You can’t see into The Ship because of its etched frosted glass, but then you don’t need to, you know from the outside it’s a regular London pub. Inside there are few surprises; it’s a long, fairly narrow, open plan pub with plenty of seats and tables. The decorative etched glass is matched inside by some fine woodwork and joinery, particularly around the bar, and some antique glass panels. The walls are adorned with a mixture of old photographs of pubs and old cartoon drawings. The only surprises are the stairs hidden behind the bar, which can sometimes lead to a member of the bar staff doing a passable impression of the shopkeeper from Mr Ben and appearing “as if by magic”, and the large step up to the gents; drinkers are adequately warned about the step before going in, but there is no such warning on the inside of the door. The combination of a large full bladder and a poor short-term memory can lead to the unwary drinker literally falling out of the gents.
If the appearance of The Ship is unremarkable its history certainly isn’t. Being in the heart of Soho it’s long had an association with the film, TV and music industries; in its recent past it wasn’t unusual to see runners in for a lunch time pint with piles of film cans beside them. The association with the music industry is slightly more, as it were, Rock & Roll. Its close proximity to the old Marquee Club led it to becoming a much frequented after show drinking haunt for the stars. Keith Moon, in an early interview, mentions being in The Ship for a ‘lock-in’ with John Lennon. Keith Moon was the inspiration behind Jim Henson’s Muppet character Animal, the drummer in The Muppets band Dr Teeth & The Electric Mayhem. In recognition of the earlier patronage by The Who's legendary drummer, Animal now sits behind the bar at The Ship surveying its present day patrons. Sadly, since the demise of The Marquee Club those patrons are no longer genuinely Rock & Roll, more wannabe or failed Rock & Roll frequenting The Ship because of its former reputation. Fittingly, one of the regulars is a dead ringer for Les McQueen; fans of The League of Gentlemen who know the inhabitants of Royston Vasey won’t fail to recognise the resemblance to the failed rhythm guitarist from Crème Brulee.
The stars may have gone but the music remains. Animal sits astride Bagpuss (whose connections with The Ship and its musical associations is less easy to explain) who in turn sits atop an impressive collection of CDs. And these are proper CDs, not bland chart or dance compilation CDs which usually feature on the sound systems of London pubs; artist here range from The Who, The Beatles and David Bowie to The Ramones and The Dead Kennedys. The bar staff are confident enough in the quality of the artists to put the CD on and let it run its length, and rightly so.
However good the music is, don’t start dancing, apparently it’s a crime. Signs throughout the pub state “No dancing, we do not have a licence for dancing, please comply with Westminster Council Rules”. In November 2002 Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries were fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £1,600 costs in addition to its own legal fees after the council found people “moving rhythmically” in two of its Pitcher & Piano pubs. Westminster Council’s idea of dancing, as defined by their community protection department director is:
“…the rhythmic moving of the legs, arms and body usually changing positions within the floor space available and whether or not accompanied by musical support”.
“whether or not accompanied by musical support”. Now there’s an interesting clause. So even when there is no music playing the pub can still be fined if its patrons are moving in a way the Westminster Council don’t like the look of. If no music is required surely they shouldn’t stop at pubs, are they keeping a beady eye on the Post Office to make sure people in the queue aren’t moving in a rhythmic manner? Or are they just looking to make a bit of extra money out of the pubs? Whatever the reasons, it’s best to comply with the signs, we don’t want The Ship to experience unnecessary financial difficulties, closing this pub down would be a real crime.
Review by AJS