Deny it if you like, but I believe the statistics will back me up here: If you're a white American male born between 1950 and 1961 visiting London for the first time, chances are very good that your first words upon landing will be: "Taxi--Abbey Road, and hurry!"--whereupon you'll spend the next half-hour taking snapshots of yourself at that damn crosswalk, possibly barefoot, while your wife and nine-year-old daughter die of embarrassment nearby. Pathetic--especially since there are so many other rock and roll fantasies that the male American baby-boomer can live out here. And on that Leslie-tinged note, we bring you...


LCD's Rock and Roll Guide to London

by Dave Mandl


- Archway Tavern/Retcar St. (Kinks): The Kinks probably wrote more songs about London than all other bands combined. Shame about the two North London photos on the Muswell Hillbillies cover, though: The inside of the Archway Tavern, pictured on the front, has been renovated beyond recognition; even worse, nearby Retcar Street, pictured on the inside ("Cats on Holiday"), has been demolished. It's not even on the map anymore.

- "Itchykoo Park" (Small Faces): Yes, it's a real park, unbeknownst to most Londoners. It's located near Aldgate East in the East End, and is still there. (The name is unofficial, allegedly coined by locals due to the constant presence there of flea-ridden tramps.) In the sixties it was used mostly for the purpose outlined by Marriott & Co. in the song.

- Rainbow Theatre: The famous seventies rock venue (remember Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert?) can be found in the middle of residential Finsbury Park. (For comparison, imagine the Fillmore East located in, say, Canarsie.) Though the theater has been out of action for a while now, the "Rainbow" sign is still hanging outside. It's dwarfed, however, by a banner ten times its size proclaiming "JESUS CHRIST IS THE LORD." That's right, the space is now occupied by Brazilian Pentacostalists and their Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

- Lester Square (Monochrome Set): Thank the former Monochrome Set guitarist for saving you from embarrassment and ridicule by adopting this phonetic spelling of Leicester Square as his nom de plume: No, it's not pronounced "Lie-ches-ter," Yankee. As for the place itself, picture the corner of 44th and Broadway on New Year's Eve, and triple the size of the crowd. If you're looking for groups of underage schoolgirls out for a good time and wearing clothes two sizes too small, this is the place. Lots of good used-bookstores and pastry shops nearby, too.

- "As I did walk by Hampstead Fair..." (Jethro Tull, "Mother Goose"): The greatest London song on record, but that's a subject for another article. (Magazine editors: Please contact me c/o LCD.) This either refers to the annual Easter fair in Hampstead or, better yet, some long-forgotten medieval event in the area. In any case, Hampstead's still a medieval village on a hill, with wonderfully atmospheric maze-like streets. The eccentrics named in the song are gone now (and replaced by cultured high-bourgeois types), but it's still one of the most picturesque parts of the city. A short walk from Hampstead Heath and beautifully decrepit Highgate Cemetery (best known as the site of Karl Marx's grave).

- Barbican Centre: Every major band that's ever existed has either performed or recorded at this multi-tentacled concert hall/arts center/housing complex/university/conference center/parking garage, so it's hard to avoid. That doesn't change the facts, though: Not only is it the most hideous piece of architecture in all of Europe, possibly the world, but even London natives with a good sense of direction can require up to forty-five minutes to find anything within its sprawling, poorly labeled walls. Everyone else: Best to arrive at least an hour and a half before showtime. Good luck.

- Carnaby St.: Like St. Marks Place with a much smaller selection of rock T-shirts and silly rock and roll jewelry. Nope, it's not 1966 any more. Avoid.

- "Waterloo Sunset" (Kinks): The second greatest London song on record. I'd recommend visiting the area an hour or so after sunset, when it's dark and you can see the world's most beautiful skyline from the perfect vantage point--Waterloo Bridge.

- "Holloway Jail" (Kinks): An actual women's prison located in Holloway, N7.

- "...owns a block in St. John's Wood" (Stones, "Play with Fire"): The only person I've ever known who lived there was a wealthy American Wall St. exec, which is probably typical considering the astronomical home prices, and the fact that the elite American School is nearby. The neighborhood is also the home of the Zen Centre, onetime haunt of Alan Watts and several spiritually aware pop musicians I've met. See also: Abbey Road.

- King's X: Pronounced "King's Cross." I have no idea whether the American Christian band takes its name from this neighborhood, but it'd be poetic justice if they did, as it's one of the seediest, most drug-and-hooker-ridden sections of London.

- "The Battle of Epping Forest" (Genesis): A colorful account of a gang war over East End protection rights, allegedly based on a real newspaper story. I haven't a clue what it has to do with Epping Forest, an actual forest on the edge of northeast London. It was probably best known in the eighties as the site of the anarcho-punk band Crass's commune.

- Abbey Road, NW8: The quiet intersection outside a recording studio in leafy St. John's Wood that is probably more photographed than the Grand Canyon. If the authorities charged 50p for the privilege, the Brits could have bought Switzerland by now. Even Sir Paul himself couldn't resist the temptation to go back to the scene of the crime for one more photo-op, ca. 1989. While you're here, don't miss McCartney's house at 7 Cavendish Avenue (see below).

- "Portobello Road" (Cat Stevens): Wish I could report that this street is still the hippy market paradise it was in '65. It's still lined with antique stores, decent record shops, and maybe a handful of tearooms, but you'll have to climb over thousands of sightseers to get near them. The neighborhood, Notting Hill, was already well gentrified by the early nineties, but the nail in the coffin was undoubtedly the eponymous film, which brought a huge new wave of gawkers to the area, apparently hoping to spot Julia Roberts. Duh.

- "Thinking about the old days of Liverpool and Rotherhithe" (Elvis Costello, "New Amsterdam"): Rotherhithe is the South London port that the Mayflower sailed from (hence the New Amsterdam connection). The song's following couplet ("Transparent people who live on the other side/Living a life that is almost like suicide") was interpreted by a North London friend of mine as a typical snipe against the much-abused residents of the wrong bank of the Thames, but it's probably just a reference to the dismal decay and unemployment in this once-thriving dockside area.

- "'A' Bomb in Wardour Street" (the Jam): Socially concerned punk dystopianism notwithstanding, this hasn't been the site of Armageddon yet (though some shithead with a nail-bomb did kill three people in a gay bar on nearby Old Compton St. last year). Wardour Street is right in the middle of Chinatown, and New Yorkers please note: London Chinese restaurants charge extra for rice. It's also the home of legendary '60s rock mecca the Marquee Club.

- 34 Montagu Square: Along with Paul's house on Cavendish Avenue (which is just a short walk from Abbey Road, St. John's Wood), this building is a staple of the 300 Beatles walking tours going on at any given time in London. As your tour-guide will tell you, it was the site of Ringo Starr's legendary basement flat, once rented to Jimi Hendrix and Chas Chandler--later thrown out by Ringo for trashing the place--and then John & Yoko, who took their nudie Two Virgins photos there. Their legendary cannabis drug bust happened at 34 Montagu as well--apparently the last straw, causing poor Ringo's lease to be cancelled once and for all.

- Made Available (This Heat): The obvious pun here was only just pointed out to me recently. Maida Vale is the West London neighborhood where John Peel's Peel Sessions are recorded. It's not far from the lovely canals of Little Venice and (groan) St. John's Wood.

- "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" (Elvis Costello), "Parties in Chelsea" (Television Personalities): Very rich people, very beautiful old houses. Chelsea (and its main drag, King's Road) has also been the playground for several generations of fashionable young bohos, from the '60s dolly birds (Anita Pallenberg still lives there) to the Sex Pistols (Vivienne Westwood's shop is still there). You won't find many hip young pop stars these days.

- "The Guns of Brixton" (The Clash): With their urban-combat fatigues on and their fists in the air, the Clash would have had no trouble deciding where to set their class-war anthem. Working-class, racially diverse, inner-city Brixton was of course the site of many all-too-real real battles with riot police in the dark days of Thatcherism. Electric Avenue (Eddy Grant) is also in Brixton.

[Previously published in LCD]


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