➤ Robert Pereno: My road to recovery in the recession

Robert Pereno , Society Club, cafe, gallery, Soho

The Society Club, Soho: Robert Pereno and tea hostess Daisy. Photograph by Rebecca Reid

◼ WHO ACTUALLY IS ROBERT PERENO? You won’t find him at Wikipedia but may remember him from Shock, a New Romantic music/mime/dance troupe who supported bands such as Gary Numan, Kid Creole and Depeche Mode in the early 80s and had the odd dance-floor hit with Angel Face and Dynamo Beat. In 1983 he metamorphosed into a vocalist with electronic club band Pleasure and the Beast, along with Lowri-Ann Richards from Shock. He became a bit-part actor and then nightclub promoter, notably with Tuesdays at Crazy Larrys in Chelsea. He kept fronting clubs though, in his own words, by the mid-90s his life fell to pieces. In 2005 he suddenly appeared in a TV documentary aptly titled Whatever Happened to the Wild Child? — in his case, a reference to a runaway teenager he married young.

Today a video interview with Pereno — one of those men who wear a hat indoors — has been posted at YouTube [2018 update: whole channel now deleted]. It seems to be the second in a talk-show series titled The Independent Session and it is effortlessly viewable. Pereno fesses up to his rocking past frankly, fearlessly and perhaps foolishly, should Lily Law be watching. He is vague on the intimate details of his downfall, but as he talks 19 to the dozen, you may not feel that you want to be the reconstituted Robert Pereno Mk2, but you grudgingly admire him for making a huge effort.

Robert Pereno, Shock troupe, Pleasure and the Beast, bands, Blitz Kids,

Pereno in Shock 1980 and in Pleasure and the Beast 1983

He tells us he’s a minor boarding-school Chelsea boy who was born in Turin, Italy, and grew up first in ex-pat Calcutta with a mother who was a nightclub singer, and later in the London pubs where X-Ray Spex and Adam Ant played in the late 70s. With Crazy Larrys “I catered for dysfunctional Chelsea girls and south-London black guys”. On the night it was raided and closed, he says, “it was packed with an extra 25% of people who were all police because there was a lot of drug-taking”.

This autumn he and his wife interior designer Babette opened a discreet little corner shop in Soho called The Society Club which sells literary memorabilia and multi-tasks as cafe and art gallery. Within minutes, namely, this week, it has been reviewed favourably by an Evening Standard restaurant reviewer (though hot meals are actually supplied by Café Soho next door). Pereno gets described as a “flaneur” and as he has a knack for reinventing himself always gives the impression of knowing everybody and being everywhere. In the video he talks energetically of hosting poetry readings, book launches, photo exhibitions (currently Graham Smith and with John Stoddart’s photos and Derek Ridgers’ to follow in the New Year), plus pop-up events including a vintage film club nearby in Soho.

At 54 Pereno is sanguine about the future. “I quite like a recession. I was involved in the warehouse scene — office blocks empty, throw a party. Now with a recession we’ve got a shop and done a deal with the landlord because times are hard. It’s a time for the outsider to make a move.” He gallops with his theme. “It’s probably healthy for the music business. Simon Cowell is already yesterday, because he’s part of what we’ve just had, which is an over-inflated economy. Now is the time for the maverick. I don’t even have a bank account, mobile or television. My wife gives me pocket money… Unfortunately I’m not very good at being single.”

➢ The Society Club shop/cafe/gallery is open daily at 12 Ingestre Place, London W1F OJF (tel 020 7734 3400)

➢ Update: The Promoter (2013), a documentary directed by Ed Edwards – “Robert Pereno should be a household name, but every time he is on the brink of greatness, he somehow manages to mess it up. This is his story.”


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