Rock 'n' Roll London-Locations and Venues Around London That Have Inspired Iconic Covers and Bands
There's more to the music of London than "Knees Up Mother Brown". Here are a number of London streets and landmarks that have loomed large over the 60-odd years since rock 'n' roll began.
23 Heddon Street, West End
Changed a bit since 1972, hasn't it? Just off Carnaby Street in Central London, an anonymous, shabby backstreet became the cover of one of the most iconic albums ever made. Now impossible to recreate from the same angle due to the restaurant, the story goes that it was late in the studio and everyone wanted to go home. They took a quick shot of Bowie in the studio doorway and one in the phone booth at the other end of the street which is on the back cover, then colourised it to make Bowie more alien-looking.
The K. West sign behind him does not stand for Kanye, but in fact was a fur trader back in the days before animal rights. It was stolen in the early eighties, allegedly by a fan on a drunken night out, and replaced by a similar but different sign which was subsequently auctioned off to some unfortunate who thought they were buying the original when the shop closed down a few years later.
The album made Bowie a household name after his famous first appearance on Top of the Pops singing "Starman" while draping himself over guitarist Mick Ronson. Let all the children boogie.
Electric Avenue, Brixton
Electric Avenue is the home of the world's first market to be lit by electricity, hence the catchy name. Nowadays the market still exists, though there is also an indoor one just off the avenue, where the first of the Franco Manca (formerly Francos) pizza restaurants can still be found. Unchanged despite it gentrifying, becoming a chain and spreading across London, it is still as rough and ready looking as it always was. The pizzas are first class, as anyone who has been to any Franco Manca's will testify, and queues at this, the flagship venue can stretch out of the complex.
Electric Avenue has some of the most beautiful Victorian terraces in London. Many passengers of the Windrush settled here in 1948 as it was the closest labour exchange to the temporary accommodation the new immigrants had been put up in. Over the following decades it became synonymous with the Jamaican community in London. Ironically the Windrush, synonymous with multi-cultural Britain, had actually been a holiday cruise ship for high-ranking Nazis during World War II.
After years of appalling police and community relations, Brixton exploded into rioting in 1981, followed by other inner-cities across the UK. This resulted in the Scarman enquiry into police racism, more effective riot gear for the police themselves and Eddy Grant's 1982 smash hit. Very little unrest actually happened in Electric Avenue itself, but "...we're gonna rock down to Railton Road" sounds stupid.
Battersea Power Station, Nine Elms
Although today one needs to be a millionaire to live in Battersea, particularly in the new development around the power station, (technically Nine Elms rather than Battersea), it was not always the case. In fact, people used to say they lived in Clapham Junction to hide the fact that they lived in Battersea. Things have changed in the era of gentrification, and nowhere more so than Battersea Power Station, a very different beast to the one that featured on the cover of Pink Floyd's 1977 album, Animals.
The power station itself was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the classic red telephone box. At the time of its completion it was the largest brick building in Europe and depending on your point of view, a marvellous example of 1930's industrial architecture or a hideous blot on the landscape. A fire at the power station in 1964 caused TV blackouts across London and resulted in the launch of BBC 2 being postponed for two weeks.
The album is only 5 tracks, with a short intro and outro, and the usual psychedelic effects synonymous with a Floyd album. During the photographing of the cover, the inflatable pig broke loose and drifted into Heathrow airspace, causing some consternation. The shoot had to be abandoned, hence the cover consisting of a composite pig. The power station ceased to generate in 1983 and was the site of numerous redevelopment ideas, all of which came to naught until finally being turned into a luxury residence complex in the 20-teens.
Abbey Road, St John's Wood
Probably the most famous rock and roll related London street, no list of London's rock landmarks would be complete without Abbey Road, which runs from the edge of Kilburn down to St John's Wood, where it becomes Grove End Road. The zebra crossing is still there near St John's Wood station, and tourists visit it daily to take photos. If you ever have to drive in the area, be sure to avoid it unless you want to be stuck for ages while endless swarms of people walk across while their mates stand in the middle of the road merrily snapping away before grafitti-ing the wall outside the studios, (which is on the left on the album cover, painted white in the top photo). .
More recent copies of the album have Paul McCartney's cigarette airbrushed out in the 21st century Orwellian erasing of smoking related culture. This has also happened in schoolbooks to photos of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Winston Churchill.
McCartney being barefoot and out of step with the others, and the VW number plate with 28 IF led to a bizarre conspiracy theory back in the sixties that Paul was dead and the Beatles had replaced him with a double. 50 years on, it's pretty much accepted that he's still alive and kicking. Though Sergeant Pepper is probably everyone's favourite Beatles album, Abbey Road is a pretty good contender for the top spot. It's also the one that George Harrison truly became a songwriter to rival Lennon and McCartney, featuring "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun".
The Fab Four look rather the worse for wear on the cover, presumably due to the numerous substances that were influencing their music and lìves at the time. Constantly innovative, the Beatles were at the forefront of the 60's cultural and then counter-cultural revolution. Their influence is incalculable.
Berwick Street, Soho
Back in the mid-nineties it was almost subversive not to own at least two copies of this album. Everyone was raving about Oasis. Despite being professional Mancunians, they were desperate to be the Beatles but their music never evolved beyond their own distinctive style. The Beatles were influenced by rock and roll, music hall, classical music and barrel organ fairground sounds. Oasis were influenced by the Beatles. The press raved about them and yet nobody can name any member of the band other than the Gallagher brothers. Who cares, it's still a great album.
In the Seventies, most of the area around Berwick Street was a maze of porn cinemas, strip clubs and adult bookshops. There are still some remnants of former Soho, but gentrification came early to this neck of the woods and by the 90's, Soho was almost family friendly. Nowadays, coffee shops and trendy bars and restaurants abound, while nightclubs these days in London are akin to going through airport security. The writer and user of prostitutes, Sebastian Horsley lived on Berwick Street in the 90's and had a plaque on his door reading "This is not a brothel. There are no prostitutes here.". Still home to its famous fruit and vegetable market, in fact one of the oldest in London, the first grapefruit in England appeared on Jack Smith's stall here in 1890. Berwick Street was also famous for its many record shops, only a handful of which still exist. The truly remarkable thing is the cars in the top picture. It is virtually impossible to park in Soho unless you're happy paying £20 per hour.
Sex/World's End, King's Road, Chelsea
After undergoing several name changes, the shop, where Chrissie Hynde, Adam Ant and Sid Vicious all worked as assistants at some point or other, was an outlet for the early designs of Vivienne Westwood, who co-owned the place with Malcolm Mclaren. A magnet for poseurs, John Lydon was a regular customer, standing out with short spiky hair and clothes held together with safety pins in the age of long hair and flares.
As a promotional gimmick for the shop, Mclaren and Westwood drafted in Steve Jones and Paul Cook along with shop assistant and art college kid Glen Matlock, with Lydon, aka Rotten on vocals, and the Sex Pistols were formed. The band would evolve in its own nihilistic direction, the story of which has become legendary.
Though tame in retrospect, Britain was more conservative and more easily shocked in the mid to late 70's and controversy after controversy followed, with questions being asked in parliament. Mclaren became very rich and the band ended up with next to nothing until a huge court-case in the mid 80's.
The shop is now known as World's End, instantly recognisable by the huge clock that runs backwards very fast on its facade, redesigned in 1980 by Mclaren and Westwood after the band imploded. To this day it is a part of Vivienne Westwood's fashion empire.
The 2i's Coffee Bar, Old Compton Street, Soho
Post-war Britain was the most depressing, conservative and unimaginative place to live. Britain was a tea drinking nation, coffee being an American habit. With its glitzy movies, stylish motors and progressive attitude, America was everything Britain wasn't. With the advent of rock and roll, and long before Starbucks and Costa reminded British people that decent coffee does not come out of a jar, coffee bars became the places to be. All things American were cool.
Coffee shops were frequented by the new teenage generation that had money and didn't have to join the military after school anymore but were too young for the local pub. These were the forerunners of the nightclubs as youth culture in Britain began. Teddy-boys, beatniks and other juvenile delinquents in the older generation's eyes hung out in these places, the most famous of which was the 2i's Coffee Bar on Old Compton Street, which is now the centre of London's gay district. The 2i's hosted performances by skiffle bands and budding rockers.
The most famous discovery of the 2i's was Britain's first rock star, Cliff Richard. It must be remembered how conservative Britain was after the Second World War. Cliff was considered outrageous at the time and a rival to Elvis. Youth culture was a new phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic. Rock and roll was banned on most radio stations, and in Britain only about eight people had televisions.
With its house band, Wally Whyton and the Vipers, the 2i's was an important rung on the ladder for many who would go on to fame. Tony Sheridan, who would later record "My Bonnie" in Hamburg backed by the pre-fame Beatles, performed here, as did Tommy Steele, Joe Brown, Adam Faith, Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore and many others.
The site of the 2i's is now occupied by a touristy fish and chip shop called Poppies. A green plaque was unveiled in 2006 in memory of the legendary venue that occupied the site between 1956 and 1970.