There is much one can say about London and rest assured the word “boring” will never be used once. For a music sucker like me then, building up a music-themed itinerary is an impossible challenge, yet, I seem to have accomplished it.
I simply love making itineraries, every single time I travel I research things I want to see with months of advance and then I schedule times, places and activities in order to maximise experiences and to minimise travel time. Am I a travel nazi? Most definitely yes, but I can guarantee my plans never fail. So my boyfriend and I planned a trip to London for early October almost a year ago, as soon as Alice Cooper’s tour was announced. The big occasion was my boyfriend’s birthday and we wanted to celebrate it properly, but when I had to think of a birthday gift I got stranded and couldn’t find anything that cool for such a cool trip. I thought of buying us a “rock music tour” of the city and found many companies doing them on a daily basis but fucking hell, 200£ for a two-hour tour in a taxi seemed a sheer tourist trap to me and that was the lowest price you could get. So I said, “why don’t I just put together an itinerary myself?” and so I did.
If you are willing to walk approximately 22 km in one day, to roam non-stop from 9 am until 7 pm under constant rain and to ask yourself around 3 pm what is actually keeping you alive, then this is the right adventure for you! Ready, steady, go!
- ELDON STREET – RADIOHEAD
For us, the starting point of the tour was this quiet street which was literally two minutes far from our hotel in Finsbury Square. If you are familiar with Radiohead you might still not recognise that this is where the outdoor scenes of the official video of “Just” were shot.
2. LIVERPOOL STREET STATION – MANSUN
This is my favourite anecdote of this music tour I think. In 1997 British band Mansun published the single “Taxloss” and in order to promote it, their manager went to their label and got out of the building with 25k£ in cash, all in 5£ banknotes. Then the next morning during rush hour he and his staff headed to the upper floor of Liverpool Street station and started to sprinkle banknotes like confetti all over the station causing some real mayhem. I say that’s the way you do marketing.
3. ABBEY ROAD – THE BEATLES
Jump on the tube and head towards St John’s Wood if you want to visit London’s most iconic music spot: Abbey Road. I must say I’d probably end up in jail if I had to drive on that road as careless people suddenly cross the road in order to have their timeless picture. I understand the hype, but dear lord if you have some kind of death wish just go drown yourself into the Thames instead of incriminating some poor driver who just needs to get somewhere else. More interesting is the Abbey Road Studios located just down the road, but which unfortunately you can’t just visit whenever you want. Special events are held from time to time and if you book quite in advance you are in!
4. 12 CURZON PLACE, MAYFAIR – KEITH MOON
Flat 9 on this lovely neighboorhood in Mayfair is sadly known as the place where two very famous musicians died. The flat used to belong to Harry Nilsson who was a songwriter himself and his job often took him to the US so at some point, he decided to rent his property in London to his musician friends. First, it was Cass Elliott, the singer of Mamas & Papas who in 1974 died of a heart attack while she was asleep. Then, in 1978 it was Keith Moon’s turn after he swallowed 32 clomethiazole pills to reduce his alcohol withdrawal symptoms. He took those pills on his doctor’s prescription, but the doctor instructed Moon to take no more than three per day. He clearly got the information right.
5. 23 HEDDON STREET – DAVID BOWIE
This particular spot is where the album cover of Ziggy Stardust was shot. As you approach there is a plaque on the wall which will tell you the exact point where the picture was taken and you will thank the city of London for putting that sign there simply because the street has changed so much over time that by looking at the album cover you will barely recognise that’s the same place.
6. 23 BROOKE STREET – JIMI HENDRIX
Same number, different location and different rockstar. This is where guitar legend Jimi Hendrix used to live when he moved to London in 1968. It was his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham who spotted the place in June when he was still in New York, but as soon as he moved in in July he began to spend a lot of time decorating and shopping for luxury curtains and cushions at the nearest John Lewis department store. He made that very flat his “first real home” as he defined it himself and he loved having people coming over to party at all times, making the house one of the most vibrant and secular places to be around in London at the end of the 60s. The flat has now turned into a small museum about Hendrix and his lifestyle, but what is curious is that he was not the only rockstar to ever live there. In fact, that same building was home to the baroque composer George Frideric Handel from 1712 until his death in 1759. Mr Handel might still be trapped in there as Hendrix said he had seen a fat man dressed in XVII century’s fashion roaming around at night sometimes.
7. THE MARQUEE CLUB
This is what should be called a true gipsy venue. When it first opened in 1958 as a jazz and skiffle club it was located at 165 Oxford Street, but then moved to 90 Wardour Street in Soho during its most famous era from 1964 until 1988. It finally moved to 105 Charing Cross Road when it was definitely shut down in 1996. It has always been rated as a cheap club but it represented one of the stages where bands played before taking off. The proof is in the pudding, The Rolling Stones’ first-ever live performance happened there on 12th July 1962.
8. BERWICK STREET – OASIS
You might ask yourselves what Oasis have to do with this street in Soho. Well, take your copy of “What’s the story morning glory”, dust it off and then look at the cover. Surprise, surprise, it will match perfectly with what you will see when arriving there! And while you’re at it, feel free to listen to one of those tunes, it can never be wrong.
9. 74 WARDOUR STREET – IRON MAIDEN
For all the Maiden fans there’s apparently not much to do in London city, but this is one hidden gem worth a few more steps. The Intrepid Fox used to be a pub where young Iron Maiden used to perform while climbing up the ladder before becoming the legends we all know today. The sign is still on the wall but don’t be fooled, if you enter you will no longer find a rock pub, the place has now turned into a burger shop. You might be disappointed but at least you won’t be hungry.
10. THE 100 CLUB
This is a venue which doesn’t even need to be introduced since literally any musician in the rock scene is well aware of its reputation. It actually opened its doors in 1942 under the name of “Feldman Swing Club” and then turned into “The 100 Club” in 1964 embracing the UK beat scene, rhythm and blues and later on the dangerous British wave of punk rock. While the decor has not changed since the 70s, punk bands no longer perform there regularly. However, jazz club nights continue to be held monthly just to make sure the 40s atmosphere is not forgotten.
11. DENMARK STREET
Oh boy, this street has seen all the faces that really counted in British rock music! It used to host lots of publisher offices and this is why it is also known as “Tin Pan Alley”. In the 60s the street was invaded by numerous music studios and music shops. The Rolling Stones recorded at Regent Sound Studios at N°4, you could find David Bowie socialising at the Gioconda Cafè at N°9 and Sex Pistols lived above N°6 where they also recorded their first demos.
12. 1 LOGAN PLACE, GARDEN LODGE – FREDDIE MERCURY
It will take you around 20 minutes by tube to get to this amazing suburbian neighbourhood in Kensington where Freddie Mercury used to live. This detached house was built in 1908 for painter Cecil Rae and his wife, the sculptor Constance Halford. Since then it has had several notable inhabitants including Peter Wilson, the chairman of Sotheby’s auction house. In 1986 Freddie Mercury bought the property for 500.000£, delivered in cash, of course, like the most stylish queen ever.
13. 29 MELBURY ROAD, KENSINGTON
This quiet residential street happens to hide two very big stars in British music. First, guitarist Jimmy Page, who lives in the beautiful historic Tower House which looks like the perfect place to retire after a youth lived by Led Zeppelin’s lifestyle bible. His neighbour is no ordinary face either since it happens to be Robbie Williams himself. Apparently there has been a bit of friction between the two during the years so if you were already picturing one of them going to ask for a cup of sugar to the other, well, erase that funny shit from your head immediately.
14. TUNSTALL ROAD, BRIXTON – DAVID BOWIE
Just outside the Brixton tube station, you can find another Bowie gem and that is the mural that was painted after he died in 2016. Apart from being extremely beautiful, the thing that most catches your eye is the flowers and knick-knacks that people constantly leave in front of it just like ancient Greeks did with the statues of their gods. And no better god could’ve been chosen to represent our times. Not far from the mural, at 40 Stansfield Road, you can see the house where Bowie was born and lived until he was six years old.
15. CAMDEN TOWN
From South London to North London we stopped at Camden Town right on time for some drinks and cool stories about the birthplace of punk rock. The Clash homonymous album cover was shot right in front of the Camden Market stairway while going through the market you will find the statue dedicated to the late queen of soul Amy Winehouse. If you followed the itinerary carefully you will find yourselves in this part of the town around 5 pm and we all know what this means: beer. If you’re feeling particularly brave you should follow what here it seems to be a common practice in the middle of the afternoon: shots. We stopped for refuelling at The Good Mixer Pub, apparently, one of the stages where Blur and Oasis moved their first steps as musicians. I think I spent the whole time there asking myself where would more than two people fit on that stage, but then I reminded myself that I was too tired to even think.
16. RENAISSANCE HOTEL, KING’S CROSS – SPICE GIRLS
Who’s in the mood for some 90s spiced tunes?! You can act all tough and rock n’ roll but there is one thing for sure and that is you have certainly, even just once in your life sung the famous chorus of “Wannabe” by Spice Girls. Yeah, yeah, we all agree they have been the result of an appealing music Frankenstein-like experiment, but that song is just too catchy. It sticks on your head and there’s nothing you can do to get rid of it. The Renaissance Hotel is that majestic building just outside King’s Cross Station where the video of “Wannabe” was shot and its iconic staircase haven’t changed a bit, or so they say. If you are not one of the hotel’s guests you better look at it from outside the gates or you will be charged just because you’re breathing the same posh air as they do.
If you made it so far, congratulations! You’re as mad as I am and you will probably be committed to an insane asylum very soon. If you’re someone a bit more stable who likes the idea but wants to take it easy I have some more cool spots to suggest which I, for obvious reasons, was unable to include in my itinerary.
The official video of “Bittersweet Symphony” features Richard Ashcroft lip-synching while bumping into literally everyone on a busy street. He actually starts from the junction between Hoxton Street and Falkirk Street and he heads north. One suggestion: do not try to recreate the scene from the video, you’ll either look like an idiot or like a harasser, either way, there is a high probability of being arrested.
There’s a lot to see in this district, starting from the Royal Albert Hall to the V&A museum which contains some wonderful music-related items, including a guitar smashed on stage by Pete Townshend. Last but not least the Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman’s American diner Sticky Fingers, near High Street Kensington.
430 King’s Road, the former location for Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s Sex Store, where Sid Vicious worked as shop assistant and John Lydon was often to be found there hanging around the jukebox in his “I hate Pink Floyd” t-shirt. On the corner of Royal Avenue there used to be the Chelsea drugstore, which inspired the Rolling Stones’ song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and has now become a McDonald’s, so if you happen to want a Big Mac, screw The Stones, you’re in the right place!
Not exactly Iron Maiden-themed, so don’t go expecting every room to be number 666, but the Sanctum Soho Hotel is owned by the management team behind the band. And other features do help guests embrace the rock and roll lifestyle, such as hot tubs, a cinema screening room, a 24/7 roof terrace bar and some rather comfy rooms.
Countless artists, from The Beatles, Bowie and the Stones to Oasis and Arctic Monkeys, recorded at this studio in Barnes until its closure in 2009. It reopened in 2013, however, as a cinema and cafe.
The creepy tunnel from The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ video in Aldwych Tube Station isn’t open year-round. You have to get special access like special tours etc in order to get down there and if you do just remember the station might be abandoned but it looks like there are several inhabitants from other times, so you better bring someone to hold your hand.
In a deep anti-capitalist mood, Battersea Power Station has become widely known for being the place where the Pink Floyd’s Animals album cover was shot. Just make sure you don’t go up there in vain as apparently you can’t get too close to the building.
Very well ladies and gentlemen, if Buckingham Palace and Harrods are not your cup of tea I think you will have a lot of fun exploring London this way. Make sure you get yourselves an Oyster Card otherwise you will end up spending 50£ in no time by using the tube only, money which you could spend on a dozen nice pints after a day like that.