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UFO Club (31 Tottenham Court Rd)For a few months in the late 60s, the UFO was London's hippest club. It was located in a former Irish dance hall, the Blarney Club, and every alternate Friday, the UFO club put on progressive rock bands and showed experimental movies until dawn. The UFO Club ran for only 6 months from Christmas 1966, but in that time it transformed the London music scene.
Pink Floyd was one of the main attractions at the club, featuring Syd Barrett’s quirky tales of gnomes, transvestites and bicycles, as well as long improvised interstellar freakouts, and throbbing light shows. Other bands that had success at the UFO included the Soft Machine, Fairport Convention (the inventors of British folk rock) and strange improvising “noise bands” like AMM.
Clubs like the UFO and Middle Earth soon became notorious for their mind-altering light shows and their all night dances, which were fuelled by loud music and a variety of illegal substances. When the police closed down these smaller clubs, the hippies simply moved north to an old railway shed in Camden that was converted into a music venue called the Roundhouse.
The UFO building was pulled down in the early 70s and replaced with an ugly shopping complex, which includes hi fi shops and a cinema.
The Astoria (157 Charing Cross Road)
As the end of the 80s grew near, the increasing drabness of the indie rock scene, with its uniform of Doc Martens, Levi 501s and Anti-Thatcher politics, was swept aside by 1988’s Second Summer of Love and the arrival of “Acid House”.
House Music was a new kind of disco music that started in Detroit and Chicago. This strange new music utilised cheap synthesisers and snatches of other records to create mantra like sound sculptures. The creators of this new dance music were influenced by European synth pop groups like Kraftwerk, New Order and the Human League, as well as “Hi NRG”, which was a type of electronic dance music popular in gay clubs in America and the UK.
The final element in the birth of the Acid House movement was the arrival of a new drug called Ecstasy, which had the fortunate side effect of making the repetitive music sound incredibly interesting over very long periods of time.
One of the best known of the early House clubs was Nicky Holloway’s The Trip, which was based at the Astoria theatre. It ran throughout the summer of 1988 (under a variety of aliases) until the acid house scene moved on to illegal raves staged in disused warehouses around the city.
Heaven, Villiers St (underneath the Arches), Charing Cross
Since the late 80s, this has been the UK’s biggest and most famous gay nightclub. It is also the where London’s Acid House movement was born. The Soundshaft annexe hosted many seminal house club nights, including Paul Oakenfold's Future (late 1987) and Spectrum (mid 1988), as well as other club nights such as Sex Love and Motion and The Drum Club.
Heaven is also where Alex Patterson (of The Orb) and Jimmy Cauty (of KLF) invented Ambient House at the Land of Oz nights in the early 90s. Patterson and Cauty were attempting to create relaxing collages of beatless music for tired club goers to “chill out”. However, they had stumbled onto a new genre that dominated electronic music for the first half of the 90s.
Ziggy Stardust cover (23 Heddon Street)
The front cover of David Bowie’s classic album showed a futuristic Bowie (wearing yellow hair and a green jumpsuit) loitering in a seedy rainswept London backstreet, looking like he had just beamed down from some alien planet. Above his head hangs a sickly yellow illuminated sign reading, enigmatically, “K. West”.
The photo was taken in Heddon Street (which is located just off Regent Street in central London) on a rainy night in January 1972, just outside the album cover photographer’s studio, located at number 23. The other tenants in the building included a fur import business called K. West, which occupied the first floor (and which has long since ceased trading).
The back cover of Ziggy Stardust depicted Bowie in a red phone box, looking enigmatically at the camera. The original phone box, which stood at the end of Heddon St, was replaced some years ago with a more modern model. However, there is still plenty of Bowie related graffiti in the new phone box.
Bowie had this to say about the imagery of the cover: "the idea was to hit a look somewhere between the Malcolm McDowell (star of the movie Clockwork Orange) thing with the mascaraed eyelash and insects. It was the era of Wild Boys by William S. Burroughs. That was a really heavy book that had come out in about 1970, and it was a cross between that and Clockwork Orange that really started to put together the shape and the look of what Ziggy and the Spiders were going to become".
Rock Circus / London Pavilion (1 Piccadilly Circus)
This building was a music hall for most of the twentieth century, and in the 60s the theatre premiered the Beatles movies A Hard Day's Night, Help! and Yellow Submarine. Today, it is the location of the Rock Circus, a very cheesy, sub-Tussauds tribute to the dinosaurs of rock music.
Dryden Chambers (119 Oxford St)
This run down building housed a warren of punk entrepreneurs in the late 70s, including Malcolm McLaren's Glitterbest organisation (at #40), the fanzine Sniffing Glue, and several record labels - including Deptford City Fun, Illegal, and Miles Copeland’s Step Forward (all at #27).
The Dryden Chambers crew regularly gathered at the Ship, a pub on nearby Wardour St. Other nearby landmarks include the Oxford St tube station, where Mark Perry used a Xerox machine in a (long gone) copy shop to produce early editions of his classic punk fanzine “Sniffin’ Glue”.
100 Club (100 Oxford St)
By the mid 70s, the London music scene seemed pretty boring for a generation whose expectations of teenage rebellion had been raised sky high by stories they heard about the youth revolts of the “sixties”. But just when London’s rock culture seemed ready to slip into its final coma, we were treated to the Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, the Clash and the Jam, and a hundred other punk bands at clubs like the Roxy, the Vortex and the 100 Club.
The 100 Club started as a jazz club (called Feldman's) during the Second World War. However, it entered the annals of punk when it hosted the Punk Rock Festival in September 1976. The festival was a showcase for the Sex Pistols, and featured many of the future stars of the emerging movement (including Suzie and the Banshees, The Buzzcocks, and The Damned)
In the 80s, the tiny club was regularly used by some of the big names in stadium rock to warm up for their latest tours. In February 1986, the Rolling Stones played a surprise gig as a kind of tribute for Ian Stewart, their deceased road manager (and once their piano player). In August 1987, heavy metal band Metallica played a warm up gig at the club, just before their appearance at the Monsters of Rock festival.
Hilton Hotel (22 Park Lane)
This hotel has played a minor role in the history of rock over the years. It is where John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison attended their first ever lecture by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The whole group later followed the guru out to his retreat in India (which Ringo later compared to a Butlins holiday camp).
On an entirely different spiritual plane, the hotel is also where the Rolling Stones first met Allen Klein, asking him to become their manager in the mid 60s (a decision which almost ruined them financially before they fired him in 1970).
The eccentric Syd Barrett moved into a top floor suite briefly in 1971, thanks to a sudden influx of funds from the Pink Floyd compilation Relics. When most of the royalties ran out, he moved into an apartment block in Chelsea, where he lived until he moved back to Cambridge to live with his mother.
And it is where Elvis Costello was arrested for busking outside the CBS record company Convention in July 1977. He strapped a small amp on his back and played in front of the hotel, in the hope of getting an international record deal (at the suggestion of Stiff Record boss Jake Riviera). Costello had to get someone else to pay the £5 fine, as he didn’t have the cash.
Just around the corner is the original Hard Rock Cafe (150 Old Park Lane), the very first in an international chain of burger restaurants, which was founded by Isaac Tigret from Memphis, Tennessee. The café’s gimmick is the rock and roll memoribilia that hangs around the walls, and the loud rock music that pumps through the PA.
Charing Cross Pier
Malcolm McLaren and other punk partygoers were arrested for disturbing the peace following the infamous Silver Jubilee cruise on the evening of 7 June 1977, aboard the riverboat Queen Elizabeth.
“Subterranean Homesick Blues” film clip (alley way behind Savoy Hotel)
The film clip for Bob Dylan’s "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is an exercise in minimalist cool: the whole clip is filmed in a single shot in a seedy looking alleyway. Dylan makes no attempt to lip sync; instead he holds up cue cards which have phrases from the song scrawled on them, and which he drops to the ground one by one in rough synchronisation with the song. In the background, Allen Ginsberg can be seen dressed as a biblical prophet.
The film clip was shot by DA Pennebaker in an alleyway beside the Savoy Hotel, for the move Don’t Look Back. Alan Price (founder of The Animals) and Joan Baez wrote out the prompt cards.
Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Nash House, The Mall
Many "alternative" events have been held here over the years, including: Throbbing Gristle's controversial debut in 1976, Sonic Youth’s European debut in March 1985, and several psychedelic "happenings" in the 60s. The ICA still shows cutting edge musical events on a regular basis.
A memory from the early 90s: As the clubs begin to empty in the hours before dawn, the heart of London fills with people looking for their night bus home. The scene on one of these bus journeys can be like a Fellini movie or a Brughel painting, like a noisy brightly lit caravan of fools, cruising through the dark streets, while normal people have been asleep and dreaming for hours, safely inside their houses.
William Burrough’s Flat (8 Duke St, St James)
William Burroughs lived in the Dalmeney Court apartment building for 7 years from 1966. He lived first in apartment 22, and then in number 18, which was smaller and cheaper Around the same time, Eric Burdon (singer with the Animals) lived on the 3rd floor.
Jimi Hendrix’s Flat (23 Brook St, Mayfair)
Hendrix moved in to this flat with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham in February 1969, and lived here (on and off) for around 18 months. In 1997, the Hendrix house was given its own English Heritage blue memorial plaque, which was unveiled by Pete Townsend and Kathy Etchingham.
Scotch of St. James / Indica Gallery (13 Masons Yard)The Scotch of St. James (now the Directors Lodge Club) was one of the most exclusive rock clubs in 60s London. Jimi Hendrix performed there shortly after his arrival in the UK, and impressed Kit Lambert (manager of The Who) into offering him a recording contract late in 1966.
The club opened in March 1965, and was located next door to the Indica Gallery (#6), where John Lennon met Yoko Ono for the first time in November 1966. The Gallery was named in honour of the cannabis plant (full botanical name: Cannabis Savita Indica), and was opened in January 1966 by a collective calling itself MAD, ie: (Barry) Miles, (Peter) Asher, and (John) Dunbar.
Paul McCartney helped the MAD crew to move into the building. McCartney later invited John Lennon to the opening night show at the gallery (featuring avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, who Lennon later married). One of the organisers of Yoko Ono’s show was the father of Blur’s Damon Albarn.
Marc Bolan’s flat (47 Bilton Towers, Great Cumberland Place)
Marc Bolan moved here mid 1972, at the height of his fame, with his wife June and 3 "minders". He was forced to move here after the tabloids published details of his previous address at Clarendon Gardens. The building is located just behind Marble Arch.
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