London Calling: A History of Rock ’n Roll
As the author of the Clipboard of Fun…
It’s officially my job to plan how we spend our time on our travels… and sometimes I really hone in on things. Like flying across the planet to stand where some of my heroes did 50 years ago. London is a hotbed of rock history and I’m here to give you some highlights.
Lennon, McCartney, and Abercrombie?
Naturally, Abbey Road is a top priority. Rare special events allow for entry to the studios, but you can always count on checking out the gift shop. I’m not above attempting to recreate that iconic album cover each and every time. There’s an ever-present handful of people making fools of themselves to join. The problem is, it’s really freaking dangerous. There’s no stop sign, no light, and cars and buses not shy with the horn, aren’t keen on slowing down for anyone. (The 24 hour live stream is oddly fun to watch.) I know several people who have walked away with a successful shot or two. This takes patience and guts that I just don’t have. So, here’s a pic of me with red hair crossing those famous zebra strips in 2011.
There are so many Beatle-y spots in London, sometimes I can hardly contain myself. 3 Savile Row, the former location of the Beatles’ Apple Corps HQ, is also the site where, on January 30, 1969, the Beatles played their final show up on the roof. It’s a must for any fan to stop by and look up from the street at that famous roof. The truth is, you really won’t see much from the outside. When I learned that this historic building is currently an Abercrombie & Fitch Kids shop, it made my stomach turn. Then it hit me: This means that it’s a store. Open to the public. And I can GO IN. I pretended to shop for children’s clothes and wandered up and down the beautiful red velvet stairs and peered into rooms that were once the Beatles’ offices. There was also a studio used to record half of the Get Back/Let It Be recordings. Badfinger, Harry Nilsson, and Marc Bolan also recorded here.
20th Century Boy
Morton’s in Berkeley Square is where Marc Bolan and girlfriend Gloria Jones spent his last evening on September 16, 1977. It’s an exclusive private club, so unless, dear reader, you’re a member and want to invite me, I am SOL on hanging out inside. Luckily Berkeley Square is a beautiful park in Mayfair, a short walk from the original Hard Rock Cafe.
It was an hour via Uber from our hotel in Soho to reach Marc Bolan’s Rock Shrine, located in the fancy suburb of Barnes. The driver dropped us off where my iPhone assured me it was located, but it was only after snooping around unpaved roads in a heavily wooded area that we finally found it. We had it all to ourselves. It was here that the frontman of glitter rock’s T.Rex died when the car he was riding in struck a tree. He was less than a mile from home. A barrel has been placed around the stump of the infamous tree. The land was acquired by a woman named Fee Warner and she maintains the site with T.Rex Action Group to this day. Fans from around the world have placed photos, dinosaur figurines, flowers, and letters. Marc’s final remains are at Golders Green Cemetery, along with Keith Moon, Peter Sellers, Sigmund Freud, and Bram Stoker.
Classical and Classic Rock
I love museums and my absolute favorite kind are former homes, particularly of those in the music industry. I hit the jackpot with Handel & Hendrix. Here you’ll find the restored homes of two very different musicians, baroque composer George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix, who lived at 25 and 23 Brook Street respectively. The two musicians were separated by a wall and 200 years. Cool, right? Entry to both homes is just £10. The self-guided tour begins with Handel’s home, recreated based on an inventory written after his death. They followed details all the way down to the muted blue color on the walls. He was the first occupant of the home and lived here for 36 years before he died here in his bed in 1759. George Frideric Handel is buried at Westminster Abbey.
It’s a seamless walk right through to Jimi Hendrix’s flat next door. Based on photos and his then-girlfriend’s memory, each room has been staged as it was when Jimi lived here from 1968-69. In each room, we were greeted by enthusiastic and knowledgable volunteers, eager to answer any questions and point out their favorite tidbits. Such as the fact that the records displayed in Jimi’s apartment are copies of records he actually owned, one of them being a classical Handel album. The original stairs Jimi used to come in and out are on display, but too fragile for use. James Marshall Hendrix is buried at Greenwood Memorial Park Funeral Home in Renton, Washington. His grave is a 40 minute drive from our home in Seattle and we’ve visited more than once.
The Birthplace of Rock ’n Roll and Cholera
Carnaby Street is a pedestrianized shopping artery in Soho and it has quite the history. In 1960s Swinging London, Carnaby was the place to be. The mods and rockers, Beatles, Stones, The Small Faces, Twiggy; All the cool kids were here. The Kinks immortalized the street in their song “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” making fun of the parade of fashion victims, the “Carnabetian army.” Legend has it that Jimi Hendrix is responsible for the wild parakeet population still present in London when he released a pair on Carnaby in the late ‘60s. What is now sort of generic but especially-cool-because-it’s-London shopping and restaurants, Carnaby Street first notable for a cholera outbreak. In 1854, physician John Snow was able to pinpoint the epidemic down to a specific water pump at Carnaby and Broad (now Broadwick). Before you want to say, “You know nothing Jon Snow,” this John Snow is the guy who figured out that cholera was waterborne and changed the way epidemics are treated. The pump was removed a couple years ago — I actually wanted to see it. Instead you can stop in for a pint at the John Snow Pub across the street and admire a replica pump in front.
Oh yea we’re the London boys
Other spots I dragged my poor husband to:
23 Heddon Street
Where David Bowie posed for the cover of Ziggy Stardust in 1972.
The former site of the 2i’s Coffee Bar
A music venue instrumental to the roots of rock and roll.
The Bag O’Nails Club
Where Paul McCartney met Linda Eastman.
It’s supposed to be a secret where Freddie Mercury’s ashes are, but a few years ago a fan discovered a plaque with his birth name and same birth/death years listed. The fact that it was meant to be a secret likely means that Freddie wouldn’t have been thrilled with people like me turning up. So I didn’t. But tbf, it wasn’t so much a respect thing but more because I ran out of time.
Oh, London, you continue to fascinate me!
Until next time!