Ever since the British Invasion (in the music sense, of course), the world has seen the rise of Britpop. The next time you’re in London, celebrate the joy of music at these places around town that will bring back fond memories, and even help create new ones.
1. Berwick Street
Before Spotify and iTunes became the go-to for music lovers, Berwick Street in central London was home to many a record store, so much so that it earned the moniker ‘Vinyl Mile’. Sadly, because of Soho’s modernization and booming property market, Berwick Street is seeing a lot of changes to its landscape. If you’re a fan of vinyl, you’ll still be able to score a few well-priced gems in the remaining stores, like Sister Ray, Phonica Records, Sounds of the Universe and Reckless Records (more on that below)
Must-visit locations: Reckless Records
This family-run business has been around for 40-odd years, purchasing and selling vinyls and CDs of yesteryear. Drop by the store to feast your eyes on its extensive collection of LPs, ranging from rock, pop, soul, dance, jazz, punk, to reggae and beyond.
Where Oasis’ album cover was shot
Britpop band Oasis’ critically-acclaimed sophomore album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? gave us timeless classics like “Champagne Supernova”, “Wonderwall” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, but it was the album’s cover, which was taken down Bernwick Street, that had fans traipsing the sidewalks, trying to find the exact spot where Brian Cannon and Sean Rowley crossed paths. Today, Sister Ray occupies the same space that the independent record store, Selectadisc (which was featured in the album cover), once stood.
2. Royal Albert Hall
As a musician or performer, you know you’ve made it when you play at Royal Albert Hall. Located on the northern edge of South Kensington, Royal Albert Hall officially opened its doors on 29 March 1871, and even to this day, its majestic glass and wrought-iron dome never fails to leave even the most demanding architecture fiend in awe.
Despite having hosted icons like Shirley Bassey, Eric Clapton, Adele and more, Royal Albert Hall was infamously known for its acoustics due to its concave ceiling, resulting in badly-delayed echoing. Music lovers will appreciate the ingenious method taken to improve the quality and immediacy of sound, where they hung a series of ‘mushrooms’ (fiberglass acoustic diffusers) from the ceiling, which have now become a signature feature of the Hall. If time permits, make sure to catch a performance and enjoy the pure, unbridled beauty of sound.
3. David Bowie’s Mural
Brixton native David Bowie aka Ziggy Stardust was the epitome of glam, embracing his unique brand of duality with equal parts feline grace and masculine charm. “Space Oddity”, “Under Pressure”, “Starman” and “Life on Mars?” remain as timeless as Bowie’s image, as his mien was immortalised on the side of Morleys department store in Brixton in 2013.
After Bowie’s unfortunate death on 10 January 2016, many fans were seen visiting the mural, leaving bouquets and notes to their beloved rock ‘n’ roll chameleon, and even turning up with the same vibrant lightning bolt on their faces. If you’re planning to visit, the mural is just opposite the Brixton tube station.
To complete the experience, get your hands on some Brixton Pounds (B£), the area’s local currency that works the same way as the conventional British Pound, while supporting independent local shops and traders. The B£10 note features Bowie’s likeness, and makes a great memento.
4. West End Theatreland
West End is to London what Broadway is to New York. Dubbed as the highest-quality theatre in the world, there are 40 theatres in London’s Theatreland, performing musicals, classic plays and comedies to satiate even the most demanding audience’s requirements.
Nothing can be more magical than watching your favourite characters come to life on stage, as you drink in live performances and renditions from the likes of Wicked, Mamma Mia, Phantom of the Opera, Aladdin and School of Rock. After the show, end the evening with a nightcap at one of the many bars lining the vibrant streets.
Must-watch: Les Miserables
The current West End production of Les Mis at the Queen’s Theatre is set to end in July (before it reopens in December with a new version), so now’s a good time as any to catch the last vestiges of the old Les Mis for memory’s sake. Beginning in 1985, Les Mis at the Queen’s Theatre has become a signature West End must-watch, drawing you from modern-day London into 19th-century France, wrought with broken dreams, unrequited love and redemption.
5. Handel & Hendrix in London
What do German Baroque composer George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759) and American rock star Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970) have in common? More than you could ever imagine. On a street in London, separated by 200 years and a single wall, are their respective homes.
At 23 Brook Street, Handel composed some of his best work, including the oratorio Messiah (who doesn’t know the “Hallelujah Chorus”?), as he rehearsed and performed informal recitals for friends and neighbours. And just a few steps away at 25 Brook Street, Jimi Hendrix lived with his girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham, often having press interviews and photoshoots in the apartment he told Etchingham was “the first real home of his own”.
Today, Handel and Hendrix in London take you on an insightful look into the lives of Handel and Hendrix, as you walk through the very spaces they once lived and breathed, and marvel at the wonder of how music can transcend time and draw people together from all corners of the world.
6. Denmark Street
On the edge of London’s West End, lies Denmark Street, fondly known as Tin Pan Alley – or what remains of it. Like Berwick Street, it’s fallen prey to the jaws of commercialisation, but you’ll still find a number of guitar stores that cater to local music aficionados and the occasional tourist.
In the 1940s, most of London’s music publishers were located along London’s Tin Pan Alley (borrowed from the area around New York’s West 28th Street of the same name). Albums were recorded, instruments were bought and sold, and hopeful songwriters and singers plied the streets trying to find their big break. With names like Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Bob Marley, Marc Bolan and The Rolling Stones hanging out in the area, Tin Pan Alley in its heyday was the place to see and be seen.
Must-visit location: Regent Sounds
Boasting its vintage storefront, Regent Sounds is London’s longest-running Fender and Gretsch dealer. Located in the old Regent Sounds Studio (where musical heavyweights Elton John, Tom Jones, Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks and more recorded anything from demos to singles to full albums), the store comes full circle as a guitar store, where music lovers continue to gather and play music amidst the silence that has since blanketed Denmark Street.
7. The 100 Club
Any self-respecting music lover will not leave London without making a trip to The 100 Club, which has played host to legendary events (like the 1976 punk festival) and star-studded performers (The Who, Oasis, Kings of Leon, Metallica, Blur, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Mark Ronson and more).
What The 100 Club lacks in facilities is exactly what makes it so exciting – as you take the stairs down to the compact basement club, you’ll find the walls lined with pictures of its illustrious alumni lineup, psyching you up for whatever will come next. Granted, The 100 Club is dark, grubby and a tad too warm, but the reasonable entry prices and second-to-none experience is something that keeps music fans coming back for more.
8. Amy Winehouse Statue
Rounding up this list is a rather eccentric but worthwhile addition – a tribute to troubled songstress Amy Winehouse, whose soulful contralto brought us tunes like “Rehab”, “Valerie” and “Back to Black”. The bronze statue, showing Winehouse sporting her signature beehive hairstyle, is located in the Stables Market in Camden Town, North London.
As she once described to her father, Camden Town was the singer’s “playground”, and it was only befitting that the statue was unveiled in her favourite place, three years after her passing, with blessings from both her parents. If you’re in the area, make your way to The Hawley Arms, where you can order the ‘Rickstasy’, which was said to be Winehouse’s favourite drink – a vodka, banana liqueur, Southern Comfort and Baileys concoction.
Cover Image: Londonstills.com / Alamy Stock Photo
Writer | Michelle Tan
Lover of all things bizarre, Michelle has a soft spot for dinosaurs, raccoons and a strong G&T. Her lifelong dream is to become an urban hermit.