Friday 9 January 2009

Rock Shrines 31 - 40

Rock Shrine No. 31 – Station Hotel – The Rolling Stones

Every musician has started out the same: the secret pleasure of a small fan club. Even The Rolling Stones started out as unknowns.

By 1962-63 six guys within the bunch of blues fans that floated around the suburbs of London had fused into The Rolling Stones and were getting a reputation as something you had to see. The place to see them was The Station Hotel, Richmond, a suburb on the very edge of London. One of those told to check them out was 19-year old wunderkind Andrew Loog Oldham. He was publicist for The Beatles but wanted more. In his autobiography Stoned he describes the fateful night:

“Finally, in the dark and sweaty room, the Rollin’ Stones, all six of them, took to the stage while the…hundred-odd couples seemed ready for what they were about to receive and went apeshit. So did the group – they didn’t seem to start, so much as carry on from a previous journey…The room was as one, the music and audience had one particular place to go, a place I’d never been to but was happily being drawn to.

“On that stage, when I took in the Stones’ front line, I saw rock ‘n’ roll in 3-D and Cinerama for the first time….I’d never seen anything like it.”

Oldham became their manager and bent them to his fantasies of the ultimate rock group. His gift for outrageous publicity turned them into the second most famous group in the world. Just check the liner notes of the first few albums to see his talent for exaggeration.

Today it’s a bar and the interior has been gutted. But the back entrance remains, where the fans lined up and young Oldham entered to meet his destiny.

Station Hotel, 1 Kew Rd, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 2NQ

Rock Shrine No. 32 – The Africa Centre – Soul II Soul

Around 1988 Soul II Soul started life as a sound system and collective under the leadership of Jazzie B. A shifting group of musicians, the key people were Nellee Hooper from Bristol, vocalist Caron Wheeler and Japanese session drummer Masa, whose efforts to build a career in London were somewhat hampered by the lack of a work visa. Their residency at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden got them noticed and signed to Virgin Records and their first release, Club Classics Vol. 1 became a global hit. The band lasted throughout the ‘90s though never repeated the initial success. Hooper went on to become an A-list producer, working with Bjork, Madonna, No Doubt and Gwen Stefani, and Garbage, among others. What really made Soul II Soul distinctive was the invention of a brand new drum loop, which was the work of Masa and for which he never got credit.

The Africa Centre, 38 King Street, London WC2E 8JT

Rock Shrine No. 33 – Albert Hall

It’s been immortalised in one of the greatest songs of the last 40 years. It’s one of the most desired playgrounds in an artist’s career. It started out as an entertainment palace for fights and circuses.

Strange as it may seem, the Albert Hall is the Victorian equivalent of Staples Centre, MSG and all the music sheds. Glistening anew after a serious renovation, it’s one of the best places in London to see music. The audience sit in an oval shape, with boxes ringing the perimeter and cheap seats climbing in a steep rake right up to the high ceiling. The stage is at one end, in front of a massive pipe organ (on which Frank Zappa once played “Louie Louie”), which can make for interesting sight angles. When I saw Cream play in 2005 I watched Eric Clapton, seated behind the PA stack, bouncing his young daughter on his knee while Ginger Baker drum solo’d.

This is where Britain’s version of “The Sixties” started in September 1965, when a one-day poetry event with Allen Ginsberg drew all the freaks out of the woodwork, resulting in that ‘eureka!’ moment when the packed Hall realised they weren’t the only ones. Everybody has played here, classical, jazz and popular. But…Cream famously retired here in 1968 and reformed in 2005. Deep Purple played with an orchestra before reworking their blueprint for ‘Machine Head’. The Stones played in 1966. The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968. Bryan Ferry’s done it. Bob Dylan famously played here - acoustically in 1965 and electrically in 1966, resulting in a famous bootleg actually recorded somewhere else. Paul Simon played ‘Graceland’ for a week. But the residency king is Eric Clapton, who held an annual engagement for many years in the ‘80s and ‘90s, playing variously a regular night, a blues night and an orchestral night. In the end, the Hall is more famous than the participants.

Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP

Rock Shrine No. 34 – Bag O’Nails [Jimi Hendrix, Beatles]

In Swinging Sixties London, when you got fed up with the Ad-Lib (what with Lennon freaking out because people were smoking joints in there) and couldn’t be bothered to trawl all the way down Picadilly to the Scotch of St. James (about, oh…a mile away), you walked five minutes (or had the chauffer drive you) to the Bag O’Nails. Situated at 9 Kingly Street, it’s less than 100 feet from Regent Street, one of London’s busiest streets, yet so invisible it might as well be miles away.

It was one of The Beatles' favourite places in 1967-68. Beatles assistant Mal Evans said in his book, “Ended up smashed in Bag O'Nails with Paul and Neil. Quite a number of people attached themselves, oh that it would happen to me...freak out time baby for Mal”.

On 15 May, 1967, Paul McCartney met New York photographer Linda Eastman for the first time.

Jimi Hendrix joined the roster of celebrated performers who held the stage when he played his second British show here in late September 1966. It was a promotional bash for The Experience, financed by manager Chas Chandler selling five of his six guitars. “Britain is really groovy,” Jimi announced afterward, just a week into his first visit to the country.

Bag O’Nails, 9 Kingly Street, London W1B 5PH

Rock Shrine No. 35 – Savoy Hotel [Bob Dylan]

We’ve all seen the video of Bob Dylan standing behind the Savoy Hotel dropping cards to “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. In ‘Don’t Look Back’ you’ve seen him take apart Donovan while holding court in his suite at the Savoy. This is the Savoy.

Opened in 1889, it was built by impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, producer of Gilbert and Sullivan, and has always enjoyed a reputation as one of the most prestigious hotels in London. Famous guests include The Beatles, U2, Led Zeppelin, Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso, Lillie Langtry, Charlie Chaplin, Ivor Novello, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Judy Garland, Elton John, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, The Who, Richard Harris, Julie Andrews, Shirley Bassey, Jimi Hendrix, and Marilyn Monroe. It’s currently closed for a £100million refurbishment.

In the accompanying video of His Bobness in his hotel suite, the woman who stands up at 5 seconds is Anthea Joseph, who gave Dylan his first residencey in London. She ran the Troubadour in Earls Court and in her words, saw a pair of boots descending the stairs and when the rest of him came into view, thought, ‘Hmmmmmm, this looks interesting…’

Savoy Hotel, 91 The Strand, London, WC2R 0EU

Rock Shrine No. 36 – EMI House [The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Sex Pistols]

You’ve all seen the photo of The Beatles looking down from the balcony. It happened on the first floor (second floor for Americans) of EMI House, the buildng that used to stand here. When I worked here in the 70s we used to amuse ourselves by standing where they had. From this vantage point I watched Marc Bolan get into the front seat of his chauffered white Rolls Royce limo. He always sat in the front seat. Once I turned around and saw Freddie Mercury for the first time, thinking, “Who’s that strange lookin guy?” The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Cockney Rebel, Cliff Richard, The Sex Pistols, Roy Harper, ELO…If your favourite band was on EMI or Capitol they visited here.

The front door.

Four smiles that changed the world.

Pink Floyd play at being pop stars in front of EMI.

Maybe if he hangs out long enough someone will sign him.

When Generation X (Billy Idol) signed to Chrysalis, we celebrated by taking a photo outside EMI. (What a punkish jape!) That’s me third from the left.

The building was pulled down a few years ago; its replacement being designed to fit in with the rest of the Square. Architecture fans will want to go next door to The Wallace Collection, which features a stunning atrium designed by Rick Mathur.

EMI, 20 Manchester Square, London W1U 3PZ

Rock Shrine No. 37 – The Jam’s First London Gig

It’s the summer of 1976 and you’re an unknown trio of Mod-loving kids living about 50 miles out of London. How do you get your first gig in London? You take your cue from the manifesto Malcolm McLaren is spinning in the weekly music papers and get your own gig. So one hot Saturday morning The Jam set up on the pavement in front of a street market, ran an extension cord from the Rock On record stall, and played to a handful of people. Most of them were curious passersby; about five of us were paying attention, including The Clash’s Mick Jones. Fifteen minutes later and it was over. Today, the market is a parking garage. The band played about where the street lamp stands.

The Jam’s first London gig – Newport Place, London W1.

Rock Shrine No. 38 – UFO [Pink Floyd]

UFO was London’s first psychedelic club, the equivalent of the Electric Circus in NYC or the Fillmore in SF. It was started by music entrepreneur Joe Boyd and John Hopkins (aka "Hoppy") in an Irish dancehall called the "Blarney Club", a basement venue under the Berkeley Cinema. This wasn’t the first time the location had been an essential nightclub; from 1919-1926 it was a jazz club where races could mix to hear predominantly black music.

UFO opened on December 23, 1966. As Joe Boyd wrote in his book ‘White Bicycles’, "freaks came out of the woodwork from all over the city”.

Joe Boyd: “The club’s first few months were idyllic. Freaks descended en masse. We made money, everyone was astonished by how many like-minded souls there were in London, the groups had a prominent platform for the first time and our beautiful silk-screen posters could be seen all over the city. Something new was happening every week and even bigger things, it seemed, were just around the corner. It is hard to convey the excitement and optimism in the air then.”

Pink Floyd were effectively the house band, though evenings combined live music and light shows, avant-garde films and slide shows, dance troupes and even "spot the fuzz" competitions as attention from plainclothes police increased. Producer Chris Thomas (Procul Harum, The Pretenders, Roxy Music, John Cale, Elton John, The Sex Pistols, etc.) remembers seeing the Floyd one night playing with all the PA equipment at the sides of the room, so that while the band were in front of you, the sound was coming from the sides. Another night they played behind hanging sheets that completely obscured the stage, with the light show projected on them. Pete Townshend was a regular, studying Pink Floyd from beside of the stage.

Pink Floyd at UFO:

How they looked if you weren’t on drugs:

When Pink Floyd grew too popular, Soft Machine became the house band. Others who played included The Incredible String Band, Arthur Brown, Tomorrow, and Procol Harum, who played there when "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was No 1 in the charts. On April 28, 1967, Jimi Hendrix turned up as part of the audience and then jammed with Tomorrow, who were headlining.

How many plainclothes policemen can you spot?:

UFO was killed by success — it was too small to accommodate the increasing crowds. In June, 1967, Hoppy was imprisoned for drug offences and further police pressure caused the landlords to revoke the lease. It moved to The Roundhouse for a few months but a high rent meant Joe usually lost money. In October it ended.

The building was torn down in 1970 as part of a huge, multi-block redevelopment. Today the location is still a cinema; the basement where Pink Floyd first wowed London is a room with a screen.

Let’s give the final word to Joe: “Like most revolutionaries, the freaks of 1967 aimed high. And like many, they failed to reach their goals. The list of disappointments is long, but one only need watch a right-wing politician or pundit talk about the era to realise how much was accomplished: the very words “the Sixties” make them spit with fury, so we must have got something right!”

UFO: 31 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 1BX

Rock Shrine No. 39 – MPL [Paul McCartney]

Paul McCartney moved his company McCartney Promotions Ltd (MPL) into Soho Square in early 1976. The lobby is a fascinating mix of faux-Art Deco and modern art, with an excellent Robert Rauschenburg silkscreen just inside the front window. McCartney has collected modern art for years and has the largest private collection of noted Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi. In return, Paolozzi designed the cover of Red Rose Speedway. (McCartney also worked with pop artist Richard Hamilton to design the White Album cover and poster.)

Pass by at night and, if the curtains are open, you can see an upper floor office with one wall completely covered in gold and platinum discs. Not many people know it, but McCartney is the largest independent song publisher in the world, owning the catalogues for Buddy Holly and several of the American Songbook standards.

M P L Communications Ltd, 1 Soho Square, LONDON, W1D 3BQ

Before he moved two blocks up the road to Soho Square, Paul McCartney had offices at this building.

Paul McCartney, 12 Greek Street, London W1D 4DL

Rock Shrine No. 40 – 23 Brook Street [Jimi Hendrix]

In 1968 and 1969 Jimi Hendrix was one of the world’s biggest rock stars. But when he wasn’t jetting to rock festivals and sold out concerts, the small flat on the very top floor is the palace he called home. He moved from here a few months before his death. In London there’s a society that puts blue plaques on buildings where famous people lived or, occasionally, famous events happened. Where the devil’s music is concerned, only one person has had that honour.

In a piece of sublime serendipity, Jimi lived next door to where another musical genius lived two centuries earlier.

The house where Handel lived and died is now a museum (Handel House Museum). The rooms where Jimi lived is now a kitchen and toilet area for their volunteer staff.

Jimi Hendrix, 23 Brook Street, London W1K 4HA


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