Explore London's Music Scene - Past and Present

London Music

London music has evolved from Chas & Dave to the Sex Pistols to Congo Natty and back again. The capital city has been played by artists like The Who and is the location of Jimi Hendrix's last performance. The culture experts at The London Pass have been on a research mission to discover London's best music offerings from past to present. The London sound is a reflection of its history, its diversity, and the creativity that comes with living in one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

London Music

A Musical Map of London

London Music Map

London has some of the most legendary music venues in the world even though many have been lost to progress and development. When the Marquee Club closed down, a part of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd's legacy went with it. The Hammersmith Palais is no longer an epic entertainment venue but the title of a song by the Clash. Regardless the city is still thriving musically, with a community of like-minded music lovers attending shows in small pubs, pop-up venues, and stadiums with a capacity of 80,000.

Whether you're a head-banger, alternative rocker, mod, punk, indie, or anything in between, London has a venue to cover all tastes. Take a look at what London music history holds:

Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road

This theatre was built over the former Horse Shoe Brewery, the site of the 1814 London Beer Flood. The Dominion opened in 1929 and became well known for hosting musical shows. It wasn't until 6th February 1957 that the hall saw its first proper rock and roll concert. Bill Haley and the Comets opened their British tour here where they were met by thousands of (atypically!) screaming British fans.

The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road

This Grade II* listed building has become one of the most famous music venues in London. This former railway shed saw The Doors play their only UK gig here in 1968 and by the early 1970s, DJ Jeff Dexter was a regular Sunday night feature. His shows helped launch the likes of David Bowie, Black Sabbath, Elton John, and The Rolling Stones to fame.

Punk arrived in 1976 and the Roundhouse finished out the 70s with concerts from The Ramones, Patti Smith and The Strangers, Blondie, Elvis Costello, The Police, and so many more. After years of dereliction, the Roundhouse has risen from the ashes to become one of the capital's best venues again.

London Roundhouse
Dublin Castle, 94 Parkway Camden

The famous late Camden resident Amy Winehouse was a regular at this lively pub. It's an institution of the indie music scene and launched the music career of Madness.

Ronnie Scott's, Frith Street

Primarily a jazz club, Ronnie Scott's club in Soho is also a hotspot for rock music. The Who deafened an audience of journalists when the band launched their album Tommy here in 1969. It's also the location of a sad farewell as Jimi Hendrix gave his last live performance here in September 1970.

100 Club, 100 Oxford Street

This venue has seen change after change, but the spot has seen music since 1941. The 100 Club's roots are jazz and you'll still find them playing it, but since the 1960s they've been throwing rock music into the mix. In fact, the name of the club came from its larger-than-life rock nights where The Kinks and the Animals played. In the late 70s they brought punk music into the venue with shows by The Sex Pistols and Siouxie; in the 1980s, the Rolling Stones took breaks from their huge stadium concerts for intimate shows.

The increase in rents threatened the existence of the club in 2010 but a fundraising campaign helped its doors stay open to today.

Ronnie Scott's
Eventim Apollo, Queen Caroline Street

If you wanted to see some of the best gigs through London's rock and roll heyday, you went to this Grade II* listed building in Hammersmith. Originally called the Hammersmith Apollo, it was renamed Hammersmith Odeon in 1962. It is known as the Eventim Apollo through sponsorship.

The Beatles played their second Christmas show here in 1964 - it ran for 3 weeks and sold out its 100,000 tickets. The show involved music, comedy sketches, and special guests which made for a uniquely British holiday experience.

Affectionately known as Hammy-O, this venue was just for live music. Live albums Alchemy by Dire Straits and appropriately titled No Sleep to Hammersmith by Motorhead were also recorded here.

Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore

This historic venue dates back to the 1800s and was named after Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert. From the 1960s it has been used regularly to host pop and rock concerts, which is when Cream performed their last show and Bob Dylan upset some of his folk purist fans by playing an electric guitar - the horror!

The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys are just a few of the legendary names to have graced the stage of what is the grandest venue in London.

Royal Albert Hall
The Electric Ballroom, Camden High Street

One of this venue's claims to fame is it's the location of Sid Sod Off - the last ever UK performance from Sid Vicious. Sid and his girlfriend Nancy wanted to move to New York and used the profits from this gig to do it.

In 1979 Joy Division performed twice - around the same time U2 and Adam and the Ants were playing. In 2007, former Beatle Paul McCartney played a surprise gig for an exclusive audience.

Up on a Roof, 3 Savile Row

Savile Row may be known for Georgian townhomes and upscale bespoke tailors but this Mayfair street housed the Beatles' Apple Corps Ltd group of companies. On 30th January 1969, the roof of Apple headquarters marked the group's final performance and one of the all-time greatest moments in popular culture.

The Beatles got up onto their roof and had a set list of five songs. Their neighbours were not pleased with the surprise performance and called the police. When they arrived they stayed to watch the show. The performance was stopped after 42 minutes but the footage lives on. The building is now a branch of Abercrombie Kids.

Up On A Roof
Eel Pie Island, Just off Twickenham

Eel Pie Island is an island on the River Thames to the West of the City. It is accessible by footbridge or by boat, but is privately owned with about 50 houses, 120 inhabitants and nature reserves at either end of the island. In musical terms the island and its name has two major claims to fame: Eel Pie Studios nearby on the mainland was formerly owned by Pete Townshend, and the location where a number of significant pop and rock tracks were recorded, and Townshend's publishing company "Eel Pie Publishing" was named after the island. In addition to this the island was a major jazz and blues venue in the 1960s when the "Eel Pie Island Hotel" became a gig venue initially for jazz band concerts and then later in the 1960s for rock and R&B groups, including The Rolling Stones and The Who.

Eel Pie Island on the River Thames - photo courtesy Motmit
Lyceum Theatre, on Wellington Street

The Lyceum Theatre is in London's End, just off the Strand, and a theatre or similar venue has stood at this location since the 18th Century. Many different types of events and shows have been held here over the years including opera and music hall shows as well as traditional theatre productions, and since 1999 it has hosted the musical version of The Lion King. In 1945, having been saved from demolition, the building was converted into a large ballroom and in the 1960s and 70s it became an interesting pop concert venue, showcasing groups such as The Clash, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Police, The Who, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and U2. According to Dave Cuthill "After the Ballroom dancing finished at 10:30-11:00pm it would transform itself into a rock venue rave through to about 6am the next morning. A lot of the same crowd at the Lyceum you would see again on the Sunday at the Camden Roundhouse if there was a gig on there."

London's Lyceum Theatre

Your Face Here? London Landmarks Seen on Album Covers and in Videos

Abbey Road

Most of the Beatles records were made at EMI Studios in St John's Wood in North London. They named their last recorded album after the road where the studios were situated: Abbey Road. The photograph on the front cover was taken on the zebra crossing right by the studios. Ever since that album release, millions of people have made their way up to St John's Wood in order to replicate the famous photo - at the expense of their safety and traffic flow. Abbey Road Studios have an estimated 300,000 people come every year, making it one of the top 20 most visited tourist attractions in London.

The Beatles: Abbey Road
Ziggy Stardust

Another one of the most imitated album covers is David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust which was photographed outside 23 Heddon Street, near Regent Street. Here is where visitors come to stand by the phone booth where David Bowie once stood.

Animals

Pink Floyd's album cover for Animals shows Battersea Power Station with a large inflatable pig tied to its recognisable chimneys. During the photo shoot the pig came loose and drifted skywards. It caused a lot of confusion amongst pilots flying in and out of Heathrow airport!

Ziggy Stardust Pink Floyd: Animals

The Clash

The photograph on the cover The Clash's eponymous first album was taken on the steps right outside the Stables Market in Camden Town. This is where they had their rehearsal rooms.

Subterranean Homesick Blues

Bob Dylan shot the video for this song at the back of the Savoy Hotel where he was staying during his 1965 UK tour.

The Clash Subterranean Homesick Blues

Two Virgins

34 Montagu Square in Marylebone has an exciting rock and roll history. Ringo Starr and his new wife Maureen moved into this apartment in 1965. Later, Paul McCartney recorded demos of Eleanor Rigby with a portable recording studio. Jimi Hendrix lived at this address with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham and manager Chas Chandler. The trio were replaced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono and became the location of their famous naked photo that graced the cover of their Two Virgins album.

London in Song

London has inspired hundreds of artists to write songs about their home city. All parts of London and all stories about London life, from high living, to riots, and dodgy bedsits, have made their way to the ears of the masses through music. Here are some of the best:

Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks (Pye Records)

Inspired by Ray Davies walking over Waterloo Bridge when he saw "Millions of people swarming like flies 'round Waterloo Underground" - a daily occurrence that led to arguably the most evocative song about London. Youtube video: Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks

London Calling - The Clash (Epic Records)

The title was inspired by the BBC World Service radio station identification during World War II. Youtube video: London Calling - The Clash

Electric Avenue - Eddy Grant (Parlophone Records)

Named after the street market in Brixton and inspired by the riots that took over the area in 1981. Memorable lyric: "Now in the street, there is violence, and - and a lots of work to be done". Youtube video: Electric Avenue - Eddy Grant

Baker Street - Gerry Rafftery (United Artists)

This street may be more well-known for Sherlock Homes but Gerry Rafferty wrote his homage to the street while staying in a flat nearby. This was during the legal battle involving the break-up of his band, Stealers Wheel. Memorable lyric: "Winding your way down on Baker Street, Light in your head and dead on your feet". Youtube video: Baker Street - Gerry Rafftery

Sunny Goodge Street - Donovan (Pye Records)

Written in 1965 this was one of the first London tunes to openly mention drug-taking. Memorable lyric: "Violent hash smoker shook a chocolate machine, Involved in an eating scene". Youtube video: Sunny Goodge Strret - Donovan

Dedicated Followers of Fashion

There has always been a connection between music and fashion, and London has many places where the art forms collide.

The King's Road in Chelsea has been associated with fashion and music since the 1960s when Mary Quant opened her first shop here. Later on the wonderfully named Granny Takes a Trip opened at 488 King's Road.

London King's Road: World's End

The street became known for being the place where The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix shopped, meanwhile internationally renowned fashion designer Vivienne Westwood owns a shop called World's End at No. 430. The shop has had many names over the years and when it was co-owned by Malcom McLaren, one of the minds behind the Sex Pistols, it was called Sex. The members who would later form the band were regular patrons at the store.

Another street associated with music and fashion is Carnaby Street in Soho. It became popular with the Mod crowd in the 60s. The area was no stranger to The Who and The Small Faces who bought clothes there regularly. Carnaby Street was mentioned in The Kinks' song Dedicated Follower of Fashion: "Everywhere the Carnabetian army marches on, Each one a dedicated follower of fashion".

The London Pass

The London Pass offers holders free entry to over 60 top attractions including Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle and a Thames River Cruise. The pass comes with a guidebook, specially selected offers, great deals and discounts, and most importantly, queue jumping privileges at selected attractions.

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