Welcome to the European Rock Pilgrimage (also known as my family holiday February 2020 including something of a celebration for a significant birthday milestone, but more about that later) where I’ve managed to visit some of my favourite ever rock spots, and discovering some new ones along the way. A lot of fun was had by all.
34 Montagu Square, Marylebone
On a crisp London morning we took the tube to Baker Street station and walked through beautiful Marylebone. Rows upon rows of these gorgeous Georgian terrace houses until we get to our first stop, John Lennon’s (and others, including Jimi Hendrix) former residence at No.34.
1965 – 1966: The ground floor and basement of this property was owned by Ringo Starr, who lived here from early 1965. After the birth of his son, Zak, Ringo and his wife moved out and he let the property to Paul McCartney. McCartney used it as a demo studio and a base close to the Abbey Road Studios less than two miles away.
1966 – 1967: The flat was then leased to Jimi Hendrix, his manager Chas Chandler and their girlfriends, soon after Hendrix’s arrival in the UK in the autumn of 1966. Parts of Hendrix’s first album Are You Experienced were written here. Depending on which story you believe, he was evicted by Starr for either throwing white wash on the walls, or painting the walls black!
1968 – 1969: Following the break up of John Lennon’s marriage to Cynthia, he moved into the property in July 1968. Throughout this period John completed work with the rest of the group on the White Album. It was in the basement that the notorious naked Two Virgins LP cover was photographed and then on 18th October 1968 the police raided the flat discovering small amounts of cannabis leading to his and Yoko Ono’s arrest.
The Beatles “Mad Day Out”, St Pancras Gardens
On July 28, 1968, the Beatles went out for a photo shoot with photographer Don McCullin to take a break from recording what was to become the White Album. It became known as the “Mad Day Out”. They went to several places including St. Pancras Gardens in North London, a leafy green park with a churchyard, where some of the best known pictures were taken.
The seat where the Beatles sat in front of the monument now has a plaque of course. I had to kick some poor guy off the seat who was halfway through his lunch. I felt bad, but I think he understood.
To produce a new set of more contemporary publicity images, Don McCullin, predominantly a photographer of war zones, was commissioned for a day-long shoot around various locations in London. He practically “levitated two inches off the ground” he was so surprised and thrilled to receive The Beatles’ invitation. On Sunday 28th July, having just photographed them for a Life Magazine cover, they set out on their jaunt.
The St Pancras Old Church’s imposing arched doorway was where formal portrait shots were taken of the Beatles. While this took place, a crowd of people stood and stared from behind the railings which separated the church from the gardens. Don McCullin directed The Beatles to mingle with the crowd, resulting in an image which was used in 1973 for the gatefold sleeve of the 1962-1966 (Red Album) and 1967-1970 (Blue Album) compilations.
In the gardens was in a flowerbed north of the monument, situated against the perimeter railings, the Beatles stood with the St Pancras Hospital in the background, and were largely camouflaged by the towering hollyhocks.
A little further along the path, south east of the monument, was a drinking fountain. The Beatles were photographed here spitting water at the camera lenses.
Their itinerary also took them from the Sunday Times building on Gray’s Inn Road to Cable Street in the East End. From there, McCullin and the band went to Old Street roundabout, on which they posed, much to the surprise of the taxi drivers who waved whilst whizzing round for second looks. After that, to Limehouse and the beautiful Georgian sea captains’ houses around there. Then, a community hall back in the East End, playing with a parrot for a while before heading back to Paul’s house in Cavendish Avenue, St. John’s Wood and his geodesic-domed glass ceiling.
Abbey Road, St John’s Wood
Arriving at Abbey Road at 7am on a grey drizzly London morning was a blessing, thankfully there were no masses of mingling fans; we had the pedestrian crossing to ourselves, except for the cars and double-decker buses. This of course is the famous location of the Beatles 1969 Abbey Road album cover. Not my first time, but still a thrill.
Next door is Abbey Road Studios, the most famous recording studio in the world and a global music icon. Originally a nine-bedroom house built in 1829, it was purchased by the Gramophone Company in 1928 who went on to build the world’s first purpose-built recording studio. The St John’s Wood address was chosen for its large garden and ideal location, close enough to the performance spaces of the time, but away from the noise and vibrations of the traffic and trains.
Not only were the Beatles using this studio to create their timeless music, but its common knowledge now that other acts such as Pink Floyd recorded here in the 70s, producing such masterpieces as Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. Below, the Beatles get ready for the photo shoot, while I get ready to look like a giant knob posing for yet another photo.
7 Cavendish Avenue, St John’s Wood
Everyone goes to Abbey Road Studios. Everyone goes to the cute Beatles coffee shop at St John’s Wood tube station. But not everyone goes to Paul’s House in quiet Cavendish Avenue, just a stones throw from the Abbey Road Studios and Lord’s Cricket Ground. This has been Paul’s home since he bought it in April 1965. He must’ve heard I was coming as sadly there was no sign of Macca upon my arrival.
3 Savile Row, Mayfair
The location where the Beatles made their final live appearance on the rooftop of their offices at 3 Savile Row. The Beatles needed a way to finish their film. And time was running out. Throughout January 1969, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg had been filming the recording sessions of the biggest band in the world fir the Get Back project – the songs would eventually appear on Let It Be in 1970.
The decision to move the production from the cavernous confines of Twickenham Studios to the intimate rooms of the new Apple offices at 3 Savile Row in central London was a wise one, immediately thawing the frosty atmosphere that had so far blighted the project. Beatles Press Officer, Derek Taylor: “I was glad when they came back to Apple and were inside the building again. There was a two or three-week period at the end of January when it was nice”.
A live concert had been suggested as a way to end the film and so it was on January 30, the Beatles ascended the stairs at Apple HQ to play live together for the very last time on a chilly Thursday lunchtime. What followed remains one of the all-time greatest moments in pop culture…
By the third take of Get Back the police arrive on the roof. Lennon and Harrison’s amplifiers are switched off just before the first chorus, before kicking back in just in time for the solo. Paul’s soul preacher ad-lib arrives towards the end of the track: “You’ve been playing on the roofs again, and you know your Momma doesn’t like it, oh she gets angry, she’s gonna have you arrested!” A cheer from Ringo’s wife Maureen then prompts a deadpan “Thanks, Mo” from McCartney. These outtakes can be heard on the Anthology 3 version of Get Back.
The Beatles purchased 3 Savile Row in the summer of 1968, quickly installing a studio in the basement. In 2013, US clothes brand Abercrombie & Fitch attempted to open an outlet at 3 Savile Row much to the outrage of the street’s heritage tailors.
As the rest of the band put down their instruments, it was left to John Lennon to bid the world farewell. “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition.”
Listen to the latest two-part and seriously great Something About the Beatles podcast to get to the bottom of this fascinating period in rock history:
The January 1969 sessions at Twickenham and Apple Studios are The Beatles gift that keeps on giving. Thoroughly taped and filmed, it is a rich vein of material to analyse, especially as it has been chronicled in such a bad light by the group themselves, at odds with much of the evidence that has surfaced.
Heddon Street, Mayfair
Heddon Street is now a super-trendy, bustling, high class bar, resturant and cafe mega-hub; a far cry from when Bowie popped in late one night in 1972 into the a small, quiet, U-shaped side-street and deserted alleyway off majestic Regent Street, in the heart of London, close to Piccadilly Circus.
With this new clientele, the street has changed with the addition of awnings; outdoor seating, lights and greenery making it look very different to how it was in 1972. Getting that posed shot outside No.23 – identical to Ziggy – is now almost impossible. Here is Mick who has done a good job at recreating this iconic shot.
Unveiled in 2012, a commemorative plaque at No.23 now marks the sacred site of the original Ziggy Stardust album cover taken by Brian Ward. The sign for the K.WEST furriers has long gone, as has the original phone box seen on the back of the cover, though a different model occupies the same historic spot. As part of the renovations the phonebox was replaced by a traditional red ‘K6 series’ phonebox in April 1997.
Trident Studios, 17 St. Anne’s Court, Soho
Soho takes pride of place in David Bowie’s London history. Bowie’s surrogate home studio since 1969’s Space Oddity was Trident Studios, located in the heart of London’s Soho in a very small laneway. It was here in the small basement complex he recorded some of the most pivotal albums of his career: The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Also, Lou Reed’s classic Transformer album was recorded here with David and Mick Ronson producing, during the glam summer of ’72.
Apart from Bowie, other artists to record here is a who’s who of music greats including: The Beatles, Queen, the Rolling Stones, T.Rex, Genesis, Frank Zappa and Elton John. Although it’s mostly just full of shops and cafes now, it’s fascinating to know that some of Britain’s most famous musicians have hustled down the alleyway and unleashed their creative forces here.
Something of a hidden gem in London, just off Charing Cross Road, Denmark Street is a historically significant location in the musical history of this great city. Firstly the NME and Melody Maker both had their early offices on the street (back in the Nick Kent days), and most of the major music publishing and management companies of the 50s and 60s were based here. The small strip of Denmark Street near Tottenham Court Road tube station, housed recording studios put to use by the Kinks, the Rolling Stones for starters. This is also where Pistols would rehearse, and guitarist Steve Jones would famously pilfer equipment from various instrument shops.
Specific to Bowie, like other London mods and struggling musicians (Marc Bolan and Steve Marriott included), Bowie was a regular at the former Italian coffee bar called La Gioconda at 9 Denmark Street. In between scandalising folk with their long, flowing hair, David and Marc would scour adverts in the music press, eagerly trying to find a way into the biz. As it turned out, David’s first agent ended up being right next door to the café – at number 7 Denmark Street (King’s Agency). Bowie was still 18-year-old David Jones the day he met Vince Taylor here, a UK rocker with messianic delusions and alien conspiracies; he would be a key influence on Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character.
A few steps away was the Tin Pan Alley of Britain, housing multiple music publishing offices at Number 6. It was infamously the rehearsal space used by the Sex Pistols. Early demos of Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen were recorded at this address. Now a musical instrument store (along with much of Denmark Street) it’s now a heritage listed building preserving it as an important part of music history.
“Luckily – probably in the nick of time, looking back on it – Glen saw an advert which this guy who used to tour – manage for Badfinger had put in the paper for a rehearsal space to rent at 6–7 Denmark Street. It was right in the heart of the old Tin Pan Alley, where all the guitar shops were. Malcolm promised him a load of money, which he may or may not have finally given him. I hope he did, because he was a really nice old guy.” – Steve Jones
The 17th-century townhouses of Denmark Street not only exhibit well-preserved architectural detail, but helped nurture Soho’s influence on the global music industry. Nicknamed Tin Pan Alley (because streets sound cooler when you name them after bits of New York), the 100-yard stretch right on the lip of Soho was, once upon a time, the centre of the UK music industry.
Although it’s not what it once was, Denmark Street is still London’s prime location for the sale and repair of musical instruments, and trips down memory lane.
One cannot remember British popular music without knowing about Tin Pan Alley, the 12 Bar Club, and the history that has been made in this small street, in the most famous city in the world. Long may this place stay connected to the music industry and the music of the worlds capital city.
Marquee Club, 90 Wardour Street, Soho
After relocating from 165 Oxford St. this site was home to one of London’s most iconic and important music venues between 1964 – 1988, before the property was sold for redevelopment. Upon my arrival it was clear that this former legendary venue is now apartments, and getting in was not going to happen.
The Wardour Street venue, which closed in 1996, was known for its “eau de beer and old clothes” and a collective sweat so intense that Jimi Hendrix’s guitar kept going out of tune when he stood on stage. It was always a small and relatively cheap club, located in the heart of the music industry in London’s West End, and launched the careers of generations of rock acts including The Sex Pistols, The Who (who played here 29 times), Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd (featuring a spaced out Syd Barrett), Rolling Stones (who’s first ever live performance was held here), the Yardbirds, and was of course the venue for Bowie’s 1980 Floor Show in 1974, his first post-Ziggy performance, filmed for US TV featuring Mick Ronson on guitar, and special guest Marianne Faithful dressed as a nun.
7 Broadwick Street, Soho
This site was at one time a pub called ‘The Bricklayers Arms’. In Spring 1962 (following an ad placed in Jazz Week by Brian Jones) auditions/rehearsals were held upstairs for musicians to form a band that became the first incarnation of The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were present, as was seminal pianist Ian ‘Stu’ Stewart.
“I went to the Bricklayers Arms, a seedy pub in Soho, for the first time for the first rehearsal for what turned out to be the Stones. I think it was May of ’62, lovely summer evening. Just off Wardour Street. Strip Alley. I get there, I’ve got my guitar with me. And as I get there the pub’s just opened. Typical brassy blond old barmaid, not many customers, stale beer. She sees the guitar and says ‘Upstairs’…………. I walked up those stairs, creak creak creak. In a way, I walk up those stairs and come down a different person…”
– from Keith Richards autobiography ‘ Life ‘
As the Stones take a break from rehearsals in Duck Lane, the Bricklayers Arms is nowadays the site is now on of the world’s best record shops, Sounds of the Universe.
Manchester Square, Marylebone
Well before the Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust, even David Bowie, here is Davy Jones and the Lower Third posing circa 1965 in Manchester Square, Marylebone, London. Bowie shared a flat nearby with then-manager Ken Pitt.
Hammersmith Odeon, Hammersmith
David Bowie’s long-running Ziggy Stardust tour drew to a close on 3 July 1973, with a dramatic final concert at London’s legendary Hammersmith Odeon. Yet this wasn’t just the end of the tour – it was the retirement of Ziggy himself, sensationally announced from the stage by Bowie before kicking into the climactic showstopper Rock and Roll Suicide.
The decision had been shared with just a handful of people prior to the show, among them pianist Mike Garson, and guitarist Mick Ronson. Spiders from Mars’ drummer Woody Woodmansy and bassist Trevor Bolder were famously oblivious.
As with the previous night, the show was filmed by DA Pennebaker, and the audio was recorded by RCA for a potential live album. However, Bowie quickly moved on to other projects, such as the covers album Pin Ups and more substantial Diamond Dogs project, and the film and album were not released until 1983’s excellent Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture.
“Everybody… this has been one of the greatest tours of our lives. We really… At first I’d like to thank the band, I’d like to thank our road crew, and I’d like to thank our lighting people. Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it… not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do. Thank you.” – Bowie
Bye, bye we love you!
The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town
‘The Birth of Glam Rock’ – this pivotal moment in music history took place at the Roundhouse on March 11th 1970, with Bowie’s then newly-formed band The Hype, which included guitarist Mick Ronson and producer/bassist Tony Visconti, who was paramount in the development of Bowie’s later career. This performance took place just weeks before Bowie recorded The Man Who Sold The World with Ronson and Visconti, and pre-birth of his much loved alter-ego Ziggy Stardust. Of course this venue is famous for hosting all sorts of legendary rock acts from The Doors to Mott the Hoople.
From playing Roundhouse Sunday clubs to becoming the legend we know today, it could be said that Bowie’s journey began in this building. To think that Bowie was ever an opening act at the Roundhouse is quite surreal.
“The bands costumes were made by various girlfriends which make us look like Dr. Strange or the incredible hulk. I was a bit apprehensive about wearing them at the Roundhouse gig because I didn’t know how the audience would react. If they think it’s a huge put on the whole thing will backfire but they seemed to accept it which was nice.” – Bowie
Visconti and Woody Woodmansy still get around as Holy Holy, playing Bowie tracks from the period, keeping the flame alive. And so they should. The Hype was a game changer for Bowie as he moved away from his acoustic/folk period in favour of the electric sound which would produce rock ‘n’ roll classics.
Beckenham, South London
Haddon Hall was the sprawling Victorian villa in Beckenham, south London, where David Bowie lived with his wife Angie and an assortment of musicians from 1969 until 1973. The couple rented a ground-floor flat for £7 a week – the Spiders from Mars were sequestered around an upstairs landing – and in one of its cavernous rooms, their ceilings painted silver, Angie cut David’s hair and stitched the first Ziggy outfit.
I’ve often wondered about this semi-mythical place, long since demolished to make way for an unsightly block of flats, and it was quite a thrill to be there in Beckenham. It was such a grand old building and a great shame it was no longer there. This would put Beckenham on the map now.
Albums such as The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars were written in Haddon Hall on Southend Road, Beckenham, where David and Angie lived, eventually with their son Zowie.
Even the famous Ziggy spiky red hairstyle was created, with Bowie’s guidance, by a Beckenham hairdresser Susie Fussey who worked at Evelyn Paget’s Ladies’ Hairdressers, who would eventually work for Bowie backstage and marry Mick Ronson.
It’s a huge block backing onto a gigantic field, accessible via a super-secret gateway which is still there. David and friends used to access this space regularly. David and Angie had fallen instantly in love with Haddon Hall, with its discreet decrepitude, its towers and moldings and preposterously high ceilings.
We visited the grandstand the scene of the Free Festival put on by a young Bowie back in 1969. Fifty years after David performed from the bandstand in front of a tiny crowd at a summer festival he organised, the historic iron structure that served as his modest stage has been Grade II-listed. It’s still there in other words, and largely unchanged.
Known to fans as the “Bowie bandstand”, and thought to be the only surviving example from the Glasgow-based McCallum and Hope iron foundry in the UK, it was the centrepiece of the Growth summer festival, held by Bowie and friends on 16 August 1969 in Beckenham. The one-day event attracted only a couple of hundred people. Bowie, then living with landlady Mary Finnigan in Beckenham, had just released his first hit single, Space Oddity.
After that August day when, Bowie’s lyrics record, “The children of the summer’s end gathered in the dampened grass”, the bandstand fell into disrepair. The festival inspired Bowie to write Memory of a Free Festival for his second album released later that same year, and it has been suggested that he penned the lyrics to Life on Mars from the bandstand’s steps.
Bowie spent plenty of time at The Three Tuns pub on Beckenham High Street together with fellow artists and musicians to form the Beckenham Arts Lab in 1969, a movement which culminated in the aforementioned free festival. In 2001, a plaque was raised remembering the days when the icon would perform at the pub, which has since shut down and become a Zizzi restaurant on High Street in beautiful Beckenham.
The children of the summer’s end
Gathered in the dampened grass,
We played Our songs and felt the London sky
Resting on our hands
It was God’s land.
It was ragged and naive.
It was Heaven.
Touch, we touched the very soul
Of holding each and every life.
We claimed the very source of joy ran through.
It didn’t, but it seemed that way.
I kissed a lot of people that day.
Oh, to capture just one drop of all the ecstasy that swept that afternoon,
To paint that love upon a white balloon,
And fly it from the toppest top of all the tops that man has pushed beyond his
Satoria must be something just the same.
We scanned the skies with rainbow eyes and saw machines of every shape and size.
We talked with tall Venusians passing through.
And Peter tried to climb aboard but the Captain shook his head
And away they soared,
Climbing through the ivory vibrant cloud.
Someone passed some bliss among the crowd
…and we walked back to the road, unchanged.