London: A rock ‘n’ roll guide

Where to see music

 100 Club

© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

The 100 Club on Oxford Street is one of London’s most celebrated and cherished music venues.

The intimate venue, which holds just over 300 people, started out life as a restaurant and then primarily a blues and jazz club. It held several different names and incarnations in the 1940s but has long been a brilliant place to watch live music.

Those familiar with rock history will know that in September 1976 the 100 Club hosted the first ever punk extravaganza, featuring The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Clash, among others. The venue has been synonymous with the punk movement ever since that day.

But the 100 Club has done a lot more than kick-start the British punk revolution. Just take a good look at the list of performers who have entered its doors. The likes of Muddy Waters, B.B. King and The Rolling Stones have all performed at the 100 Club in during its long and distinguished history.

In December 2010, with the club under the increasing threat of closure due to rising rents, ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney played an intimate show to raise awareness of the club’s plight, which thankfully played its part in ensuring the landmark 100 Club kept its doors open.

An historic venue that is a great place to see local or undiscovered talent, yet still hosts big-name bands and artists.

Location: 100 Oxford Street, Soho, London W1D 1LL

Website: www.the100club.co.uk

KOKO

© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

An ornate, Grade II listed former theatre, KOKO has been a popular spot for rock ‘n’ roll shows under several different names and incarnations for many years now.

The venue, in the heart of Camden and once known as Camden Theatre and The Camden Palace, originally opened its doors as in 1900 as a theatre, and then served some time as a cinema and recording studio for the BBC.

It was in the 1970s that it first became know as a significant home for live music. As The Music Machine from 1972-82 it became a welcome outlet for the punk and new wave music of that era. The Clash, for instance, played a four-night stand here back in 1978.

Rock aficionados may also recall that it is the place the late AC/DC singer Bon Scott was last seen leaving on February 19, 1980, before he was later found dead from alcohol poisoning.

The building became the Camden Palace nightclub in 1982, before changing its spots once again and becoming its present incarnation, KOKO, in 2004. Since then the likes of Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Swans and Mogwai have trampled the stage here.

A great venue with impressive acoustics that is steeped in rock history.

Location: 1A Camden High Street, London NW1 7JE

Website: www.koko.uk.com

The Hope & Anchor

Creative Commons / Fin Fahey

The Hope & Anchor in Islington has played a significant part in London’s rock ‘n’ roll history.

The north-London public house became a significant home for the short-lived pub rock phenomenon in the 1970s, before going on to host shows by punk and post-punk bands.

The facilities have certainly improved since those early days, when The Hope & Anchor hosted the likes of Dr. Feelgood and The Stranglers in the 1970s. The latter even recorded their album Live At The Hope & Anchor here. Indeed, several other bands recorded material at the pub’s old studios, before signing onto independent labels.

After those pub-rock bands, seminal alternative rock acts such as The Cure and Joy Division turned up to play shows in the tight, smoky space of this venue.

In terms of its rock ‘n’ roll history, it doesn’t get much more notorious than a now infamous gig that took place here in December 1979, when a fledgling U2 supported the Jools Holland-led Squeeze.

“There was, literally, a bloke and his dog in there,” Holland later recalled.

“The bloke left. Then the dog left. So the only audience for us was U2, and the only audience for U2 was us.”

Bono and the boys would play to much bigger audiences in the near future, but the Hope & Anchor remains an important part of their folklore.

Location: 207 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1RL

Website: www.hopeandanchor-islington.co.uk

The RoundhouseCreative Commons / Sheep purple

The Roundhouse in Camden is one of London’s premier live music venues.

A former steam-engine repair shed that originally opened way back in 1847, the advancement of rail technology meant it soon became obsolete for that purpose and was next rented out as bonded warehouse for liquor by Gilbey’s Gin company.

Since the 1960s, and the establishment of Centre 42, it has been a celebrated home for live music and the performing arts.

As Centre 42 (named after a trade union movement for free arts for everyone) it became a cutting-edge arts venue, re-opening its doors in 1966 with the launch of the radical underground newspaper The International Times. The event featured a performance from a then largely unknown psychedelic rock band called Pink Floyd.

Soon  after it hosted a number of underground music festivals and plays, as well as memorable performances from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Who.

The 1970s saw punk and controversial theatre productions such as Oh Calcutta! (which featured a lot of nudity) maintain The Roundhouse’s reputation as a cutting-edge venue. The Rolling Stones, Ramones,  Black Sabbath, Patti Smith and The Sex Pistols pranced across the stage during this era.

After closing in 1983 due to lack of funds, the venue spent a period in disuse and disrepair, before being saved by the takeover of The Norman Trust in 1996. It shut down again in 2004 but this time to allow for a £30m redevelopment, finally reopening two years later on 1 June 2006. Since then it has re-established its position as one of London’s most prestigious venues for live music and the arts.

The Roundhouse also has the distinction of being the only UK venue that The Doors ever played, and the final public place cult singer Amy Winehouse was widely seen.

Location: Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8EH

Website: www.roundhouse.org.uk

The Lexington

Creative Commons / Ewan Munro

One of North London’s finest small-scale venues, The Lexington presents a potent mix of different genres and styles of music within its doors.

The American-style bar hosts riotous rock ‘n’ roll upstairs (stoner punks Wavves and the late Jay Reatard have played gigs up here) and on the ground floor lounge boasts what it describes as “downbeat decadence and bluesy class – with perhaps just a dash of burlesque elegance thrown in for good measure”.

The live performance space can house about 200 punters at its full capacity, and has impressive acoustics. Indie bands such as Brooklyn’s Yeasayer have stopped by on tours in recent years, but The Lexington is just as likely to feature an array of emerging local talent.

The venue serves up an impressive array of American beers, bourbons and Whiskeys from its bar, and is known for its friendly atmosphere.

A regular stop-off point for up and coming indie bands, The Lex is certainly a joint to check out if you find yourself on the north side of the UK’s capital city.

Location: 96-98 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JB

Website: www.thelexington.co.uk

Electric Ballroom© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

The Electric Ballroom is a key venue for rock and indie bands from home and abroad intent on touring the UK.

The likes of Sebadoh, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Panda Bear and Sleigh Bells have thrilled audiences here in recent times, and the Ballroom is often the place to catch fledgling bands before they graduate on to larger arenas.

The Ballroom has been running in some form or another for more than 70 years,  and the two-storey, bright red bricked building has two dance floors and four bars, as well as the ground floor stage and concert facilities.

The dance floor comes in handy on weekends, as besides being a concert venue, it doubles up as a club. Friday night’s ‘Sin City’ booms out rock, indie and alternative genres with occasional stage performances.

Also on weekends, the Ballroom has in recent years hosted an indoor market, with about fifty or so stalls selling a variety of CDs, vinyl, t-shirts and more.

There was some worry at one point that the venue might be destroyed in order to rebuild and expand the adjacent Camden Town Underground Station, but thankfully this hasn’t materialised and the Electric Ballroom continues to attract top acts from around the world.

Location: 184 Camden High Street  London NW1 8QP

Website: www.electricballroom.co.uk


Places of rock ‘n’ roll interest

 No.34 Montagu Square34 Montagu Square / © Google Maps

This ground floor and basement flat in the swanky neighbourhood of Marylebone has achieved the lofty status of English Heritage ‘building of historical interest’ such is its role in rock ‘n’ roll history.

Ringo Starr was the original rockstar to occupy the attractive flat in 1965, but band-mates Paul McCartney and John Lennon and Yoko Ono also had spells living at the address.

In-between McCartney and Lennon, Jimi Hendrix briefly occupied it, reportedly writing classic ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ there.

Furthermore, McCartney began composing what would become ‘Eleanor Rigby’ in the ground floor and basement flat, and Lennon’s time there saw him working on songs which would become part of The Beatles’ self-titled ‘White Album’.

Less impressively, during Lennon and Ono’s time living in the flat it was raided by police for drugs, and the couple also shot their notorious fully-naked cover shot for the critical flop Two Virgins here.

The address is only a mile or so away from the famous Abbey Road studios where The Beatles recorded much of their best-loved music, so was certainly a convenient home for any of the Fab Four.

In October 2010, Ono helped unveil the English Heritage blue plaque which celebrates Lennon’s time living there in front of a flurry of photographers and journalists.

Location: 34 Montagu Square, Marlyebone, London W1H 2LJ

Marc Bolan memorial

Creative Commons / Britmax

The legendary glam rocker Marc Bolan was tragically killed on 16 September 1977, when the Mini he was travelling in with his girlfriend smashed head on into a Sycamore tree.

Bolan died instantly on impact, and this is the exact spot where the tragedy that cut short the life and career of one of Britain’s best-loved rockers happened.

Fans of the charismatic Bolan and his music – from the early folk years of Tyrannosaurus Rex through to his glam rock heyday as T.Rex – made the site of the crash an area of pilgrimage almost immediately after his untimely death.

You can now pay your respects at a well-kept shrine for the singer. There is a special bust of Bolan at the site, as well as plenty of tributes left by fans for visitors to have a look through.

To add to the tragedy, less than four years after his death in a car crash, Bolan’s friend and T.Rex bass player Steve Currie was also killed in an automobile accident in Portugal.

So spare a thought or two for Currie too if you make the pilgrimage to Bolan’s shrine.

Location: Queens Ride, Barnes, London, SW15 5RG

Carnaby Street

© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

Carnaby Street became an important home of independent British fashion in the 1960s – particularly of the ‘Mod’ variety – and continues to house a good number of boutiques of this nature today among the array of familiar retail chains.

Various underground music bars such as the Roaring Twenties and the legendary Marquee Club were located round the corner from Carnaby.

The area has a long-time association with world-famous London bands such as The Small Faces, The Who and The Rolling Stones; who frequented the area to work, rest, and play.

It quickly became one of the coolest destinations associated with the “Swinging London” scene of the 1960s.

So it’s fitting that Carnaby Street has been name-checked in a number of rock songs, including The Kinks’ ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ and The Jam’s eponymous B-side to ‘All Around The World’.

There are two Westminster City Council green plaques on the Street. The first, on 1 Carnaby Street, is dedicated to fashion entrepreneur John Stephen, who was chiefly responsible for beginning the Mod fashion revolution here. The second plaque is located at 52/55 Carnaby Street and is dedicated to the The Small Faces and their manager Don Arden.

A must-visit destination for fans of The British Invasion or mod culture.

Location: Carnaby Street, London W1F

Websitewww.carnaby.co.uk

Abbey Road Studios

Creative Commons / Misterweiss

The most celebrated and well-known recording studio on the planet, Abbey Road Studios in London is an undisputed rock ‘n’ roll landmark.

The studio boasts a storied history of recording, with many of the world’s most-loved rock bands and artists recording some of their best records in the studio.

The most famous example, of course, is The Beatles, who turned the studios into a site of pilgrimage when they titled their classic 1969 album after the road it is located on, and had that famous cover shot taken on the zebra crossing nearby.

Besides The Beatles, the likes of Pink Floyd, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Elliott Smith have all recorded albums or songs at this premier recording venue. Its acoustics, collection of microphones and vintage recording equipment and the skill of its award-winning engineers are legendary. The studio is at the cutting-edge of recording music, boasting the latest technology while maintaining a healthy respect for its storied past.

The studio also offers mastering, online mixing, archiving and transferring. It opens its doors for a limited number of events each year, too.

Location: 3 Abbey Road, London, England NW8 9AY

Website: www.abbeyroad.com

Former site of the Marquee Club

© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

This legendary music club first opened its doors at 165 Oxford Street in 1958, before moving to 90 Wardour Street in 1964.

Beginning life as a coffee bar and jazz club at its first address, it holds the distinction of being where The Rolling Stones performed their very first gig, opening for Long John Baldry on the 12 July 1962.

In its second incarnation the Marquee club became a world-renowned venue. For almost 30 years it was one of London’s premier rock venues with acts such as The Who, Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Clash, The Cure, The Damned and the Sex Pistols all making a name for themselves there. Jimi Hendrix also made one appearance here in 1967.

The club fell into decline throughout the 1980s, although bands and rock historians were still keen to pay homage. It moved to Charing Cross Road in 1988, and the Wardour Street club is now the ‘Mezzo Bar’. The Marquee has since relocated to Leicester Square.

It is worth taking a moment to look at the building and ponder its illustrious history, and to see the English Heritage plaque dedicated to The Who’s drummer Keith Moon mounted on the wall outside.

Location: Wardour Street, City of Westminster, London W1F

Website: www.themarqueeclub.net

Denmark StreetCreative Commons / Trecca

Denmark Street has played a really important role in British rock ‘n’ roll history.

The road in central London, a short walk from the Soho district, has even been described as the ‘British Tin Pan Alley’, and such a moniker is fair game. Denmark Street has both housed and inspired several well-known bands and artists over the decades.

Where to start? Well perhaps the first truly seismic music event here was the recording of The Rolling Stones’ début album in 1964. And soon after Scottish folkie Donovan and the peerless Jimi Hendrix recorded their first songs in Regent Sounds Studios on this very street.

Pink Floyd rocked the UFO Club and theatrical singer-songwriter Elton John really got his career off the ground with his first hit single ‘Your Song’, which he wrote here.

The Kinks named a song after it on the 1970 album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneyground Part One, and punk’s favourite nihilists The Sex Pistols lived and recorded their very first demos above no. 6.

Music venues on Denmark Street also have storied histories, playing their part in the rise of British jazz, R&B and of course punk music. The aforementioned Hendrix recorded in basements in the street.

Though it is more gentrified today, Denmark Street still holds on to its rock ‘n’ roll spirit, and as such is still lined with specialist music shops, bars and clubs.

Location: London Borough of Camden, London WC2H 8LS

Apple Building

Creative Commons / Misterweiss

A five-storey building purchased by The Beatles and their management that became the second headquarters of their Apple business, 3 Savile Row’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history is assured.

The Fab Four secured the premises for a cool £500,000 and moved their Apple Corps operation from 95 Wigmore Streeet into the building on 15 July 1968.

The building was equipped with a recording studio, and John, Paul, Ringo and George recorded what was to be their final LP Let It Be in the basement there.

The now iconic building was erected way back in 1733 and boasts quite a history. It was at this address that the Bowler Hat was invented in 1850, but it is perhaps best known as the place where The Beatles played their last ever set, on the rooftop of the building, on 30 January 1969.

In February 2008 construction company Kier was granted planning permission to extend the building, and by August 2011 the US fashion chain Abercrombie & Fitch acquired the property and the green light to turn the lower, ground, first and second floors over for retail use, installing their new kids flagship store there.

In truth, the move of the commonplace American outfitters has not gone down well with many of the classic British tailors on the Row, or indeed those Beatles fans eager for the historic building to maintain its rock ‘n’ roll roots.

Nonetheless, it is still worth making a trip here to imagine the Fab Four churning out the hits for one last time from the roopftop.

Location: 3 Savile Row, London, England W1S


Album covers

Abbey Road zebra crossing

(The Beatles Abbey Road, 1969)

© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

No self-respecting Beatles fan could make the trip to England’s capital without making the pilgrimage to the famous Abbey Road studios and zebra crossing.

The Beatles and producer Sir George Martin cut some of the band’s most loved songs here, but the studios have been utilised by so many great artists besides them, including Pink Floyd, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Elliott Smith.

However, Beatles fans from across the universe (badum-tish) mainly turn up and attempt to recreate the famous album cover of 1969′s Abbey Road album. Mercifully, Red Hot Chili Peppers fanatics have not been known to do the same for their infamous Abbey Road EP.

The problem is though, that the road itself is a very busy one, and it is difficult to get the desired shot in place before traffic builds up again. And legions of John, Paul, George ad Ringo fans run the risk of getting an angry hoot of the horn from an impatient London cab driver if they are not considerate while using the crossing.

Nonetheless, a trip to Abbey Road is well worth it for hardcore fans of the Fab Four.

Location: 3 Abbey Road, St. John’s Wood, London NW8 9AY

Google Map

23 Heddon Street

(David Bowie The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, 1972)

© Rock 'n' roll travel / William David Wilson

British rock legend David Bowie has inspired, and continues to inspire, a fervently passionate fan base.

Bowie fanatics have for many years made the pilgrimage to Number 23 Heddon Street, just off Regent Street in London, where the iconic cover shot for Bowie’s 1972 classic album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders Of Mars was taken on a cold, rainy night in January of that year.

Some fans have been seen attempting to recreate the famous cover, though this is increasing difficult nowadays as the area is bustling with outside cafes and restaurants.

In 2012, Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp – a self-confessed Bowie obsessive – was on hand to unveil a black plaque dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the cover and of course, the album and artist’s seismic impact on popular music.

Location: 23 Heddon Street, Mayfair, London W1B 4BQ

Google Map

Berwick Street

(Oasis What’s The Story, Morning Glory? 1995)

Oasis’s second long player, What’s The Story, Morning Glory, was another multi-platinum selling success for the Gallagher brothers’ and cohorts back in 1995.

Incredibly, the record shifted more than 340,000 copies in its first week, surpassing rival band Blur’s The Great Escape in sales in the much -aunted war between the two Britpop heavyweights.

It was somewhat ironic, given that their rivalry with Blur was framed by the tabloid media as a north versus south battle, that the Manchester band decided to take the album’s cover photo in the heart of London’s Soho district.

The cover shot is a blurred take of London DJ Sean Rowley and album sleeve designer Brian Cannon passing each other on Berwick Street. Producer Owen Morris can be seen in the background, on the left footpath, holding the album’s master tape in front of his face.

Berwick Street is renowned for its musical heritage and independent record stores such as Sister Ray, which can be seen on the left of the cover.

Location: Berwick Street, Soho, City of Westminster, London W1F

Google Map

The Clash stairway in Camden Market

(The Clash The Clash, 1977)

Creative Commons / Graeme Maclean

Celebrated punk rockers The Clash shot the iconic cover of their 1977 debut on a ramp nearby the Rehearsals Rehearsals building in which they recorded much of the seminal punk classic.  

The ramp, which is now inside the confines of the hectic Camden Market, has since been altered into a stairwell, with strict instructions not to sit on them.

Nonetheless knowledgeable Clash fanatics aware of this piece of punk rock history turn up to try and best emulate the nonchalant poses of Messrs Strummer, Jones and Simonon. And why not?

To get there, walk through the front of ‘The Stables Market’ section of Camden Market, and the stairwell is on the left. 

Location: Camden Market, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AH

Google Map

Battersea Power Station

(Pink Floyd Animals, 1977)

Creative Commons / Alberto Pascual

The iconic Battersea Power Station is featured on the cover of English prog rock legends Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals.

The cover idea for the record was dreamt up by bassist and songwriter Roger Waters, who drove past the then active power station regularly at the time. To fit with the album concept, a 30ft flying pig (nicknamed Algie) was conceived by the enlisted German and Austrian designers to float between the two chimneys.

Unfortunately the helium inflated pig flew off and landed many miles away in Kent and the band had to make do with superimposing it on the final cover.

Battersea Power Station is one of London’s most notable landmarks, and is the largest brick building in Europe. The former electricity provider is a Grade II listed building and is currently being redeveloped by an international consortium of designers and builders.

Battersea Power Station is located in 188 Kirtling Street in South West London and given its sheer size and prominence, is pretty easy to find for Floyd fans wishing to take a closer look.

Location: 188 Kirtling Street, London, England SW8 5BN

Google Map

Featured image courtesy of Tim Morris