Thursday 6 November 2008

Rock Shrines 21 - 30

Rock Shrine No. 21 – Eurythmics

Judging by his space-age bachelor pad, Dave Stewart is the coolest playboy in London. Dave is the musical mastermind of Eurythmics, one of the Travelling Wilburys, a studio owner, a solo musician, a man whose life is so perfect that in Japan one year he had his appendix removed because he couldn’t believe there wasn’t something wrong with his life. He lived in this glass penthouse during the ‘90s. An article on it in the Sunday Times showed a place filled with ultra-cool technology and hot ‘70s vintage furniture. Imagine an updated Austin Powers shag palace and you get the idea. This a la mode temple is on Seven Dials, right in the middle of Covent Garden. At the time he was living with Siobahn Fahey of Shakespear’s Sister and you could see them circulating the streets, usually arguing with each other. Historic note: in Victorian times Seven Dials was considered so dangerous at night that it was said you were lucky if you got to the other side alive.

Dave Stewart's Bachelor Pad: Seven Dials, Covent Garden, London WC2

Rock Shrine No. 22 – The Scotch of St. James

The first London rock star club was the Ad Lib but by 1966 it was passe and everyone was on to the next club – The Scotch of St. James. The area of St. James has a long history as a discreet playground for the louche, moneyed, and landed and The Scotch of St. James was the ultimate in discretion – in a small yard off a side street, reached only by an easily missed driveway.

Andrew Loog Oldham described it in 2 Stoned: “You'd knock at the door and be auditioned through a peep-hole. Once in you'd travel downstairs via the twisting staircase... The Beatles, the Stones, the Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, Long John Baldry, Keith Moon, the Searchers all starred in the main room on their nights off... Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards and I and our ladies would sit back in a dark corner and smoke and gloat.”

Here’s a photo from 1965, starring The Merseybeats and Pattie Boyd (the future Mrs. Harrison/Mrs. Clapton aka “Layla”).

Forty years later it’s still a club.

The Scotch of St. James, 13 Masons Yard, London SW1 6BU

Rock Shrine No. 23 – Indica Gallery

One of the key addresses in psychedelic London. Indica Bookshop and Gallery was opened in 1965 by Barry Miles, Peter Asher and John Dunbar. Dunbar was a friend of The Beatles and married to Marianne Faithfull. Asher was the brother of Paul McCartney’s girlfriend Jane Asher, half of Peter and Gordon, and in the ‘70s the producer of James Taylor and producer/manager of Linda Ronstadt. Most cultural movements seem to be the result of serendipity and a few crucial people. English psychedelia – and The Beatles’ music - would be very different without Barry Miles. I knew him reasonably well in the early 70s, when he wrote for the NME. Considering the pivotal role he had in shaping global culture he was one of the quietest, unassuming people I’ve met. It came as a real surprise to learn of his background.

L-R: Peter Asher, Barry Miles, John Dunbar

The bookshop was one of the first places in London to sell beat poetry, Burroughs and other “alternative” literature. McCartney was a regular customer. It was here that John Lennon bought a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which partly inspired “Tomorrow Never Knows”. McCartney put money into the premises and helped build it. The wood needed for the shelves and counter was picked up by Dunbar and Miles in McCartney's Aston Martin. McCartney wielded a saw. Jane Asher donated the shop's first cash till, an old Victorian one she had played with as a young girl. McCartney helped to draw the flyers advertising the opening and also designed the wrapping paper. In 1966, the bookshop was separated from the gallery and moved to 102 Southampton Row. The Gallery promoted radical art ideas and radical artists (in its life it never exhibited paintings). One of those was Yoko Ono, who exhibited in late ’66.

On November 9, 1966 John Lennon stumbled out of his Rolls, into the gallery and up a ladder where a magnifying glass on a string let him read a tiny message on the ceiling: “Yes”. Yoko, in attendance, handed him a card which read, ‘Breathe’; thus did The Beatles’ second double-act meet. A few years ago Miles and Dunbar were interviewed about this famous meeting as part of a BBC documentary and were in fine debunking form. Interestingly, both had different memories but agreed that: Lennon was quite stoned, reacted positively to Ono’s artistic playfulness and conceptual ingenuity, and that Yoko knew very much who Lennon was and manouevred for conquest, despite her subsequent high-art assertions that she didn’t know who The Beatles were. (Miles claimed that she tried to get in the Rolls with John when it left.) Today, it’s still a gallery. Indeed, the yard seems to be made up almost entirely of art-related businesses. English place names can be quite literal and Masons Yard was just that – a place full of stone masons, with a large central area for the stone. Today it’s filled with the newest gallery, the White Cube, one of London’s leading art spaces.

John Dunbar on Indica

Photos of recreated Indica installations

Indica Gallery: 6 Masons Yard, London SW1 6BU

Rock Shrine No. 24 – Eric Burdon (and the Animals)

Ending our tour around Masons Yard, Dalmeny Court is where Eric Burdon had a flat in the mid-‘60s. Eric was lead singer in The Animals, a group who dealt a global Number One in 1964 with their first single, ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. They had original compositions as well (including the hilarious ‘Story Of Bo Diddley’) and starting in ’65 produced a string of fabulous hard hitting singles that, criminally, don’t get modern recognition. According to Eric’s memoir, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, “I was right above the Indica Gallery" (see Rock Shrine 23). Which also puts him right above the Scotch Of St. James, the coolest night club in town (see Rock Shrine 22). Which made getting home a cinch. And this a bachelor pad supreme.

Dalmeny Court, 8 Duke St, Westminster, London SW1Y

Rock Shrine No. 25 – Trident Studios

You’ve heard of hiding in plain sight. Trident Studio does just that. St. Annes Court is a busy pedestrian alley in Soho connecting two of it’s main streets. I’ve walked through it for decades, right past the Trident doorway, and never noticed it. Spot the studio:

Imagine these people walking towards you on their way to the studios: carrot-top spaceman David Bowie, satin ‘n’ tat T. Rex, overproductive Beatles, innocent Queen, wild-side Lou Reed. Check these in your collection: Hunky Dory, Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, Electric Warrior, Transformer, the first two Queen albums, ‘Hey Jude’, ‘Martha, My Dear’, ‘Dear Prudence’, ‘Honey Pie’. Created here.

The view from the control room: Peter Gabriel at work.

It goes on: Elton (‘Your Song’, Tumbleweed Connection, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), Nilsson (‘Without You’), Carly Simon (‘You’re So Vain’), Billy Preston, Mary Hopkins, James Taylor, George Harrison (All Things Must Pass), Lennon (‘Cold Turkey’), Dusty Springfield, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Free (‘All Right Now’), Frank Zappa, Mott The Hoople (‘All The Young Dudes’), Yes, Genesis (with Peter Gabriel), Peter Gabriel (without Genesis), and The Jeff Beck Group. The Rolling Stones effectively auditioned Mick Taylor here, recording mostly unreleased tracks with titles like ‘Potted Shrimp’ and ‘Leather Jacket’ as well as ‘Brown Sugar’.

Three producers made it their home: Gus Dudgeon, Tony Visconti, and Richard Perry. Why? [1] It was the first studio in Britian to have eight-track recording. [2] A 100-year old Bechstein concert grand piano with resin on the hammers, renowned for its sound. [3] Engineer Ken Scott, who cut his teeth on many of the greatest Beatles records. [4] A warm sounding room and a great sounding drum area.

The studio bill and McCartney’s notes for ‘Let It Be’

The two brothers who owned the place started modifying the desk and developed a very successful business building mixing desks. They started a video company in 1973 and developed another very successful business. The piano was restrung in the mid-70s and lost its distinct sound. In 1981 the strudio was sold.

Today’s it’s used for audio post production in TV, film and multimedia. The original control room is still pretty much as it was, though the desk faces the other way. The basement studio has been broken up into more studios and overdubbing rooms.

Every Thursday at 6pm, the public can go on a “Magical History Tour” of the studio’s past. Part of the experience is hearing a selection of the hits on big monitors. Heard back to back it’s obvious that all these records came from the same room: a fantastic drum presence, beautiful percussive piano, evocative vocal sound and warm, round strings.

Stairway to the stars

Rock Shrine No. 26 – RCA: The Clash

The Royal College of Art is best known as a centre of British art [Hockney, Kitaj, Conran…] but on November 5, 1976 it hosted A Night Of Treason, starring The Clash. Punk was going overground and the place was full of punks, the interested and students. The stage door policy was loose and backstage was as crowded as out front. The dressing rooms and corridors were seething with talent. Siouxsie Sioux was gathering her tribe to follow up the Punk Festival appearance. Billy Idol and Tony James were about to leave Chelsea (one time on stage) and start a band called Generation X. Adrian Thrills was starting a fanzine. Mark P was working on the next issue of Sniffin’ Glue. If Punk was an attitude then Subway Sect was as Punk as it got. They didn’t look or sound like anything else on a stage [before or since]. Their complete lack of showmanship and off-centre music really made you feel you were seeing something new. Then The Jam came on, all two-tone shoes and Shepherds Bush riffs. Somehow the sharp suits and Rickenbackers were at odds with the homemade fashions and Fenders of the Pistols and the Clash and backstage they sat apart from the other bands.
The Clash were incendiary. The sound was big and loud and they climbed all over their brace of songs like kids on a building site, crashing guitars and a rabble-rousing Joe. Then a student threw a beer glass. [Depressingly, it was always students who threw glasses and bottles.] Joe threw his arms above his head and shouted ‘Under heavy manners!’ He sought out the perpetrator, who got on stage. Joe questioned him and the guy looked sheepish. Then Sid Vicious got on stage, muttering into the mic and looking well-named. A few minutes later and they got back to the wonderful racket.

People used to say their life changed the first time they saw The Clash. This was the night when that scenario began.

Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU

Rock Shrine No. 27 – The Vortex

The summer of ’77 – hot and heaving. The Summer of Punk. The year of The Vortex. Every Tuesday night 1500 punks would cram themselves into the basement of this club to see a double bill of the best new bands. You knew when a fresh shipment of Punk’s drug of choice was in town because if you entered straight the atmosphere was unpleasantly electric. Amphetamine sulphate was a 1!2!3!4! drug for 1!2!3!4! music. It cost a measly £15 a gram and one nostril stripping snort would keep you alert and charging for ten or twelve hours. The unholy trinity of 1977 was punk, powder and price. The punk-reggae interface started here, when Generation X played with a band from Birmingham called Steel Pulse. On stage it was all Rasta patois but in the dressing room they sounded as Brummie as Ozzy Osbourne. Ex-Pistol Glen Matlock started The Rich Kids here; Mick Jones was getting tired of no drummer in his band and injected a big dose of is-he-quitting paranoia into Camp Clash by guesting with Glen. Malcolm McLaren was putting his Sex Pistols movie together and had hired titilation director Russ Meyer. As wonderfully strange as Meyer’s movies were, in punk he was a tourist in a very strange land. My favourite image of The Vortex was watching Meyer – slacks, jacket and very big cigar – wandering disturbed and confused through the sea of punkettes in dog collars, torn fishnets and bad makeup. Thirty years later it’s a disco.

The Vortex, 201 Wardour Street, London W1F 8ZH

Rock Shrine No. 28 – Ivor Court (The Who, Rolling Stones)

Variously and together, from the autumn of 1964 to 1967: Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts lived here. The Who manager Kit Lambert both lived and had an office at no. 113 as he navigated the group from guitar-smashing debt to rock-opera riches. It was Lambert, the youngest in a line of upper-class artistics, who suggested to Pete Townshend he should write an opera. The result was ‘A Quick One’, paving the way for the much more ambitious ‘Tommy’. Rolling Stones and Immediate Records visionary Andrew Loog Oldham ran his offices at 138 and 147. Oldham is rightly famous for inventing the Stones, but he also signed The Small Faces. Oldham defined his moment of arrival as the point when he could decide which telephone calls to accept.

Ivor Court, Gloucester Place, London NW1 6BJ

Rock Shrine No. 29 – The Lyceum

One of the best venues in London for live music: good acoustics, wonderful rococo design and a roof that rolls back.

The Rolling Stones were here in 1969; when they played the Chuck Berry song “Little Queenie” a spotlight was shone on the hall’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth, possibly the first post-modern moment in rock music. In the days before Ticketmaster, the ticket line for The Who was several blocks long, nearly everyone a young man. The Clash and Queen played intimate dates here. At an all-nighter in the summer of ’76 the Sex Pistols supported The Prettythings. Madness, The Selector and The Specials kicked off Two-Tone with a riotous celebration in 1980.

But the reason we really remember it is for the momentous live recording by Bob Marley and the Wailers in 1975. The two nights he played were fabulously warm and the roof was open so all the cigarette and spliff smoke disappeared. When you looked up you could see stars in the sky. The stage was low and while it was hard to see more than the band’s heads and shoulders it meant you could get close and really be part of the experience. These things I remember: the dipping and swaying of the multi-coloured I-Threes, the nimbleness of the Barrett brothers as they drove one fabulous song after another forward off the stage, and the righteous militancy of Bob as he stepped across the stage, sang with sweet conviction and shook dem locks as the weak hearts dropped.

The Lyceum, 21 Wellington St, London, WC2E 7RQ

Rock Shrine No. 30 – 57 Wimpole St. (The Beatles)

From 1963 – 1965 Paul McCartney lived in rooms on the top floor of the family home of his girlfriend Jane Asher.

Lennon and McCartney wrote “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in the basement, “one on one, eyeball to eyeball,” as Lennon put it. During the three years he lived here it’s fair to say many other famous songs were either conceived or worked on here.

When Paul wanted to dodge fans he would duck into Browning Mews, which backs on the house.

Wimpole Street is one block from Harley Street, famous for its doctors, including the Dr. Robert immortalised in The Beatles song. Architecture fans should spend some time walking around the neighbourhood, it has some of the best residential architecture in London.

57 Wimpole St., London W1G 8YW

1 comment:

Ruth Roberts said...

Hi - just found your blog. Interested in Wimpole st as distant relative worked there about 100yrs ago. Coudl I use your pic in my family tree?