Whenever I go to London, I try to indulge in as much music history as I can. There’s nothing like coming face-to-face with an actual place to make the music seem more real and alive. I highly recommend this kind of tourism. Which brings me to this guest blog from London Pass:
Explore London’s Music Scene: Past & Present
London music has evolved from Chas & Dave to the Sex Pistols to Congo Natty and back again. The capital city has been played by artists like The Who and the location of Jimi Hendrix’s last performance. The culture experts at the London Pass have been on a research mission to discover London’s best music offerings from past to present. The London sound is a reflection of its history, its diversity, and the creativity that comes with living in one of the most vibrant cities in the world.
A Musical Map of London
London has some of the most legendary music venues in the world even though many have been lost to progress and development. When the Marquee Club closed down, a part of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd’s legacy went with it. The Hammersmith Palais is no longer an epic entertainment venue but the title of a song by the Clash. Regardless the city is still thriving musically, with a community of like-minded music lovers attending shows in small pubs, pop-up venues, and stadiums with a capacity of 80,000.
Whether you’re a head-banger, alternative rocker, mod, punk, indie, or anything in between, London has a venue to cover all tastes. Take a look at what London music history holds:
Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road
This theatre was built over the former Horse Shoe Brewery, the site of the 1814 London Beer Flood. The Dominion opened in 1929 and became well known for hosting musical shows. It wasn’t until 6th February 1957 that the hall saw its first proper rock and roll concert. Bill Haley and the Comets opened their British tour here where they were met my thousands of (atypically!) screaming British fans.
The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road
This Grade II* listed building has become one of the most famous music venues in London. This former railway shed saw The Doors play their only UK gig here in 1968 and by the early 1970s, DJ Jeff Dexter was a regular Sunday night feature. His shows helped launch the likes of David Bowie, Black Sabbath, Elton John, and The Rolling Stones to fame
Punk arrived in 1976 and the Round House finished out the 70s with concerts from The Ramones, Patti Smith and The Strangers, Blondie, Elvis Costello, The Police, and so many more. After years of dereliction, the Roundhouse has risen from the ashes to become one of the capital’s best venues again.
The Electric Ballroom, Camden High Street
One of this venue’s claims to fame is it’s the location where Sid Sod Off – the last ever UK performance from Sid Vicious. Sid and his girlfriend Nancy wanted to move to New York and used the profits from this gig to do it.
In 1979 Joy Division performed twice – around the same time U2 and Adam and the Ants were playing. In 2007, former Beatle Paul McCartney played a surprise gig for an exclusive audience.
Dublin Castle, 94 Parkway Camden
The famous late Camden resident Amy Winehouse was a regular at this lively pub. It’s an institution of the indie music scene and launched the music career of Madness.
100 Club, 100 Oxford Street
This venue has seen change after change, but the spot has been music since 1941. The 100 Club’s roots are jazz and you’ll still find them playing it, but since the 1960s they’ve been throwing rock music into the mix. In fact, the name of the club came from its larger-than-life rock nights where The Kinks and the Animals played. In the late 70s they brought punk music into the venue with shows by The Sex Pistols and Siouxie; in the 1980s, the Rolling Stones took breaks from their huge stadium concerts for intimate shows.
The increase in rents threatened the existence of the club in 2010 but a fundraising campaign helped its doors stay open to today.
Eventim Apollo, Queen Caroline Street
If you wanted to see some of the best gigs through London’s rock and roll heyday, you went to this Grade II* listed building in Hammersmith. Originally called the Hammersmith Apollo, it was renamed Hammersmith Odeon in 1962. It is known as the Eventim Apollo through sponsorship.
The Beatles played their second Christmas show here in 1964 – it ran for 3 weeks and sold out its 100,000 tickets. The show involved music, comedy sketches, and special guests which made for a uniquely British holiday experience.
Affectionately known as Hammy-O, this venue was just for live music. Live albums Alchemy by Dire Straits and appropriately titled No Sleep to Hammersmith by Motorhead were also recorded here.
Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore
This historic venue dates back to the 1800s and was named after Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. From the 1960s it has been used regularly to pop and rock concerts, which is when Cream performed their last show and Bob Dylan upset some of his folk purist fans by playing an electric guitar – the horror!
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys are just a few of the legendary names to have graved the stage of what is the grandest venue in London.
Ronnie Scott’s, Frith Street
Primarily a jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s club in Soho is also a hotspot for rock music. The Who deafened an audience of journalists when the band launched their album Tommy here in 1969. It’s also the location of a sad farewell as Jimi Hendrix gave his last live performance here in September 1970.
Up on a Roof, 3 Savile Row
Savile Row may be known for Georgian townhomes and upscale bespoke tailors but this Mayfair street housed the Beatles’ Apple Corps Ltd group of companies. On 30 January 1969, the roof of Apple headquarters marked the group’s final performance and one of the all-time greatest moments in popular culture.
The Beatles got up onto their roof and had a set list of five songs. Their neighbours were no pleased with the surprise performance and called the police. When they arrived they stayed to watch the show. The performance was stopped after 42 minutes but the footage lives on. The building is now a branch of Abercrombie Kids.
Your Face Here? London Landmarks Seen on Album Covers and in Videos
Most of the Beatles records were made at EMI Studios in St John’s Wood in North London. They named their last recorded album after the road where the studios were situated: Abbey Road. The photograph on the front cover was taken on the zebra crossing right by the studios.
Ever since that album release, millions of people have made their way up to St John’s Wood in order to replicate the famous photo – at the expense of their safety and traffic flow. Abbey Road Studios have estimated 300,000 people come every year, making it one of the top 20 most visited tourist attractions in London.
Another one of the most imitated album covers is David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust which was photographed outside 23 Heddon Street, near Regent Street. Here is where visitors come to stand by the phone booth where David Bowie once stood.
The photograph on the cover The Clash’s eponymous first album was taken on the steps right outside the Stables Market in Camden Town. This is where they had their rehearsal rooms.
Pink Floyd’s album cover for Animals shows Battersea Power Station with a large inflatable pig tied to its recognisable chimneys. During the photo shoot the pig came loose and drifted skywards. It caused a lot of confusion amongst pilots flying in and out of Heathrow airport!
Subterranean Homesick Blues
Bob Dylan shot the video for this song at the back of the Savoy Hotel where he was staying during his 1965 UK tour.
34 Montagu Square in Marylebone has an exciting rock and roll history. Ringo Starr and his new wife Maureen moved into this apartment in 1965. Later, Paul McCartney recorded demos of Eleanor Rigby with a portable recording studio. Jimi Hendrix lived at this address with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham and manager Chas Chandler. The trio were replaced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono and became the location of their famous naked photo that graced the cover of their Two Virgins album.
London in Song
London has inspired hundreds of artists to write songs about their home city. All parts of London and all stories about London life, from high living, to riots, and dodgy bedsits, have made their way to the ears of the masses through music. Here are some of the best:
Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks (Pye Records)
Inspired by Ray Davies walking over Waterloo Bridge when he saw ‘Millions of people swarming like flies ‘round Waterloo Underground’ – a daily occurrence that led to arguably the most evocative song about London.
London Calling – The Clash (Epic Records)
The title was inspired by the BBC World Service station identification during World War II.
Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant (Parlophone Records)
Named after the street market in Brixton and inspired by the riots that took over the area in 1981. Memorable lyric: “Now in the street, there is violence, and-and a lots of work to be done”
Baker Street – Gerry Rafftery (United Artists)
This street may be more well-known for Sherlock Homes but Gerry Rafferty wrote his homage to street while staying in a flat nearby. This was during the legal battle involving the break-up of his band, Stealer’s Wheel.
Memorable lyric: “Winding your way down on Baker Street, Light in your head and dead on your feet”
Sunny Goodge Street – Donovan (Pye Records)
Written in 1965 this was one of the first London tunes to openly mention drug-taking.
Memorable lyric: “Violent hash smoker shook a chocolate machine, Involved in an eating scene”
Dedicated Followers of Fashion
There has always been a connection between music and fashion, and London has many places where the art forms collide.
The King’s Road in Chelsea has been associated with fashion and music since the 1960s when Mary Quant opened her first shop here. Later on the wonderfully named Granny Takes a Trip opened at 488 King’s Road.
The street became known for being the place where The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix shopped, meanwhile internationally renowned fashion designer Vivienne Westwood owns a shop called World’s End at No. 430. The shop has had many names over the years and when it was co-owned by Malcom McLaren, one of the minds behind the Sex Pistols, it was called Sex. The members who would later form the band were regular patrons at the store.
Another street associated with music and fashion is Carnaby Street in Soho. It became popular with the Mod crowd in the 60s. The area was no stranger to The Who and The Small Faces who bought clothes there regularly. Carnaby Street was mentioned in The Kinks’ song Dedicated Follower of Fashion: “Everywhere the Carnabetian army marches on, Each one a dedicated follower of fashion”.
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