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Soho/Covent Garden

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(go back to Music Travel)

The Sex Pistols Rehearsal Rooms (6A Denmark St, Soho)

Denmark Street is lined with music publishers and instrument shops and has been at the centre of English show business since the days of music hall in the 19th century

When Malcolm McLaren assembled the Sex Pistols in late 1975, he bought this building for £1000 to give them a place where they could practice.

The tiny building (which is located at the end of an alleyway running between #6 and #8) had only two rooms: one upstairs and the other downstairs. The downstairs area was used for band rehearsals and the upstairs room was used as a communal crash pad.

The rehearsal rooms were located next door to a graphic arts company called Hipgnosis (located just over the back fence), which designed album covers for Pink Floyd and Yes.

The Hit Factory: CBS Studios (31 Whitfield St)

In December 1966, the Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded their first album Are You Experienced at the studios. In 1973, Iggy Pop brought the Stooges to London to record their final studio album, Raw Power. David Bowie (then at the height of his Ziggy Stardust persona) produced the record. In 1977, the Clash recorded their first album at the Whitfield St Studios.

Marquee Club / Mezzo (90 Wardour St)

Marquee
The original Marquee was a jazz club, located in a basement at 165 Oxford St, beneath a cinema. The jazz club moved into a bigger venue in Wardour St in 1964, Like many other jazz clubs in the area, the Marquee started booking younger pop acts like the Rolling Stones and the Who, who had started attracting a large following in the tiny R&B clubs of suburban West London.

By 1966, the management of the Marquee sensed the blowing winds of change, and staged the multimedia Spontaneous Underground happenings late in 1966. The Sunday afternoon happenings featured avant-garde improvisations, gigantic jellies, and cutting edge rock music (including a very young Pink Floyd, led by Syd Barrett).

The Spontaneous Underground events were a big success, paving the way for clubs like UFO and Middle Earth, which opened the following year.

Led Zeppelin played their debut gig in the Marquee at the end of the 60s.

By the seventies the building was starting to physically decay and the Marquee moved in the early 80s to 105 Charing Cross Rd.

The Flamingo Club / The Wag Club (35 Wardour St)

The Flamingo was one of the most popular Mod clubs in London in the mid sixties. It was located in a basement (below the Wag Club) and attracted a menagerie of West End night life.

Along with other R&B clubs like the Marquee and the Scene (41 Great Windmill Street), the Flamingo was a place where hard core Mods could see bands like the Who, Kinks, Small Faces, and the Yardbirds. Other Flamingo regulars included Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, John Mayall, Geno Washington, Cream and Eric Burdon.

At midnight, the Flamingo transformed into the All Nighter Club, where Mods could dance until dawn, fuelled by amphetamines and soul music records.

Berwick Street, Soho

Oasis2
The street was captured in a rare moment of tranquillity just after dawn on the cover of the second album by rockist overachievers Oasis: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory.

Berwick Street has some very good record shops. The street also features a good vegetable market, and Raymond’s Revue Bar, which has been presenting soft-core sleaze since Benny Hill was a spotty teenager (the venue also appeared briefly in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour).

Blitz Club / The Batcave / Gossips (69 Dean street)

In the late 70s, fashion conscious young Londoners began to tire of the grey miserabilist world of “post punks” like Joy Division, Public Image Ltd, and Wire. New clubs started mixing up glam rock (Roxy Music and David Bowie) with techno pop (pioneered by Dusseldorf's Kraftwerk and Sheffield’s Human League). The new mix was a hit and by 1981, Blitz was one of the most fashionable clubs in London.

The kids who went to the Blitz every week started dressing like Pirates, Indians, and ancient Greeks. The music press dreamed up a new label for the movement: New Romantic. New Romantic bands like Duran Duran, Ultravox, and Spandau Ballet went on to huge worldwide success.

A few years later, kids started wearing black and began to take an unhealthy interest in death, vampires and noisy music. Bands like The Cure stopped combing their hair, and started wearing white makeup and black lipstick, and wrote lots of songs about death and carnivorous spiders.

The club was resurrected as the Batcave, which became the haunt of Goth favourites like Australia’s Birthday Party, and Bromley’s Siouxie and the Banshees.

2i's coffee bar, 57-59 Old Compton St

The 2is was typical of Soho’s coffee bar scene in the mid 50s. It opened in 1956 with a Spanish guitarist and a jukebox and before long it featured skiffle groups and early British rockers like Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele and Billy Fury. Teenage hipsters from all over London flocked to the 2i’s, including a very young Marc Bolan, who worked there as a waiter. Led Zeppelin's manager Peter Grant also worked there as a bouncer.

The Ad Lib Club, Prince Charles Theatre (7 Leicester Place)

The Prince Charles Theatre currently operates as a slightly down at heel art house cinema. But in the 60s, the Ad Lib was located on the top floor of the building. It was a place where the new rock aristocracy could mingle with avant garde artists, fashion designers and assorted "Beautiful People". According to some reports, the Ad Lib is where John Lennon and George Harrison shared their very first LSD trip.

The Roxy (41-43 Neal St), Covent Garden

The Roxy club was just a seedy Soho strip joint when Andy Czezowski (who was Malcolm McLaren's accountant) launched London’s very first punk club in December 1976.

The Roxy club ran for only 4 months until April 1977. But in that time the club helped create a space where anything seemed possible and music was judged not on technical ability but on imagination, commitment, and raw charisma.

The music (and the spirit) of the Roxy was captured on the Live at the Roxy LP, which preserved the raw and unpolished performances of bands like Siouxie and the Banshees and Wire.

After the Roxy closed, the punk scene moved on to The Vortex (203 Wardour St), but it never quite recaptured the cutting edge atmosphere of the Roxy.

Middle Earth (43 King St, Covent Garden)

When Mod and R&B bands started sounding stale in the mid 60s, bands like the Soft Machine and Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd attempted to copy the brand new San Francisco acid rock sound. They ended up getting it mostly wrong, and in the process they created their own entirely unique species of whimsical psychedelic rock.

The Electric Garden opened early in 1967, attempting to cash in on the emerging UK hippie movement. However, there was little interest from real hippies (who preferred the more authentic UFO club, located just a few blocks away) and the management of the club was taken over by David Housen.

Housen gave the club a makeover, and renamed it Middle Earth, after Tolkien’s (then) cult classic. He recruited John Peel (who was already a well-known announcer for offshore pirate Radio Caroline) as club DJ, and, when the UFO finally closed its doors in the middle of 1967, Middle Earth became the focus of London’s underground psychedelic community.

Fiveacres Lights made Middle Earth their home after UFO closed. Jack Bracelin (Happening 44) and Chris Selwood (Fiveacres) created an atmosphere later copied by New York clubs.

Middle Earth patrons witnessed the very first performance of Marc Bolan’s T.Rex. The performance was a disaster (mainly because Bolan recruited the band members on the evening of the gig, based mainly on strength of their looks or interesting names).

Within a few months of opening, the club closed in October 1967, after a campaign of police harassment. The management moved the club up to the Roundhouse in North London, where they continued to put on occasional Middle Earth club nights.

Just up the road from the original Middle Earth was the Rock Garden (6-7 The Piazza) where both The Smiths and U2 played their London debuts in the 80s.

Syd Barret’s Flat (2 Earlham St, Covent Garden)

Shortly after Syd Barrett moved to London from Cambridge in the summer of 1964, he moved into this building (eventually he occupied the top floor flat with his girlfriend Lindsay).

At the time that Barrett lived here, Covent Garden was still quite a seedy place; a porno publisher operated from the ground floor of the apartment building, and Barrett's flat was later turned into a brothel.

Arts Lab (182 Drury Lane)

The Arts Lab was a multi media theatre that celebrated the spirit of the late 60s. Highlights included The People Show, where the audience was placed in cages and intimidated by actors for half an hour, and a performance by Yoko Ono, which involved sawing household appliances in half.

The all night cinema in the Arts Lab basement featured underground films and had mattresses on the floor instead of cinema chairs. The cinema became popular with people needing somewhere to rest after a long evening of clubbing, and it soon became a well known crash pad for itinerant hippies.

American expatriate Jim Haynes opened the Arts Lab in the late 60s, and the concept spread quickly across the UK. By the 70s there were around 50 Arts Labs located across the UK (including David Bowie’s own Lab in Beckenham, just south of London)

(go back to Music Travel)

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