Rock ’n’ roll may be viewed as American property, but it’s hard to deny that much of the genre’s heritage, and some of its biggest names, too, come from the other side of the pond.
London was swinging in the mid-1960s, and from arts, fashion to music, it was the epicentre of a cultural revolution that changed the world forever.
Little may have transpired in the name of development and music from the time of the London Blitz, but in the 1960s, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix et al, were cruising along Soho’s sidewalk and cavorting on King’s Road.
London’s well-curated and guided tour of its rock ’n’ roll hotspots, Rock ’n’ Roll Walking tour, offers a peek behind the curtains and closed doors of legendary live venues, recording studios, coffee houses and liquor stores. While I largely only got to see the façade of most of these tourist pitstops (many of them have been re-purposed for other trades), knowing that legendary musicians mixed and mingled on these hallowed grounds was sufficient to immerse me in the myths and legends of British rock ’n’ roll.
If rock ’n’ roll’s your cuppa, time literally flies in this 90-minute tour. Here are a handful of the standout locations:
1. Scotch of St James – It’s unbelievable the number of musicians who stepped onto the stage of this members-only club. Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart, Chuck Berry and, more recently, Jack White (not Jack Black!), have all strutted their stuff there. But the occasion that’s nearest and dearest to Londoners is, this was the first venue Jimi Hendrix played at when he was whisked from New York to London by The Animals’ bass player Chas Chandler. What rock music fans would give to have been a fly on the wall 40 to 50 years ago!
2. Bag o’ Nails – Like Scotch of St James, Bag o’ Nails was also (and like Scotch, still is) a members-only club. Once Chandler had assembled the appropriate musicians to back Hendrix, he unveiled the band, The Experience, here. And this is also where Sir Paul McCartney first set eyes on his (late) wife, Linda Eastman.
3. Paris Theatre – This former theatre was farmed out for BBC Radios 2 and 4’s rock content, especially mini concerts which required the attendance of an audience, in particular, the In Concert and Sounds Of The Seventies series. The Beatles’ BBC sessions famously depict the band just outside the building. Rock’s greatest luminaries have graced its stage, including the likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Queen and Pink Floyd.
4. Trident Studios – For me, the jewel in the walk’s crown. This was the studio where Queen’s iconic Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded. It also hosted the recordings of a number of David Bowie’s classic albums and tunes. We were unfortunate that the owner was away at the time of our visit, so we didn’t get to go in, but knowing that I was at the doorway of where some of rock’s greatest musicians went through to lay down some of the most revered songs in rock history was pleasing enough. And to vaunt its legend, the glass window on the side of the corner shoplot lists the classic recordings of yore. The studio is no longer a music recording studio, but one for jingles.
5. De Lane Lea Studios – Now owned by Warner Brothers, this was, back in rock ’n’ roll’s glory days, a thriving recording studio in the 1960s and 70s. Hendrix’s introduction to the world, Hey Joe, was recorded here. ’Nuff said? Almost. The Who’s Who have all recorded here, including The Who, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Wishbone Ash, among others.
6. Gerry’s Wines and Spirits – As the name indicates, this store is the root of rock ’n’ roll merry-making. Old Compton Street has seen many a boozed up musician traversing its pavement, and all generally headed in the direction of Gerry’s. According to our tour guide, every kind of liquor can be purchased there. If they don’t have it in stock, they can get it within 24 hours upon request. Now, that’s service. No wonder musicians love the place.
7. 3 Savile Row – Apple Corp was The Beatles’ ambitious yet failed label, an attempt to branch out on its own, but bad business management ended hopes for any kind of future the label may have had. The lot in which the Fab Four’s office was once located, now belongs to Abercrombie & Fitch, but the clothing company has retained the internal structure much in the way Apple once operated. The lot’s rooftop has been immortalised in The Beatles rooftop concert in 1969, which eventually had the police from the station down the road stopping the show.