast to boot. He duets with his missus, EastEnders' Jessie Wallace on the lushly lachrymose Soho Sunset, ropes in the perma-cool Gary Kemp for the Soho travelogue Neon Glow, harnesses the force of picaresque nature that is Phil Daniels to stitch up his clobber-ific chorus on Ain't Made To Measure and perfectly sets Lisa Moorish's The Bells of St Anne's.

Elsewhere he covers Al Stewart's Old Compton Street Blues and resurrects Marie Lloyd's music hall staple, The Piccadilly Trot, while invoking a roll call of honour that speaks of Shelley, Strauss, Francis Bacon, Ronnie Scott and Jeffrey Bernard in Soho Heroes.

Like the streets it celebrates so articulately, the album's a lot of fun, relentlessly memorable and, it is to be hoped, bound to succeed.

Nick Churchill

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