Friday 26 June 2009

Rock Shrines 41 - 46

Rock Shrine No. 41 – The Astoria [Nirvana, etc]

Welcome to one of London’s best rock venues: sweaty, dark, a bit seedy. Converted from a warehouse into a theatre and cinema in 1926, it became a live venue in 1986. Everyone has played here, from hardcore classic rock bands (The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple) to the kind of artists (Kylie, Madonna) who appeal to the clientele attending G.A.Y. on a Saturday night. Amy Winehouse showed she can be amazing shortly before she lost control. One of So Solid Crew shot himself in the leg trying to pull a gun out of his waistband in the middle of their set. But for Important Gigs, that honour must go to the debut show by The Raconteurs in 2007 and the UK debut of Nirvana in 1989. The doors closed for the last time last week to make way for a ventilation shaft and expanded Underground station being built as part of a new subway line.

Astoria Theatre, 157 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0EL

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Rock Shrine No. 42 – IBC Studios [The Who]

In the 1950s International Broadcasting Company Recording Studios (IBC) was the leading independent studio in London. In the 60s it became home to a roll-call of amazing artists, including The Beatles (who pre-recorded a live TV show), The Bee Gees, The Small Faces, Status Quo, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Page (as a session guitarist), Golden Earring, Adam Faith, and Duane Eddy. Like Abbey Road Studio 2 and Trident it was noted for a room with a very high ceiling, creating great acoustics for rock bands. None tested this more than The Who, who recorded ‘My Generation’, ‘A Quick One’, ‘The Who Sell Out’, and ‘Tommy’.

Other era-defining music created here:

1. The Kinks – You Really Got Me

2. The Yardbirds – For Your Love, Happenings Ten Years Time Ago

3. The Easybeats – Friday on My Mind

4. Cream recorded their last studio album ‘Goodbye’ and parts of ‘Wheels Of Fire’.
5. Engineer/producer Glyn Johns recorded the Rolling Stones’ first demos in 1963.

In 1965 they were back in IBC to record “As Tears Go By”, either their own Italian version or the Marianne Faithfull version. Chas Chandler mastered several Jimi Hendrix records here and in the early 70s used it to record Slade. In the 80s, he bought IBC and renamed it Barn Studios. Situated in one of the most valuable real estate areas of central London, today it houses offices.

For more information, one of the studio’s engineers has created an extensive history web site:

IBC Studios, 35 Portland Place, London W1B 1QF

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Rock Shrine No. 43 – Central St. Martins School Of Art and Design [Joe Strummer]

Joe Strummer – or John Mellor as he was then known – began studying at Central in Sept 1970, one of over 400 applicants for the 60 available places. He wanted to be a cartoonist, though he told people he wanted to be in advertising. Joe later described the school as the “last resort of malingerers and bluffers and people who don’t want to work,” but it has long been one of the most prestigious art schools in Britain.

Graduates include a very long list of famous artists, actors, film makers and designers; musicians who went there include PJ Harvey, Jarvis Cocker, M.I.A., Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes from The Bonzo Dog Band, Sex Pistol Glen Matlock and fellow Clash member Paul Simenon.
It was where Malcolm McLaren and Bernard Rhodes went when they needed talented people to help when dreaming up The Sex Pistols.

One of these was Alex McDowell, who did all the silk screening of McLaren’s t-shirts and posters. He later designed album covers then co-founded The Oil Factory to make music videos. Moving to Los Angeles, he is now a production designer whose credits include Fight Club, Minority Report, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Terminal, and Watchmen.

Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design Southampton Row, London WC1B 4AP

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Rock Shrine No. 44 – Rehearsals Rehearsals [The Clash]

On the evening of August 13, 1976, The Clash invited some music journalists and friends to Rehearsals Rehearsals to see them play. Even in the hyper-small Punk world of the time they had gone unnoticed, quietly scheming, writing and rehearsing an arsenal of songs. The lucky few walked out of the balmy evening into a brick walled room with a rock and roll backline at the rear. Behind it was a painted mural of a cityscape, all tower blocks and car dumps. The 4 x 12 speaker cabinets in front of them were painted dayglo pink.

After a suitable wait the group entered, walking purposefully in single file, Joe Strummer at the head. The bassist wore black, paint spattered Jackson Pollock style acros the fabric. One of the guitarists had wide stripes painted on his shirt. There were three guitarists. Without a word they broke into a racket best desrcibed by Sounds critic Giovanni Dadomo, who called them “a runaway train”. The music moved on rails, straight ahead and full of purpose, with short explosive solos that finished before you fully heard them. They moved to match the music; third guitarist Keith Levene was literally running up the back wall as he played. They played about 14 songs in 30 minutes, the essence of Punk: a short, sharp shock.

Just down the road from The Roundhouse, Rehearsals Rehearsals was an old Gin House at the end of of a row of Victorian stables. It sat in a near-derelict yard in a near-derelict part of town, the rail lines from Kings Cross and St. Pancras running behind it on their way to the North. Manager Bernard Rhodes had found it as a place for the band to work. The name came from someone complaining that all they did was “reharsals rehearsals”.

Upstairs were a couple of rooms covered in old film posters. The photo of them standing in front of “Untamed Youth” was taken here. It’s in these rooms that the band plotted, schemed, and painted their clothes, in the days before they had their uniforms designed for them.

Paul Simenon outside Reharsals Rehearsals. The car belonged to manager Bernard Rhodes. (Image from Rock Archive)

The band’s first album cover photo was taken here. The notorious “pigeon-shooting” incident in 1978 happened on the roof, when Paul Simenon and Topper Headon shot at passing pigeons with an air rifle, not knowing they were valuable racing pigeons.

There was always something to do at Rehearsals Rehearsals

The Clash left in 1982. Since then it has served as a retail outlet for a number of boutiques. The interior is mostly gutted and modernised. A row of apartments is being built where the stables used to be.

By the railway tracks. The Roundhouse is in the background. Apartments are being built where they stand. (Image from Rock Archive)

Rehearsals Rehearsals - The Gin House, Stables Market London, NW1 8AH

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Rock Shrine No. 45 – The Apple Store [The Beatles]

The Beatles’ accountants had bought 94 Baker Street as a financial investment for the group and it became temporary headquarters for Apple whilst 3 Savile Row was being renovated. But what to do with it after that… Pattie Harrison was familiar with a Dutch group called The Fool, who had run a boutique in Amsterdam, so in September 1967, The Beatles gave them £100,000 to design and stock a new Apple Boutique. The concept was that absolutely everything was for sale. It was ‘a beautiful place where beautiful people can buy beautiful things’.

The Fool engaged several dozen art students to paint a huge psychedelic mural across the entire front and side of the store which garnered instant complaints from local merchants. The City of Westminster had refused planning permission and the mural was only present for three weeks before the council threatened to repaint it and charge Apple for the privilege.

Invitations to the grand opening on 5 December 1967 read 'Come at 7.46. Fashion Show at 8.16.' The only drink available was apple juice. John and George were the only Beatles that attended.

The Boutique was a financial disaster and closed just 8 months later. On Tuesday morning, 30 July 1968, the staff was told to give everything away. The ‘beautiful place’ was no more. Today, somewhat ironically, the building is home to an employment agency.

Opening Invitation

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Rock Shrine No. 46 – The Scene (The Who)

The Scene Club in Ham Yard, Soho was thought of by many as Mod Central. It wasn't a hugely popular place filled to bursting with people, but more of an underground club where only the top mods hung out, and the whole mod style was created. The club's decor didn't match the smart cut of their clothes, being a bizarre dingy basement catacomb where the walls were padded and the floor was littered with cushions, but it was ideal for the pilled lifestyle they led, where you were buzzing into the early hours of the morning and needed a club that stayed open as late as 5am on a Sunday. The Goldhawk may have been a club for drinkers, but the Scene was definitely designed for pills.

Pete Townshend - "The Scene was really where it was at, but there were only about fifteen people down there every night. It was a focal point for the mod movement. I don't think anyone who was a mod outside Soho realised the fashions and dances all began there."

Ham Yard, London W1D 7DT

Rock Shrine No. 47 – Kensington Hypermarket [Jimi Hendrix, Queen]

One of the best shopping experiences of the 60s and 70s, Kensington Hypermarket was a multi-floor building filled with tiny stalls owned by budding clothes designers and retail wannabes. It was popular because they moved quickly with the times, with groovy psychedelic gear in the 60s, Biba and velvet rockstar knockoffs in the early 70s and punk clobber in ‘76 and ‘77.

Freddy Mercury owned one such outlet and it is here that Roger Taylor first met him.

On September 17, 1970, the last afternoon of Jimi Hendrix’s life, he went shopping with girlfriend Monika Dannemann and spent a good part of the afternoon here.

Although closed for many years it was only recently torn down and replaced with this nondescript office block.

Kensington Hypermarket, 49 – 52 Kensington High Street, London W8 6NS

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